Last May we were introduced to a sizzle video for Project Volterra at Build 2022 Day 1 . Back then we were greeted with a small form factor box that runs an ARM64 chip and an NPU. This October they came out for purchase and I snapped one up.
Windows Developer Kit 2023
Previously announced as Project Volerra the ARM64 kit from Microsoft is now known as the Windows Developer Kit 2023. It runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon Compute Platform with 8 cores at 3.00 GHz. The system has 32 GB of shared memory and a 512 GB SSD. It’s a computer, and it’s pretty snappy.
Life on ARM64
I loaded the system up with Visual Studio 2022 v 17.4 Preview 4, and then Preview 5 came out, and now version 17.4 is released. This build of Visual Studio is native to ARM64. What can I say about it? It just works. Visual Studio Code… just works. Everything I threw at it just works. In fact I thought I’d be a little crazy and I updated to Windows Insider build 25236 and guess what… that just works too.
The last time I tried Windows on ARM was a painful experience with Windows RT. Back then native x86 and 64-bit programs didn’t work. You had a version of Office (called Office 2013 RT) that was barely a minimum viable product. The Surface was WiFi only as you had to stand on your head while patting your belly to make an Ethernet dongle work . Horrible experience.
Ten years later a huge change has come and everything just works on the platform. In fact, to me there’s such little difference between x86 and this new ARM64 world that I’d be happy with the ARM64 version of the new Surface Pro 9. Why wouldn’t you? Better battery life, no fans, and you get the option of 5G Cellular connectivity. Granted all that is $300 more, but I think it’s be worth it.
It’s a plain black box with the Windows logo etched in the top like a Surface. It probably should have been called the Surface Developer Edition 2023 instead of Windows Developer Kit 2023. It’s hardly a kit. You get pointed to a web site that tells you to download all the developer tools that you’ll need and then they say, “Go for it!” Which is nice, but I wanted to play with the NPU (the Neural Processing Unit). To do that you have to sign up for a beta program from Qualcomm and hope that you get picked. I wasn’t picked as of this writing.
Anyway, they say that the design is perfect for stacking, but without being able to access that NPU I hardly see the need for more than one of these. I said on Twitter that I’d put it in my server room and remote into it when I wanted to use it, but looking at it just makes me happy. However using it let’s me down because it just works. Everything I’ve written on it just works the same as it does on x86.
I’m disappointed that it uses a Mini Display Port to connect to a monitor for it’s primary output. The old Mini-DP cable I had didn’t work and I guess you have to have a newer active cable. I didn’t have that so I plugged it in via USB-C and just waited for the boot sequence to finish. I guess in that respect it didn’t just work, but that’s hardly a negative. Like I said I’ll probably stuff this in my server room and only remote into it when I want to.
So what do you all think of this? Am I being overly critical of it? I mean it works and isn’t that what we want? We don’t want to have the system that Windows RT gave us right? Microsoft has learned their lesson and the time for ARM processors is now. Now if only they’d find a supplier other than Qualcomm and the Snapdragon processors. They are slow compared to the M-Series processors from Apple.