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Microsoft Copilot+ PCs take aim at Apple’s speed crown

The new ASUS Vivobook S 15 will be in the first wave of Copilot+ PCs released next month
3 minute read
The new ASUS Vivobook S 15 will be in the first wave of Copilot+ PCs released next month

A whole new class of Copilot+ PC laptops promise to outpower Apple’s M3 machines and open the doors for the introduction of powerful new AI tools.

Microsoft’s main event, Build 2024, starts later today. But so confident is the company  in what it’s doing at the moment, that it held a special Surface event on its new campus at Redmond the day before to introduce a whole new category of PCs optimised for AI, the Copilot+ PC.

Based around Qualcomm’s powerful new Arm-based Snapdragon X Elite and slightly lower-end Snapdragon X Plus chipsets, six manufacturers — Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Samsung — are going to launch Copilot+ PC laptops on June 18. There is also an all-new Surface Pro and Surface Laptop too. The processors have NPUs built-in for on-device AI processing instead of punting data to the cloud all the time, and there were also partner announcements with Adobe, Blackmagic, and others that highlighted how the apps can be optimised for the new machines.

More on the AI stuff in a minute (and there will be a lot of it this week from Redmond, buckle up at the back there). But first we need to talk power.

Copilot+ PC power


Microsoft Chairman and CEO, Satya Nadella, on stage introducing the new machines

Microsoft claims that the Copilot+ PCs are the fastest Windows PCs ever built. And the amount of times it benchmarks their performance up against Apple silicon indicates that there is a whole new stage of a power arms race underway. 

Apple’s M-class chips have had Microsoft on the back foot in recent years when it comes to performance, but the Qualcomm Snapdragon Xs seem to have overtaken them considerably. We’ll have to wait till some of the third party benchmarks come in to verify all this, but it claims that they can outperform Apple’s MacBook Air 15” by up to 58% in sustained multithreaded performance while still delivering all-day battery life.  Other figures include being able to deliver up to 22 hours of local video playback or 15 hours of web browsing on a single charge; up to 20% more battery in local video playback than the MacBook Air 15”.

Not all of this performance is solely chip-based. The company says it has also introduced an all-new system architecture to bring the power of the CPU, GPU, and the new high performance Neural Processing Unit (NPU) together. “Connected to and enhanced by the large language models (LLMs) running in our Azure Cloud in concert with small language models (SLMs), Copilot+ PCs can now achieve a level of performance never seen before,” it says. “They are up to 20x more powerful and up to 100x as efficient for running AI workloads and deliver industry-leading AI acceleration.”

The new Snapdragons deliver over 40 TOPS (trillion operations per second), but it’s worth mentioning that not every Copilot+ PC is going to be based on them. Intel and AMD machines are planned for the future, so there is a minimum spec built into the Copilot+ branding to make sure that the hardware will all be able to perform as expected. That covers a minimum 256GB SSD, an integrated NPU, and 16GB of RAM.

Despite this, Copilot+ PCs are going to start at $999, which Microsoft points out is “$200 cheaper than similar spec’d devices.” That will perhaps be why it confidently expects that 50 million Copilot+ PCs will be sold over the next year.

AI tools


NPU-accelerated Magic Mask in DaVinci Resolve Studio

There will undoubtedly be more AI announcements from Build 2024 over the next few days, but one feature that was announced along with the new laptops was Recall.

This basically lets you find stuff on your machine. Recall effectively logs everything you do  from app usages to websites to meetings, and more, and uses AI powered search to get it back. The company says that Copilot+ PCs organize information like humans do based on relationships and associations. These ‘snapshots’ are found on an explorable timeline or you can jump to certain points to try and access the information. The index for this remains local and remains private.

Image Creator also gets what are now the usual and ubiquitous AI tools for image manipulation including text prompts, pre-set image styles for repurposing and iterating content, and more. A year or so this would have been a major story in itself. Now it’s just a paragraph buried fairly low down in a larger article, as it was with the blog post announcing all this itself. Progress…

There is also going to be some optimisation from third parties for the new Copilot+ machines that will see them drive that NPU. Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, Firefly, and Express will be available on Copilot Plus PCs at launch, while Illustrator and Premiere Pro will be available this summer. A brief demo of AI-based color correction using Davinci Resolve suggested that it’s going to absolutely fly on the new machines.

And, of course, the Copilot assistant is going to get a deeper lever integration into Windows 11, as well as an upgrade to the new OpenAI GPT-4o.

Tags: Technology AI Microsoft