Microsoft is building an ARM-powered Windows Mini

Seven years ago, Microsoft surprised the world – and its hardware partners – by releasing its first laptop: the Surface Book. It was a flop. But, unlike some Microsoft hardware tests I can mention – the Surface tablet, the Surface RT and the infamous Qin phone – Microsoft continues to hack from the Surface Book. Today, like the Surface Laptop Studio, its descendants are good laptops.

Now Microsoft is going to try something new again: its first desktop via Project Voltaire.

Believe it or not, this is going to be an ARM machine instead of running on an AMD or Intel processor. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “This is going to be another failure for a limited-use machine like Windows RT or Surface Pro X, isn’t it?” Actually, I don’t think so. I think Microsoft is going to get ARM at this point. And, if you know me, you know I’m not a Microsoft fanboy.

You see, it’s about the developers. Instead of imitating x86 in ARM, which always ensures that programs will slow down, Microsoft is now providing an end-to-end software development kit (SDK) and programming tools that will be ARM native.

Project Volterra will include (deep breathing):

  • Visual Studio 2022
  • Visual Studio Code
  • Visual C ++
  • Modern .NET 6 and Java
  • Classic .NET Framework
  • Windows Terminal
  • Windows subsystem for Linux
  • Windows subsystem for Android

In other words, Microsoft will provide programmers with everything they need to create programs in ARM that can actually take advantage of its architectural features. Leopards can change their spots! I’m not ready to announce that WinARM will replace Wintel, but it’s a serious hardware move for Microsoft.

Project Voltaire’s PC is expected to run on a still-named Snapdragon processor. It will have four CPUs and a Neural Processing Unit (NPU) for artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI / ML) programming. Qualcomm Technologies will also provide the Qualcomm Neural Processing SDK for this new Windows toolkit.

There are rumors that the Surface team is building it with Qualcomm and it will be shipped on a chip (SOC) with a flagship Snapdragon system. This will represent a step forward for Windows in ARM. In the past, Microsoft has moved away from sophisticated ARM technology.

The new machine will include what Robert Anderle of Computerworld called the Azure Computer Unit (ACU). This chip is intended to facilitate the smooth transfer of workloads between the PC and the cloud as needed for Windows PCs.

Hmmm, a Windows desktop that relies on the cloud – where have I heard this idea before?

The desktop PC itself is expected to be the size of a Mac mini. Although Microsoft has not released any space yet, I can already tell you that it will have a Gigabit Ethernet port, Wi-Fi 6 support and an HDMI port for the video. Relying on Azure, I suspect it will have a very large solid-state drive (SSD), say 512MB, or many USB-C ports.

Microsoft will not try to sell it to customers. It will help developers and AI / ML programmers. That said, I know some of my ARM fan friends are already zoning to get their hands on one.

Me? I think this could be Microsoft’s most significant advancement in development hardware since Azure. I look forward to seeing what Microsoft provides and how well it does.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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