Apple has seen a lot of success with its M-series chips. These SoCs now power nearly the company’s entire lineup of Macs, ranging from the original and capable M1 to the overpowered M1 Ultra. But Apple isn’t the only company looking at hardware based on Arm architecture. Microsoft also wants in, and wants to push Arm development on Windows. That’s why the company released its first Arm-based desktop: Windows Dev Kit 2023.
The dev kit, codenamed Project Volterra, is an Arm-based machine running a Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 processor, with a corresponding Adreno GPU. It ships 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 is also an embedded NPU (neural processing unit) in the device which helps to run machine-learning and AI programs.
All those specs cost just $599, which makes Windows Dev Kit 2023 $100 cheaper than Apple’s entry-level M1 Mac mini. That 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 the Volterra and a quarter the memory The 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, specifications on paper are not everything. Apple has proven the M1’s potential since its introduction, even with basic specs like 8GB of RAM. In testing, the M1 far exceeds the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3. It even compares when running Windows in a virtual machine: M1 wins in the single-core test, and almost ties the 8cx Gen 3 in multi-core.
However, for a mini Arm-based Windows machine, the dev kit is an interesting choice, even if it is not aimed at you Microsoft is only marketing this product to developers, although anyone can buy it. There is no need to prove that you create software, which means you don’t need to pay the $19 fee to create a developer account.
That said, the purpose of this product is for developers to try and create software using Arm architecture. Arm is growing rapidly, but there are still many apps and games that are not optimized or compatible with the platform. By creating an attractive software package, Microsoft is trying to increase the percentage of native Arm programs
There is not much on the market that competes with this type of Arm machine. You could look at something like the Beelink GTR 5 (which retails for $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 category is really the M1 Mac mini.
Even if it’s not Microsoft’s intention, we should soon see tech reviewers running benchmarks on the dev kit to see how it stacks up as a mainstream PC. If the feedback is positive, maybe Microsoft will push the product to consumers in the future. I would like to see a real Mac mini competitor on the market.
Windows Dev Kit is available in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, UK and US.S.