Apple has had great success with its M-series chips. These SoCs now power almost the company’s entire suite of Mac computers, ranging from the original, high-performance M1 to the overpowered M1 Ultra. But Apple isn’t the only company considering hardware based on the Arm architecture. Microsoft also wants to participate and advance the development of Arm on Windows. That’s why the company launched its first Arm-based desktop computer: Windows 2023 SDK.
The development kit, named Project Volterra, is an Arm-based machine running a Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 processor, with a matching Adreno GPU. It comes with 32GB of LPDDR4x RAM, 512GB of NVMe flash storage, and a host of ports, including two USB-C 3.2 Gen 2, three USB-A 3.2 Gen 2, a Mini DisplayPort, and an Ethernet port. There’s also an NPU (neural processing unit) built into the device, which helps power the machine-learning and AI programs.
All of these specs cost just $599, making the Windows 2023 SDK $100 cheaper than Apple’s introductory M1 Mac mini. This device, of course, comes with the M1 chip, with an eight-core CPU and GPU, as well as a 16-core NPU. However, it only comes with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, half the storage of Volterra and a trimester Memory. Ports are good, though: Ethernet, two Thunderbolt USB-C 4 ports, two USB-A 3.1 Gen 2 ports, HDMI, and a headphone jack.
Of course, specs on paper aren’t everything. Apple has proven the potential of the M1 since its introduction, even with basic specs like 8GB of RAM. In test, the M1 greatly surpasses the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3. It even compares when running Windows in a virtual machine: M1 wins in single-core tests and almost ties the 8cx Gen 3 in multi-core.
Still, for an Arm-based mini Windows machine, the SDK is a worthwhile choice, even if it’s not intended for you. Microsoft markets this product only to software developers, although anyone can buy it. You don’t need to prove that you are creating software, which means you don’t need to pay the $19 fee to create a developer account.
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That said, the intent of this product is for developers to test and build software using the Arm architecture. Arm is growing rapidly, but there are still many apps and games that aren’t optimized or compatible with the platform. By creating an attractive SDK, Microsoft is trying to increase the percentage of native Arm apps
There isn’t much on the market that rivals this type of arm machine. You might look something like Beelink GTR 5 (which costs $900 but can be found for much less), but it runs an AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX. For Arm-based work, at this form factor and power potential, the only other device in its class is really the M1 Mac mini.
While it’s not Microsoft’s intention, we should soon see tech reviewers running benchmarks on the dev kit to see how it performs as a main PC. If the feedback is positive, Microsoft may bring the product to consumers in the future. I would like to see a real Mac mini competitor in the market.
Windows Dev Kit is available in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, United Kingdom and United States.S
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