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April 4, 2014

Windows-compatible hardware development boards available soon

Viraf Gandhi is a Senior Program Manager in the Engineering Partner Experience team in the Operating Systems Group.


Windows is a compelling platform in part because it delivers a single development environment for a broad range of hardware, including PCs, embedded devices, Internet of Things (IOT), and system-on-a-chip (SOC).

A new Microsoft initiative will soon make it easier to develop and certify Windows drivers using cost-effective boards designed for specific SOC systems.

Creating Windows drivers for SOC platforms poses certain challenges. Unlike PCs, which have PCI slots and/or USB ports, SOC systems such as tablets and clamshells use low-power internal buses that lack standard connectors, plug and play support, or discovery mechanisms. In addition, they are typically protected by secure boot, and cannot be used for developing and testing third-party drivers.

That will soon change with the availability of off-the-shelf boards that are pre-designed to work within specific SOC environments. Microsoft is working with Intel to make Intel® ATOM™-based boards (code-named “Sharks Cove”) available in the second half of 2014. In addition, Microsoft is considering the inclusion of non-Intel boards from other partners.



Microsoft’s goal for the boards is to make them easy to get started on, with all the tools needed for driver-development projects. Features of the initiative include the following:

An affordable development board that can be purchased over the Internet without any need for licensing, quotes or purchase orders.

The ability for developers to download a copy of Windows OS from MSDN, where they will also find a link pointing to a location where all board-specific drivers will be hosted. In addition, Microsoft will provide scripts to help deploy the OS onto a USB key, or to boot from a USB key and deploy the OS to internal storage.

Visual Studio support and Windows Development Kit (WDK) tools for developing drivers. The WDK is now compatible with all versions of Visual Studio, from Visual Studio Ultimate to Visual Studio Express 2013 for Windows Desktop, which is available free from MSDN.

The ability to test and certify drivers and devices against the developer’s tests and Microsoft device tests. The boards will support end-to-end testing using Windows RT and Windows 32 APIs.

Ports for attaching common PC peripherals, including HDMI for display and USB for expansion, as well as interfaces for attaching embedded components such as I2C, GPIO, UART and SDIO.


Our goal is to enable a self-service development experience that lets hardware manufacturers develop and certify their Windows drivers without time-consuming purchase order or licensing processes, and without the need for extensive engagement with Microsoft. Purchasing the boards is quick and easy, and development help and tips can be found in the MSDN community.

For more information, visit