Dell ramps up ‘AI PC’ plans with Latitude and Precision refresh


Dell has unveiled a range of new laptops and PCs featuring neural processing units (NPUs) designed to run AI workloads on-device for improved video call quality and better laptop battery life.  

Dell is one of several hardware vendors looking to benefit from growing interest in so-called “AI PCs.” The moniker refers to the inclusion of NPUs that are more adept than CPUs or GPUs when it comes to processing generative AI (genAI) and other AI-based workloads.

These NPUs are set to become the norm in the coming years, analysts say, with major players such as Intel, AMD, Nvidia, and Qualcomm all offering NPUs. Gartner predicts AI PCs will make up 43% of PC sales in 2025; IDC puts the figure at 60% of the market by 2027.

As hardware manufacturers refresh their product lines, dedicated NPUs have begun to make their way into more and more laptops and PCs.

“The NPU-equipped AI PCs shipping today are the beginning of a technology ramp that could lead to big changes in the way we interact with our PCs,” said Tom Mainelli, group vice president for device and consumer research at IDC.

latitude family Dell

Dell’s newest Latitude AI PCs are all powered by Intel Core Ultra processors.

On Monday, Dell announced a major refresh of its Latitude laptops and Precision workstations that feature Intel’s Core Ultra —  the chipmaker’s first processor to include an integrated NPU.

Dell’s Latitude and Precision updates

There are several new Latitude 5000 and 7000 Series laptops, including the 7350 detachable device. There’s also a foldable 2-in-1 laptop/tablet hybrid, the Latitude 9450. (A full list is available on Dell’s site here.)

The focus for Latitude devices is on enabling general collaboration and productivity tasks, according to Dell. Here, the inclusion of NPUs will offer some practical improvements to users, Kevin Terwilliger, vice president and general manager  of Dell’s Latitude Commercial Notebook business, said in a briefing last week. For instance, newer video meeting software features such as eye-tracking and background blur can be used without taxing the device’s CPU.

“Collaboration is a great area where we’ll take advantage of the NPU to deliver energy efficiency and much longer battery life,” said Terwilliger.

Background blur is a feature that most take for granted today, said Mainelli, butNPUs make it “dramatically more efficient.

“When you’re on the move and running on battery power, it can make a substantial difference in your experience,” he said. “That’s the beauty of the NPU, and I think you’ll see many ISVs [independent software vendors] embrace the efficient TOPS [trillion operations per second] of the NPU for certain local workloads while continuing to leverage the CPU or GPU for more intense, ‘burst’ types of AI workloads.”

While background blur by itself may not spur IT decision-makers to refresh devices, “when combined with other useful AI features and AI enhancements to new and existing apps, things get much more interesting,” he said.

Security is another area where NPUs offer advantages, said Terwilliger, with the ability to run threat detection faster on-device, rather than processing in the cloud.

Processing AI workloads on-device could also reduce charges from software vendors, he said. “We’re starting to see many ISVs having different cost structures, depending on if you’re taking advantage of the NPU and running things locally, or if you’re putting the burden on them in the cloud,” he said.

Alongside the Latitude devices, Dell announced updates to its Precision workstation line-up. This includes the compact 3280, 3680 tower PC, and several 3000 and 5000 series mobile workstations. (More details are available here).

For its higher-end devices, NPUs will reduce the time needed to complete AI-related processing tasks such as creating genAI images in Stable Diffusion, according to Dell, by splitting workloads across the CPU, GPU, and NPU.

The devices are set to arrive March 12, with the Precision 3280 launching March 26. The Latitude 7350 is due in “Q2 2024,” Dell said. Pricing details are not yetunavailable.

Future of AI PCs

With software vendors increasingly adding AI features into their apps, NPUs will start to become the norm for PCs, said Meghana Patwardhan, Dell’s vice president of Commercial Client Products.

“Eventually, every PC will be an AI PC,” she said.  “There’s a whole ecosystem of ISVs that are building applications that will help employees use these applications to be more productive on these AI PCs.”

The transition will take time, according to analysts, but NPUs already offer advantages for businesses.

AI pcs and smartphones graphic Gartner

AI PCs and GenAI Smartphones Market Share, Worldwide, 2023-2025.

“It is still early days for the AI PC, but at the end of the day, there are going to be segments of enterprises that need to upgrade today and will certainly benefit from the features that take advantage of an NPU…,” said Carolina Milanesi, president and principal analyst at Creative Strategies.

For those in the middle of hardware refresh cycles, the picture might be different. “Dell knows very well this is a marathon and not a sprint, and it will be key to advise customers on how to take advantage of what AI brings today and will bring in the future,” she said.

For now, businesses are showing interest in the potential, said Mainelli; an IDC survey in 2023 indicated that many IT decision- makers in the U.S. are “keen to begin testing AI PCs.”

“They see a number of potential benefits to bringing more AI workloads down to the client from the cloud, chief among them improved productivity,” he said.

Copyright © 2024 IDG Communications, Inc.



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