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VIA announces APC 8750 Raspberry Pi competitor

VIA announces APC 8750 Raspberry Pi competitor

VIA's APC 8750 ARM-powered Raspberry Pi competitor boasts a clever neo-ATX form factor, which makes it mountable in mini-ITX or micro-ATX cases.

Low-power computing specialist VIA has announced its answer to the Raspberry Pi: an ARM-based neo-ITX system running Google's Android operating system.

Based around a WonderMedia ARM11 processor running at 800MHz - 100MHz faster than the stock Raspberry Pi BCM2835 chip - and with 512MB of DDR3 RAM - twice that of the Raspberry Pi, and faster to boot - the APC 8750 is certainly impressive at first glimpse. Additional features above and beyond that of its credit-card sized competitor include 2GB of on-board NAND flash storage, four USB 2.0 ports, microphone input as well as analogue audio output and an analogue VGA connection in addition to HDMI.

Not everything about the APC 8750 will impress Pi fans, however: for no readily apparent reason, the device is limited to 720p output (1280x720) through its HDMI port, while the Pi manages 1080p (1920x1080) or higher. The system also requires an external power supply, adding to its already sizable dimensions. Finally, the device is also more expensive, costing $49 to the Pi's $35.

VIA is targeting a subtly different market with the APC 8750, however: its clever neo-ITX form factor, measuring just 17cm by 8.5cm, allows the device to be housed in any standard mini-ITX or micro-ATX chassis. The Pi, by contrast, is significantly smaller but requires custom cases to be constructed.

Where the Pi is targeted at education and curious hackers, the APC 8750 has its eyes firmly on the developing world.

'APC brings the familiarity and convenience of Android to the PC at a $49 price point that will open up exciting new markets and applications,' claimed VIA's Richard Brown at the device's unveiling. 'Like a bicycle for your mind, APC will enable more people than ever before to explore the vast online universe.'

The APC 8750 comes pre-loaded with Android 'Gingerbread' 2.3, a somewhat outdated version of Google's smartphone- and tablet-oriented operating system. While that means it's ready to go as soon as it's unpacked, there's no news yet as to whether VIA will be opening up the bootloader to allow other operating systems to run on the device - another tick in the Pi's favour.

The company has indicated that the APC 8750 is to be but the first low-cost low-power device in a new APC family. Details of future devices, however, are not yet available - but it's easy to imagine a more powerful, dual- or quad-core version with integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth launching in the near future should the initial device prove a success.

31 Comments

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FaSMaN 23rd May 2012, 13:24 Quote
It seems like a pretty decent device, and at $49 its not that much more than the Pi,comes with android,so its a bit more user friendly than the Pi, whether they can get it to the market quick enough is another story.

Raspberry Pi is still almost impossible to get, so this might make a dent in the market.

Lets just hope the community can get behind it and offer some good homebrew goodness over and above the android it allready has.
AmEv 23rd May 2012, 13:45 Quote
About the PSU.....

From what I have gathered, the RPi just uses a miniUSB port for its power.
This uses 12V.


So, you might be able to plug it into your case with an extra 12V header.



I think I just found the board for the LCD in the side of my case.
Gareth Halfacree 23rd May 2012, 13:49 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by AmEv
From what I have gathered, the RPi just uses a miniUSB port for its power.
This uses 12V.
MicroUSB, and 5V - not 12V. If you plug 12V into the Raspberry Pi, you'll fry it - the components run at 3.3V or lower (with a 3.3V regulator on the incoming 5V feed.)

The Pi will run on any 5V power supply capable of feeding it 500mA on the unlikely-to-ever-be-released Model A or 700mA on the Model B. That's more than a PC's USB port can offer, even after negotiation - which the Pi doesn't do.

You could probably build a Molex-to-microUSB adapter and power it straight off the PC's PSU, though.
CarlT2001 23rd May 2012, 14:03 Quote
Gareth, I think AmEv was suggesting running the VIA APC off of a 12v header - not the Pi.
Gareth Halfacree 23rd May 2012, 14:06 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by CarlT2001
Gareth, I think AmEv was suggesting running the VIA APC off of a 12v header - not the Pi.
Ah. I think you might be right, there. I read "This uses 12V" as a continuation of the "mini-USB" train of thought - as in "this [mini-USB connection] uses 12V."

Not sure why, really, as your interpretation makes a lot more sense!
coolius 23rd May 2012, 14:16 Quote
Not sure this comes close to the R-Pi - more expensive, twice the size and no 1080p!
Gareth Halfacree 23rd May 2012, 14:18 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by coolius
Not sure this comes close to the R-Pi - more expensive, twice the size and no 1080p!
More USBies, a VGA output, faster processor (although undoubtedly slower multimedia) and a sensible mounting system, tho'. (I still prefer the Pi, mind.)
AmEv 23rd May 2012, 14:53 Quote
You're right. I didn't quite continue my train of thought.


Seroiously, though, this might make for a decent Linux box for an HTPC.
IvanIvanovich 23rd May 2012, 15:05 Quote
Now if they were only smart enough to have added 4x sata at that price... these things would be amazing if it had disk support.
schmidtbag 23rd May 2012, 15:33 Quote
IIRC, this uses a quad-core CPU. A bit of a step up from RPi.
Gareth Halfacree 23rd May 2012, 15:49 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by schmidtbag
IIRC, this uses a quad-core CPU. A bit of a step up from RPi.
Nup - a single-core multimedia-centric ARMv6 part, just like the Pi, except 100MHz faster. This one, in fact.
isaac12345 23rd May 2012, 17:26 Quote
It runs android..... :\
AmEv 23rd May 2012, 17:39 Quote
...And you can put Ubuntu, Mint, RH, W8RT on it if you'd like
legoman 23rd May 2012, 18:00 Quote
They are working on a Unbuntu style OS for the Pi but to be honest the Pi is designed more with schools and learning involved with things like the GERT board on the way it can be used perfectly for small robotics projects. Plus its true aim was to get the UK coding again which is something many people myself included have lost.
Gareth Halfacree 23rd May 2012, 18:01 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by AmEv
...And you can put Ubuntu, Mint, RH, W8RT on it if you'd like

Windows RT won't work - it's only for OEM use with a small number of partner companies' SoCs, and this ain't one of 'em. As for the others, they'll only work if VIA opens the bootloader - otherwise you're stuck with whatever version of Android they choose to give you (2.3 currently, with no mention of any planned upgrades.)

I'm waiting to hear back about the bootloader.
Quote:
Originally Posted by legoman
They are working on a Unbuntu style OS for the Pi
There are already several "Ubuntu style" distros for the Pi - I used Debian in my review (on which Ubuntu is based) and there's also a Fedora Remix.
digitaldunc 23rd May 2012, 18:11 Quote
Quote:
'Like a bicycle for your mind, APC will enable more people than ever before to explore the vast online universe.'

That's certainly one of the more interesting concoctions of marketing tripe that I've heard... can you imagine exploring the universe on a bike? It would take a long time... :D

So being slightly less negative, looks an interesting bit of kit but it's a shame if it's android exclusive and only capable of 720p -- I suppose if it's popular enough *nix hackers will break it so it can run custom distros.
legoman 23rd May 2012, 18:40 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
I'm waiting to hear back about the bootloader.
There are already several "Ubuntu style" distros for the Pi - I used Debian in my review (on which Ubuntu is based) and there's also a Fedora Remix.

Thats the term i was thinking of my minds gone to mush today with logistics planning. I have both on SD cards waiting to try on the Pi rather than emulate them.

Also not sure if im loosing the plot but im sure i saw something about windows 8 possibly having Arm support on the mobile version though spec wise im not sure if its going to be compatible.
Gareth Halfacree 23rd May 2012, 18:52 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by legoman
Also not sure if im loosing the plot but im sure i saw something about windows 8 possibly having Arm support on the mobile version though spec wise im not sure if its going to be compatible.
Windows RT is Windows 8 for ARM - but it won't work on the Pi, or the VIA board. It's designed to be pre-loaded on tablets (and possibly one or two laptops) featuring chips from Microsoft's partners, which include Nvidia and Qualcomm. It won't be available to download, or to buy at retail, and it won't install on any device it hasn't been specifically designed for - even if it uses a near-identical ARM processor.
Dave Lister 23rd May 2012, 20:56 Quote
Does it have a GPS unit ? I tried looking at your link for info Gareth but it's broken.
Gareth Halfacree 23rd May 2012, 21:00 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Lister
Does it have a GPS unit ? I tried looking at your link for info Gareth but it's broken.
Nup, no GPS - but a USB one should work. The site still works for me - here's the block diagram for the processor:

http://gareth.halfacree.co.uk/pubimages/wm8710-blkgram.jpg

Note that the processor itself supports 1080p, but VIA has for no readily apparent reason decided to restrict it to 720p in the APC. Also, check out the stuff VIA is leaving unused: infra-red support, MPEG-TS decoding for DVB reception, camera input, TV/LCD/LVDS outputs, gigabit Ethernet (if you spend the cash adding in the required PHY), JTAG port, six UARTs, two I2Cs, two SPIs...

The other final bit of interest from the block diagram: the WonderMedia 87x0 family has an on-board real-time clock, which the BCM2835 on the Raspberry Pi lacks. That may or may not be important, depending on what you're planning on doing with 'em. (If you've got GPS, mind you, an onboard clock is fairly redundant.)
Dave Lister 23rd May 2012, 21:14 Quote
Thanks man, shame about the lack of IR. I'm looking around for a small computer for the car to plug into it's screen and use for a satnav, IR would have been useful. It must just be my internet stopping me from seeing the link, it's been hella slow today.
Gareth Halfacree 23rd May 2012, 21:19 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Lister
Thanks man, shame about the lack of IR. I'm looking around for a small computer for the car to plug into it's screen and use for a satnav, IR would have been useful. It must just be my internet stopping me from seeing the link, it's been hella slow today.
The four USB ports can make up for a lot: keyboard in one, mouse in another, GPS in the third and the fourth is free for an IrDA dongle. Mind you, you're then stuck with the 2GB onboard and whatever you can stuff in the microSD slot for storage. If you used an all-in-one multimedia keyboard (you know, the ones with an IBM-style clitmouse or small touchpad) you'd have a USB free for external storage - same if you ditched both keyboard and mouse for a USB-connected touch-screen.
Dave Lister 23rd May 2012, 21:32 Quote
Hmm it could be possible then ! although my screens connections are only analogue. Maybe a bluetooth dongle and ps3 controller to navigate android would work and a cheap 32gb sd card for some music videos and the navigation maps ! Cool I'll keep an eye out for more news on this.
Cheers.
Webby63 23rd May 2012, 22:06 Quote
It might be the Commodore 64 / Spectrum war all over again...
AmEv 23rd May 2012, 23:48 Quote
Oh...

Thanks for the clarification.


...




Still....







*You could also use a keyboard with a built-in USB hub.
badders 24th May 2012, 15:38 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by AmEv
...And you can put Ubuntu, Mint, RH, W8RT on it if you'd like
Probably not a recent version. ARMV6 was only partially supported in Karmic Koala, and has been dropped in favour of ARMV7 in later versions.
AmEv 26th May 2012, 03:45 Quote
Wait....

This'd be almost PERFECT for my Dell GX150 case I have!
AmEv 29th May 2012, 02:11 Quote
My question is, will they release an ATX-style backplane with it?
Gareth Halfacree 29th May 2012, 08:02 Quote
Got confirmation from VIA late last night: the bootloader will be unlocked, so devs just need to port a given OS to the SoC and you're ready to go. Because it's an ARMv6, a lot of the work done for the Raspberry Pi can be applied to the APC - they're the same architecture - so expect to see Debian et al appearing on the device shortly after launch.
BLC 30th May 2012, 12:25 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Got confirmation from VIA late last night: the bootloader will be unlocked, so devs just need to port a given OS to the SoC and you're ready to go. Because it's an ARMv6, a lot of the work done for the Raspberry Pi can be applied to the APC - they're the same architecture - so expect to see Debian et al appearing on the device shortly after launch.

Much of the work that needs to be done with the Rasbperry Pi will also need to be done with this: drivers. Part of the problem with the Pi at the moment is that very little can tap into the GPU powerhouse because there is a distinct lack of accelerated drivers. The foundation have already stated that it is unlikely that either they or Broadcom will be releasing accelerated X drivers, kernel modules, etc. There's a lot of work ongoing to try and offload graphics processing onto the GPU, but one of the biggest issues is that the GPU supports OpenGL ES rather than standard OpenGL.

If the APC is to succeed with another operating system it's going to need drivers. Especially if people hope to utilise all those funky widgets in the block diagram. If VIA isn't going to release drivers - or will only release/support Android drivers - then it'll need a big O/S community behind it, and I doubt they'll match the level of interest that the Pi has.

It's certainly a promising and capable device, but I've kinda planted my flag in the Raspberry Pi camp already :)
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