Why Intel Thinks 2024 Is A Big Commercial PC Refresh Year

In an interview with CRN, Intel executives discuss the new AI and security capabilities of the Core Ultra processors as well as the vPro platform’s new management features that they believe will make 2024 a standout year for commercial PC upgrades.

Intel is aware of the fact that it claims every year it will offer channel partners a major opportunity to refresh the PC fleets of their customers, but this time, it says things are different.

“2024 is shaping up to be the best year for a PC refresh,” David Feng (pictured), vice president and general manager of client segments in Intel’s Client Computing Group, told CRN in an interview last month. “We know we say that every year, and this year, we really mean it.”

[Related: 10 Cool AI PCs You Can Get From HP, Dell And Others]

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker and other companies in the PC market have promoted previous PC refresh cycles largely based on two factors: meaningful improvements in processor performance and capabilities paired with Microsoft ending support for an older, more popular version of the Windows operating system every several years.

With Intel’s recently launched Core Ultra processors, the semiconductor giant believes there is greater incentive for businesses to buy new PCs than previous refresh cycles.

That’s in large part due to the chip lineup’s new and improved AI capabilities. The company has said these capabilities are enabling the new category of AI PCs, a concept that has been embraced by the industry’s biggest players, including Microsoft, Lenovo, HP Inc., Dell Technologies and rivals like AMD and Qualcomm.

Intel also thinks it can help channel partners sell more PCs because of the expanded security and management capabilities of Intel’s vPro IT management platform.

Then there’s the fact that Microsoft is ending support for Windows 10 in October 2025. That, combined with the higher system requirements for Windows 11, will prompt many businesses to refresh their PC fleets, as research firm Circana recently told CRN.

To Intel, this creates a perfect storm of sorts to create demand for the more than 90 new commercial laptop designs that will use its Core Ultra processors this year. This is on top of new commercial desktop designs that will use standard Core processors.

“It took a few decades to build up to a big moment, and this is the AI PC moment,” Feng said.

An executive at a major U.S. distributor recently told CRN that while the Windows 10 end-of-life and the aging of PCs purchased during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic were always going to prompt a PC refresh cycle around this time, he sees growing business demand for AI solutions combined with new hardware as the main drivers.

“We have all these aging systems that people bought way back when the pandemic first started, so I think there's a lot of things that are kind of lining up. But I really believe that the big factor pushing it is AI. That's what's going to really drive this refresh cycle,” said Kent Tibbils, vice president of marketing at Fremont, Calif.-based ASI.

In the interview with CRN, Feng was joined by fellow Intel executives Carla Rodriguez and Jen Larson to discuss Core Ultra’s new AI and security capabilities as well as vPro’s new management features that they believe will make 2024 a standout year for PC upgrades.

Intel: Core Ultra Boosts AI Performance, Efficiency

Launched in December, Intel’s Core Ultra processors feature, for the first time in an Intel CPU, a neural processing unit (NPU) in addition to a CPU and a GPU. All three engines are meant to handle different kinds of AI workloads depending on power and performance requirements.

The NPU is a low-power engine that has been designed to offload AI workloads from the CPU and GPU and accelerate them with improved efficiency. Feng said the engine plays an important role in providing a much better user experience for new laptops with Core Ultra.

As an example, Feng said Intel found that a Core Ultra system could run Zoom with machine learning-enabled features like background blur enabled using as few as 3.6 watts. This is a roughly 67 percent reduction in power from a three-year-old PC powered by an 11th-Gen Core CPU, which needed 11 watts to run the same application.

This could translate into longer battery life for a laptop, and it was made possible by the Core Ultra’s CPU and, more importantly, the NPU, which is able to run AI and machine learning workloads at greater efficiency than a CPU, according to Feng.

Compared to a 13th-Gen Core CPU from last year, Core Ultra still enables a significant reduction in energy consumption for video conferencing, anywhere from 15 percent for Microsoft Teams with Windows Studio Effects enabled to 36 percent for Zoom with background blur enabled, according to tests run by Intel.

But the Core Ultra processors benefit more than just video conferencing when it comes to AI-enabled applications, according to the company.

The chipmaker is also touting AI features like live captioning, document drafting and meeting transcriptions to boost productivity. Other areas receiving an AI boost from Core Ultra are content creation workloads like photo editing and video editing.

These features stand to get a boost from the faster CPU and GPU within Core Ultra processors as well as the NPU, according to the company. Using the Procyon benchmark for AI inference computing with the INT8 format, Intel found that Core Ultra’s CPU is 50 percent faster while its GPU is 10 percent faster than a comparable 13th-Gen Core processor. Core Ultra’s NPU, on the other hand, is 50 percent faster than the previous generation’s GPU.

The company said Core Ultra’s NPU is also up to 3.4 times faster than the CPU of a comparable AMD Ryzen 7040 processor, which was the highest-scoring engine in the rival chip—faster than the NPU—in the Procyon AI inference benchmark. (AMD launched its next generation of Ryzen Pro 8040 processors this week with claims of better performance.)

Much of this work is made possible by the independent software vendors who collaborate with Intel to take advantage of the Core Ultra processors. These ISVs include Adobe, Blackmagic Design, OmniBridge, Cisco’s Webex business, Wondershare Filmora and Zoom. The chipmaker is also working with the developers behind the open-source image editing software, Gimp.

Intel is working with more than 100 ISVs to enable more than 300 AI features on PCs powered by Core Ultra processors as part of its AI PC Acceleration Program, which launched last year.

“All of the optimization work, all of that co-engineering that we do with ISVs comes to life in a very discernible way starting with [Core Ultra] and will continue to get better,” said Rodriguez, general manager of client software ecosystem enabling in Intel’s Client Computing Group.

With Adobe, for instance, the AI features in the company’s Lightroom Classic photo editing software got a 20 percent performance boost from Core Ultra versus last year’s 13th-Gen Core processors. Adobe Premiere Pro, on the other hand, is 2.2 times faster with Core Ultra when it comes to its AI-enabled video editing features.

“These are things that, if you're still doing that on an old system, on a three-year-old system, you're just burning up time,” Rodriguez said.

New Security Features In Core Ultra, Intel vPro

While the end of support for Windows 10 next year will force many businesses to upgrade their PCs to Windows 11 or buy new ones that support the operating system, Intel executive Jen Larson said, “one of the most compelling reasons” for them to do so is the “security promise.”

Larson, general manager of commercial client segments, said Intel is playing an important role in enabling and accelerating security features from the chip side with the Core Ultra processors along with the company’s silicon-enabled vPro platform.

“We really try to focus on comprehensive security from a commercial perspective, so we have been working for decades to bring capabilities to our platforms, and we build upon that to stay ahead of bad actors. And the end goal from a security perspective is really to reduce the attack surface,” she told CRN.

Intel’s work to enable silicon-level security features has resulted in a 70 percent reduction in the attack surface when comparing last year’s 13th-Gen Core processors compared to CPUs the company released four years prior, according to Larson.

“That’s huge,” she said.

Now the chipmaker is pushing for even more advanced security features with Core Ultra.

For instance, the new processors come with an updated version of the company’s Intel Threat Detection Technology, which improves threat monitoring by using CPU telemetry and machine learning algorithms and can now offload security workloads to the NPU in addition to the GPU from the CPU. The goal of the latter ability for this feature, which debuted in 2019, is to accelerate security workloads while also freeing up resources on the GPU.

Security ISVs supporting Intel Threat Detection Technology include Crowdstrike, Check Point, Acronis, Xcitium, ESET and Windows Defender.

There is also an ISV called BufferZone, which is using Intel Threat Detection Technology to offload its AI-powered anti-phishing scanning software to the NPU from the cloud. The company recently said its reliance on the NPU results in a 91 percent reduction in anti-phishing operational costs, a 40 percent boost in inference performance compared to the CPU and a 70 percent decrease in detection latency compared to cloud inference.

Rodriguez said this is a good example of how Intel Threat Detection Technology gives ISVs the choice on whether to use the CPU, GPU or NPU depending on the application’s requirements and the choice on how to take advantage of that offload capability.

“They have the choice to repurpose that for additional workload. They have the choice to pass those savings on. There's choice,” she said.

New to the Core Ultra processors is the Intel Silicon Security Engine, which operates below the operating system and handles “critical security functions” in a separate partition from the rest of the processor for firmware authentication, according to Larson.

New Management Features In Intel vPro

With the arrival of the Core Ultra processors, Intel is pushing out a new version of its vPro IT management platform that debuted in 2007.

At its core, the enterprise version of the platform comes with Intel Active Management Technology, which enables remote access to a PC without power, a working operating system or the user present, as well as Intel Endpoint Management Assistant, which extends that remote management capability beyond the corporate firewall and across the cloud.

With the new version of vPro, Intel has added a cloud-native management feature that enables vPro to integrate with third-party device management solutions like Workspace One, which Broadcom is selling to a private equity firm after gaining it through the VMware acquisition.

Feng said Intel plans to enable this capability with other providers in the future.

“The Workspace One collaboration is our first tie into the cloud-native device management tools, and we want to show what these tools can do when they have the vPro support,” he said. “As you can imagine, we're not going to stop here. We’re going to continue to work with VMware as well as the other ISVs to bring this cloud native solution to more places.”

There are two other new vPro features that aim to improve visibility into devices for management and security purposes.

The first is Intel Device Discovery, which enables ISV solutions to perform a remote query of PCs to collect device identities, histories, features and capabilities. The feature comes with a subset of capabilities, including Intel Unique Platform ID, which identifies the system; Intel Platform Brand Identity, which makes vPro features discoverable over a network; and Intel Platform Service Record, which provides historical wear and tear data of a PC.

Larson likened Intel Platform Service Record to Carfax and said it gives IT departments and solution providers a better way of staying on top of PC maintenance needs. Intel Platform Brand Identify, on the other hand, can help customers and partners understand what vPro features are available to them, according to the executive.

“When you have deep rich data, you're able to make better manageability decisions,” she said.

The other new vPro feature is Intel Device Health, which provides ISV solutions like Workspace One and Eclypsium with information on what patches they need to apply to fleets of devices based on known vulnerabilities.

Feng said while Intel Device Health is available with older Intel processors, Intel Device Discovery is only available with Core Ultra and future generations. Both features are made possible by the Intel Innovation Platform Framework.