NPU, what it is and how to check if you have one on your PC

NPU, what it is and how to check if you have one on your PC

A Neural Processing Unit (NPU) is a type of processor designed specifically to manage and execute algorithms related to artificial intelligence and the machine learning. They are units considered as “complementary processors” as they work in combination with CPU and GPU, for example improve performance with AI workloads. We cite, for example, activities such as image classification, object recognition, real-time language translation, facial recognition, generation of content of any kind, optimization of photos and videos in real time and much more.

The importance of NPUs is the result of the growing demand for AI applications capable of run locally, on the user’s device, rather than relying on resources available in the cloud. NPUs shine precisely because of their ability to run AI algorithms more efficiently (therefore also consuming less energy) than CPUs and GPUs.

Where the NPUs are located

The collaboration between CPU, GPU and NPU is redefining the computing landscape, enabling a smoother user experience and optimized performance in industries requiring advanced data processing.

Several processors are already equipped with NPUs, although their number is still rather limited. Volumes, obviously, are destined to grow dramatically as the concept of PC AI, as defined for example by Microsoft, takes hold.

With his Ryzen 8040, AMD presented processors for the mobile market with integrated NPU: Ryzen 9 8945HS, Ryzen 7 8845HS, Ryzen 7 8840HS are some examples. We talk about it in the article in which we present the Ryzen 8040 as AMD’s first real investment in AI mainstream. For its part, Intel presented i Core Ultra Meteor Lake with NPU as part of the new generation of processors for the mobile world.

On the slope ARMQualcomm has sharpened its weapons with its Snapdragon

Initially, NPUs made their way into smartphones, improving the camera’s abilities and setting new standards to overcome the Megapixel myth. As AI applications become more widespread, NPUs are progressively landing on notebook systems and the desktop side.

Systems such as the Dell Precision 5000 and 3000 series, the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 5G, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 5, the Dell Latitude 7350, are some very early examples of systems equipped with NPU.

How to determine if your system has NPUs

To check for NPUs on a system Windowsjust press the key combination Windows+Xchoose Device management then check the presence of the indication in the list Neural processor. The absence of any reference in this regard confirms that the processor in use is not equipped with an NPU.

When the operating system needs to perform an AI-related task, it evaluates the available components, system resources, and decides whether to use the NPU or the GPU.

Presenza NPU Task Manager Windows 11

Image source: Intel.

Using the card Performance of the Task Manager in Windows

The latest versions of Windows 11 present an updated and improved Task Manager: pressing CTRL+MAIUSC+ESCpossibly clicking on More details then on the card Performancefor PCs that have a neural processing unit you will find the new tile NPU, just below the various references to CPU, memory, disks, network cards, and GPUs. By clicking on NPUit is possible to check the unit’s activity in real time and have an understanding of the situations in which it comes into operation due to the specificity of the workload to be managed.

AMD recently thanked Microsoft for adding support for the NPUs present in the most recent Ryzen in the Task Manager.

In the case of systems based on Intel processors, you can also refer to the Ark database: just choose the name of the chip used on your system and check what is present in the left column, selecting NPU Specifications.

In conclusion, NPUs represent a significant step inperformance optimization for AI-related tasks, enabling greater energy efficiency and better workload management. However, we are still in the early stages: the technology underlying the operation of NPUs still needs to mature and progress.

Opening image credit: Intel. It shows a series of Core Ultra Meteor Lake processors built using the Intel 4 manufacturing process and a Foveros packaging that combines a hybrid architecture of CPU, GPU and NPU.

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