Microsoft to speed up the development of its applications under Arm. (Credit: Microsoft)
In 2023, Microsoft will launch its first desktop computer from Project Volterra.
Seven years ago, when it launched its first Surface Book laptop, Microsoft surprised everyone, including its hardware partners. It was a flop. But unlike Microsoft’s other hardware endeavors – the Surface tablet, Surface RT, and the infamous Kin phone – Microsoft kept working on the Surface Book. Today, hardware like the Surface Laptop Studio, which stems directly from that experience, is great laptops. This time, with the Volterra project, Microsoft will try something new again: launch its first desktop computer.
And even if it may seem strange, the future machine will run neither on an AMD processor nor on an Intel chip, but on an ARM processor. Obviously, we could say from the outset that Microsoft exposes itself to another fiasco, as was the case with Windows RT or with the Surface Pro X, functionally very limited. But I don’t believe that will be the case. I think Microsoft is going to be successful with ARM, and I’m not what you would call a Microsoft fan. Why do I believe in it more? Because, instead of emulating x86 on ARM, with guaranteed program slowness, Microsoft this time provides developers with an end-to-end software development kit (SDK) and programming tools that will be native to ARM.
The Volterra Project will include:
Visual Studio 2022
.NET 6 (Modern) and Java
.NET Framework (Classic)
Windows Subsystem for Linux
Windows Subsystem for Android
The latest machine equipped with state-of-the-art technologies
In other words, Microsoft will give programmers everything they need to create programs on ARM that can really take advantage of its architectural virtues. I won’t go so far as to say that WinARM will replace Wintel. But it’s a serious hardware advance for Microsoft. The Project Volterra PC should work with a Snapdragon processor whose name is not yet known. It will have four of these processors and a neural processing unit (NPU) for programming artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML). Qualcomm Technologies will also provide a Qualcomm Neural Processing SDK for this new Windows Toolkit. Rumor has it that a Surface team is developing this system with Qualcomm and it will ship with a Snapdragon system-on-chip (SoC). If this is confirmed, Windows on ARM could benefit from it. Until now, Microsoft hadn’t been interested in advanced ARM technology. The new machine will also include what Computerworld’s Rob Enderle calls an ACU or Azure Compute Unit. This chip is supposed to allow Windows PCs to more easily transfer workloads between the PC and the cloud, as needed.
If I understand correctly, we are talking about a Windows desktop computer that relies on the cloud. I’ve heard somewhere before… The desktop PC itself should be the size of a Mac mini. Although Microsoft hasn’t provided any specs yet, we already know that it will come with a Gigabit Ethernet port, WiFi 6 support and an HDMI port for video. Presumably, due to this link with Azure, it won’t need a lot of storage – a 512MB SSD? – or many USB-C ports. Microsoft will not attempt to sell this product to the general public. The desktop mini PC is intended to help developers and AI/ML programmers. That said, I imagine ARM fans will be eager to get their hands on this kind of hardware. I personally think that since Azure, this is perhaps Microsoft’s biggest advancement in development hardware. I will follow this project with great interest and its results. There will not be too much to wait since Microsoft will release its first desktop computer from Project Volterra in 2023.