CES 2024: PC makers bet on artificial intelligence to rekindle sales, take on Apple

PC and microchip companies struggling to get consumers to replace pandemic-era laptops offered a new feature to crowds this week at CES 2024: artificial intelligence (AI). PC and chipmakers including Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and Intel are betting that the so-called “neural processing units” (NPUs) now found in the latest chip designs will encourage consumers to once again pay for higher-end laptops. Adding additional AI capabilities could help take market share from Apple.

“The conversations I’m having with customers are about ‘how do I get my PC ready for what I think is coming in AI and going to be able to deliver,'” said Sam Burd, Dell Technologies’ president of its PC business.

Chipmakers built the NPU blocks because they can achieve a high level of performance for AI functions with relatively modest power needs. Today there are few applications that might take full advantage of the new capabilities, but more are coming, said David McAfee, corporate vice president and general manager of the client channel business at AMD.

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Among the few applications that can take advantage of such chips is the creative suite of software produced by Adobe .

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Intel hosted an “open house” where a handful of PC vendors showed off their latest laptops with demos designed to put the new capabilities on display. Machines from the likes of Dell and Lenovo were arrayed inside one of the cavernous ballrooms at the Venetian Convention Center on Las Vegas Boulevard.

A Dell laptop at the open house included an AI key, the first button Microsoft has added to a Windows keyboard in decades. The “Copilot” key activates Microsoft’s generative AI software that can help with applications and answer complicated questions.

At the moment, the new button summons a cloud-based Copilot, which takes a noticeable amount of time to perform tasks.

“If I put those engines on the PC, I can be faster, lower latency, and I can do more with those engines,” Burd said.

To move Copilot onto the PC will require considerably more powerful machines than currently exist – even with the advanced AI chips. For the moment, the new chips are included with more expensive laptops on offer by the PC builders that work with Intel and AMD.

“In the short term we’ll be focused more on premium PCs,” said McAfee, adding that PCs with advanced AI chips will likely cost between $800 to $1,200. 

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