The marriage between Windows and ARM is not as fruitful as the one between the operating system and x86, but Microsoft has a huge interest in making the operating system part of the ARM ecosystem as well. For this, it has joined Qualcomm in recent years as a partner so that Windows is not only related to x86.
A bit of background, Windows in ARM
Processors with ISA ARM have been at war with x86 for a long time, especially in recent years when they have begun to make the leap beyond so-called PostPC devices such as tablets and smartphones. So little by little the CPUs with ISA ARM are being found in computer systems in which they were not found before. That is, we begin to see ARM CPUs in servers and traditional PCs.
This change has not caught anyone by surprise, especially with the fact that ARM CPUs are still a breakthrough innovation at heart. That is, a type of technology for low-performance products that over time improves and reaches a performance with the ability to replace an existing and established product on the market over time.
The growth in performance of the ARM cores is a fact, hence Microsoft will start betting on Windows in ARM. Which is a version of the operating system adapted for the ISA ARM. Which does not have the same volume of software as its equivalent for x86 due to the lack of software, since there is no compatibility between binaries, such software must exist.
Qualcomm, Microsoft’s partner for Windows on ARM
If there is a manufacturer of ISA ARM-based SoCs that have a close relationship with Microsoft, it is Qualcomm. What’s more, the Surface Pro X uses a Qualcomm SoC based on its Snapdragon 8CX, modified for Microsoft’s ultraportable. Nor can we forget how Qualcomm and Microsoft developed a software interpreter so that 32-bit Windows applications for x86 will run under Qualcomm processors.
But as we have said before, the amount of software for Windows on ARM is much less than those running under x86. Hence the need for development hardware for creating software. And this is where Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Developer Kit comes in. Which has been developed not as a commercial product, but as a Windows application development kit for ARM.
Let’s not forget either that most PCs that are sold with Windows for ARM as an operating system use Qualcomm SoCs. What’s more, Qualcomm is the only company, apart from Intel and AMD, that is going to implement the HSP or Pluton in the bowels of the SoC. The processor for security created by Microsoft, being the only company that designs CPUs with ISA ARM that has implemented it. Which says a lot about the close relationship between Qualcomm and Microsoft.
The Snapdragon Developer Kit
The Snapdragon Developer Kit is shaped like an Intel NUC or Mac Mini, so it is intended to be used as a desktop PC. Since it is an application development kit, you will not see it available in stores and it will surely be distributed directly by Microsoft itself. Since at the end of the day it is a product built by Qualcomm for Microsoft.
It is a small box of 119mm wide, 116.6mm deep and 35mm high, which weighs only 230 grams. As for your I / O ports, what we have is one USB 3.0 Type-C port used to power the Snapdragon Developer Kit. One USB 2.0 type A and one USB 3.2 port. One video output HDMI, a 10/100 Mbps LAN interface, a MicroSD card reader and a microSD slot. Regarding wireless interfaces, we have a WiFi 6 or 802.11ax and a microSIM card slot.
These interfaces are not normally found on a PostPC device, but this does not mean that they are not integrated into the SoC. But what are the specs of the Snapdragon Developer kit? Let’s take a look at its insides.
What’s inside the Snapdragon Developer Kit?
The main SoC is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c Compute Platform, specifically the SC 7180 model. So we are not facing a new processor designed for this device. since we have seen it in others. And what specifications does it have? Well, if you expect a very powerful SoC, let us pour you a jug of cold water in that regard.
The Snapdragon 7c are designed for entry-level PCs with very low consumption. Especially despite the fact that the Snapdragon Developer Kit is not a portable device, its processor has been designed for it. In such a way that it is designed to be installed in systems always connected to the network, for several hours of battery life and with the ability to be mounted on equipment that does not require active cooling.
Here are the specifications of the SoC Snapdragon Developer Kit.
- Qualcomm Kryo 468 8-core CPU, up to 2.4GHz speed, 64-bit ISA ARMv8.
- 32-bit LPDDR4X memory bus, 2133 MHz memory controller speed, i.e. LPDDR4-4266.
- Qualcomm Adreno 618 GPU
- Neural Hexagon 692 processor.
It’s actually a very low-end PC, this can be seen with the 32-bit LPDDR4X bus, which is a huge bottleneck for performance. The quantity included in the kit? 4 GB of LPDDR4X memory and alone 64 GB for storage, which is eMMC and not eUFS, which also negatively affects overall performance. So if you plan to buy it as a miniPC, there are much better options, after all it is not a commercial product.