Microsoft announces a brand new Arm-powered desktop PC and Arm-native development tools

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Microsoft announces a brand new Arm-powered desktop PC and Arm-native development tools

Enlarge / Microsoft’s Project Volterra is an Arm-powered developer desktop due out later this year. This image shows two Volterra boxes stacked on top of each other.

Microsoft

Windows on Arm is arguably more successful than ever – you can buy multiple Arm-powered Windows laptops and tablets, and these devices can run almost the entire range of Windows apps available thanks to x86-to-Arm code translation. However, Windows on Arm still makes up only a fraction of the overall Windows ecosystem, and native Arm apps for the platform are still relatively rare.

At its Build developer conference on Tuesday, Microsoft made some announcements aimed at strengthening Windows on Arm. The first is Project Volterra, a Microsoft-branded mini desktop computer powered by an unnamed Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC. More relevant to developers who already have Arm hardware, Volterra is accompanied by a fully Arm-native suite of developer tools.

According to Microsoft’s blog post, the company will release ARM-native versions of Visual Studio 2022 and VSCode, Visual C++, Modern .NET 6, the classic .NET framework, Windows Terminal, and both the Windows Subsystem for Linux and the Windows Subsystem for publish android. ARM-native versions of these apps allow developers to run them without the performance penalties associated with translating x86 code to run on ARM devices – especially useful since ARM Windows devices typically don’t have much performance left.

Previews of these tools will be available “in the next few weeks”.

We don't know exactly which Qualcomm SoC will end up at the heart of Volterra, but hopefully it will be one of the faster ones.
Enlarge / We don’t know exactly which Qualcomm SoC will end up at the heart of Volterra, but hopefully it will be one of the faster ones.

Microsoft

As for the Volterra hardware, we know that it runs a Qualcomm SoC with a built-in neural processing unit (NPU), “best in class AI computing power” and support for Qualcomm’s Neural Processing SDK. Microsoft is pushing it as a solution for testing AI and machine learning apps, although depending on the other specs it could also be a good all-purpose development box for Windows-on-Arm apps.

Microsoft’s reveal video made it look like the Volterra would use a standard NVMe SSD and include an active fan, suggesting a bit more expandability and performance than we’ve seen in other Windows on Arm development boxes. It also seems to have a decent range of ports for its size, with three USB-A ports, a mini DisplayPort, an Ethernet port on the back, and two USB-C ports on the side. The stackable black case is also made from “recycled ocean plastic,” like the Ocean Plastic Mouse the company introduced last year.

Project Volterra will be available “later this year” for an undisclosed price.

This isn’t the first piece of hardware Microsoft is pushing to encourage developers to try Windows on Arm. Last year, it listed the $219 ECS LIVA QC710 on the Microsoft Store, specifically targeting app developers. While small and affordable, the box’s 4GB of RAM, underperforming Qualcomm 7c processor, 64GB of internal storage, and lackluster port selection didn’t exactly give developers much room to stretch their legs. Volterra looks like it could fix some or all of these shortcomings.

One thing that’s currently holding Windows on Arm back is a lack of great hardware – more specifically, a lack of great chips that can match or beat the performance of Intel and AMD while offering better battery life. None of Qualcomm’s chips for Windows PCs came anywhere near as fast as Apple’s M1, let alone the faster M1 variants. We may not see Qualcomm’s first M1-class competitor until late 2023, long after Volterra is due to be released.

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