Microsoft's upcoming Windows 11 'AI Explorer' update might be exclusive to Arm devices in major blow to Intel's "AI PCs"

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What you need to know

  • Microsoft is working on a major new AI feature for Windows 11, which it plans to unveil during an event on May 20.
  • The feature, dubbed AI Explorer internally, will be able to document and organize everything you see on your PC, and turn everything you do into a searchable memory with natural language.
  • It looks like AI Explorer will launch first on new Arm PCs, as its system requirements list Qualcomm's new Snapdragon X Elite NPU as a baseline.
  • This would omit Intel's new AI PCs from taking advantage of this year's blockbuster AI feature.

It's an open secret that Microsoft is working on a significant AI update for Windows 11 this year, timed with new "AI PCs" that are set to begin being made available in June. In fact, Microsoft is holding a special event on May 20, where it intends to unveil its plans for AI in Windows 11, along with new Arm-powered Surface hardware.

We already know that the big new AI feature coming this year is something called AI Explorer, which I detailed earlier this month. AI Explorer turns everything you do on your computer into a searchable memory using natural language. It works across any app and enables the ability to search for previously opened conversations, documents, web pages, and images. It can also understand context and streamline tasks based on what's currently on screen.

Now, we're starting to learn more about the system requirements for AI Explorer. Spotted by @thebookisclosed on Twitter, the current system requirements for AI Explorer are set to an ARM64 CPU, 16GB RAM, 225GB storage, and a Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite NPU. This suggests that AI Explorer will be exclusive to new Arm PCs that are shipping this summer.

READ MORE: What is TOPS, and why is it important for AI?

If we had to take an educated guess, an ARM64 CPU is required because Qualcomm's Snapdragon X platform outputs 45 TOPS for its NPU, whereas Intel's NPU is around 10 TOPS and AMD is 16 TOPS, making them far weaker compared to Qualcomm's. Indeed, Qualcomm's NPU is so powerful it could be considered a 'Gen 2' NPU, as that is where Intel and AMD will go next with their next-gen CPUs, due in late 2024 and early 2025.

These are the system requirements that are currently baked into the RTM build (26100.1) of Windows 11 version 24H2, but that doesn't mean those system requirements can't change in the near future. It's something that will likely come to other architectures as Intel and AMD improves their neural processing unit (NPU) performance in future chips.

If these system requirements do stick for launch, it will be a major blow to Intel, which have been pushing the notion of an AI PC since it began shipping Intel Core Ultra chips late last year. People that were early adopters to the AI PC space are going to miss out on the big blockbuster AI experience coming to Windows 11 this year.

2024 is the year of Windows on Arm, and Microsoft is going all in to ensure people view Arm PCs as a true competitor in the Windows space. Qualcomm's upcoming Snapdragon X Series chips are the real deal that are able to compete with Apple M3 silicon and are already beating Intel's latest Core Ultra chips in performance and efficiency benchmarks. 

Microsoft is so confident in Windows on Arm this year that it intends to only offer its upcoming consumer Surface PCs with Arm chips, omitting Intel for the first time in a Surface Pro and Surface Laptop product. The company is expected to unveil its new Arm Surface PCs and the big Windows 11 AI update on May 20, and we'll be on the ground to cover the event as it happens.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter and Threads