The Latest Windows PCs Remember Everything

Microsoft’s Copilot finally comes into its own with new AI features like Recall

4 min read

Matthew S. Smith is a freelance consumer technology journalist and the former Lead Reviews Editor at Digital Trends.

A circuit board of a Windows Copilot+ PC with the processor die uncovered and visible. Qualcomm Snapdragon branding is visible beside the processor die.

Microsoft’s Copilot+ PCs use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite chips to power on-device AI.

Matthew S. Smith

Buy any new Windows PC and you might notice an unfamiliar key: the Copilot key. Launched in January, it promised quick access to Microsoft’s AI Copilot. Yet features were limited, causing critics to wonder: Is this it?

Microsoft Build 2024, the company’s annual developer conference, had a reply: No. On 20 May,the company revealed Copilot+ PCs, a new class of Windows computers that exclusively use Qualcomm chips (for now, at least) to power a host of AI features that run on-device. Copilot+ PCs can quickly recall tasks you’ve completed on the PC, refine simple sketches in Paint, and translate languages in a real-time video call. Microsoft’s Surface Laptop and Surface Pro will showcase these features, but they’re joined by Copilot+ PCs from multiple laptop partners including Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Samsung.

“We wanted to put the best foot forward,” said Brett Ostrum, corporate vice president of Surface devices at Microsoft. “When we started this journey, the goal was that Surface was going to ship relevant volumes on [Qualcomm] silicon. And people need to love it.”

Windows’ Recall is a new way to search

Microsoft revealed several AI features at Build 2024, but the highlight was Recall. Similar to Rewind, an app for the Mac I tried in December 2023, Recall can help Windows users find anything they’ve seen, heard, or opened on their PC. This includes files, documents, and apps, but also images, videos, and audio. Recall defaults to a scrollable timeline, which is broken up into discrete events detected by Recall, but users can also browse with semantic text search.

It’s a simple feature to use, but its implications are vast. If Recall works as advertised, it could fundamentally change how people interact with Windows PCs. There’s arguably little need to organize photos from a vacation or carefully file away notes if Recall can find anything, and everything, you’ve opened on your PC.

Copilot+ PC’s new AI features include Recall, a new way to search in Windows.Microsoft

“It used to be if you interacted with your PC, you used a command line. Then we came up with the graphical user interface,” said Ostrum. “Now, how do you find the things that you are looking for? Recall is a much more natural and richer way to interact with your files.”

There’s one unavoidable caveat: It’s too early to know if Recall will do what Microsoft says. I tried the feature firsthand, and found that it could recall a fictional recipe I asked Microsoft Copilot to create. It did so immediately, and also after several hours had passed. Whether it can do the same next month, or next year, remains to be seen.

While Recall was the star, it was joined by several additional AI features. These include Cocreator, a new feature for Microsoft Paint that uses AI to convert simple sketches into more elaborate digital art, and Live Captions, which captions and translates video in real time. Like Recall, both features lean on a Copilot+ PC’s neural processing unit (NPU). That means these features, again like Recall, won’t be available on older PCs.

These features are intriguing, but they’re shadowed by a concern: privacy. Recall could help you find lost documents, and live translation could lower language barriers, but they only work if Microsoft’s AI captures what’s happening on your PC. The company hopes to ease these concerns by running AI models on-device and encrypting any data that’s stored.

Qualcomm partnership leaves Intel, AMD in the cold

Of course, running an AI model on-device isn’t easy. CPUs can handle some AI models, but performance often isn’t ideal, and many AI models aren’t optimized for the hardware. GPUs are better fit for AI workloads but can draw a lot of power, which shortens battery life.

That’s where Qualcomm comes into the picture. Its latest laptop chip, the Snapdragon X Elite, was designed by many of the same engineers responsible for Apple’s M1 chip and includes an NPU.

Microsoft’s two Copilot+ PCs, the Surface Laptop and Surface Pro, both have Snapdragon X Elite processors, and both quote AI performance of up to 45 trillion operations per second. Intel’s current Intel Core Ultra processors are a step behind, with quoted AI performance up to 34 trillion operations per second.

Two Microsoft Surface laptops are placed side-by-side on a white backdrop. Thier screens are open and display the Windows desktop. Microsoft’s new Surface devices have Qualcomm chips inside. The same is true of other Copilot+ PCs.Microsoft

That’s apparently not enough for Microsoft: All Copilot+ PCs available at launch on 18 June will have Qualcomm chips inside. And many new AI features, including Windows’ Recall, only work on Copilot+ PCs. Put simply: If you want to use Recall, you must buy Qualcomm.

Intel and AMD chips will appear in Copilot+ PCs eventually, but Ostrum said that may not happen until the end of 2024 or early 2025.

“We will continue to partner with [Intel and AMD] when it makes sense,” said Ostrum. “There is both an element of how much performance there is, but there’s also an element of how efficient that performance is [...] we don’t want [AI] to be taxing multiple hours of battery life at a given time.” Ostrum says activating AI features like Windows’ Recall on a Copilot+ PC shaves no more than 30 to 40 minutes off a laptop’s battery life, and all of Microsoft’s battery-life quotes for Surface devices (which promise up to 15 hours of Web browsing and 22 hours of video playback) assume Copilot+ AI features are turned on.

It’s unusual to see a major Windows product launch without Intel at the forefront of it, but that underscores Microsoft’s belief that features like Recall only work on hardware that prioritizes AI performance and efficiency. If Microsoft has it their way, the Copilot key won’t be a fad. It’ll be the most important key on every Windows PC.

The Conversation (0)