APC Android computer isn’t a Raspberry Pi

VIA Technologies, ostensibly in an attempt to compete with the Raspberry Pi (if you can believe all those bloggers out there), is releasing a tiny single board computer called the APC Android PC. The VIA website for the APC is down, so just search Google News for all the details.

The specs are somewhat similar to the Raspberry Pi – HDMI out, Ethernet, SD card, and a few USB ports – but that’s about where the similarities end. The APC runs a version of Android 2.3 customized for mouse and keyboard input where the RasPi runs Linux. The APC can only display 720p video (compared to the RasPi’s 1080p), and doesn’t have GPIO pins that can be used with Arduino shields.

We’re pretty sure VIA is going after the media center PC market here with a low-power board that can easily stream movies or a season of TV shows over a network. At $50, we’re sure the APC will find a home in a few homebrew devices, MAME machines, and carputers.

If anything, this only portends a whole bunch of single-board ARM/Linux computers riding on the coat tails of the RasPi. That’s awesome no matter how you look at it.

If a $50 Android board doesn’t whet your whistle, VIA also released a Mini-ITX board with 12 hardware serial ports. Hardware serial ports are getting rare nowadays despite how useful they are for embedded applications. 12 (with riser cards, natch) serial ports seems overkill, but we’re sure some Hackaday reader has been looking for this board for a while now.

Comments

  1. Kris Lee says:

    I told it in Make blog and I tell it here again.

    This is very interesting board but I think that they got it really wrong when they used that connector with 2 USB and Ethernet on top.

    Now the board installation hight is doubled and it is limiting its applications. I find that this is very bad decition (I was more harch in Make blog).

    I’m still very happy that the connectors are only at one side.

    This makes this board very promising as PC installed into European electrical installation cabinet (to control home automation etc). The board dimensions seam to fit it nicely.

    I’m probably already regret that I did not pre-order it right away.

  2. callanbryant says:

    There are screw holes! Yay!

    Probably very nice as a low-powered server, too.

  3. StripeyType says:

    this pattern pretty closely follows the development of netbooks, you’ll recall. An educational startup/nonprofit puts out a low-cost innovation aimed at driving educational technology, hackers go crazy for the thing, and almost immediately commercial interests decide to represent themselves with entries into the same or similar market space.

    If we don’t see Asus come out with something in this space (though it isn’t clear to me what their ARM strategy is) I’ll be a little surprised.

    • Haku says:

      My biggest gripe with the resultant explosion of netbooks on the market after the Asus EEE 701 was released is that a lot of them quickly went from small form machines with 8.9″ screens and SSD to 10″ and bigger screens with traditional HDDs, making them less portable as the size+weight increased.
      I still use my original Asus EEE 701 & two 900’s as I find the screen size & keyboard size is just right.

  4. Cosmic R says:

    The APC runs a version of Android 2.3 customized for mouse and keyboard input where the RasPi runs Linux.

    I’m pretty sure that Android is also Linux.

    • Truth says:

      I was thinking the exact same as I was reading it, and then wondering if they somehow came up with some crappy idea to prevent you from installing a more functional Linux distro.

      • Irish says:

        Since you can also install and run a full Linux distro on any rooted Android device, I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before the cries of ROOT! are heard once again.

    • anon says:

      Android runs a highly-modified fork of the Linux kernel. Other than that, the rest of Android is completely different in almost every way imaginable when compared against a typical Linux distribution.

  5. Isaac says:

    Posted this on a forum last night, might as well repost here. Invariably its going to be compared to the RPi, so may as well lay it out:

    Pros
    -More USB ports
    -VGA output
    -512 mb ram vs 256
    -2gb onboard vs 0
    -MicroSD slot vs SD
    -CPU probably at least on par or better

    Cons
    -~$10 more expensive
    -720p max reso vs 1080p
    -GPU generally inferior
    -Larger
    -Higher power usage 13w max vs 3.5w max
    -Needs separate power, rpi can source from USB.
    -RPi comes with linux stock as opposed to android

    • Bogdan says:

      The power consumption is quite large, my mini laptop can consume up to 15W… with monitor and hard drive.

      • Panq says:

        A USB port at 500mA is 2.5W – if those four ports are all full-power, that’s ten watts of power that the board needs, but doesn’t itself *consume.*

        If the board itself was consuming anywhere near 13W without so much as a heat sink, it wouldn’t take long at all for the board to be partially liquified.

    • ryanhallarn says:

      a fair bit of that max power consumption is probably for the USB ports.

    • The other big difference for hackers like me is that the RPi has GPIO, I2C and SPI.

    • Kris Lee says:

      I think that the power usage is a biggest downside here. That power usage makes me think more towards Atom based design.

      I’m also wondering that is the cooling sufficient without any heat as presented.

    • Kris Lee says:

      @Panq

      That may make sense. It might be bad marketing only then.

    • Bear Naff says:

      Yeah, I think the real decider here is whether your project needs composite, hdmi, or vga output. Given enough hacker-hours, both products should have decent driver support for the built-in hardware, so it will really just be a matter of what your other components want to plug into.

      Does this strike anyone else as a case of the real world being weirder than expected?

    • RooTer says:

      Actually I like banana pc (via apc) better, as it will be mass produced, where I’m still waiting to be able to order my raspberry pi. If I’m going to start small busines based on such platform, VIA solution seems to be more reliable in terms of future availability.

    • lwatcdr says:

      I don’t see Android as being a bad thing.
      Large software base available and free development tools not to mention that it is also Open Source make it a good thing. And if you don’t like java you can write in c and c++ for it.

    • brianf21 says:

      The chip can handle 1080p but Via chose to lower it to 720p. As soon as the board is release in greater numbers, we will see a hack to bring it up to 1080p that the chip can handle.

  6. Steven says:

    If it can run Jellybean, let me know and I’ll get five.

  7. Peter says:

    What I find confusing is whether the maximum output resolution is 720p (which is sub par) or whether video decoding is limited to 720p (can live with this).

  8. Phanton_13 says:

    But… it don’t have a GPIO connector, then it really can’t compete with the Raspberry Pi for a lot of applications.

  9. Ivan says:

    The form factor is nicer for integrating it into more permanent designs. The Raspberry Pi is more of a prototyping tool. I like x86 versions of this motherboard footprint (Mini-ITX).

  10. Irish says:

    Can’t wait to see where this goes!

  11. osono says:

    The thing here is that the RasPi is like a white elephant, everybody is talking about it but it is really hard to get it, maybe the RasPi foundation wanted after they released their board that the big names like VIA entered in the game and give us better options of computing boards and that’s the good thing because is happening with this new board in the game. If VIA sells this little PC as it’s other PC trough their distributors it will be a success,

    Best regards!

  12. m1ndtr1p says:

    The RasPI is more for Arduino and other microcontroller users, while this VIA board is built for the PC builders who want something familiar, easy to use and small to build upon… Both are for different markets.

  13. Bogdan says:

    I really hope a year from now (or maybe less) we’ll have a few options for sub $50 boards like this one, the raspberry pi and others that will always be available and in stock. No pre order or waits…

    Maybe APC has the resources to ensure the demand from the users…

  14. Necromant says:

    If only Pi didn’t use that broadcom crap, I’d get myself one. While now – still waiting rhombus-tech’s 15$ Allwinner A10 board to hit the market.

  15. Sven says:

    I really don’t see this as a competitor to the RPI, this thing seems more like something a company would buy 500 of and tape to the back of a flat TV to replace a full computer in those animated advertisement displays.

    The fact that it comes with a PSU would make it easier to set up too.

    720p is going to limit that use though.

    • lwatcdr says:

      I was thinking more of in car use. Add in a 3G/4G data connection/GPS on the UART and a touch screen and you have the makings of a good dashboard based system.

  16. rasz says:

    VIA means x86 means slowness.

    • doragasu says:

      If you have a look to the photos in the homepage, processor is a WM8750, so:
      1.- It’s ARM.
      2.- It’s very likely that they will not provide sources for the drivers. You may be able to boot GNU+Linux, but using kernel+drivers taken from the Android distro that comes with the board.

  17. HackJack says:

    “so just search Google News for all the details.” – my bad, I thought I was on a news website!

  18. Vis1-0n says:

    I could do with a few of the $25 RPiA with the single USB slot. This $50 APC won’t be so much of a throwaway junkbox item that I can attach to every project I conceive, compared to the $25Pi, with a PIC32 filling the low end.

  19. Galane says:

    If it had 1080p on the HDMI I’d already have a pre-order on it.

    But it tops out at 720p so why bother?

    It’d be great for people wanting to make a cheap HTPC for use with 1080i TVs (which mostly suck at displaying interlaced 1080 video) but I have a 1080p TV with a 3+ Ghz P4 Compaq Evo slimline desktop connected to it.

    Does it have a header for a front mount USB port? What’s the max size Micro SD it can use?

    Why Android 2.3??? Give the thing 1080p video and Android 4 and it would sell even better.

    • fomori says:

      I think theyre shipping android just to have something nice and shiny for the start. most mobile devices dont run ics yet, so i figure they just didnt want to loose any time to port the drivers etc.

      you shouldnt be upset with those decisions, since its only the first rpi “opponent”… wait for more to come..

  20. Qualsiasi says:

    No WiFi?! – I find the lack of wireless connectivity very disturbing.

  21. Peertux says:

    What! no ISA or AGP slots how dare they. I guess some people are never pleased and always find things too complain about.

  22. mark s says:

    for those that have hundreds of $ to spend on a pc, this might be no big deal, but think of all the people who might find a usable pc for well under $100 to be a godsend. a lot more people might just get access to a computer, and this is probably a good thing.

  23. Whatnot says:

    VIA is strong in cryptography I hear, so for such a purpose this might also work.

  24. Eelco says:

    Hi,

    Just found a link to the specs of the processor (http://www.wondermedia.com.tw/en/products/platform/soc/wm8750/).

    A first look reveals:
    – ARMv11 core – Basically slower than Cortex A8, comparable to RPi.
    – 1080p decoding engine – Maybe some licensing limitations, but the specs say full 1080p
    – Nothing about the GPU.

    It seems to be one of the CPU’s that powers the cheap android tablets, but it could be interesting to see how it stacks up against the RPi (which I will receive at the end of june).

  25. Kris Lee says:

    Big question. How much more would such board with 2 GB RAM cost? These boards are memory caped that makes their application quite limited.

    Running something more serious on them would be quite a challenge even when there is CPU resource for that.

  26. Robot says:

    It would be great if this thing had Bluetooth. I’m not confident one could simply plug in a USB adapter since a driver would likely be required. Considering that a used Droid goes for the same price I’m not sure this is what I am looking for.

  27. n0lkk says:

    Going to be interesting to see how this all shapes out. Hopefully it’s not one big ash heap, leaving hackers with nothing. Many seem to be wanting a small form computer on the cheap that will please everyone, but that ain’t going to happen. To serve it’s original intention the Rpi is a bargain, if that’s what kids want to do, now they added a composite video output so an inexpensive TV can be used as a monitor. Adults are making a big deal over the Rpi 1080p, but I think its’ underpowered otherwise to where it will be disappointing for streaming HD video.

  28. Yarz says:

    I’ve owned the original and the rock save you money they are very frustrating. Linux on them does not use the gpu and via doesn’t seem to care what their customers want.

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