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Home / Features / What is a Microsoft Copilot+ PC, how does it work, and how can you get one?

What is a Microsoft Copilot+ PC, how does it work, and how can you get one?

Microsoft is determined to make your laptop into an AI machine, and the new Copilot+ PCs could be the ones to sell it to you

CoPilot

When Microsoft started inserting the preview version of Copilot, its AI chatbot, into Windows 11 at the beginning of 2024, there was one detail that suggested a big change was coming. The system, which can be invoked from the taskbar and appears as a sidebar in the operating system, also has a dedicated button on the keyboards of new PCs designed to work with it. This was the first time a new key had been added since Windows 95 introduced the Windows key that pops up the Start menu.

Now, Microsoft has announced the next step on the journey that began with that single key, the Copilot+ PC. It makes a small change to the way we think of our computers. By that, we mean the software now defines the hardware, instead of the other way around. But it may leave some feeling left out – especially if you’ve bought a new laptop recently.


What is a Copilot+ PC?

According to Microsoft, “Copilot+ PCs are the fastest, most intelligent Windows PCs ever built,” which sounds like the sort of thing that’s been said every time a new PC line has been launched dating back to the ‘90s. But underneath their casings, something has changed in this new generation of personal computers. Alongside the CPU, GPU, RAM, SSD and other TLAs that make up the modern PC, there’s a new one: NPU. This stands for Neural Processing Unit. They’re for accelerating AI applications locally on the PC, instead of offloading the workload to a cloud server somewhere, which is slower and has privacy concerns.

Where will I find it?

The first PCs to be announced for the Copilot+ standard all use Qualcomm Snapdragon X series CPUs, a totally different architecture from the Intel Core and AMD Ryzen chips we’re used to. It mirrors what Apple did with its M-series chips, breaking from Intel and using the ARM architecture, more commonly seen in phones and tablets, in pursuit of both performance gains and longer battery life. It worked for Apple, so it could do equally well for the PC. This is especially true as claims are being made that the new Qualcomm chips are even better than Apple’s designs.

Apart from the new chip and the extra key on the keyboard, the big changes come in the software. Microsoft is baking its AI into just about every aspect of Windows, and other software creators are following suit.

What this switch in PC architecture means is that, if you’ve bought a PC with an AMD or Intel chip recently, it might not get the update to the Copilot+ standard. Companies such as HP and Acer are already announcing their Copilot+ PCs. So, the next computer you buy could well support the new tech. All of the devices shown at the time of writing have been laptops or two-in-one devices, but the desktop PC is unlikely to get left behind.

How does it work?

Copilot restyle image

So you’ve got your new PC, and the new version of Windows. Then what? Well, there will be some AI-powered image creation and editing tools built right into the OS. Plus, there’s the ability to adjust the lighting or add creative filters to video calls. This includes the illusion of maintaining eye contact with the camera even though you’re looking elsewhere. Nvidia Broadcast can already do this last one, but requires one of the company’s GPUs to run and can look a bit uncanny in use, so it will be interesting to see if the Copilot+ version appears more natural.

Then there’s Cocreator, a drawing app that generates artwork from your initial sketches. And you will be able to generate live captions for any media you’re playing. Windows claims that it can translate more than 40 languages to English subtitles instantly. This is all without having to use the cloud.

Microsoft Recall

Recall

Copilot live captioning

The big announcement, however, has to be Recall. This appears to be a massive, searchable history of everything you’ve done with your PC, including voice chats, web searches, documents and emails. It allows you to go back to something you were doing months ago and have half forgotten about, either by scrolling through the timeline or by searching using object recognition or keywords.

AI smarts are also going to become more prevalent in other applications. Companies such as Adobe are already integrating it into the likes of Photoshop. It’s also beginning to appear in apps like the pro video editing tool DaVinci Resolve, music app djay Pro, and animation programs such as Cephable. In many cases, it takes over time-consuming jobs such as accurately selecting objects in images and video so that they can be removed or manipulated. As the number of AI PCs out there increases, so the apps that take advantage of them, and the things they can do, will multiply.

Do I really need one?

Probably not right now. Especially if you’re content with the way your current PC works. But they’re going to become hard to avoid. Apple’s experience with the M chips in its MacBooks and other computers has shown that the energy-efficient new processors leave nothing behind when it comes to crunching through data. The extended battery life you get from them is nother great bonus in a portable machine.

Microsoft has tried this sort of thing before. It tried to reinvent Windows 98 so that it worked more like the web, with an Active Desktop full of web content and a single click to open folders and applications. But it didn’t catch on. This is why you still have a background image and double click on things today, but with AI set to revolutionise the world of computing just as the easy communication capabilities of the internet did, even if we’re still not completely sure what shape that revolution will take, these new PCs look like a big first step into that world.

Profile image of Ian Evenden Ian Evenden

About

Ian is a freelance writer and editor specialising in gaming, computing, science and technology publications. In the past he was a local newspaper journalist, sub-editor, page designer, photographer and magazine editor. He still disapproves of Oxford commas.

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