Microsoft Build is Microsoft’s most interesting event because it focuses on the people who build stuff, mostly code, but often, as is the case this year, hardware.

Last week, Microsoft held its latest build event and I’m pretty sure it screwed up most PC OEMs. That’s because Microsoft announced a new focused workstation for developers called Project Volterra. It has four processors and is based on ARM, not x86, and this coupled with a major effort to provide ARM native code will help that platform with the help of Qualcomm once the code becomes available in late 2022. Allows you to reach your full potential.

But ARM is only one of four processors. We still have the GPU, but Microsoft added an NPU and an ACU (Azure Compute Unit), and that last one isn’t even in the PC. Let’s talk about how Microsoft is radically rethinking PCs in the cloud world, and how disruptive this necessary change is likely to be.

Then we’ll close with our product of the week, which has to be Project Volterra because it reminds me of the old PCJR from IBM but done right. (IBM crippled the IBM PCJR because they feared it would cancel sales of their IBM PC, which is now a textbook product mistake.)

Inside 4-processor PC

Today, PCs consist of two processors, a CPU that handles numerically related information, and a GPU that focuses more on unstructured data and visual information. Together they define how a PC performs, with the current trend being load transfer from CPU to GPU as they are increasingly less structured and more visually focused, especially when it comes to how PCs store their information. Present.

But with the rise of artificial intelligence – and the fact that AI operates very differently than apps designed for CPUs or GPUs, by creating decision chains based on neural network capabilities we consider how our brains work. does – these loads operate inefficiently on the CPU, and although more efficiently on the GPU, begging for a very different hardware architecture designed specifically for those workloads.

Enter the NPU or Neural Processing Unit. On paper this can outperform both CPU and GPU with AI load with far less power and open the door for developers who want to build applications that can utilize a focused and more efficient AI processing platform . This means there will be a lot of focus on AI capabilities going forward, and Microsoft has said that, in the future, all PCs will have NPUs.

But what about the APU? Well, that’s an acronym I came up with. APU stands for Azure Processing Unit. This is the second shoe we have been waiting for since Satya took over Microsoft. This refers to a persistent connection to Azure in the cloud for additional processing power. This is actually the first hardware implementation on an endpoint that addresses the hybrid world we live in today.

By hybrid I do not mean work from home and office, although it does apply to the world we are in today. Nor does it apply to the hybrid cloud as we talk about it currently which has to do with server load. It is a new hybrid concept, where the load is transferred between the cloud and the desktop as needed.

Like PCjr – but in a good way

Project Voltera is a new class of workstation with all four processors based on ARM and focused on developers who develop for ARM-based PCs. As I mentioned earlier, it reminds me of PCJR (pronounced “PC Junior”) from IBM in the 1980s but done right.

The PCJR was a revolutionary modular design that was incredibly well priced for the time and provided an easy upgrade path that would have anticipated the coming PC-as-a-service concept decades later.

But someone in the IBM plan raised concerns that the PCJR, which was targeted at consumers, was too good because it made the much more expensive IBM PC older and more expensive. So, they crippled PCJR and effectively killed him, leaving them to learn the lesson that you never Crippling a product because it’s too good. If customers like it, you focus on that preference to ensure that customer needs are prioritized over revenue.

Which brings us back to Project Volterra. It seems to be a high-performance desktop workstation that can be built for much less cost than a traditional workstation. Moreover, PCJR is stackable to add performance like modular. But the most important thing is that it is not crippling. While it initially focused on building ARM native apps, it anticipates a future where those apps are prevalent and can perform in line with their older x86 versions.

This is a major problem for ARM PCs – that they must run under emulation and thus operate inefficiently, allowing them to perform poorly against x86 PCs – and make them compete with x86 on an even more playing field. enables to do. None of these are on the market yet and the wave they are building for is still many years out. As we approach 2025, I expect that ARM-based PCs and workstations with all these advantages will be able to compete by that time.

wrapping up

Microsoft has been one of those companies that drives personalized technology and has revolutionized it from time to time. The move to four-processor PCs with one processor in the cloud and another focused on AI load is one of the biggest hardware changes since PCs were launched. Demonstrating its in-depth knowledge of what the market wants, Microsoft gives us a view of its PC future by what it means and the need for a widespread cloud connection.

Now we can look forward to the coming world of hybrid desktop apps, NPCs (non-player characters) that are just like real people in games, and supporting apps on PC that help us achieve productivity gains We can’t even dream today.

Promising increased collaboration capabilities not only with our peers but also with more intelligent computers that can move and drive our projects, Microsoft Build this year is a very different workplace, a very different employee tool. Set and evolve expects hardware that can look and function very differently from the PCs we have today.

In short, to say that Microsoft Build was disruptive this year would be an understatement.

Technical Product of the Week

Project Volterra

The Surface line of PCs, targeted specifically at Apple, lacked a workstation or a general desktop PC-class product from the start. They have an all-in-one PC that they pit against a manufacturer user, but it lacks the focused processing performance of a workstation. With the announcement of Project Volterra, that will change.

Project Volterra

Project Volterra | Image Credits: Microsoft


While Microsoft showcased a desktop configuration, the form factor presupposes a laptop version – but given the parallel advent of head mounted displays, that laptop could also be a revolutionary design we won’t see until This platform should not be close to launch.

Initially, Project Volterra will not target traditional workstation workloads such as CAD/CAM architecture or large-scale modeling, but it will focus on an area that has had little workstation support so far, and that is ARM-based, high-performance apps. Which run natively on Windows and ARM without emulation.

But think of it only as a step. Once those apps exist, use workstations like Project Voltera will move into more traditional areas after going through the required certifications, and of course, when they can run the respective applications natively.

Project Volterra is on a critical path to make ARM a true peer to x86, and to create a new class of PC that embraces AI and the cloud more deeply than ever before, making it my Product of the Week Makes an ideal candidate.

Plus, it was one of the most surprising things — if not all — announced at Microsoft Build this year.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.

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