March 22, 2023
Microsoft's Windows 2023 SDK lets developers harness AI processors on laptops

Microsoft’s Windows 2023 SDK lets developers harness AI processors on laptops

At its Build conference in May, Microsoft debuted Project Volterra, a device powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon platform designed to allow developers to explore “AI scenarios” via Qualcomm’s Neural Processing SDK toolkit. for Windows. Today, Volterra – now called Windows Dev Kit 2023 – officially went on sale, priced at $599 and available from the Microsoft Store in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, UK UK and USA.

Here’s how Microsoft describes it:

With Windows Dev Kit 2023, developers will be able to bring their entire app development process together on one compact device, giving them everything they need to build Windows apps for Arm, on Arm.

As previously announced, the Windows 2023 SDK packs a dedicated AI processor, called the Hexagon processor, complemented by an Arm-based chip – the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 – both provided by Qualcomm. It allows developers to build Arm-native and AI-powered apps alongside and with tools like Visual Studio (version 17.4 runs natively on Arm), .NET 7 (which has performance enhancements specific to Arm), VSCode, Microsoft Office and Teams and machine learning frameworks including PyTorch and TensorFlow.

Microsoft’s Windows 2023 SDK, which contains an Arm processor and an AI acceleration chip. Picture credits: Microsoft

Here is the full list of specs:

  • 32GB LPDDR4x RAM
  • Fast 512GB NVMe storage
  • Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 Compute Platform
  • RJ45 for Ethernet
  • 3 USB-A ports
  • 2 USB-C ports
  • Mini DisplayPort (which supports up to three external monitors, including two at 4K 60Hz)
  • Bluetooth 5.1 and WiFi 6

The Windows 2023 SDK arrives alongside support in Windows for neural processing units (NPUs) or dedicated chips suitable for AI and machine learning-specific workloads. Dedicated AI chips, which speed up AI processing while reducing battery impact, have become common in mobile devices like smartphones. But as applications like image upconverters and AI-powered image generators are increasingly used, manufacturers have been adding such chips to their laptops (see Surface Pro X’s own and Microsoft’s 5G Surface Pro 9).

The Windows 2023 SDK leverages the recently released Qualcomm Neural Processing SDK for Windows, which provides tools to convert and run AI models on Snapdragon-based Windows devices in addition to APIs to target separate CPU cores with different power and performance profiles. Using it with the Neural Processing SDK, developers can run, debug, and analyze the performance of deep neural networks on Windows devices with Snapdragon hardware, as well as integrate the networks into apps and other code.

The tooling benefits laptops built on the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 system-on-chip, like the Acer Spin 7 and Lenovo ThinkPad X13s. Designed to compete with Apple’s Arm-based silicon, the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3’s AI Accelerator can be used to apply AI processing to photos and videos. Microsoft and Qualcomm bet use cases will grow with launch of Windows Dev Kit 2023; Microsoft, for its part, has started leveraging AI accelerators in Windows 11 to power features like background noise suppression.

Windows 2023 SDK

Picture credits: Microsoft

In a blog post shared with TechCrunch ahead of today’s announcement, Microsoft notes that developers “will need to install the toolchain as needed for their workloads on Windows Dev Kit 2023” and that certain tools and services “may require additional licenses, fees, or both.” ”

“More apps, tools, frameworks, and packages are being ported to natively target Windows on Arm and will arrive over the coming months,” the post continues. “In the meantime, with Windows 11’s powerful emulation technology, developers will be able to run many unmodified x64 and x86 applications and tools on their Windows SDK.”

Whether the Windows SDK reverses the fortunes of Windows on Arm devices, which have largely failed to take off, remains to be seen. Historically, they were less powerful than Intel-based devices while suffering from compatibility issues and exorbitant prices (the Surface Pro X cost over $1,500 at launch). Performance of emulated applications on early Arm-powered Windows devices tended to be poor, and some games only launched if they used a particular graphics library, while drivers for hardware only worked if specifically designed for Windows on Arm.

Windows on Arm’s situation has improved lately, thanks to more powerful hardware (like the Snapdragon 8cx Gen3) and Microsoft’s App Assurance program to ensure work and enterprise apps work on Arm. But the ecosystem still has a long way to go, with Unity – one of the most popular game engines today – only this morning announcing a commitment to allow developers to target Windows on Arm devices for performance natives.

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