Microsoft’s desktop Windows operating system used to be exclusively available for PCs with x86 processors. But that changed with Windows 10, and we’ve been seeing Windows computers with ARM-based processors since 2018.
They’re not exactly common though, and at least part of the reason is that while ARM processors have gotten faster in recent years, apps that aren’t optimized for those chips may run more slowly on Windows on ARM PCs. So last year Microsoft introduced a Snapdragon Dev Kit mini PC as an affordable device developers could use to test their Windows apps on an ARM PC. Now the company is introducing a new model with an emphasis on AI performance.
Microsoft’s Project Volterra is a mini PC with an unspecified Qualcomm Snapdragon processor featuring an integrated neural processing unit.
While Microsoft hasn’t revealed detailed specs yet, the company says it’ll work with Qualcomm’s Neural Processing SDK for Windows, allowing developers to tap into the AI capabilities of Qualcomm’s chips.
Microsoft has already been making use of Qualcomm’s AI features for its own software – two years ago the company introduced an Eye Contact feature that uses eye tracking to keep your face in the frame during video calls, but it’s only available on devices with Qualcomm processors.
In addition to the new Project Volterra PC, Microsoft says it’s introducing ARM-native versions of developer tools including Visual Studio, VSCode, Visual C++, .NET, Windows Terminal, and the Windows Subsystem for Linux and Windows Subsystem for Android.
Project Volterra isn’t just a mini PC though. Thanks to a stackable design, you can combine multiple units for use as a desktop PR or rack system.
Each model features a set of ports that includes DisplayPort and Ethernet jacks, three USB Type-A ports and two USB Type-C ports, and the computers feature a case made from recycled ocean-bound plastic. In a brief teaser video shown during a MS Build 2022 keynote, Microsoft also showed that the system appears to have an M.2 2280 slot for storage and an active cooling system that includes heat pipes and a fan.
Microsoft says Project Volterra will be available later in 2022.