Android-powered mini PCs seem to be the hip new trend these days. The Raspberry Pi folks deserve a lot of the credit for inciting interest in inexpensive computer boards equipped with Android-friendly ARM processors. Now, Via wants a slice. The Mini-ITX pioneer has announced the APC, a $49 circuit board loaded with everything required to run Google's smartphone and tablet OS.
Like the Raspberry Pi board, the APC features a system-on-a-chip based on the ARM architecture. The chip is identified as a Via WonderMedia ARM 11 SoC, whose multicolored block diagram can be viewed here. Looks like the chip has a single processor core, a video engine that supports H.264 encoding and decoding, a programmable DSP, and a 3D graphics component, among other features. The SoC runs at 800MHz, which is 100MHz faster than the Broadcom chip in the Raspberry Pi. However, Via's spec sheet mentions that 2D/3D graphics resolutions top out at 720p. The Raspberry Pi has no such limitation, and it's already been demoed playing 1080p video with XBMC.
With a Neo-ITX form factor that measures 6.7" x 3.3" (170 x 85 mm), the APC's footprint is three times the size of the Raspberry Pi. The APC has more onboard hardware, though. In addition to 512MB of DDR3 RAM, it's equipped with 2GB of flash storage, four USB ports, VGA and HMDI outs, a Micro SD slot, and both Ethernet and audio jacks. Via will bundle the device with a 15W power adapter and a version of Android optimized for keyboard and mouse input. Unfortunately, that Android build appears to be based on version 2.3 of the operating system, otherwise known as Gingerbread. Android 4.0 has been out since the end of last year.
Via expects to start shipping the $49 APC in July. It's an intriguing device, but this line from Via marketing VP Richard Brown really says it all: "like a bicycle for your mind, APC will enable more people than ever before to explore the vast online universe." The APC might be cheap like a bicycle, but pedal power seems poorly suited to exploring the vastness of the universe, just like a 720p resolution cap and Android 2.3 seem all too limiting for an ARM-based mini PC.
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