VIA Is Still At It: They Launched A $49 ARM PC
While fading away to irrelevancy, VIA is still around and actually releasing new hardware. Though this isn't some new VIA x86 quad-core CPU but rather VIA Technologies is now entering the ARM and Android space. The product they announced on Tuesday is a $49 Android PC.
As mentioned in this press release, VIA now has the APC Android PC system, which is a $49 PC that's said to idle at around four Watts and tap out at just over 13 Watts. The form factor for this Android PC is Neo-ITX and measures in at 17 x 8.5 cm. While this is marketed as a "PC", it's basically the motherboard with ARM SoC but not any ITX/ATX chassis is included.
The VIA Android PC is using a custom build of Google's Android, but not many details are known for now about VIA's Android build. It's also not reported on how open or locked-down this VIA ARM platform is in terms of allowing other non-Android Linux distributions to be lowed on this ~$50 device.
The reported specifications are HDTV support, hardware acceleration for most video formats, VGA and HDMI display outputs, four USB 2.0 ports, microSD support, 10/100 Ethernet, audio-out/mic-in, 2GB of NAND Flash memory, and 512MB of DDR3 system RAM.
For the VIA APC (presumably short for "Android PC"), the Taiwanese company launched the APC.io product web-site. The site mentions they anticipate orders won't begin to ship until July 2012. Embedded below is also a video showing off the VIA APC and some of their Android desktop.
As far as the ARM SoC used by the VIA Android PC, the press release refers to it as the "VIA WonderMedia ARM 11 SoC." When digging around, there are references to the product as the "APC 8750" and as a "VIA 800MHz Processor." This information leads me to believe the actual SoC is the Prizm WM8750 from WonderMedia Technologies. WonderMedia is actually a subsidiary of VIA Technologies. The small selection of WonderMedia ARM SoCs are mostly used in the Chinese Android tablets with not much traction in competitive devices for the North American or European markets.
The WonderMedia WM8750 is an ARM11 SoC that's single-core and running at 800MHz. The integrated graphics core is said to be OpenGL ES 2.0 compliant, support 1080p video decoding with H.264 video encoding, DDR2/DDR3 DRAM support, and boast an advanced hardware security engine. For a sub-$50 PC you can't ask for much, but out of this ARM11 single-core 800MHz chip you can't really expect much. It also doesn't have fully open-source Linux drivers... Need I say more after mentioning again that WonderMedia is just a subsidiary of VIA, a notorious company with a failed open-source strategy?
For reference in comparison to the VIA APC with its 512MB of DDR3 RAM, WonderMedia ARM SoC with single-core 800MHz processor, the RaspberryPi $35 PC has a Broadcom BCM2835 SoC with single-core 700MHz CPU, 256MB of RAM, Broadcom VideoCore IV graphics. While the SoC is slightly slower on the Raspberry Pi, at least its out of the more well-known (and more likely to have a viable open-source/Linux community around it) SoC vendor rather than VIA's WonderMedia. For those looking to spend more than $50 on an ARM Linux PC, there is the really wonderful PandaBoard ES and the very nice Tegra-based Trim-Slice.
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