Intel Arrow Lake Desktop CPUs to Feature Built-in NPU With 13 TOPS

Intel Arrow Lake Desktop CPUs to Feature Built-in NPU With 13 TOPS

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As you may have heard, the era of the “AI PC” is upon us (ugh). The first wave of these machines has already arrived in the form of Copilot+ PCs using Qualcomm CPUs, and now this phenomenon might also bleed into desktops. According to a new leak, Intel’s upcoming Arrow Lake desktop CPUs will offer a neural processing unit (NPU) to improve its AI performance, which is notable for two reasons: First, Intel has never offered an NPU on a desktop chip before, and second, AMD has already announced four Zen 5 Ryzen 9000 CPUs, which lack NPUs.

The source of these rumors is a leaker on X, so we’ll have to take it with a grain of salt. The X user’s latest post shows some of the differences between Intel’s Raptor Lake and Arrow Lake CPUs, with the most notable being the inclusion of an NPU. This will be embedded in the chip like an integrated GPU and offer a modicum of AI performance at just 13 TOPS (trillions of operations per second.) This is not enough TOPS to do any serious AI work, but it’s similar to the number of TOPS offered by first-gen NPUs from AMD with its Phoenix mobile chips and Intel’s Meteor Lake mobile CPUs, as noted by Videocardz.

Overall, Intel appears to be leaning into NPU performance with Arrow Lake, as it’ll be touting 37 TOPS total across three components that are all part of the CPU: the NPU, GPU, and the CPU itself. This AI performance number from Intel will fall short of the 40 TOPS required by Microsoft to achieve certification as a Copilot+ PC, meaning Arrow Lake desktop computers will not be part of Microsoft’s officially recognized “AI PC” program. Still, it’s a sizable increase in AI performance compared with Raptor Lake desktop, which was not part of the AI PC conversation.

In the real world, adding an NPU will boost Intel’s marketing for its newest CPUs but will likely do little for actual AI performance. Having an NPU inside the CPU is akin to its integrated graphics: great to use in a pinch, but most people with desktop CPUs will use discrete hardware, namely an actual GPU, to get real work done instead of relying on the built-in hardware in the CPU.

Still, it’s a notable sea change in the world of desktop CPUs, as AMD didn’t include an NPU in the first round of Zen 5 chips despite offering NPUs in some of its Zen 4 CPUs. However, it remains to be seen whether desktop PCs will ever join the ranks of so-called AI PCs and whether users will care. Since many desktop users typically also have a discrete GPU, they don’t need an NPU inside the CPU, as discrete GPUs are significantly more powerful for these tasks. This is a point Nvidia has begun to make, stating a good GPU is capable of between 120 and 1,300 TOPS, which will make mince meat out of a tiny NPU embedded inside a CPU.

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