does it have one?
El Reg hasn't written about VIA for yonks, but it's one of the original x86 CPU makers, thanks to its purchase of processor design firm Centaur in 1999. VIA has long pitched low-cost, low-power CPUs, and now it's trying to do so again, this time with ARM technology, in a bid to take a bite out of Raspberry Pi. VIA APC Banana …
If memory serves me right older Wondermedia did MPEG accel and sucked bricks sidewize through a thin straw on most other stuff (just the way Via GPUs of old used to do on PCs). The library support was horrible too and refused to work with a lot of android apps.
On the positive side this being VIA it probably does crypto accel so it may be a good VPN gateway if there is support for its crypto in openssl and/or kernel.
I have no idea how bad will this one be. I am definitely not holding my breath here.
It may be worth it for a firewall or CCTV/telemetry server if it is possible to boot Debian on it. In fact, I may buy it (to add to the stack of Via MBs which I have and still use from time to time).
That's the thing about the Raspberry Pi, the VideoCore IV GPU is an absolute beast. This VIA board seems to just be cashing in on the Raspberry Pi fuss, it's got approximately the same puny CPU, a much punier GPU (can't do 1080p), double the RAM (which is the only thing it has in its favour), needs a special PSU rather than any common or garden mobile phone power supply, doesn't boot from an SD card so is potentially brickable, and it's a fair bit more expensive. Plus, it will have fark all community behind it, and good luck finding documentation for the hardware.
So mostly negatives and only one small positive - this VIA is so easy to pass up.
Now, if it had been x86 at that price, that might have been a little more interesting but again the lack of any community to speak of and no doubt the unsupported/undocumented drivers would have combined to put a major dampener on that enthusiasm also.
You don't need to program to a GPU to benefit from a GPU. If your desktop windows are rendered into surfaces they don't need to be repainted every time some other window is dragged over them. This reduces the amount of repainting and context switches which results in a more responsive desktop.
Amazingly it looks a far more complicated (and thus expensive) design than the Pi, with separate RAM ICs (has VIA not heard of Package on Package?), the ARM SoC and of course the Flash IC that permits bricking, plus a bunch of other discrete ICs (I counted at least 5, not including the socketed BIOS chip) that aren't considered necessary at all on the R-Pi which is basically built around three ICs in the case of the Model B - LAN IC, Broadcom SoC and a single RAM IC (no LAN IC at all in the Model A).
It really doesn't look like a lot of thought has gone into this design, and in fact it looks like VIA have used all of their PC motherboard design skills to create it, which probably wasn't a good idea.
"This also has mounting holes. Sadly missing from the Pi making casing it a bit tricky."
You sir need to buy new glasses! The Pi clearly has mounting holes in the picture published earlier today by this very organ. I can see at least 4 holes and another may be hidden by the ethernet socket.
Also, it appears to be pre-flashed with Android 2.3 (a phone OS), with no indication of other options. Its still an ARM11 (ARMv6) device.
Given the clock speed is only 800MHz compared to the Pi's 700MHz and they are running the same cores, the only real benefit in this over the Pi is the extra RAM.
On balance, I'd say the Pi's GPIO ports, 1080p hdmi, multiple OS options and brick-proofing make it the better bet.
If it tries to boot from the soldered-on flash before it tries to boot from USB, and it is possible to change the contents of the soldered-on flash, then it is probably brickable.
When I am emperor it will be illegal to sell brickable devices and it will be a requirement to provide instructions for restoring a device to a usable state. This isn't just imperial beneficence. It would be a matter of national security if a virus or worm could permanently damage components of widely used hardware.
Hmmm... I have an ARMv6-based tablet clocked at 800 Mhz running Gingerbread and it's a real dog.
It can't run a significant amount of software for Android too (e.g. Skype video) because of the CPU's generation. I don't know how better than the Telechips TCC8902 in my tablet this VIA CPU could be, but I wouldn't expect it to be a performer compared to more recent (and very cheap too) SOCs like e.g. the Allwinner A10.
I studied the screenshot and it's powered by a WM8750. According to the spec sheet for that it supports OpenGL ES 2.0 *and* 1080p.
Why this Via says 720p only is a mystery. Maybe it hasn't the VRAM for any higher.
But still brickable, unless you have a spare BIOS IC. And most people won't have spares. So for those without a spare BIOS, it remains brickable.
Whereas the Raspberry Pi is impossible to brick - if you make a mistake all you need to do is reformat your SD card.
Despite years of messing with BIOSes and embedded systems, I know which system I prefer and yes, it's actually the SD card method - perfect for tinkering and repeated tweaking, far more forgiving for novice users, and cheaper too.
"it's actually the SD card method - perfect for tinkering and repeated tweaking"
Not to mention, you aren't tied to picking your OS of choice. Some devices (Beagleboard xM) have a button so u-boot can load different operating systems (RISC OS & Angstrom Linux, for example). In the absence of a button, it's still not a problem, just swap the card and power up. Android, RISC OS, regular Linux, etc etc - the SD card method makes it stupidly easy to choose what you want when you want, with zero risk of bricking the hardware. Now that this stuff is available, and boot times are pretty fast (remember, the OS is probably copied into RAM, not executed directly from Flash, so there's little Flash can do that an SD card can't), I don't see why anybody who wants to use their device would stick with Flash. Maybe an embedded industrial application, it makes sense. A device like this? No. Flash is so last-decade..
Looks like standard PC mboard connector ... given they are calling it a "Neo ITX" board then I'd assume its designed to fit in (mini)ITX cases. Placement of fixing holes near connectors looks to be same as mini-ITX and connectors would fit in the standard ITX/ATX port template.
Competition is great, but are VIA contributing to the Raspberry Pi Foundation to improve computer education for kids, or just profit taking?
I can see this VIA board as benefiting consumers/hackers (although not really, as the Pi IMHO is better in almost all areas other than RAM) but selling to consumers/hackers is not the reason Raspberry Pi's are being produced.
There are lots of factories in the UK making lots of stuff. We might not have (m)any of the traditional heavy industry/thousands of workers/spanning acres of land type factories any more, but there are a hell of a lot of smaller concerns dotted all around the place making stuff that is quite often regarded very highly by the rest of the world. Shame the UK media seems overly keen to make people think that UK manufacturing is dead and buried, or at least something we really shouldn't be very proud of any more...
Not sure that GB sticker indicates this particular board was made over here though - it looks more like the stickers my current and previous employers have used to identify which production facility/line was used, or who in the manufacturing team was responsible for final assembly/testing.
Not just that ... it adheres to an existing standard so there are cases already out there thay it will just drop into. Only slight difference is that posibly only 2 of the holes line up with the standard mini-ITX mounting points ... but given the minimal size/weight and the fact that the two present are slightly offset then I'd expect those two on their own will be sufficient to fix the board to a case.
Maybe someone will come up with a PCB-based adapter for the Raspberry Pi to convert the credit-card sized Pi board into a standard nano-IT... just needs a bunch of flexible connectors to secure the PI, and the appropriate ports along the single edge.
Less than a fiver in parts to produce - would only require a PCB, short cables and the IO ports. I'm sure they'd sell dozens.
I love the Pi and the concept and everything around it... Having the GPIO ports means that stuff like one-wire sensors and other stuff should be easily hookable to it.
Has to be said though that this is a decent looking device, and with a suitably sized case may be good running as a low power web server or running something like freenas.
Competition is good.
The Pi has the GPIO which is very useful and consumes less than 4 watts in use (the APC is said to run at 13.5 watts) but competition is indeed great.
The APC looks like the guts of a GoogleTV STB hence Android makes sense ... I've been considering a 7inch tablet to play with Android .. this looks a better bet ... (I'm still using my 2-year old 1st gen iPad so dont really need another tablet form factor).
I now have a Pi and its great as an embedded system platform .. I might get an APC as a Thin Client / Media Centre .. need to see how close to $49 they actual get it out the door for .. I'm betting on £49 for the UK when VAT and delivery is added on.
> Having the GPIO ports means that stuff like one-wire sensors and other stuff should be easily hookable to it.
While that's true, the Pi 's GPIO pins are 3.3v and NOT 5v tolerant - this is a big problem for many, if not most, sensors and gadgets which output 5v signals.
It's better to simply use one of the cheap Arduino clones connected via USB to handle GPIO and connections.
Having this setup also lets you do I2C, I2S and implement many bit-bang protocols more easily (and efficiently as you offload driving the pins to the ATMEL processor and free up the main CPU).
Actually the Raspberry's upcoming Gerboard also comes with an Arduino-like micro controller to do this.
...same as the Raspberry Pi (when it becomes available). VIA's design looks a little more interesting to me. I like their inclusion of more RAM and positioning of the ports so that it could be fitted into a conventional computer case.
What I'd really like to see, though, is a socket for installing your own RAM, just to keep the device viable as programs get larger.
The WonderMedia CPUs have been used in some cheap (and mostly nasty, though that's a question of the operating system) "netbooks" running Windows CE.
Well, I've already landed my RasPi, so it's rather of "academic interest" to me now, but if I were still waiting for it, this board might turn my head.
So, if I ended up with this VIA board: assuming it's possible/easy, I'd ditch that prehistoric version of Android like a shot. If the board is packing an ARM6 CPU, it would be Arch Linux ARM for me (which my Pi is running).
(Noting that the USB and Ethernet ports are together: is it the same as the Pi, where the two are running off the same bus?)
In the end, I'm glad to see ARM-based machines finally starting to gain some traction. Obviously I'm in the RasPi camp, so am not really interested in another for now, but as long as you're not forced to use the OS they've stuck on the thing, I'm all in favour of some competition - especially if it improves the specs of the next version...
Would seem to be 1080p output, not 720p...
800Mhz ARM1176JZF processor
OpenGL-ES 2.0 compliant graphics processor
Multi-standard 1080p video decoding engine
H.264 video encoding
DDR2/DDR3 DRAM interface
Multiple video interface including HDMI, LVDS, TV-out, DVO and VGA
Flexible networking and peripheral interface
Advanced hardware security engine
Anyone think this would run Minecraft server? It can just run on an EC2 micro instance, which has 613MB, but more CPU horsepower (hard to know how much). So I suspect not, but as these devices ramp up, I expect a lot of hosting to move in-home. A solid state appliance under your complete control is a lot better than a VM run by someone else.
" massive sales of ARM-based kit running an OS other than Windows will mean that people will have realised there is a world without Windows. "
How would a board aimed at developers make any more difference than Linux and Macs (and RISC OS, etc.?) Massive sales to the kind of person who reads the Register won't make any difference as I see it. It's a market that already prides itself on being more canny (yawn) than normal people. And little Johnny learning how to use one at school isn't going to persuade Mum and Dad to ditch Windows.
isn't going to persuade Mum and Dad to ditch Windows
It happens in increments. Take my place of work, for instance. Most of their Windows boxes have been chucked, replaced by Ubuntu. For what it is worth to the end user, there are a few niggling differences, but basically OpenOffice is a lot like Microsoft Office (so long as you understand what you are doing and didn't learn it like "Format menu, third option down").
They have just installed a fancy (Ubuntu-again) touchscreen based thing for stock control in a production area. It looks to be a basic point-and-squeeze style barcode reader. Not sure if it is USB or serial. The computer? A micro ATX Dell jobby. Placed into a small sealed metal box. I had a chance to peek inside at this stuff when it was being switched off at the end of the day. My God, you could feel the heat blasting off of it. There's a fan in the enclosure to circulate air, but there's no actual "cooling". I would be surprised if it hasn't cooked itself in a month.
Which leads me to recall this article. It's a UI, it's a touchscreen, it's Ubuntu, it's a barcode reader, it jacks in to the LAN to talk to the central stock computer. You can't need that much processing power to make that work, surely it would work just fine on today's Beagleboards, IGEPv2s, and - if the necessary connectors are there - the RPis and VIA boards. It would require an enclosure half the size, heat and cooling would be negligible, and power consumption likewise.
In short - the business world is starting to realise that there are options other than Windows. Maybe, in some circumstances (as outlined above) they might soon start to realise that there are options other than big chunky power hungry x86 boxes.
And then, then the little ARM boards will be ready with their - frankly ridiculous - levels of processing in a bit of plastic smaller than a beer cap and no heatsink in sight. There are applications where quad cores at multi-GHz is necessary. But there are also plenty of applications where some delays are acceptable as the machine will spend a lot of time doing practically nothing so it doesn't need to be OTT spec-wise. Welcome to the world of the ARM SoC.
"And little Johnny learning how to use one at school isn't going to persuade Mum and Dad to ditch Windows."
The more that Mum and Dad see other folks, especially other ordinary folks, doing their email and other simple stuff without a Window box, the more Mum and Dad will realise that they have little reason to ever buy another overpowered overpriced Window box.
The IT people may eventually catch on too, maybe starting with those where "thin clients" have allegedly been appropriate (maybe call centre end users, for example). And maybe starting also with the "embedded" end of things where "industrial PCs" and the like have historically been used.
It may not be the end, but it increasingly starts to look like it may be the beginning of the end.
All things must pass.
If I wanted something to use seriously i.e as a desktop running Linux I would use a Pandaboard ES (£145 I think RRP) but really decent. (OMAP4460)
Either this or the PI are good as Toys.
I will buy both if I can get them within a few days of ordering.
(Or an Allwinner / Rockchip one at a similar price).
I like playing with this sort of stuff.
Reading all the comments I wonder,
Is anybody, anywhere, using these things for their original purpose? That of schools teaching students the basic joys of making a thing do what you tell it to?
Kind of reminds me of those Japanese concerts for kids where all the rabid old men buy all the merchandise for handshakes and leave the kids with nout.
Is anybody, anywhere, using these things for their original purpose? That of schools teaching students the basic joys of making a thing do what you tell it to?
In the case of the Raspberry Pi, no - not yet. The Raspberry Pi educational package is due November-ish, once any kinks have been worked out of the hardware (which is currently in it's "hacker" and community-building phase), cases for the Pi designed, and the educational software and coursework written and developed.
Here in Oz all FTA TV is mpeg2. I tend to go with recording SD channels as they are faster to transcode for my tablet and if the story is good, it doesn't matter.
VGA is also good as many monitors have DVI & VGA ports which means there's a spare connection for your hobby board.
I'd like something with slightly more oomph and a couple of sata ports. Will it network boot?
I too welcome our cheap ARM-hugging overlords.
When netbooks first came out they only cost £150 and ran Linux. Then Microsoft said "you can have Windows 7 (virtually) for free". Netbook manufacturers then dumped Linux for Windows. Unfortunately although the first batch of netbook ran Linux quickly they could not run Windows 7 at an acceptable speed. This meant that netbooks were given faster processors and more memory. Netbooks now cost £300.
What I am hoping is that manufacturers will produce a new batch of compact netbooks which run Linux on ARM processors and only cost £80. The demand for the Pi has proven that there is a market for very low cost compact Linux only netbooks.
I wouldn't mind one myself, especially if they could come in under £100 and still be usable.
The Hercules eCafé (http://www.ecafe.hercules.com/uk/) looks interesting, though I understand they come in at over double the price you mentioned. It runs Ubuntu/ARM, though if I had one I'd want to replace it with Arch/ARM (it's running on my Raspberry Pi, and my Eee 701 runs Arch/x86).
Hopefully, now we have all these companies wanting to jump on the bandwagon, a £100 ARM netbook will only be a matter of time... well, I can dream, can't I?
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