Apple has seen a lot of success with its M series chips. These SoCs now power nearly the company’s entire suite of Mac computers, ranging from the original and capable M1 to the overpowered M1 Ultra. But Apple isn’t the only company eyeing hardware based on Arm architecture. Microsoft also wants in, and wants to push Arm development on Windows along. That’s why the company released its first Arm-based desktop computer: 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’s also an embedded NPU (neural processing unit) in the device, which helps power machine-learning and AI programs.
All of those specs only cost $US599 ($832), which makes Windows Dev Kit 2023 $US100 ($139) cheaper than Apple’s intro-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 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, specs on paper aren’t everything. Apple has proven M1’s potential since its introduction, even with basic specs like 8GB of RAM. In testing, the M1 greatly outperforms the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3. It even compares when running Windows in a virtual machine: M1 wins in the single-core testing, and nearly ties the 8cx Gen 3 in multi-core.
Still, for a mini Arm-based Windows machine, the dev kit is an interesting choice, even if it isn’t targeted toward you. Microsoft is only marketing this product at software developers, even though anyone can buy it. There’s no need to prove you create software, which means you don’t need to pay the $US19 ($26) fee to create a developer account.
That said, the purpose of this product is for developers to test and create software using Arm architecture. Arm is growing fast, but there are still plenty of apps and games that aren’t optimised or compatible with the platform. By creating an enticing developer kit, Microsoft is attempting to increase the percentage of native Arm apps
There isn’t 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 $US900 ($1,249) but can be found for far 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 main PC. If the feedback is positive, perhaps Microsoft will push the product to consumers in the future. I’d like to see a true Mac mini competitor on the market.
Windows Dev Kit is available in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.