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Copilot+ PCs: What are they and how will they impact your business?

A PC built for an AI world

Software Licensing

copilot blog
LewisJ

Jack Lewis

Chief Technologist - Digital Workspace

A new category of PC

Ahead of Build, Microsoft’s annual developer conference, a new category of PC type was unveiled: Copilot+ PCs. New chipsets from Qualcomm designed to run Windows were also revealed, alongside an updated version of Windows 11 on ARM. Additionally, new features in the Windows operating system, that are powered by generative AI, were announced alongside the new Copilot in Windows app.

Softcat has worked with Microsoft throughout the development of these new devices, as a Global Strategic Partner for Copilot+ PCs, so let us introduce you to their capabilities and help you understand their business potential…

What makes a Copilot+ PC?

To qualify as a Copilot+ PC, devices must have incredible performance and battery life, a Copilot key embedded into the keyboard, run Windows 11, and have a Pluton security processor enabled by default. Crucially, these devices need to meet the performance requirements of 40 TOPS (Trillion Operations Per Second) provided by an on-board NPU (Neural Processing Unit).

“What’s an NPU, and is 40 TOPS hard to achieve?” I hear you ask…

An NPU sits alongside the CPU and GPU, in the latest series of Intel, AMD and Qualcomm chipsets. Its purpose is to perform AI specific tasks, reducing the burden on the CPU and GPU. This improves overall device performance, by offloading AI specific tasks such as blurring your background on video calls, from the CPU/GPU over to the NPU. Reassigning tasks in this way helps to increase battery life, which also increases the sustainability of the device.

40 TOPS performance is currently only achievable on devices that run Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon Elite X chipsets. Neither Intel’s Ultra nor AMD’s latest chips can reach this performance benchmark, so devices running those chipsets cannot be classed as Copilot+ PCs at present. We expect that sometime in the next 6-12 months, Intel and AMD will be able to meet these performance requirements, and therefore join the Copilot+ PC category.

Qualcomm and ARM chipsets

Qualcomm’s new chipsets, the Snapdragon Elite X range, has serious potential to shake up the Windows desktop and laptop market. This range of CPUs is classed as an ARM chipset, which is different to the x86 chipsets most businesses users currently have built into their Windows devices.

ARM chipsets more closely resemble what you have inside of your smartphone and tablet devices. They operate on a reduced instruction set, making them better at performing specific tasks, and generally have a much better battery life, as they consume less power, than their x86 counterparts.

The Snapdragon Elite X range, based on benchmarks provided by both Microsoft and Qualcomm, provides both performance and battery life advantages over the current best-in-class x86 chipsets and the latest Mac devices running M3 chips.

Apple has been leading the way with ARM chips for the last 5 years, with its M1/2/3 chipsets. Apple started creating its own ARM chips believing that they were the future of desktop and mobile computing, as these chips provide major benefits in both performance and battery life. It wasn’t plain sailing for Apple in the early days, as customers had to wrestle with price increases and application compatibility issues. However, based on its success since those initial teething issues, it feels Apple has proven that ARM is the way to go.

With these new chipsets from Qualcomm, there is a viable option for users who want the performance and battery life of ARM on a Windows operating system.

ARM chipset compatibility on Windows

With the above in mind, ARM application compatibility on Windows is a much bigger challenge (exponentially) than it ever would have been with macOS. This is likely to be the reason why most businesses hold-off on adopting ARM as their standard for Windows computing.

However, lots of the tier-1 software vendors are already ahead of the issue and have ‘ARM Native’ versions of their apps ready to go. And (if the data is to be believed) the emulation layer in Windows, known as Prism, is claimed to be really good in terms of compatibility with x86 Native apps – without sacrificing too much on performance. Problematic apps are likely to be those that require drivers and lower-level hooks into the Windows operating system, such as VPNs.

Considering these compatibility concerns, I’d recommend leading with an ARM-appropriate approach here. This will mean putting these new Qualcomm ARM powered devices in the hands of your fee-earners, salespeople and execs initially. Your organisation stands to gain the most if it can enable these people to do their jobs more effectively, and typically these user-profiles spend most of their day in Microsoft Office and web-apps, which should all work seamlessly on Windows 11 with ARM chips.

This leads nicely onto the two new features that Microsoft announced for its Copilot+ PCs…

AI runs locally on Copilot+ PCs

Microsoft demonstrated during the launch that some AI-powered capabilities can be processed locally using the NPUs in Copilot+ PCs. For example, interactions with the new Copilot on Windows app, AI-powered image creation and live transcription and translation. We are currently only able to do this sort of stuff via the cloud, which comes with latency, performance, user-experience and privacy concerns – so local processing offers exciting possibilities for efficiency and productivity.

Microsoft didn’t demonstrate or announce anything related to offloading Copilot tasks from within Microsoft 365 apps to the NPUs on this new category of PCs, so it’s unclear if this is possible. If it is, then it would provide major benefits, above and beyond what was already announced at the event. We’ll keep our eyes open and our ears to the ground and let you know if anything related to this is mentioned throughout the Build event.

Recall on Copilot+ PCs

Really you have to see this capability to understand how powerful it could be. Microsoft refer to this as a ‘photographic memory on your Copilot+ PC’. It appears that the new NPU is used by Windows to understand what is happening on your computer, as you do it, and to keep a timeline of your activities. The Recall feature then allows you to use this timeline to go back to what you had open previously, but as this is AI-powered, you can use natural language to interact with this feature. Imagine saying to Recall ‘find the document I had open when I was chatting to Rhys’, and Windows just opens the document you need – pretty powerful stuff.

What gets me most excited about all of this, is that Copilot+ PCs, with the new Windows features announced, will provide major benefits to businesses when they migrate and adopt Windows 11 – a priority for businesses as Windows 10 reaches end of life in October next year.

When can you buy a Copilot+ PC?

Copilot+ PCs are expected to be available from mid to late June. Both Qualcomm-powered Copilot+ PCs and the new Windows features will be available on the same day.

Microsoft Surface, Lenovo, HP, Dell and Samsung (and others) will all have Qualcomm powered Copilot+ PC devices in their portfolio. We expect pricing to be towards the upper end of the premium ranges initially. For this reason, again, I recommend targeting these devices for your front-office staff first. Supply is likely to be constrained but will get better over time.

Get to know AI PCs with Softcat

Still need more clarification on what Copilot+ PCs could mean for you and your business? Our experts are here to guide you through the new AI PC world, and help you better understand what this new category of PCs means for your Windows 11 migration and your Copilot adoption. Speak to our experts to get the all of the support you need.

An extra note from me

None of this article was generated by AI. Even though I do use Microsoft Copilot daily, I wanted this to feel more personal, so all opinions in this blog are my own.