In loucedé, Microsoft launched its fixed PC. The latter is called Windows Dev Kit 2023, it was originally known as Project Volterra.
We have our hands on it as you can buy it in France. Why ? It’s an attractive compact box, just like Apple’s Mac mini, where there’s an ARM Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 chip with Windows 11 Pro (Windows-on-Arm).
As mentioned McGwe could even say that technically it’s a Surface Pro 3, without a screen, since this box uses the same motherboard.
This tested PC was purchased by us.
Features of Microsoft Dev Kit 2023
On paper, this mini PC is attractive. Although it is reserved for developers, it is easy to project yourself with it. Of course, it reminds us of the Mac mini. Incidentally, we can say that it is equivalent to Apple’s TDK (equipped with an Apple A12Z), the first Apple Silicon machine. As such, one could therefore imagine Microsoft making it a product intended for the general public in a future version.
Microsoft Dev Kit 2023 is integrated 32 GB LPDDR4X RAM and a stock of 512 GB NVMe. It is WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1 compatible, moreover, it supports triple screen via two USB-C and a mini DisplayPort. It also has three USB-A ports, as well as a Gigabit Ethernet port. As you can see, the connections are relatively complete.
All this in a very compact suitcase of 19.6 centimeters by 15.2 centimeters, and only 2.76 centimeters in height. It’s smaller than the Mac mini, but there’s a reason for that. Which one ? Unlike the Mac mini, it uses an external power supply of 90 watts.
Also, it only has three buttons on the left side, a Boot to USB button, a UEFI button and a power button.
Too bad the case is plastic. After all, it all shows good quality, and the heating is very controlled. Even after heavy loads, the device is barely warm.
The performance of Microsoft Dev Kit 2023
Faced with Apple’s M1 and M2 chips, the PC lags behind. The purpose of this Microsoft Dev Kit 2023 is therefore to be a reference for developers interested in ARM development.
Note that this fixed PC comes after the Surface Pro X and Surface Pro 9, two laptops equipped with a similar ARM chip and sold to the general public. We can say that Microsoft has definitely put the cart before the horse. But of course it’s never too late to do things the right way.
Let’s be direct, let’s be specific. We were excited, but the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 chip is still too light for a Windows machine. Identical to the SQ3 of the latest Surface Pro 9 5G, one is quickly disappointed by the overall performance. With four ARM Cortex-X1 cores and four Cortex-A78 cores, as well as an Adreno GPU, we’re hardly surprised though.
In addition to tests with classic applications, such as the Adobe suite, which generally work well, we have conducted some rough tests with synthetic benchmarking tools. As you can see above and below, performance remains low, well below the competition.
We also found that what bothers us is the performance per watts, which is much worse than what we observe at Apple and, above all, practically identical to x86 systems. As a starting point, this computer has a very average efficiency, here we completely lose interest in having an ARM chip.
On the other hand, among the positive points to remember, note that Dev Kit 2023 is silent. In addition, it heats up very little. We hear it faintly, despite the fact that it has an active cooling system.
The SSD offers average performance. This is not necessarily a weak point, nevertheless we are far from the performance observed on PCs (Intel/AMD) and Macs (Apple Silicon). Also, the SSD is modular, you can even put a bigger one (size 2230 vs 2280).
We noticed that the video outputs were limited to 60Hz. Regardless of the video output, you won’t be able to exceed 60Hz refresh rate. The mDP port outputs 4K definition at max (4 lanes x 5.4 Gbps), while each USB-C outputs 5120 x 2880 pixels at max (4 lanes x 8.1 Gbps). For office automation, this is not necessarily a problem. For our part, we were frustrated not to take advantage of the 144 Hz of the screen that was connected.
Windows 11 Pro with ARM sauce
Almost two years later, Apple is completing its transition to ARM. A good lesson for Microsoft, which has already tried the ARM experience long before Apple.
Although things are moving in a positive direction, app support is still the biggest problem that Microsoft is facing. If we add the raw performance below what we see with Intel, AMD or even Apple, it naturally gives an average result.
To fully understand Microsoft’s problem, remember that what’s at stake is that we’re talking about a different system architecture. In other words, programs designed for the x86 system will not necessarily work on ARM machines. Two solutions are possible: it is necessary to recompile the program for ARM, which requires investment and development (hence the interest in this machine). The other option is emulation, which leads to performance and compatibility issues.
Today, things work much better than previous attempts. You don’t need to have brains to find a program that is compatible with your PC. In fact, Windows 11 integrates an application emulator, and the latter is quite powerful.
As we have found, Google Chrome and many other Win32 apps work for most of them. Neophytes won’t see the difference here with an x86 PC. And it is an achievement, especially when we knew Windows 7, Windows 10… in ARM version.
However, it takes time to load the applications and it seems to have temporary lags. There are jerks when you scroll. For the video game, forget it. It’s really not suitable. Even the GPU benchmarks show how this machine is not designed to run games.
If you are considering installing a GNU/Linux distribution, be aware that Microsoft did not provide the drivers. So you will have to use the compatibility layer Windows Subsystem for Linux.
There is also Windows Subsystem for Android (WSA). This will give you a native Android environment with full access. We would also have appreciated an ARM-compatible Google Android Studio.
Microsoft Dev Kit 2023 Pricing and Availability
The Microsoft Dev Kit 2023 is sold in the Microsoft Store for 699 euros including VAT. There is a single version with 32GB of RAM and 512GB of storage.
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