Another sub-$100 PC is coming to market. This time, it’s processor and chipset maker VIA offering up a bargain-basement ARM computer.
2012 is shaping up to be a very big year for inexpensive pint-sized PCs. The $35 Raspberry Pi has begun shipping to the delight of the DIY crowd, the Mele A1000 is offering up Android-powered computing for just $70, and VIA has just taken the wraps off their new $45 APC.
The APC walks the line between the A1000 and the Raspberry Pi. Like the Pi, it’s obviously aimed at hobbyists and DIYers. No enclosure is provided, though the APC is designed to fit in standard PC cases (Mini-ITX, Nano-ITX, and Neo-ITX). You’ll also need to pick up a power supply, and those two additional pieces will set you back around $50 or $60. Even with the added expense, you’re looking at an Android computer for around $100.
One advantage the VIA APC offers over the Raspberry Pi and A1000 is connectivity. The APC has integrated ports galore, including four USB 2.0, HDMI and VGA output, a 10/100 Ethernet port, and 1/8-inch audio input and output jacks. There’s also a microSD slot for storage expansion. An 800MHz ARM11 processor is paired with a 400MHz GPU to enable hardware accelerated video playback. The WonderMedia chip also allows the APC to sip very little power: even at full load, it only draws around 15 watts.
Unfortunately, you won’t be treated to Ice Cream Sandwich — at least not out of the box. The APC ships with a customized version of Android 2.3, though it’s very likely that the Android developer community will deliver a remix of the popular CyanogenMod ROM once they’ve gotten their hands on the device. You may also be able to get an ARM-compatible Linux operating system like Ubuntu to run, in the event that you’d prefer a full-on desktop experience.
While the 800MHz chip can’t compete with a current-gen chip from AMD or Intel in terms of raw performance, it’s still plenty powerful enough to handle most computing chores. The Raspberry Pi (which uses a similar ARM chip) has been demonstrated to run Quake 3. That’s obviously not quite the same as being able to run Modern Warfare 3 at full settings, but it’s pretty good for hardware this modest.
It’s also important to remember that nearly all Android apps and games have been designed for touch interfaces. They won’t necessarily work all that well with a keyboard and mouse, but improvements on that front are coming. With Google’s acquisition of Motorola now complete, most industry insiders believe that webtop functionality (like that provided by the Atrix) will be introduced in an upcoming version of Android.
Once that happens, inexpensive ARM computers that run Android may really start giving traditional PCs a run for their money.
Interested already? You can pre-order the VIA APC soon, and units should begin shipping in July.