Via intros $49 Android PC board

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.

Comments closed
    • Hattig
    • 8 years ago

    I hope VIA provide a variant based upon a faster ARM core as well – it appears that the SoC is available with different cores. $79 for a 1GHz ARM Cortex A9 version that could also handle 1080p would be interesting.

    As for video decoding, it’s more about bitrate than supporting 720p/1080i/1080p. I’m sure that someone will get 1080p running on it, but it might only be 8mbps 1080p rather than 20mbps/40mbps/60mbps.

    The Raspberry Pi is based around a Broadcom Video SoC that happens to have an ARM11 on-board. Hence it has great support for video! The video cores themselves can run as a CPU, in fact they start the entire board up.

    • DarkMikaru
    • 8 years ago

    I wonder how well this would perform as a low cost NAS box? As of right now my beloved home file server’s motherboard kicked the bucket leaving my equally beloved AMD Athlon 2650e 15w TDP CPU without a home. 🙁 Until I can get my hands on another Socket AM2 board (in good condition which is hard to find these days) this may be an alternative.

    Very cool little board.

    • Rza79
    • 8 years ago

    What is that yellow internal header marked J3? USB?
    At least this can be installed in any ATX case. The Raspberry Pi really requires a custom made case. I also like the fact that it comes with Android pre-installed.

    • moresmarterthanspock
    • 8 years ago

    Meh, I’ll probably shell out the extra $1,000,000 for a Cray.

    • tfp
    • 8 years ago

    VIA 800Mhz processor, is this X86 or ARM? Guessing x86?

      • FakeAlGore
      • 8 years ago

      It says in the article that it’s an ARM 11 SoC.

        • tfp
        • 8 years ago

        Gah now I see it

    • maxxcool
    • 8 years ago

    I bet 1.2ghz 24/7 would be possible with a decent tiny heatsink… wonder if it could do 1080p at a decent bit rate then ?

      • Goty
      • 8 years ago

      Heat really isn’t the problem with these sorts of chips, but rather the “high” voltages required to obtain the higher clockspeeds and the rate at which the silicon will degrade.

    • moose17145
    • 8 years ago

    [url<]http://rastrack.ryanteck.org.uk/[/url<] wth... someone was able to get a Pi to ANTARCTICA and we can't even order one to our homes in America / Europe?!?

      • Farting Bob
      • 8 years ago

      Umm, orders are done first come first serve. If you pre-ordered one early enough you could have got it sent to the south pole or timbuktu. Until supply improves you cant get one sent 5 minutes down the road from Pi HQ because all units made have been allocated already..

    • tootercomputer
    • 8 years ago

    Close but no cigar.

    I hope Via keeps at it, though.

    • TO11MTM
    • 8 years ago

    If I can actually order one, that would be a bit of an improvement over the Pi. I want one badly but can’t seem to find one in stock, at least not for less than this…

    • ludi
    • 8 years ago

    Looks like another low-cost, all-in-one PC board for developing markets and maybe some network-connected info-display applications such as airport and bus terminal transit schedules.

    • chuckula
    • 8 years ago

    Hrmm… wonder if my Raspberry Pi will actually show up before this is widely available… I could setup a pool.

      • codedivine
      • 8 years ago

      [quote<]I could setup a pool.[/quote<] Excellent idea given that its summer.

    • Peldor
    • 8 years ago

    Might make a fun ‘console’ for $50 with $0.99 or free games for the kiddos.

    • dpaus
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]Via's spec sheet mentions that 2D/3D graphics resolutions top out at 720p[/quote<] [url=http://www.perpetualgeekmachine.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/oh-the-huge-manatee1.jpg<]Oh, the humanity![/url<]

      • ronch
      • 8 years ago

      Well, I hope it’s not using an S3 ViRGE graphics component.

      • Jeff Grant
      • 8 years ago

      I was able to order an itx nano x2 board directly from VIAs website and ship to the US at a decent intro price. I’ve used it in a tiny case with SSD as my media PC and have no problems with all types of videos, flash included. MKVs play great on it. Then again, it’s a 1.4ghz, dual core with a half decent video decoder. Maybe they’ll have a similar offer for the android based board??

    • ronch
    • 8 years ago

    Should be perfect for Internet cafes, but that Wondermedia thing looks awfully weak.

      • Deanjo
      • 8 years ago

      A lot of the cheap chinese tablets use them, and yes, they are very weak.

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