VIA's entry into the low cost computer market


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by psycho_moggie » Tue May 22, 2012 4:35 pm
Just spotted this on The Register.
http://www.reghardware.com/2012/05/22/c ... _pi_alike/
Seems to run Android 2.3, whether Proper Linux can be run on it is something to be investigated.
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by Ravenous » Tue May 22, 2012 4:39 pm
Yes I noticed that, didn't want to start the predictable firefight by mentioning it first though :)

Might be useful for a couple of old VGA monitors I have sitting around.

Quite a bit more expensive than the raspi though, also the flash isn't swappable. Similar processor by the looks of it.
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by psycho_moggie » Tue May 22, 2012 5:01 pm
I don't think I'll be getting one, I'll have more than enough to keep me busy when my Pi turns up. I'm also trying to get some momentum going on controlling Atmel AVR devices via I2C. There's a lot of useful peripherals that can be configured via registers. I think that's enough projects.
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by hippy » Tue May 22, 2012 5:17 pm
Very nice but a shame it hasn't got booting from SD Card. Other than that, for me, it's everything the R-Pi should have been hardware-wise and form factor.
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by Joe Schmoe » Tue May 22, 2012 5:19 pm
hippy wrote:Very nice but a shame it hasn't got booting from SD Card. Other than that, for me, it's everything the R-Pi should have been hardware-wise and form factor.


Not that I'm saying otherwise, but why do you think of booting from SD card as such a good thing? I always saw that as sort of a weak link in the Pi design.
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by Max » Tue May 22, 2012 5:41 pm
Ravenous wrote:Quite a bit more expensive than the raspi though, also the flash isn't swappable


Review: http://vr-zone.com/articles/via-announc ... 15949.html

Don't think the price is too bad, given that it comes with power supply and flash.
No 1080p though :(

Does seem to have a micro SD slot, so perhaps that could also be used to boot from, if the bootloader stored in flash supports it.
by welshblob » Tue May 22, 2012 5:53 pm
Joe Schmoe wrote:
hippy wrote:Very nice but a shame it hasn't got booting from SD Card. Other than that, for me, it's everything the R-Pi should have been hardware-wise and form factor.


Not that I'm saying otherwise, but why do you think of booting from SD card as such a good thing? I always saw that as sort of a weak link in the Pi design.


I have to say having had my Pi for a couple of weeks that booting from SD is great whilst you are testing as its just so easy to swap it out, edit it, reimage, backup etc.

Who knows maybe you can configure this so that will boot off the SD card or USB.

As for 720p only I've read the chip supports 1080p so not sure if that's wrong or whether its limited for some reason. Also not sure what codecs are supported natively other than h264.

Interesting market being created here although I wonder if the All Winner based devices are better value than this one. I guess I'll wait and see what the reviews / support is like when its released.

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by johnbeetem » Tue May 22, 2012 6:22 pm
Nice board -- convenient having all the connectors on one edge. I checked the WonderMedia site and didn't see any data sheets or user manuals. Not much chance of community involvement without them.
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by hippy » Tue May 22, 2012 6:59 pm
Joe Schmoe wrote:
hippy wrote:Very nice but a shame it hasn't got booting from SD Card. Other than that, for me, it's everything the R-Pi should have been hardware-wise and form factor.


Not that I'm saying otherwise, but why do you think of booting from SD card as such a good thing? I always saw that as sort of a weak link in the Pi design.


I actually find it the best thing about the design !

I've played with NAS and router boards, tweaking their Linux installations held in Flash, and I'm forever scared that I'll do something which means they won't boot again. It's probably not the end of the world but far more nuisance than I want so that keeps me constrained and held back in what I might like to try and do.

With SD Card booting, if I totally trash everything, a quick trip with the card to my PC, a 'click on copy' and I'm back in business again. That delivers an amazing amount of freedom to risk doing anything.

If I ever feel a need for the Flash experience, I can always superglue the card in place :roll:

Of course SD Card booting isn't the only option for unbrickable.
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by Joe Schmoe » Tue May 22, 2012 7:39 pm
OK - I guess that answers well my question - which was "Why do people like it?" And I agree, at least from the theoretical side.

But to put this in another light, people seem to have a lot of problems with the SD card - and there have been concerns about the heat and speed of the card. If we switch our perspective from the "hacker" mentality to the "End User Support" mentality, we start to see a lot of problems with SD card booting - first of which is the cold fact that (as I've observed elsewhere) if *anything* goes wrong with the production of the card, you get nothin'. This is jarring for people used to machines with BIOSes (or the equivalent) such that you always get something on the screen, regardless of whether or not you are able to boot.

Anyway, interesting...
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by johnbeetem » Tue May 22, 2012 8:57 pm
Looking closely at the photos at apc.io, it does appear that the VIA APC BIOS is socketed -- it looks like an 8-pin SOIC SPI Flash. So you can unbrick it (and maybe hack it) if you have access to a suitable programmer.

It may be that only the alpha units are socketed. But it's not hard to remove an 8-pin SOIC.
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by jamesh » Tue May 22, 2012 9:03 pm
Joe Schmoe wrote:OK - I guess that answers well my question - which was "Why do people like it?" And I agree, at least from the theoretical side.

But to put this in another light, people seem to have a lot of problems with the SD card - and there have been concerns about the heat and speed of the card. If we switch our perspective from the "hacker" mentality to the "End User Support" mentality, we start to see a lot of problems with SD card booting - first of which is the cold fact that (as I've observed elsewhere) if *anything* goes wrong with the production of the card, you get nothin'. This is jarring for people used to machines with BIOSes (or the equivalent) such that you always get something on the screen, regardless of whether or not you are able to boot.

Anyway, interesting...


Remember there are 20k Pi's in the field(approx), and < 50 comments here about issues with SD cards. So maybe not a 'lot' of problems. Once we have a decent mechanism for getting the image on to the card, then things should improve further.
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by Jongoleur » Tue May 22, 2012 9:27 pm
jamesh wrote:Remember there are 20k Pi's in the field(approx), and < 50 comments here about issues with SD cards. So maybe not a 'lot' of problems. Once we have a decent mechanism for getting the image on to the card, then things should improve further.


Looking at the SD problem cards, one of the key factors seems to be the "quicker is better" meme which leads people to buy class 10 cards, which seem to have an inordinate number of problems. My own personal experience seems to indicate that a class 4 card from a reputable retailer seems to have the best chance of success.

As for the VIA APC, it seems ok, but why slap Android on it? I suppose that Android already installed, even if it is 2.3, makes it a good plug'n'play proposition, and if you're going to basically have 2Gb flash storage than you're not wanting to have your end users bricking it by installing (or trying to install) different Linux distros! Also it IS nice to have all the IO along one side, but look at the increased board size to allow for that.

Never mind, I'm still enjoying my Pi....
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by welshblob » Tue May 22, 2012 10:06 pm
Jongoleur wrote:As for the VIA APC, it seems ok, but why slap Android on it?


It allows you to connect into a huge amount of existing apps out there including officially supported versions which aren't supported on linux e.g. netflix. Also with a number of android stb coming out including more google tv ones then I expect there to be even more apps aimed at TV viewing/control.
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by Lob0426 » Wed May 23, 2012 3:34 am
There are going to be a number of products that are going to try and or tap into the low cost market. Raspberry Pi has shown that there is a market to be be filled. this board looks ok but there is no gpio that I can see on there. Price is not too bad though. might be the board for a low powered server.
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by obarthelemy » Wed May 23, 2012 4:20 am
The block diagram for the VIA SoC shows Ethernet *not* hanging off USB, which may be extremely helpful for all the server setups. USB is slowish, puts a high load on the (underpowered in the Pi and the VIA cases) CPU, and to top it all seems not very reliable.
Pity about Android though... Android cannot really be used as a server OS, and as a station, 720p won't cut it in most cases, especially since 1080p LCD screens get really ugly at 720p. This leaves very few interesting use cases for that gizmo. Hopefully a full Linux will pop up, and/or 1080 will be hacked into it, the SoC seems capable of it.

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by tufty » Wed May 23, 2012 5:55 am
Jongoleur wrote:As for the VIA APC, it seems ok, but why slap Android on it?

Because it's free, because it works in a more-or-less fluid way, and because it's a far easier proposition to sell than linux.

I suppose it depends where they want to sell it. Using Android (as well as their "the internet is driving computing" bull to cover for the fact that, apart from the internet, you can't do anything useful with android) places them squarely in the "consumption of prepackaged media" bracket, but the chip itself is liable to struggle with the majority of "rich" web content.

It's a shame. With a decent Linux install, they could steal the Pi's target market. It comes with a power supply, has VGA, and is cheap as chips. Schools should be all over it. Android kills that idea.

There is a market for a Linux (or non-linux, for that matter) UI that is based on OpenVG or OpenGL, is pretty, lightweight, and has a decent toolkit. Something that is, basically, not X with a metric ***load of crud piled on top. There's room for innovation out there.
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by psergiu » Wed May 23, 2012 6:26 am
Since Raspberry Pi appeared, a ton of various "RPi killers" were announced by various companies. Some of them are vapourware, the rest exist as less than a dozen prototype boards and none of them are yet in the market.
The Raspberry Pi is shipping. I have one in front of me.
Let's wait and see if VIA and the others can really deliver or is just a me-too smoke-screen made to delay potential corporate & governamental RPi buyers.
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by tufty » Wed May 23, 2012 7:07 am
I don't see it that way at all. The pi (and to a lesser extent, the cubox, the beagle*, pandaboard and other low cost arm devices) has shown that there is a market for low cost, lower-power computers that aren't fscking tablets. What you're seeing here is big companies jumping into the breach. It's good news (and the via board appears to correct many of the issues with the pi).

If it were MS, or a low cost device claiming to run win8, then I'd call "spoiling".

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by Bakul Shah » Wed May 23, 2012 7:25 am
I like the price, the fact that ethernet is not crippled through USB, onboard RTC, security engine etc. Hopefully the graphics engine interface details will be open too. But the board seems to be singularly uninspiring and it is four times the size! To be used as a building block by hobbyists or embedded products they needed to bring out other IO the device is capable of. They need to provide a decent manual as well and they need to support open source software other than Android. And why would I want a PC like set of interfaces?

Clearly the next evolution needs to be in miniaturizing the connection technology!

tufty wrote:What you're seeing here is big companies jumping into the breach. It's good news (and the via board appears to correct many of the issues with the pi).

The big companies seem to be jumping in without really having much of a longer term game plan! They are making kitchensink devices just because transistors are so cheap! But what works in a smartphone doesn't work so well in the embedded market. They really need to design a set of *inexpensive* components that can be very quickly mixed and matched for different price points or capabilities.
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by tufty » Wed May 23, 2012 9:09 am
While I agree that they don't seem to have much ofa game plan (the use of *&^%ing android shows that), it seems fairly obvious to me that the embedded market is absolutely not where these devices (or at least the apc) are headed, rather a 'desktop netbook'.

If the apc can be made to run linux (and I see no readon why it shouldn't) with a fast ui (which may be the killer), it could /destroy/ the pi in the educational market. That's not a bad thing, of course.

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by hippy » Wed May 23, 2012 9:45 am
Lob0426 wrote:this board looks ok but there is no gpio that I can see on there.

There's what seems to be the front panel connector and J3 next to it which could perhaps be used for GPIO ( though may be for 'BIOS' programming ).

Not having GPIO on-board isn't the end of the world. It's easy enough to use USB to an FTDI-based GPIO board or a micro to get GPIO if you want that. I expect most R-Pi buyers won't know what GPIO is let alone use it. IR receivers can be added via USB which would be the main add-on I can imagine being wanted.
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by n3tw0rk5 » Wed May 23, 2012 10:03 am
tufty wrote:If the apc can be made to run linux (and I see no readon why it shouldn't) with a fast ui (which may be the killer), it could /destroy/ the pi in the educational market. That's not a bad thing, of course.
Simon


I think your underestimating just how hard it is to break into the educational market, especially in the UK.
The VIA does look interesting, but they are just jumping on the back of the bandwagon to make an extra few quid. No serious support will be put behind this product as it would cost them and any other manufacturerer too much while still retaining a worthwhile profit margin.
There is only so much support the open source community can offer to a product, the rest has to be done by the company. This will be the stumbling block for many.
Also the thing with the RasPi is the ethos behind it, how many non foundation members have gone way beyond the call of duty to help in someway just because of that.
I just cant see any of the new breed of board getting anywhere near that level of support from the public, no matter how quickly they can be churned out.

This is not to say that I wouldnt but a Via if it ran linux, but it's certianly not something I would actively tinker with or buy multiples to donate to my local school and provide free support for.
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by blc » Wed May 23, 2012 11:42 am
I, for one, welcome our new VIA overlords... erm... I mean... any competition to the Pi in this space.

It would be a tall order for anyone else to fill the Pi's boots; the whole idea behind the Pi is education, and I don't think there's any other project/company/foundation out there that could now achieve the same level of publicity and interest that the Raspberry Pi and the RPF now has. But I don't necessarily see that as being the end of the story though.

The Pi might be leading the charge, but the more cheap high-power hardware becomes available the better. The VIA device is promising as a consumer product, but I would really want some flavour of "proper" Linux on there.
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by prodata » Wed May 23, 2012 1:05 pm
blc wrote:It would be a tall order for anyone else to fill the Pi's boots; the whole idea behind the Pi is education...


That's obviously true, but it's always seemed to me that there's something of a disconnect between the aims of the RPF and the present community-base. Of course there's strong interest from the education angle and let's hope that this flourishes.

But I strongly suspect that much of the current interest is from users (hobbyists if you will, but I think that's too narrow a term) and developers who are much more motivated by the broader appeal and potential of a very low-cost, if low-power, computer with all the flexibility provided by a Linux-type environment. When you set a product like the Pi free in the wider world, you obviously don't have much control over who buys it and what they choose to use it for. As people have been saying for several months now, the Pi is just the first widely-publicised and genuinely low-cost example of its type. The level of interest in the Pi has demonstrated the market potential for this sort of device (even though 350000 or whatever orders are still fairly small beer by eg smartphone standards) and inevitably other manufacturers are going to compete in this overall marketplace - only to be expected.

It's how they differentiate their products that will be of interest. The VIA is offering VGA and a few other non-Pi features. I think the packaging of the EOMA68 type products is appealing in some applications. Where I haven't seen any announcement yet is any manufacturer trying to optimise a design for minimum power consumption (eg 0.5 - 1W or less, very possibly by sacrificing GPU power, but possibly to the benefit of CPU power). The VIA clearly isn't at the races here with figures of 4-13W apparently being quoted. Where the Pi still seems to have an edge is its GPIO interface, but developments here perhaps need to be given maximum priority.
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