Microsoft ships non-Surface PC: a cheap Arm box for devs
Windows Dev Kit 2023 packs Qualcomm's AI toys and an all-Arm environment for Windows coding
Microsoft has delivered on its May 2022 promise to give devs a cheap piece of Arm-powered hardware on which to run AI-accelerated workloads for Windows, by revealing the Windows Dev Kit 2023 and placing it on sale at $599.
The box packs 32GB RAM and 512GB fast storage, plus Wi-Fi 6, an RJ-45 slot, three USB-A sockets, a pair of USB-C ports, and a Mini DisplayPort to round things out.
More importantly there's also a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 Compute Platform inside, which includes the chip designer's Neural Processing (NPU) SDK.
That SDK is important, because Microsoft reckons the CPU and its accompanying NPUs can trounce the combo of a CPU and GPU when it comes to running AI workloads.
Microsoft has therefore declared "Windows Dev Kit 2023 enables developers to build apps that unlock the power of the NPU hardware to accelerate AI/ML workloads delivering AI-enhanced features & experiences without compromising app performance."
- Microsoft brings more Arm64 support and an updated expiry date to Dev Channel Windows
- Microsoft unveils native Arm64 support in the .NET Framework
- Official: Arm-based VMs available on Microsoft Azure
- Qualcomm readying new Arm server chip based on Nuvia acquisition
But the box is not just about AI. As Microsoft's announcement post states, it means "developers will be able to bring their entire app development process onto one compact device, giving them everything they need to build Windows apps for Arm, on Arm."
One of the canned quotes Microsoft included in the announcement came from Niyas Sait, technical lead for Windows on Arm Project at Linaro. He said the box is "running incredibly faster than the previous Arm-based Windows machine we've been using with our LLVM and MySQL workload."
Does that read like an admission that the Arm-powered PCs on the market today offer underwhelming performance that has led devs to speedier x86 fare, even if it means more work to ship apps? You decide, dear reader.
Microsoft's announcement points out that the software giant has taken substantial steps towards making its development environments as mature on Arm-powered hardware as is already the case on x86 tin, with initiatives such as native Arm64 support in the .NET Framework as of version 4.8.1
Other tools to make wrestling Arm easier are also on the way: Visual Studio 2022 17.4, a Windows App SDK with native Arm support, and a VC++ Runtime are all in the works.
.NET 7 for Arm is also imminent.
"With .NET 7 we have made several improvements for Arm in the areas of functional parity and performance," wrote Microsofties Pavan Davuluri and Kevin Gallo. ".NET 6 had some features that worked on x64 but not Arm64, with .NET 7, and we are excited that we closed this gap for our developers by adding support for ASP.NET Core Module (ANCM) so ASP.NET Core apps can use IIS on Arm64 in addition to Kestrel server."
If all of that excites you enough to buy the box, you can do so here – provided you can pick it up in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom or the United States. ®