There has certainly been no shortage of hype around single-board computers of late—between the runaway success of the Raspberry Pi project and the appearance of thumb drive-sized Chinese offerings it was only a matter of time until a major manufacturer took an interest in the area; enter VIA ‘APC 8750’.
The newest addition to their range of small form factor products, the APC is a ‘Neo-ITX’ board based around an ARM WonderMedia SoC clocked in at 800MHz with 512MB DDR3 RAM and 2GB flash storage for the bundled OS, an Android Gingerbread build tweaked for mouse and keyboard input. The Neo-ITX form factor itself is a novelty—rather than produce the APC on a more conventional Nano/Pico-ITX platform VIA have chosen to create what is a essentially a Mini-ITX board cut down the centre—presumably to retain compatibility with Mini-ITX and Micro-ATX cases.
Form factor aside, the APC features a fairly comprehensive array of connectors with the basic 10/100 Ethernet, VGA, USB and audio in/out supplemented with an integrated microSD slot and HDMI out. Interestingly the board includes front panel/fan headers as well as a 4 pin +12V ‘P4’ connector which would allow it to obtain the 13.5W max (or 4W idle) of power it needs from a conventional ATX PSU or through the power jack on the rear panel.
The APC is an intriguing product and though superficially similar to a certain raspberry-flavoured single board computer, it’s subtly different in its aim. The Raspberry Pi was created as a tool for experimentation and education. Sold without operating system or case, and designed to be powered by a phone charger, the Pi was conceived as a way to inspire creativity in school children, whereas the the APC feels like the same ARM computer concept reworked into a drop-in replacement for a conventional x86 motherboard. Sure, there are some odd design choices—despite the HDMI port, video output is capped at a disappointing 720p, and the use of a microSD slot on a product easily large enough for a full size SD card is just plain strange—but the APC still has the potential to be a cheap, if basic, computer—which is rather the point. Billed as a reinvention of the computer with an awareness of online storage cloud applications, the APC is fundamentally based on the idea that ‘a very low cost computer—with access to the Internet—can be just as valuable as a much more expensive computer’.
Although it remains to be seen whether this philosophy works out for VIA, punters wanting to get their hands on an APC should be able to pre-order on their website soon with the first units expected to ship in July.