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Innovation

For the age of the AI PC, here comes a new test of speed

The new MLPerf Client benchmark will rate how well chips and systems perform with generative AI on desktops, laptops and workstations, starting with Meta's Llama 2 LLM.
Written by Tiernan Ray, Senior Contributing Writer
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New PCs now available with the Core Ultra chip on display at Intel's event. 

Tiernan Ray for ZDNET

This year will be the year of the "AI PC," at least according to the CEOs of both Intel and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), who have signaled their intent to bring meaningful artificial intelligence capabilities to the personal computer along with their partners Dell, HP, Inc., and Lenovo, among others. 

In anticipation of a wave of laptops and desktops with special AI abilities, the computer industry's leading organization for rating the performance of neural networks this week announced the formation of a new effort to benchmark AI on personal computers

Also: Nvidia makes the case for the AI PC at CES 2024

The new MLPerf Client benchmark will rate how well chips and systems perform with generative AI on desktops, laptops, and workstations, said the MLCommons, the industry consortium that has published various AI benchmarks for five years, in a blog post

Intel and AMD hope that new AI capabilities will juice desktop sales.

The initial benchmarks will focus on measuring how fast computers make predictions, commonly known as "inference," as opposed to "training," which is when a neural net is first developed. Most client computing devices do not possess the requisite power to perform the training of neural networks, so inference is a logical place to start. 

The first benchmark test of inference will involve tasks using Meta's open-source Llama 2 large language model

Co-chairs of the MLPerf Client working group include Ramesh Jaladi, senior director of engineering in the IP Performance group at Intel; Yannis Minadakis, partner GM, software development at Microsoft; and Jani Joki, director of performance benchmarking at NVIDIA.

The new benchmark is timely as PC executives are pinning their hopes for a revival of the moribund PC market on local processing of AI as an adjunct to the cloud-based processing that currently dominates AI. PC sales fell 15% last year in unit terms, the worst year in PC history, according to research firm Gartner

Also: Intel spotlights AI in new Core Ultra, 5th-gen Xeon chips

In a media event last month, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger touted the company's newest desktop chip, Core Ultra, code-named "Meteor Lake," as an AI platform. For the first time in any Intel desktop processor, the chip includes a dedicated accelerator unit for AI, called a neural processing unit (NPU). 

That NPU circuitry will enable "a new level of power-efficient AI acceleration with 2.5x better power efficiency than the previous generation" of Core chip, according to Intel.

The timing of a first benchmark release is likely months away, the MLCommons told ZDNET via email. Other benchmark reports have typically been published twice yearly. 

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