Intel unveils Core Ultra, its first chips with NPUs for AI work

Intel today is entering the “AI PC” era with the launch of its new Core Ultra notebook chips. Originally codenamed “Meteor Lake,” these are Intel’s first processors to include an NPU, or neural processing unit, for accelerating AI tasks. The launch comes a week after AMD revealed its upcoming Ryzen 8040 hardware, its second batch of chips to include NPUs. While Intel is playing a bit of AI catch-up, the Core Ultra chips still sound like a solid step forward — at least according to the company’s benchmarks.

Intel claims the Core Ultra chips use up to 79 percent less power than AMD’s last-gen Ryzen 7840U while idling in Windows, and they’re also up to 11 percent faster than AMD’s hardware for multithreaded tasks. Intel didn’t have the upcoming Ryzen 8040 chips to test, but it’ll be interesting to see how they both compare next year.

Efficiency is a key component of the Core Ultra chips: They’re built on the company’s new Intel 4 (7nm) process, and they feature its FOVEROS 3D packaging. According to Intel, these are are also “the most efficient x86 processor for ultrathin systems.” There are refined P (Performance) and E (Efficiency) cores, as well as Intel Arc graphics, which is up to twice as fast as the last generation (and also offer double the performance per watt).

Intel Core UltraIntel Core Ultra


The Core Ultra family launches with the Ultra 7 165H at the high end, offering 16 cores/22 threads (6P cores, 8 E cores and 2 low-power E cores and a 5GHz Max Turbo frequency. A beefier Ultra 9 185H will arrive in the first quarter of 2024 with a 5.1GHz Max Turbo speed, slightly faster GPU and higher power draw (45 watts, compared to the Ultra 7’s 28 watts). As usual, there’s also a lower-power “U” series of chips for the thinnest machines.

While you won’t find the Core Ultra chips in the most powerful gaming laptops, the addition of Intel Arc graphics should make them slightly more viable for less demanding gaming (or at least more on par with AMD’s 7000 series chips). Intel says the Ultra 7 165H can play Baldur’s Gate 3 twice as fast as the Core i7 1370P in 1080p with medium graphics settings, and it can handle Resident Evil Village 95 percent faster than that older Intel chip.

Across an average of 18 games, including Apex Legends, Overwatch 2 and Final Fantasy XIV, Intel says the Ultra 7 165H is 5 percent faster than AMD’s Ryzen 7 7840U in the Thinkpad T16. Sure, that’s just a nominal improvement over last-gen hardware, but at least Intel finally appears to be competitive with AMD’s solid graphics. The company’s XeSS AI upscaling can also improve performance around 39 percent on average in 1080p. In some titles, including Like A Dragon: Gaiden, Intel’s upscaling can bump a game up from a middling 30fps range to a far smoother 69 fps.

Intel Core Ultra familyIntel Core Ultra family

As for AI workloads, Intel says Core Ultra chips can reach up to 34 TeraOPS when combining performance across the NPU, GPU and CPU. But the big change this time is the NPU: It’ll enable features like Windows 11’s Studio Effects, which can blur backgrounds and improve video lighting without hurting your battery life much. For creative AI workloads, Intel says the Ultra 7 165H is 70 percent faster than the Ryzen 7 7840U in Adobe Premiere Pro and a whopping 5.4 times faster running GIMP Stable Diffusion.

What’s truly exciting about the Core Ultra hardware, as well as AMD’s upcoming Ryzen 8040 series, is the potential for NPUs to make our computing lives slightly easier. They could help eke out more battery life while editing audio in Audacity on the go, or give you a slightly sleeker background blur during Zoom calls. Both Intel and AMD also say they’re also pushing developers to help create more AI-enabled features in their apps. Basically, get used to the term “AI PC” — you’ll be hearing it quite a bit throughout the next year.

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