June 16, 2024

Archie Wertheim

Technology Integration and Foundations for Effective Leadership

2024 in laptops: it’s shaping up to be a big year for Windows

5 min read
2024 in laptops: it’s shaping up to be a big year for Windows

2023 has been a fairly uneventful year for laptops. Apple continues to dominate in both performance and battery life, while Microsoft only had incremental upgrades for its Surface line, and Intel has waited until the very end of the year to try to respond to Apple’s dominance. But 2024 looks set to be one of the most interesting years for laptops since the Windows 8 days, thanks to a new version of Windows, a big AI push, and another attempt at making Windows on Arm a reality.

Apple’s iPad pushed Microsoft into creating Windows on Arm more than 10 years ago, and laptop manufacturers followed with some weird and wonderful designs to match Windows 8. While I’m not expecting a big design overhaul for Windows 12 (or whatever Microsoft calls it), the changes in laptops in 2024 and beyond will be largely focused on the chip side for an era of AI.

Intel is kicking off things a little early in December with its Meteor Lake Core Ultra chips. These are Intel’s first processors with different chiplets for each component, the first on the Intel 4 process (equivalent to 7-nanometer), and its first with an AI coprocessor inside. All of this will hopefully add up to improved battery life that can rival Apple’s MacBook lineup, and perhaps the performance to match.

Intel’s new Core Ultra chip has dedicated AI silicon.
Image: Intel

The AI coprocessor inside

It’s the AI coprocessor inside that’s intriguing to me, particularly because Intel and Microsoft have both been dropping hints about a future version of Windows arriving soon and how “AI is going to reinvent how you do everything on Windows.” Rumors suggest that Windows 12 will include a large focus on AI and take advantage of the AI coprocessors that Intel is building into its Core Ultra chips. (Intel isn’t the only one: AMD also has its own Ryzen 7000 mobile processors that include a dedicated AI engine, and these types of neural processing unit (NPU) chips are common on Arm-powered Windows laptops.)

Intel held an AI event to launch its Core Ultra chips this month, just ahead of the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), where we’ll see all of the new laptops that are powered by Intel’s new chips. Lenovo, MSI, Acer, and Asus are all launching laptops with these new chips inside. While Intel talked a lot about “AI everywhere,” the missing piece of the puzzle, a new AI-focused version of Windows, is still a mystery right now.

Intel publicly teased a “Windows refresh” for 2024, which aligns well with its new AI-focused chip push and rumors of an AI focus for Windows 12. Microsoft hasn’t acknowledged any plans for Windows 12, but given it’s bringing AI features to Windows 11 and even Windows 10 at a rapid pace, it seems inevitable that the next version of Windows will focus heavily on AI. “As we start to develop future versions of Windows we’ll think about other places where AI should play a natural role in terms of the experience,” said Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft’s head of consumer marketing, in an interview with The Verge earlier this year.

Two of the latest laptops running Intel’s Core Ultra chips.
Photo by Antonio G. Di Benedetto / The Verge

The other Windows element is Arm. 2024 looks set to be the next major push for Windows on Arm, with Qualcomm claiming its Snapdragon X Elite processor will beat Apple, Intel, and AMD. Laptops with the Snapdragon X Elite won’t start shipping until mid-2024, but they could offer a solid opportunity for Windows on Arm to finally bring the performance it’s desperately needed.

Microsoft co-engineered custom Qualcomm chips for its Arm-powered Surface Pro variants, but the performance never quite matched what you’d expect from a Windows laptop. Microsoft has largely solved the app compatibility issues, but unless developers fully move their apps over to the Arm architecture, they simply won’t run as well. Microsoft Edge, built on the Chromium engine, runs great on Windows on Arm because Microsoft has done the work, while Google Chrome (also built on Chromium) lags far behind because it’s still an x86 app.

Qualcomm’s added performance could help brute force Windows on Arm into a good place, but ultimately Microsoft and developers need to do more to make Windows on Arm good enough for all apps. Recent reports suggest both Nvidia and AMD plan to launch Arm PC chips as soon as 2025, so it feels like next year could be a big year for Windows on Arm.

Microsoft has been trying to push Arm-powered Windows devices for more than 10 years.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Arm on the Surface: too little too late?

Microsoft originally shipped its first Arm-powered Surface RT in 2012, over a decade ago, so it’s about time that Windows on Arm finally became an option for the masses and not just executives browsing the web on an expensive Surface Pro X device. Otherwise, Windows on Arm is quickly becoming a meme, like the year of desktop Linux.

I’m also expecting to see new Surface hardware next spring. Microsoft has been reportedly working on a smaller Surface Pro with an 11-inch display, so if that device is still in the works, then 2024 and a new version of Windows seems like the perfect time for a new Surface device. The main Surface Pro and Surface Laptop systems are also due for an upgrade, so it could be a busy year for Surface hardware.

There are still plenty of questions over the future of Surface, though — particularly after Panos Panay, the main force behind Microsoft’s device efforts, departed for Amazon just weeks before a Surface event earlier this year. We haven’t seen what Panay is working on at Amazon just yet, but he helped bring Surface to life as a secret project more than 10 years ago, so he’s bound to have big ideas for Amazon’s devices.

We now need to see how Microsoft will reinvent Surface under new leadership, and how the company moves beyond the success of the Surface Pro. With a PC industry eager to push AI features as a laptop selling point, all eyes are on 2024 to see exactly how this new AI era starts to change the devices that millions rely on every day.

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