Microsoft reveals AI-powered ‘Recall’ feature to transform Windows 11’s searchability, while confirming hardware requirements

Microsoft’s annual developer conference, Build, has only just kicked off but we’ve already learned lots of exciting things, including the company showing off a new AI-powered ‘Recall’ feature to be integrated into Copilot+ PCs with Windows 11.

Copilot+ is a new software platform that was introduced yesterday, aiming to infuse Windows 11 with new AI features, ushering in a raft of new devices with more advanced AI functionality.

You’ve doubtless already heard of AI PCs, but the new breed of portables, which are powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X chips with an integrated Neural Processing Unit (NPU), were officially debuted yesterday. Windows 11 Recall will be exclusive to PCs that have Snapdragon X processors as the current generation of Intel and AMD mobile CPUs don’t have a powerful enough NPU to deal with the feature. (It needs an NPU capable of 40 TOPS, or trillions of operations per second). 

This isn’t the only hardware requirement that the Recall feature will necessitate, with the full spec requirements being as follows:

  • Snapdragon X Elite or X Plus processor
  • NPU capable of 40 TOPs
  • 225GB storage
  • 16GB RAM

While these new Qualcomm chips are the only mobile silicon that can drive the Recall feature (and other AI capabilities in Copilot+ PCs) right now, future generations of Intel and AMD processors will be on board (Intel’s Lunar Lake for example, or AMD’s Strix Point chips).

Windows Latest notes that the above hardware requirements are not only needed to ensure a quality experience – with enough performance to drive snappy responses with these AI features such as Recall – but also for data security reasons.

Microsoft unveils new Surface Laptop and Surface Pro on a stage

(Image credit: Future / John Loeffler)

So, how does Recall work? 

In the past we’ve seen reports of a rumored feature, often referred to as ‘AI Explorer,’ that would enable you to search through your past activity on your PC. It looks like this has manifested as the Recall feature, and it’ll be privy to all the activity on your PC including what apps you use, how you use those apps, and what you do in them (for example, conversations in WhatsApp). Recall will record all of this activity going forward, saving snapshots of it in your PC’s local storage. 

Additionally, the Settings app will have a dedicated update history section for Recall, and a toggle for new Privacy and Security settings. You’ll be able to update Recall for Windows 11 and other AI features besides using the Windows Update app. 

If you’re feeling wary about allowing Recall to access everything, and concerned about having control over what it records and stores, Windows Latest reports that you’ll be able to delete snapshots manually from Recall’s storage, and set Recall to exclude certain apps and websites from its recording activity. In your device’s Settings, you’ll also be able to adjust the time ranges over which Recall stores snapshots, or indeed pause Recall altogether by clicking on its icon in your Taskbar. 

In practice, Recall is designed to help you go back in time and find elements of your past activity. So for example, if you previously had a conversation with a colleague on a certain topic, but couldn’t remember the details, you could ask Recall to go and find it within Windows 11.  Recall would then comb over your past conversations with the colleague, searching across all of your apps, open tabs within apps, and more besides.

Recall will also be able to help you find files you’ve lost, and to search your browser history, and so forth. You’ll be able to ask for Recall’s assistance using natural language, the way we converse with one another in real life, instead of having to use precise commands. 

All of this will run natively on your PC and won’t have to tap the cloud for computing power, meaning your data will be more secure, as everything can be kept locally, and nothing is sent to an external data center. It’s all happening right there on your Copilot+ PC with the help of that powerful NPU.

Microsoft presenting Surface Laptop and Surface Pro devices.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

When can you try Recall for yourself? 

The hubbub and excitement of Recall is just one of many things that have been revealed at Microsoft Build 2024 already, but you’ll have to wait until the Windows 11 24H2 update to try the feature (and don’t forget, you’ll need a PC that meets the hardware requirements). The 24H2 update is expected to arrive in September or October, or thereabouts.

If Recall and other AI features, deliver on all that’s promised (or even most of it), we think many people will be impressed and it could convince them to try to adapt to the new way of computing that Microsoft is trying to usher in.

Right now, Copilot isn’t regarded as particularly impressive, but in some ways, that’s due to the hardware needed to facilitate Microsoft’s plans for its AI assistant not being available – until now. We’re excited to get our hands on all these new AI features, as we’re one of those people that floods our PC with media – and we’d imagine Recall could be very handy for us indeed.

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Windows 11 fears over watermark for PCs that don’t meet AI Explorer requirements are unfounded, leaker clarifies

Windows 11’s next big feature is rumored to be AI Explorer – indeed, it’s strongly rumored – and there’s been some controversy stirred up over how this might be implemented in the OS recently.

This was caused by a recent post on X (formerly Twitter) from well-known Microsoft leaker Albacore, who dug up clues in Windows 11 code that suggest AI Explorer checks the PC’s system components and warns if they don’t meet the requirements for the AI feature.

Some folks took this as a hint that maybe Microsoft could put a watermark in Windows 11 somewhere to enact this warning, but Albacore just tweeted again to clarify that this definitely won’t be the case.

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As you can see, the leaker clearly states that any warning about the system not hitting the necessary requirements would be purely placed within the AI Explorer interface itself. This means you’d open the AI Explorer app (it will be a standalone app, not to be confused with File Explorer), and it’d just present you with that info (“you can’t run this” essentially).

As Albacore says, there’d be no OS-wide nag flagging this up, such as a watermark or other banner elsewhere in the broader Windows 11 interface. This would just be confined to the AI Explorer app, so it wouldn’t bother you if you never went near it.


Analysis: Exploring an ARM-first strategy?

A further reminder Albacore provides here is that the requirements themselves for AI Explorer – which are, according to the info the leaker previously dug up, an insistence on 16GB of system RAM and, more controversially, an ARM CPU – could change.

That is, of course, something we pointed out back at the time when we reported on this. Not only are these requirements just in preview builds of Windows 11, but they’re tucked away in testing to boot. They could easily be altered later in the year when Windows 11 24H2 finally arrives with AI Explorer on board. (If the rumors are right – indeed, we don’t know for sure that will happen even. Microsoft could delay the implementation, after all, if AI Explorer isn’t working well enough by the time 24H2 rolls around).

Mind you, we can see why AI Explorer might have to be ARM-only to begin with – mainly because it leverages a powerful NPU (to presumably be responsive and nippy enough), and only Snapdragon X chips will have that to begin with. Intel Lunar Lake and AMD Strix Point mobile CPUs with equally beefy NPUs won’t be too far behind, mind you, and at that point, Microsoft will presumably open up AI Explorer more – if this is the path it takes in the first place.

It's not unthinkable that Microsoft might want to use AI Explorer to help shift units of its incoming Surface devices for consumers – running ARM (Snapdragon X) chips – either, at least to begin with. After all, Surface sales have been lackluster of late, and this could be a good way of firing up some enthusiasm for the range again, at least for a short time.

Yes, there are a lot of ifs and buts here, which is why we always advise a good dollop of caution with any leak. It’s good to hear the clarification that any AI Explorer warning won’t be a system-wide nag, though, even if we didn’t believe Microsoft would go that far in the first place – though some folks did, or at least theorized about that possibility.

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Windows 11 gets a troubleshooting tool for one of its most controversial spec requirements

Windows 11 requires the TPM 2.0 security feature (at least officially), but what if you’re having trouble with that particular chip (which remains a controversial system requirement)?

Well, help could soon be at hand, at least going by a new feature spotted in testing – by ever-present leaker PhantomOfEarth on Twitter – with Windows 11’s latest build (25905) in the Canary channel.

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As you can see, the Windows Security app now carries a ‘TPM troubleshooter’ option. As the text for the feature lets us know, this is useful for finding and fixing problems with your TPM 2.0 module.

For the uninitiated, TPM (which stands for Trusted Platform Module) can be a separate hardware chip, or firmware TPM (fTPM) that uses your CPU, and it’s a system that provides tighter security for your PC. (There’s a lot more to it than that, mind, but that’s the gist).

Why is TPM 2.0 so controversial, then? Because a lot of older PCs don’t have it – or even not-all-that-old machines – and people feel that being forced to upgrade (either their motherboard and CPU, or adding a TPM security chip) is an unfair stipulation to get Windows 11. (Windows 10 does not have this requirement, of course).

Microsoft, however, has made it quite clear that beefing up security requires TPM 2.0, and argues that this is something implemented for the good of users, and protecting them against being exploited by hackers.


Analysis: A handy extra to help with TPM woes (we hope)

What might this troubleshooter actually do, then? Well, as Neowin, which spotted the tweet revealing the presence of this feature in testing, points out, it’s possible to encounter odd errors with TPM. For example: “Can’t get TPM information. Contact your device manufacturer.”

That’s not a very helpful error message, and with the new feature, what you’ll be able to do is fire up a Windows troubleshooter to look further into the issue. Hopefully, that might give you further clues as to what’s gone awry (and maybe even solve the problem, with any luck – though Microsoft’s troubleshooters are not always that reliable).

Whatever the case, having some help on-hand is certainly better than nothing (plus there’s another option here to reset your TPM back to default settings, too). Provided, of course, this feature makes the cut for the release version of Windows 11, if it proves useful and well-received in testing. Currently, we’re told that this capability is a limited rollout, so not every Canary channel tester is seeing the TPM troubleshooter.

That’s not unusual, as with many features, Microsoft deploys them to only a small subset of testers to begin with, just to check if there are any major problems, and to monitor early feedback.

Given the controversy around TPM 2.0 – and the fact that it’ll definitely be a requirement for Windows 12 too – we can guess that this troubleshooter is likely to be something that’ll appear in the finished version of Windows 11. Because anything that makes running TPM a smoother experience has to be useful.

This functionality could even pitch up in the 23H2 update, which we’ve just heard some news on – something that makes us think that the Copilot AI, which is rumored for inclusion in 23H2, won’t actually be part of that upgrade due later this year.

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PC doesn’t meet Windows 11 requirements? There’s a tool to fix that

Got a PC that fails the Windows 11 system requirements? Thanks to an unofficial tool, you can create a Windows 11 image that will bypass the TPM system requirements that Microsoft set, enabling your ineligible PC to upgrade to the operating system.

Since Windows 11 was announced in June 2021, Microsoft was adamant that all PCs would have to meet its system requirements, such as enabling TPM, in order for the update to be eligible.

But according to Windows Latest, the Rufus tool will allow you to create a bootable USB drive thanks to an official Windows 11 image file, with checks in place that will allow your PC to bypass the system requirements.

But with this much power in one tool, we don't actually recommend using this to upgrade your PC to Windows 11 for now, unless you're certain you know what you're doing, and what the risks are.


Analysis: Unforeseen consequences could occur

Windows 11 with Rufus

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Microsoft's communication around explaining the requirements for Windows 11 in 2021 was poor at best, especially when it came to TPM. It also didn't help when its app to check if your PC was eligible to upgrade wasn't accurate in its results.

But there's still a wide pool of users who are on Windows 10 and don't see the need to upgrade their PC to use Windows 11, especially if they use their device for the occasional web browsing or gaming.

While this tool will grant these PCs a path to upgrade, we don't recommend using Rufus. The features that are in Windows 11, alongside what's coming up with its major upgrade, codenamed 'Sun Valley 2', will require some PCs to use more of the CPU, memory, and GPU in order to run the operating system in an efficient way.

This could cause a strain on the hardware, and you could have an incompatible PC running Windows 11 very slowly, to the point where it's an irritation. Microsoft has also made it be known that it will make updating unsupported PCs running Windows 11 difficult in the future, which could lock you out from getting important security fixes.

Perhaps you can use Rufus as a 'trial' for Windows 11, to see what you think of the update before you go all-in on a new PC. But as something to bypass the system requirements, we recommend holding off.

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