AI-capable PCs are expected to be an explosive trend through 2025 and beyond. The trajectory of AI will increase when more people can access AI-powered applications, which in turn, will help AI developers build a bigger ecosystem. Currently, there is a major bottleneck right now for AI applications to where client devices are not powerful enough or energy efficient enough to leverage AI capabilities at the edge.

We’ve discussed the PC rebound in late 2023 for our premium members with executive commentary on how AI PCs will accelerate the PC market’s growth rate. Industry research organizations similarly see strong growth in AI PCs, with some forecasting annual AI PC shipments to more than triple by 2028. In other words, AI-capable PCs are projected to rise from ~19% of total PC shipments this year to more than 70%, even up to 80% by 2028. The rapid adoption curve will be driven “with a strong inclination towards commercial adoption.” There is indication the early majority will adopt AI PCs in 2025, and the late majority in 2026. This leaves time for consumers to participate, which thus far has been a challenge for AI, as it’s been predominately driven forward by Big Tech.

Refresher on AI PCs

With the rapid ascent of generative AI over the past year and a half, the term ‘AI PC’ may be self-explanatory but there are nuances to each release. Microsoft has adopted a new definition for AI PCs that underpins the launch of its Copilot+ PCs on the market, which launched in mid-June.

According to Microsoft’s definition, an AI PC will contain a CPU, a GPU, and an NPU (neural processing unit), as well as its Copilot key and Copilot software onboard. NPUs are highly efficient at parallel processing for AI and ML workloads by running matrix multiples. Essentially, NPUs offer a very power-efficient way of running localized AI on devices such as PCs and smartphones without draining battery life by operating in the background. Per Microsoft, AI PCs must be capable of 40 TOPS or greater performance on the NPU.

Meeting Microsoft’s Copilot+ requirement calls for at least 16GB RAM and 256GB storage alongside the 40+ TOPS NPU performance. This is currently only met by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite chips, but will soon be met with Intel’s Lunar Lake chips, AMD’s Strix Point chips, and others.

AMD and Intel define the AI PC more broadly – AMD defines an AI PC as “a PC designed to optimally execute local AI workloads across a range of hardware, including the CPU, GPU, and NPU.” Intel’s definition says an AI PC “has a CPU, a GPU and an NPU, each with specific AI acceleration capabilities.”

Intel believes the AI PC “promises to be a huge improvement for everyday PC usages,” as it “represents a fundamental shift in how our computers operate.” AI PCs meeting the TOPS and memory requirements set forth by Microsoft will allow AI models and workloads to be built and deployed directly at the edge, without transferring data to and from the cloud, offering an extra layer of security and privacy.

Strong Growth Forecasts

Shipments of AI-capable PCs are forecast to grow at a rapid rate over the next four years, while also boosting broader PC market growth. HP believes that as AI PC commercialization accelerates, the “overall PC category growth rate can double over the next three years.”

Canalys is projecting AI PC shipments to rise at a 44% CAGR from 2024 to 2028, from an estimated 48 million PCs this year, before doubling to more than 100 million in 2025 and rising to over 205 million by 2028. Cumulative shipments of AI PCs are projected to surpass 600 million over the next four years.

Gartner is slightly more optimistic on the near-term growth of AI PC shipments, forecasting shipments to more than double from 24 million in 2023 to 54.5 million in 2024, nearly 14% higher than Canalys’ estimate. Gartner’s 2025 forecast calls for shipments more than doubling once more to 116 million units, or 43% of total PC shipments, up from just 10% in 2023 and 22% this year.

IDC is projecting 50 million shipments in 2024, with 3-year growth of 234%, reaching 167 million annual shipments in 2027. Here’s what the three projections look like:

While there are some nuances in the growth projections, especially in the next twelve to eighteen months, the longer-term growth trends remain intact, with shipments projected to increase more than 200% by 2027.

Much of the growth through 2025 is expected to be in the premium (or high-end) laptop segment, with ASPs rising due to the NPU. For example, the first Copilot+ PCs equipped with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Plus chips start at $999, and the Snapdragon X Elite PCs at $1,249.

In addition, while the growth in AI PC shipments is expected to be felt across both the consumer and commercial end markets, commercial adoption is forecast to be higher, at approximately 60% by 2028 versus 40% for consumer. This is due to the productivity gains that AI PCs can enable via powerful on-device AI as well as benefits to software developers and related roles. For example, Dell’s XPS and Latitude 7455, equipped with the Snapdragon X Elite, “can support 13 billion-plus parameter models which means customers can run popular models like Llama 3 directly on their PCs.”

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PC Market Growth

A look at the broader PC market shows that the industry finally inflected back to growth after a challenging two-year stretch of declines; however, this came against an easy comp of a nearly (29%) YoY decline in Q1 2023, per IDC.

Counterpoint Research and Canalys both reported 3% YoY growth for the PC market in Q1, with Lenovo leading the way with nearly 8% YoY growth. In addition, IDC noted that “global PC shipments finally returned to pre-pandemic levels as 1Q24 volumes rivaled those seen in 1Q19 when 60.5 million units were shipped.”

For the full year, the market is expected to see approximately 2% to 3% growth, with annual shipments in the 265 million and 270 million range. This is still a far cry from the ~340 million shipments seen in 2021, due to the challenging landscape the industry navigated through 2023.

An Ultra-Competitive Landscape

Competition in AI PCs is quickly heating up, with Intel forecasting a surge in its PC chip shipments, while Nvidia, AMD and others line up powerful Arm-based CPUs to take on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X chips once its exclusivity deal with Arm expires at the end of 2024. Apple is rumored to be planning an M4-powered Mac refresh either by the end of this year or early 2025.

The four are competing on NPU performance, alongside efficiency:

· Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X NPU offers 45 TOPS of AI performance, while CEO Cristiano Amon “claiming a performance-per-watt 2.6 times better than AMD and 5.4 better than Intel’s Core Ultra 7 chips.”

· Intel’s upcoming Lunar Lake chip offers up to 48 TOPS on the NPU, and Intel is claiming “1.4x AI performance over the Snapdragon X Elite running the Stable Diffusion tool in a GIMP plugin; faster overall core performance versus Ryzen and Qualcomm competition; and a 1.5x improvement over its previous generation in the performance of the integrated GPU.”

· AMD’s upcoming Ryzen AI 300 series chips (Strix Point and Strix Halo) offer up to 50 TOPS performance from the NPU, the highest on the market so far.

· Apple’s M4 chip offers up to 38 TOPS performance on the NPU, with the chip originally deploying on the iPad lineup with the Mac refresh rumored for this year or next.

Nvidia does not have an NPU competitor yet, as it believes its GeForce RTX GPUs offer significantly higher TOPS and more AI performance: “Performing 40 TOPS is sufficient for some light AI-assisted tasks, like asking a local chatbot where yesterday’s notes are. But many generative AI tasks are more demanding. NVIDIA RTX and GeForce RTX GPUs deliver unprecedented performance across all generative tasks — the GeForce RTX 4090 GPU offers more than 1,300 TOPS. This is the kind of horsepower needed to handle AI-assisted digital content creation, AI super resolution in PC gaming, generating images from text or video, querying local large language models (LLMs) and more.” However, Nvidia and MediaTek are reportedly working on an Arm-based AI PC chip for a 2025 launch following the expiration of Qualcomm’s exclusivity deal.

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Industry Commentary on PCs, AI PCs

Industry commentary on the AI PC outlook is optimistic over the longer-term, with vendors and chipmakers alike seeing growth through 2026. Management teams are broadly bullish on the upcoming refresh cycle and the potential for AI PCs to not only boost growth but also to improve ASPs.

Let’s break down some recent industry commentary:

Hewlett-Packard:

HPQ’s management is expecting to see stronger AI PC demand as 2024 closes with larger impacts in 2025 and 2026. Management said that “in the second half, we expect to see the introduction of AI PCs accelerate demand, over-and-above the anticipated PC refresh cycle and Windows 11 roll out.”

CEO Enrique Lores said that HP believes the “penetration of AI PCs is going to be growing over time,” with its first AI PCs representing “around 10% of the shipments for the second half. That’s how we are quantifying that. But really, the impact will be more relevant in 2025 and in 2026. In fact, we expect that AI PCs, and at that point will be our new generation, will be between 40% and 60% of our sales three years after launch. … And as we have discussed before, we continue to believe that they will drive an improvement in average selling price of between 5% and 10%”

He further clarified that of the new AI PC products, HP expects “a stronger traction in consumer because commercial requires some evaluation done by customers. That takes some time. But over time, we expect the penetration in commercial to grow and to be more relevant in 2025 and in 2026.”

Dell:

Despite have one of the largest AI PC lineups in the industry, Dell’s management has been a bit more opaque about the opportunity, though they remain bullish on AI PCs.

Management said in Q1’s earnings call that the “commercial PC demand has also stabilized and we saw an improving demand environment as we move through the quarter. … We expect commercial PCs to continue to improve as the year progresses. We remain optimistic about the coming PC refresh cycle, driven by multiple factors. The PC installed base continues to age, Windows 10 will reach end of life later next year and the industry is making significant advancements in AI-enabled architectures and applications.”

This return to growth in commercial PCs and stabilization in demand is a positive sign, and also echoes HP’s view that the commercial space may need more than a quarter or two to fully embrace AI PCs and for shipment growth to accelerate.

Qualcomm:

Qualcomm sees AI redefining the PC, and its understandable management would be outwardly very optimistic about the opportunity given the Arm exclusivity this year and partnership with Microsoft.

CEO Cristiano Amon said at Computex that “the PC is truly reborn. It’s a new era for the PC and that is happening with the combination of Snapdragon X Elite and Copilot Plus,… it’s one of the most significant transitions in Windows. Personally, I believe is as significant as Windows 95. It is changing the experience, delivering groundbreaking AI capabilities, fundamentally changing how we interact with our PCs.” Amon added that the AI PC “will become indispensable for both personal and business applications. One thing is going to be different about this new PC. Unlike the past, your Windows PC will get better over time.”

Despite the optimism, Qualcomm said that “in our June quarter guidance, there isn’t material PC volume forecasted in our numbers,” with more of the impacts coming from the back-to-school season and into 2025.

AMD:

AMD is arguably one of the more bullish companies in the industry regarding the impact that AI PCs will have on the upcoming refresh cycle.

CFO Jean Hu mentioned that AMD’s “PC client business are performing really well. We’re gaining share. And primarily, they are driven by our most recent generation of processors, Ryzen 8000.” She added that the company believes the “AI PC is a very significant inflection point. It will potentially help the refresh the PC market. … [And] we think generation over generation technology and product leadership will help us both on the commercial side and the consumer side to continue to gain share.”

This echoes statements from CEO Lisa Su in AMD’s Q1 earnings call: “We see clear opportunities to gain additional commercial PC share based on the performance and efficiency advantages of our Ryzen Pro portfolio and an expanded set of AMD-powered commercial PCs from our OEM partners. Looking forward, we believe the market is on track to return to annual growth in 2024, driven by the start of an enterprise refresh cycle and AI PC adoption. We see AI as the biggest inflection point in PC since the Internet with the ability to deliver unprecedented productivity and usability gains.”

Q1 had already seen rather strong demand for AMD’s latest Ryzen series, as “Ryzen desktop CPU sales grew by a strong double-digit percentage year-over-year and Ryzen mobile CPU sales nearly doubled year-over-year as new Ryzen 8040 notebook designs from Acer, Asus, HP, Lenovo and others ramped.” If anything, this could be seen as a strong indicator of demand for the upcoming Ryzen AI 300 series.

Intel:

Intel has had the most to say about AI PCs, given that their positioning in the x86 versus Arm-based processor competition is most at risk if Arm-based PCs really start to see strong adoption over the next few quarters to years. We previously discussed the outlook for Arm-based PCs for our premium readers, saying that “if Arm-based PCs stick this time, it will mark a massive shift in edge devices. X86 dominates PCs as it stands today, yet AI leaders have their roadmaps loaded with Arm-based releases over the next year.” For more on Arm-based PCs, reference our analysis “Arm-Based PCs and AI Edge Devices”.

However, Intel has made it crystal clear that they don’t see Arm as much of a threat. Management explained that “Arm and Windows PC is not a new dynamic. This is something that was a big concern of the investment community as far back as 2011. And so there’s been 14, 15 years of trying to break Arm into the Windows PC market with very little success in large part because we had a very strong road-map in large part because we had a strong ecosystem and in large part x86 PCs not only make us a profitable, it makes the OEMs profitable as well.

And so we kind of feel like the dynamic really hasn’t changed all that much from the 2011 time period. Clearly, Microsoft is throwing more weight behind this. They’ve done an exclusivity with a single vendor in Qualcomm and that is up at the end of the year. And we fully expect to see other potential Arm suppliers come into the market when that exclusivity is up. But in general, there’s been one successful Arm PC vendor in the market, and that’s been Apple. And they’ve had 25 plus years in the market and they’ve got about a 10% market share.”

Turning to AI PCs, Intel is one of the most bullish on the long-term potential, seeing up to 80% of annual PC shipments being AI PCs by 2028.

Intel also believes revenue in Q1 was the “bottom and we expect sequential revenue growth to strengthen throughout the year and into 2025, underpinned by, one, the beginnings of an enterprise refresh cycle and growing momentum for AI PCs.” Management also hinted that the weaker Q2 revenue guide in part boiled down to supply constraints for its Core Ultra chips: “Q2 client revenue is constrained by wafer-level assembly supply, which is impacting our ability to meet demand for our Core Ultra-based AI PCs.”

Management further explained that the ramp of Core Ultra (Meteor Lake) “continues to accelerate beyond our original expectation with units expected to double sequentially in Q2, limited only by our supply of wafer level assembly. Improving second half Meteor Lake supply and the addition of Lunar Lake and Arrow Lake later this year will allow us to ship in excess of our original 40 million AI PC CPU target in 2024.” As a reminder, Intel is aiming to ship more than 100 million AI PC chips by the end of 2025, with a target of 40 million or more in 2025, and 50% growth to 60 million or more in 2025. Supply constraints will certainly pressure this target if wafer supply takes longer to improve, but at the moment, the demand is present, aided by the enterprise refresh.

As a whole, management teams from both chipmakers and PC vendors alike are projecting strong growth for AI PCs. Qualcomm is leading the push for the Arm-based PC, while Intel is targeting a huge growth in shipments for its x86-based Core Ultra lineup over the next six quarters.

Conclusion

We see AI PCs as the next wave of growth in the budding AI industry, following GPU hardware and memory as professionals and consumers alike both stand to benefit from the ability to run on-device AI efficiently. AI PCs are projected to spearhead growth in the broader PC industry over the next few years, while adoption rates of AI PCs are estimated to soar, from less than one-fifth of total shipments this year to nearly four-fifths of annual shipments by 2028.

In terms of unit growth, AI PCs are expected to more than triple from approximately 50 million units this year to north of 200 million units by 2027, a rapid growth curve for the industry. We’re keeping a close eye on the major players and in the space as we work to identify the top beneficiaries of this trend, recently sharing a downstream beneficiary with our premium members.

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