Copilot+ AI PCs are finally here. You don’t want one — yet

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The AI hype keeps on coming. 

The latest news is the arrival of an entirely new line of Windows computers, Copilot + PCs, which are specifically designed with artificial intelligence (AI) in mind. Microsoft claims they’ll dramatically speed up AI, offer new features unavailable to other PCs, and deliver improved battery life. The new machines point the way to the future of Windows and of AI, if the company is to be believed.

Laptops from Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung and Microsoft were released several weeks ago, long enough to find out how they perform in real life. So how do they stack up? Are they everything Microsoft claimed they would be, or just one more overhyped new technology?

To find out, let’s start by looking at Microsoft’s promises about what the Copilot + PCs will do. In a blog post announcing them, the company crows:

“Copilot+ PCs are the fastest, most intelligent Windows PCs ever built. With powerful new silicon capable of an incredible 40+ TOPS (trillion operations per second), all–day battery life and access to the most advanced AI models, Copilot+ PCs will enable you to do things you can’t on any other PC. Easily find and remember what you have seen in your PC with Recall, generate and refine AI images in near real-time directly on the device using Cocreator, and bridge language barriers with Live Captions, translating audio from 40+ languages into English. “

The laptops are based on Qualcomm Arm-based processors, which include a neural processing unit (NPU) to handle AI-related tasks. Normally, AI processing occurs in the cloud rather than on a local PC, potentially slowing things down AI. On Copilot + PCs, Microsoft claims, much of that processing will stay local on the machine.

Recalling Recall

Microsoft went into hype overdrive when touting the new machines’ Recall feature. There’s good reason for that. Anyone who has spent too much time trying to remember and open a specific email, website or file they worked on months ago would want it — and that pretty much means all of us. It’s clearly the killer app that could sell countless Copilot+ PCs.

But Recall has an Achilles heel. As I wrote earlier, it could be the ultimate security-and-privacy nightmare. It works by constantly taking screenshots of everything you do, storing them on your PC, creating a searchable database of them, and then using AI tools on them so you can find what you want quickly.

Initially, Microsoft claimed that because all that work is done locally rather than in the cloud, it wouldn’t lead to privacy or security issues. But many security researchers and analysts disagree. 

Jeff Pollard, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, told Computerworld “I think a built-in keylogger and screen-shotter that perfectly captures everything you do on the machine within a certain time frame is a tremendous privacy nightmare for users.”

If a hacker gains access to your PC, researchers found, he or she can read the database, which isn’t even encrypted. At first, Microsoft tried to convince everyone that the privacy issues were much ado about nothing. But then it backed off. The company announced in a blog post that the feature won’t be available on Copilot+ PCs when they launch. Microsoft says it will make Recall available some day — though it won’t say when.

That means the biggest reason for buying a Copilot+ at the moment remains elusive. 

Other Copilot+ PC woes

These machines have other issues, too. One of the most head-scratching ones is that the Copilot app on Copilot+ PCs appears to be less powerful than the app on traditional PCs. On Copilot+ PCs, Copilot runs as a traditional Windows app rather than as a sidebar pane, as it now normally does on traditional PCs. So, you can resize it, move it around the screen, and do anything with it that you can do with any window.

That’s not the problem. The problem is that Microsoft also took away some Copilot features. When run as a sidebar pane, Copilot can perform some basic Windows tasks for you, such as turning dark mode on or off. The app on Copilot+ PCs can’t do that. (By the way, Copilot as a Windows app is now also available for non-Copilot+ PCs, and it has the same problem as the Windows app on Copilot+ PCs.)

Another oddity: Although the new Copilot+ PCs have a dedicated Copilot key, the PCs won’t allow you to launch Copilot with the keyboard shortcut Windows key-C as you can on other PCs. Go figure.

And there’s more, according to Computerworld and PC World contributor Chris Hoffman. On the new machines, he says, “Copilot doesn’t run offline or use the new integrated neural processing unit (NPU) hardware to do anything at all.”

Running AI offline was one of the big promises of the new line. Perhaps someday that will happen, but as Hoffman notes, that day isn’t yet upon us.

Emulation: Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Because Copilot+ PCs run Windows on an Arm chip, they have to run Windows apps via emulation. Theoretically, that could be problematic or slow apps down. Microsoft contends that the chips are so fast that the apps run fine. 

Not everyone agrees. Many reviewers generally report no serious problems, but Android Authority warns: “emulation is hit-and-miss.”

PC World’s Mark Hachman found that most apps work fine, with one big caveat: “There’s a good chance your favorite games won’t even run” on a Copilolt+ PC.

The upshot

So, should you buy one of these machines? I won’t hem and haw. The answer is no. Their two most important AI-related features — Recall and local AI processing — aren’t yet available. And running games on one, is that’s a priority, is iffy at best.

There are plenty of very good thin, powerful Window laptops out there. If you need a new PC, buy one of those, not a Copilot+ PC. Even if you’re looking for true AI power, you’d do better to wait.

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