Microsoft has announced its first ARM desktop PC in the form of a developer kit it calls “Project Volterra.” It’s a small, Mac mini style desktop that’s designed to help developers build apps that leverage the power of AI using a built-in neural processing unit (NPU) built by Qualcomm.
According to my sources, the device was codenamed Black Rock, and has been in development internally at Microsoft since last summer. The product was built by the Surface team in partnership with Qualcomm, and will be the first Windows on ARM developer kit to ship with a flagship Snapdragon SoC.
Microsoft will share more about Project Volterra over the coming months. In the meantime, here’s everything we know so far! We’ll continue to update this post as new information becomes available.
Project Volterra: Price & Availability
Microsoft is yet to announce exact pricing or availability details for Project Volterra. However, we do know that the company did originally intend to start shipping the product at Build, but was unable to do so for undisclosed reasons.
A likely explanation for the delay can be pinned on the ongoing component shortage, which appears to have affected the launch of other Snapdragon 8cx Gen3 products such as the Lenovo ThinkPad X13s, which is supposed to start shipping soon. With that in mind, we suspect that Project Volterra will begin shipping later this summer.
Microsoft hasn’t provided any info on pricing either, but we can assume it’ll come in under $1000. Unlike other flagship Windows on ARM devices on the market, Project Volterra is a barebones mini PC, meaning it comes without a display, keyboard, or trackpad. It’s also made using plastic instead of a more premium material. This should hopefully bring down its price, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Market availability is also a mystery, but given that this is Microsoft, it’s likely that the device will only be sold in the United States at launch. Most of Microsoft’s previous new form factor products launch as US only at first, with availability in more markets arriving at a later date.
Project Volterra: Ports & Specifications
Microsoft has not provided any official information regarding what specifications you’ll find on the inside of Project Volterra. However, Windows Central understands that the device ships with a flagship processor from Qualcomm, likely a customized Snapdragon 8cx Gen3 of some kind, as Qualcomm’s next-generation NUVIA chips aren’t ready to be manufactured until next year.
It’s unclear if Microsoft intends to advertise the chip as a Snapdragon 8cx Gen3, or if Microsoft has made customizations to the SoC that would warrant them branding it as “Microsoft SQ3” instead. Perhaps the company wants to save its “SQ” chip branding for its main Surface Pro X line.
Microsoft also revealed that the product has a fan on the inside, which will help with keeping the SoC cool and reduce throttling. The inclusion of a fan may allow Microsoft to squeeze more power out of the processor, as you’re no longer thermally limited by a fanless design as seen on most other Windows on ARM devices.
Regarding ports, we know the device features three USB-A ports, a mini DisplayPort, and an ethernet jack on the back of the device, and two USB-C ports on the left side. Of course, the device comes with Windows 11 preloaded, though we don’t yet know if that will be of the “Home” or “Pro” variety. Given this is a developer kit, we assume it’ll ship with Windows 11 Pro.
Project Volterra: Design and Features
According to sources familiar with the product, Project Volterra was built by Microsoft’s Surface team in partnership with Qualcomm. It’s a PC housed in a mini desktop form factor, similar to that of a Mac mini. It features ports on both the back and left sides of the device, and an LED status indicator on the front.
The device itself is housed in a black recycled ocean plastic, a similar material to that on the Microsoft Ocean Plastic mouse. On the bottom are four rubber feet, and on the top is an engraved Microsoft logo. On the inside, Microsoft says the product features a built-in neural processing unit designed to help developers leverage the power of AI in their applications.
The NPU will enable developers to take advantage of features such as eye correction, background blur, voice clarity, and much more in their apps. Offloading these features to a dedicated NPU will allow the main processor to focus on powering other app functionalities, which will help keep things running fast.
Microsoft says the design of Project Volterra allows for multiple devices to be stacked on top of each other, useful for developers who might need several running tests at one time, or for deploying in a server rack environment.
The company isn’t advertising Project Volterra as an all-purpose desktop PC for consumers. It’s a product that was designed and built specifically for developers building applications that utilize AI and Windows on ARM. That said, there’s nothing stopping you as a consumer from buying one and using it as a normal PC if that’s something you want to do.
Microsoft has also announced that the tool-chain that developers can use will be Arm-native on Project Volterra. That includes everything from Visual Studio 2022 right down to .NET 6 and Java. Here’s the list of Arm-native tools for developers on Project Vortella:
- Visual Studio 2022
- Visual StudioCode
- Visual C++
- Modern .NET 6 and Java
- Classic .NET Framework
- Windows Subsystem for Linux
- Windows Subsystem for Android