“Project Volterra” review: Microsoft’s $600 Arm PC That Almost Doesn’t Suck

Zoom in / Microsoft’s Windows Dev Kit 2023 aims to get the Arm version of Windows into the hands of more developers.

Andrew Cunningham

Microsoft released two new systems based on Qualcomm’s Arm processors recently. The first, a 5G version of the Surface Pro 9, was mostly panned by reviewers, with software compatibility being a big pain point even after two generations of the Arm-powered Surface Pro X. The second is the $600 Windows Dev Kit 2023, formerly known by the cooler name “Project Volterra,” and is supposed to help with this software problem.

Microsoft has attempted Arm Windows developer boxes before—namely, the $219 ECS LIVA QC710 that went on sale about a year ago (it’s no longer on sale, at least not through the Microsoft Store). But with 4GB of memory, 64GB of pokey storage, and an underpowered Snapdragon 7c processor, using it was like revisiting the bad netbook days. Maybe you can do some basic browsing on it. But the actual work, even for someone like me who basically works with medium-res text and images all day? no.

Dev Kit 2023 is almost three times more expensive, but the hardware is powerful enough especially It feels like a typical mid-range mini desktop in everyday use. Freed from the inconspicuous hardware constraints, the device makes it easy to evaluate the rest of Windows-on-Arm. software determinants. In this review, we won’t use it as a developer’s box, but it does give us a good opportunity to assess where the Windows-on-Arm project is right now, in both hardware and software—particularly for the Mac, another hardware and software ecosystem that’s making a cleaner, broader, and leaner transition than x86 software to Arm.

Surface in all but name

Microsoft doesn’t sell the Dev Kit as a Surface, because it’s not intended as a machine for everyday PC users. However, there is a lot of superficiality in his DNA.

This starts with its design. It’s a large, textured piece of black plastic atop a metal frame with the Microsoft logo printed across the top; It’s smaller than the Mac mini (which, if you’re not familiar, has the same physical dimensions as the Mac mini). 12 years), but if Microsoft had set out to clone the Surface-branded Mac mini, it probably wouldn’t look much different.

One reason the machine is smaller is that it uses a 90-watt external power brick, while the Mac mini’s power supply is inside the case. This stems from the way Microsoft appears to have put together the Dev Kit — the Mac mini’s internals are specifically designed for its packaging, while the Dev Kit appears to be literally a Surface Pro 9 with a 5G panel with a chassis built around it. In this way, it’s less like a Mac mini and more like Apple Silicon’s “Developer Transition Kit,” which has adapted the iPad Pro-ish to a Mac mini-shaped case.

The most obvious gift is the set of unused connectors that appear in the top right of the panel when you remove the bottom part of the dev kit—they can be used to power a display and other internal peripherals in Surface but aren’t used in the Dev Kit. Two USB-C ports (again, the Surface Stand, with the same placement and distance between them) are the only ones built into the board, while the Ethernet port, USB-A ports, mini DisplayPort, and power jack on the back are all tucked into a separate board. (Surface Pro also means the Dev Kit doesn’t have a headphone jack.) Firmware and driver updates pulled from Windows Update also carry Surface branding.

The Dev Kit can connect up to three monitors simultaneously using the Mini DisplayPort and USB-C ports, and up to two of those monitors can be 60Hz 4K (refresh rates faster than 60Hz are available at lower resolutions, but 60Hz looks It’s the 4K hardcover). Microsoft says that DisplayPort is the one you should be using for the primary display, and it’s the only one that will display a signal when you adjust the box’s UEFI firmware settings, also likely hanging from the Surface’s roots – the internal display in your Surface is likely connected to a built-in DisplayPort connector ( eDP) works the same way.

The Dev Kit’s only upgradeable component is a 512GB SSD, which is a short M. 2 2230 drive just like the ones Microsoft uses in other Surfaces. A typical M. 2 2280 SSD will certainly fit, though you’ll have to figure out how to screw it into place yourself since it doesn’t have a built-in stand-in. The rationale for using a really small SSD in the first place is probably the same as for reusing a Surface motherboard — cheaper to reuse something by design and pay for something completely different, especially in what is likely to be a lower volume product.

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