At long last, Microsoft has opened orders on Project Volterra, renamed the box as the Windows Dev Kit 2023 and slapped on what can only be described as a tempting price for the black box of Windows on Arm development hardware.
It’s been a while coming since the device was first announced at Build 2022 and its absence from both the company’s recent Ignite and Surface events raised a few eyebrows, particularly when one considers questions circulating over Microsoft’s commitment to the Windows on Arm ecosystem. Sure Visual Studio and .NET are now available in native from, but it has taken years for the company to make this happen.
Windows on Arm is Microsoft’s latest attempt to add another architecture to the Intel / AMD world and its success to date could charitably be described as mixed. The flagship Surface Pro X commanded a premium price for what was a disappointing user experience thanks to the Intel x64 emulation required for applications that had yet to be ported (including, embarrassingly, many of Microsoft’s own products.)
At this years Surface event Microsoft ditched the concept of a separate Arm-powered Surface Pro in favour of making the architecture just one more option for purchasers; an indication that Windows on Arm was moving from being a curiosity into something that real-world customers could actually use. If one is being optimistic, the arrival of Volterra is a sign of the company’s ongoing commitment.
It’s just a shame that the device is being marketed squarely as a development kit. Compared to Apple’s Mac Mini, it represents rather good value – $599 (£579 including UK VAT) will get you a gen 3 Snapdragon 8cx, 32 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD. There are a couple of USB-C ports and three USB-A ports along with a Mini Display Port. By way of comparison, Apple’s current entry level Mac Mini (also with Arm architecture) comes in at $699 (£699 in the UK – Apple has opted for 1:1 conversion rate) for an 8 GB box with a 256 GB SSD.
Up until now, Apple’s M1 Mac Mini (paired with something like Parallels Desktop) has made for a very pleasant Windows on Arm experience (richly ironic, considering Microsoft is less than keen to officially support the platform), so it will be interesting to see how Volterra stacks up.
We have one on order, and so will report back with a lengthier hands-on of the machinery along with the inevitable Apple M1 Mac Mini comparisons.
Ultimately, this is a smart move from Microsoft (particularly the pricing.) However, coming on the 12th anniversary of the launch of its doomed Windows Phone platform, high profile cancellations of hardware such as the Band and Zune, one can but hope that the company follows through on the promise of Windows on Arm.