VIA's entry into the low cost computer market


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by Vindicator » Mon May 28, 2012 7:49 pm
Joe I agree as my Pi still has not been shipped either(order shows June 18th at this point), the Pi is not really vaporware at this point but there is still multitudes of people still waiting compared to how many have been received.

As for the intended audience the Via might possibly serve more of my projects(not all) better than the Pi might.( the APC is still quite large compared to the Raspi).

The APC would be much easier than the PI for a car computer as it is meant to run from 12 volts, VGA being available is helpful also as it gives more latitude for monitor selection.
But Android may limit it as buying apps for it may get expensive.
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by hzrnbgy » Mon May 28, 2012 8:05 pm
jamesh wrote:
hzrnbgy wrote:You brick the APC if you manage to kill the BIOS. Same is true for the RPi, you brick it if you managed to kill the GPU/SoC. At least for the APC, you can always replaced the BIOS chip as its socketed (it is probably a cheap EEPROM which means its programmable and hacker friendly). On the Pi, good luck replacing the SoC or even changing the boot ROM.


Wuh?

So what you are saying is that you can brick the Pi if you kill the SoC. Well, if you hit it with a club hammer maybe. You cannot do it from software. This argument is of the strawman variety.


Which is my reply to this...

Assuming the BIOS functions in a similar way to a PC BIOS, it just seems an unnecessary (and costly) addition, as indeed is the Flash storage, which in combination with the BIOS may make bricking a possibility. Perhaps the way the Raspberry Pi boots is a unique feature of the Broadcom SoC, but its undoubtedly a cheaper and more hacker/tweaker friendly solution.


I didn't say you can brick it from software. I was merely replying to someone who argues that having a BIOS chip and a flash drive means that its brickable, which it is and the same applies for the RPi. Maybe you should read previous post first before spewing garbage.
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by obarthelemy » Mon May 28, 2012 9:06 pm
Availability is July, which really doesn't prevent us from thinking about the product (2 months seems a fairly short time, I've been drooling about a Pi for 6 months now ^^). They've added a lot of FAQs to their site. Unlocked boot and apparently easy BIOS restore, but only 720p indeed.
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by obarthelemy » Mon May 28, 2012 9:17 pm
@ hzrnbgy: the way I understand, it's about where your boot code is. This matters because, in the course of installing another OS or just tweaking the basic one, you will/may want to alter the boot code, and you might also put that vital code into a non-working state, thus bricking your device.
If the boot code, like on the APC, is in a fixed BOOT prom chip, unbricking your device involves physically removing the PROM and reprogramming it. This might require unsoldering the ROM chip, and an ePROM burner.
If the boot code, like on the Pi, is on the SD card, unbricking your device involves putting the SD in another PC and re-writing it. This just requires an SD slot on another PC.

The second case seems way easier. Actually, I don't have the hardware necessary to do the PROM flash anyway.
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by johnbeetem » Mon May 28, 2012 9:51 pm
obarthelemy wrote:If the boot code, like on the APC, is in a fixed BOOT prom chip, unbricking your device involves physically removing the PROM and reprogramming it. This might require unsoldering the ROM chip, and an ePROM burner.
If the boot code, like on the Pi, is on the SD card, unbricking your device involves putting the SD in another PC and re-writing it. This just requires an SD slot on another PC.

The second case seems way easier. Actually, I don't have the hardware necessary to do the PROM flash anyway.

I suspect that the yellow connector J3 next to the BIOS chip may be for in-system BIOS reprogramming. Yes, you would need a compatible programmer, but would not need to unsolder. Just a SWAG (Scientific Wild-A**ed Guess).
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by tufty » Tue May 29, 2012 5:57 am
obarthelemy wrote:If the boot code, like on the APC, is in a fixed BOOT prom chip, unbricking your device involves physically removing the PROM and reprogramming it. This might require unsoldering the ROM chip, and an ePROM burner.
If the boot code, like on the Pi, is on the SD card, unbricking your device involves putting the SD in another PC and re-writing it. This just requires an SD slot on another PC.

If the apc is like any of the other arm boards I've playedwith, the 'boot prom' will be a first stage booter that does some extremely minimal startup, then runs a second stage booter (redboot or uboot, usually) from either onboard flash or sd. This is directly comparable to the boot code burned into the gpu on the pi, and not to the gpu firmware blob.

Buggering up your second stage booter or kernel is commonplace, and does not usually constitute 'bricking'. Touching, let alone writing to, your first stage booter is incredibly rare, and usually involves removing it ftom the board.

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by hippy » Tue May 29, 2012 10:14 am
jamesh wrote:So what you are saying is that you can brick the Pi if you kill the SoC. Well, if you hit it with a club hammer maybe. You cannot do it from software. This argument is of the strawman variety.


That remains to be seen and for someone to test.

There are a couple of GPIO pins used on the board that can be made outputs when they are meant to be inputs which could short the SoC GPIO high output pins to 0V (GPIO47) and low output pins to logic high signals and/or vice-versa (GPIO46).

That won't be good for those GPIO pins and it's been acknowledged by Gert as "an error in the design" who noted "you can damage the GPIO port if you do so. Most likely the rest of the system will survive but I can't guarantee that".

Similar issues can occur with any expansion hardware added to the user-exposed GPIO pins though whether that's considered a design error or flaw of the expansion board or user-code error in bringing such a situation about is a matter of debate.

There seems nothing to stop anyone setting any GPIO pin however they want, deliberately, maliciously or accidentally, and if that brings about a catastrophic failure of the SoC I'd say that would be classed as 'bricked by software'. No club-hammer needed; just an unfortunate typo might do it.
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by Lob0426 » Tue May 29, 2012 4:59 pm
"Bricking" the software is easy, have done it a couple of times already on the Panda Board. Easy to recover from if you keep a ready backup on another SD card. "Bricking" the hardware could also be easy, drop a something conductive onto the right GPIO pins and it will be done. "Bricking" the GPU boot not so easy.

Recovery of a software "Brick" is easy on SD based systems as you just need to keep a copy on another card. It is not so easy on the Panda Board now that I have set it up to run from a USB HDD. I do my testing with a SD card first then redo it on the HDD. Slow but safer. I have found that a Class 10 PNY card (17.5MB/s burning an image) is not really fast. The sandisk class 4 cards (5.4MB/s burning an image) are just as fast in operation, though slower when copying. I also have 2 sandisk Ultra class 6 cards (8.5MB/s burning an image) that are very good. The class 10 is noticeably slower inside ubuntu than the others. The USB HDD is noticeably faster during boot, but not really noticeable inside ubuntu. It does carry out updates at the command line faster, just not noticeable if you are in the GUI. The Panda Board uses the LAN9514 chipset rather than the RasPi LAN9512. The PB was easy to set up to run from the HDD. changed boot.script. to the USB HDD UUID (you can also use LABEL= instead of UUID) then ran flash-kernel (on the PB). Copied the SD card to a same size partition with Gparted on the netbook and booted into Ubuntu.
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by Vindicator » Wed May 30, 2012 7:00 am
Most of my "bricking" and unbricking I have done is on PSP's, bricking them can be common if you do not use the right version of HACK versus the right current firmware or corrupted firmware in the first place(have recovered other persons bricked PSP's from these) on the device but unbricking them is also capable with a little research and the right components like a hacked PSP battery Etc.

The good question is once it is hacked to Linux, is how to access the GPU Etc. once the Android OS is uninstalled.
Will Via make the BLOB open source to help convert this device to Linux.
Sound and other devices could also use this also I am sure.
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by tufty » Wed May 30, 2012 7:35 am
Vindicator wrote:The good question is once it is hacked to Linux, is how to access the GPU Etc. once the Android OS is uninstalled.
Will Via make the BLOB open source to help convert this device to Linux.
Sound and other devices could also use this also I am sure.

I've sent an email to my contact at Via asking about such things. Specifically, I was asking about how one goes about booting (and reflashing) and accessing the uart, what ip has been used to implement the various functionality (USB, ethernet, etc), and what the interface is to access GPU functions. We'll see what that gets us.

Given the way it appears to be set up, my guess would be that we have no "BLOB". That's a very Broadcom specific thing (the way that the 2385 boots is - umm - "odd", to say the least).

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by Lob0426 » Wed May 30, 2012 4:57 pm
What vindicator is talking about is access to the GPU through software so that we can utilize the graphics acceleration in Linux. The Android needs the same access, but can Linux use it. You have to know how to send commands to the GPU to use it fully. Otherwise you are only using it unaccelerated. Similar to the RasPi not having Xorg working so web browsing is slow and painful. It would be best if VIA did this, but some can do it if the GPU is open source. It probably isn't. Everybody is protecting their GPU's. I can not really blame them either. There are just too many companies out there, that are more than willing to profit from others work.

Unless VIA has already done some Linux ground work, it is going to take a while for them to port a version of Linux to their board. Read that as a stable version of Linux. Android is based in Linux but Does not have a native x window system which most versions of Linux do. From what I have read It is difficult to port Linux apps over. So I assume it is just as difficult port Linux as well. There are others here who know just what it takes to successfully port Linux. It won't be easy.
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by tufty » Wed May 30, 2012 7:37 pm
Lob0426 wrote:What vindicator is talking about is access to the GPU through software so that we can utilize the graphics acceleration in Linux. The Android needs the same access, but can Linux use it. You have to know how to send commands to the GPU to use it fully. Otherwise you are only using it unaccelerated.

Yes, I'm aware of that.
Lob0426 wrote:Similar to the RasPi not having Xorg working so web browsing is slow and painful.

Xorg acceleration using OpenGL or OpenVG is a whole lot of work, and doesn't really fit with the way the X system is implemented. That's why there isn't (to my knowledge) an open source X driver using either OpenGL, OpenGL ES, or OpenVG. If it was easy, or even "a bit hard", it would have been done already - most platforms have accelerated OpenGL libraries, and piggybacking X on top of them (GL being a known API) would be an awful lot easier than every tom, dick and harry having to implement an accelerated X server for their own particular flavour of GPU.

Android gets around this by simply not using X, and instead using its own windowing and compositing system, backed by - guess what - the existing GL/ES implementations. which is why Android's rendering isn't (usually) slow as molasses.
Lob0426 wrote:It would be best if VIA did this, but some can do it if the GPU is open source. It probably isn't.

The GPU doesn't have to be "open source" (whatever you mean by that - the GPU itself being open hardware with full specs and design documentation available? The GPU's firmware being open sourced?). All it needs to have is a well defined interface, and a whole shedload of documentation on how that interface works. Unfortunately, that is the sort of thing GPU manufacturers generally like to keep to themselves, so interfaces to a given GPU are usually implemented and delivered by the manufacturers via accelerated X drivers, OpenGL / OpenCL / OpenVG and all the other "Open" libraries (which are, ironically enough of course, almost always closed source).

On the other hand, if the APC is going to be running Android, it *will* have a conforming GL/ES implementation. If it doesn't, Android's gonna make the Pi look positively snappy by comparison. And that GL/ES implementation will only need a suitable kernel in order to work.
Lob0426 wrote:Unless VIA has already done some Linux ground work, it is going to take a while for them to port a version of Linux to their board. Read that as a stable version of Linux.

Android runs on a slightly modified Linux kernel. Indeed, I believe that the latest versions run an unmodified linux kernel, as the changes have been pushed upstream, but I'm not 100% sure on that. What is sure is that, in 99.9% of cases, for a given system, the changes to a "stock" Android kernel can be patched almost directly across to a stock Linux kernel. We're not talking months of work here.

X itself is not an issue; as long as a hypothetical linux porter can get a framebuffer up and running, the fbdev driver should be ample. After all, it's good enough for the Pi, right? And hell, "a stable version of Linux" doesn't imply X, hardware accelerated or otherwise. A console is good enough for many people (I'm actually happy with a serial console or SSH connection most of the time).
Lob0426 wrote:From what I have read It is difficult to port Linux apps over. So I assume it is just as difficult port Linux as well.

You know what they say about "assume" making an ass of u and me? The difficulty of porting Linux apps to Android (which usually involves entirely rewriting everything but the absolute core functionality) has no bearing on the difficulty of porting the Linux kernel to a platform. These are two entirely distinct tasks, with absolutely no common ground.

Personally, I would be as happy as a dog with 2 reproductive appendages if Via (or Broadcom, for that matter) came out with full documentation on how to access their GPU(s), or an open sourced OpenGL implementation. I'm not holding my breath, though.

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by Lob0426 » Thu May 31, 2012 4:57 am
tufty wrote:
Personally, I would be as happy as a dog with 2 reproductive appendages if Via (or Broadcom, for that matter) came out with full documentation on how to access their GPU(s), or an open sourced OpenGL implementation. I'm not holding my breath, though.

Simon


And therein lies the problem The documentation is the stuff that will not be open source. That documentation is code that is needed to work with the GPU. So you do not have the information to hook into the GPU. So you can run Linux on the VIA with some work but you cannot get accelerated graphics from it. There is documentation on the RasPi cpu, just not the GPU. OpenGL is not documented either and has to be compiled for the particular GPU. Again there is no documentation and it is not an open source code. All of these arguments were fought over the RasPi months ago and still crop of weekly. These companies refuse to "define the interface" as they do not want anyone to reverse engineer the hardware or the code, so no open source (code). Example: RiscOS will probably not have accelerated graphics for the RasPi. Someone from the foundation, or more likely from Broadcom would have to be involved with the project to "build an interface", which is the binary blob that is mentioned so often. On the RasPi that BLOB is your interface and there is absolutely no documentation available, outside Broadcom. There are people at the foundation that have access to that, but they are not allowed to release it. As has been stated several times, order a million or so SoC's from Broadcom and you will get that documentation, after you sign a Notice of non-disclosure and who knows what else. Personally I just do not have that kind of money. :cry:
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by tufty » Thu May 31, 2012 5:10 am
Yeah, I know where you're coming from, and to some extent I agree.

Unfortunately 'the world is not like that', so we have to work with what we can. All I'm saying is that the apc is gonna be /no worse than the pi/ in terms of gpu access. There's already a linux kernel support for the 8650, and via will have to release the source for the 8750 kernel as soon as they ship.

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by Lob0426 » Thu May 31, 2012 5:25 am
Yep it is a company eat cheating company world out there.

By the way it is Lemonade not lemon Marangue pie. I like lemon pie more than marangue. lol

I do wonder if the 8650 version linux might work on the 8750 at least somewhat. How much did they change the GPU? Also if they have a Linux version for the earlier SoC then they do already have a foot in the door for this SoC. It should not take a huge effort to bring it to the 8750. We just need to get them to understand that a Linux version will be VERY popular.
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by tufty » Thu May 31, 2012 9:50 am
Lemon meringue pie is loads better than lemonade. If you want a fruity drink, kriek is where it's at. And anyway, why do what you're supposed to do?

A supported linux might be (w|m)ildly popular, but it will still have the same performance problems the Pi does, perhaps marginally less due to additional memory and with the possibility of more usb/ether bandwidth. Unless an OpenGl accelerated X suddenly arrives, or ARM's "universal" accelerated X server is applicable.

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by Lob0426 » Thu May 31, 2012 3:02 pm
There is more memory and it is faster. The slightly faster clock will help a little also. The GPU is probably not as strong as the RasPi. The more memory will help those that are heading towards servers or more towards a graphical interface. Many also wanted a solution where the connectors were not coming out every side. It's larger size may be a detractor for many. It looks more refined than the RasPi if you look purely at hardware. For those that want to build a small Internet box it will be easier to case and cable it. The Ethernet separated from the USB opens the door for a better solution for those that want to use it as a smart router. And it's price is not that bad. I suspect there will be many that are happy with the Android. There has been a number of posts from people that wanted to run Android on RasPi.

I guess it just is another fascinating low cost board. I hope there are dozens of others out there working their way into the consumer/hobbyist pipeline! A beagle board xM competitor at half the price would be really welcome.
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by obarthelemy » Thu May 31, 2012 5:38 pm
I think the VIA thingy, and the other gumstick ones, will actually help the Pi, by letting the "but I want Android/Windows" and the "what do I do at the C:\ prompt" (I know... wrong prompt) "you suck" crowd have a similarly-priced alternative much closer to their desires, expectations, and skillset.
Pi is not about selling units, it's about training techs. Filtering away users outside of the foundation's goal is a good thing. And I doubt the other ARM miniputers will even try to put in place what's required to cater to the hardware or software hackers. And if they did, it would be a win in the grand scheme of things.
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by hippy » Thu May 31, 2012 6:25 pm
obarthelemy wrote:Pi is not about selling units, it's about training techs.

For the Foundation maybe, but I bet Farnell and RS are more interested in the flashing dollar signs than who the boards go to or what they are used for. I would imagine it's also flashing dollar signs that will be driving most other companies who have seen how much interest the R-Pi has generated.
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by gritz » Thu May 31, 2012 8:08 pm
obarthelemy wrote:I think the VIA thingy, and the other gumstick ones, will actually help the Pi, by letting the "but I want Android/Windows" and the "what do I do at the C:\ prompt" (I know... wrong prompt) "you suck" crowd have a similarly-priced alternative much closer to their desires, expectations, and skillset.
Pi is not about selling units, it's about training techs. Filtering away users outside of the foundation's goal is a good thing. And I doubt the other ARM miniputers will even try to put in place what's required to cater to the hardware or software hackers. And if they did, it would be a win in the grand scheme of things.


With respect, the Foundation is a charity, but this isn't about that fuzzy "free" thing - this is a business and there are bills to pay. That's what this initial release was for. All those ""you suck" crowd" (as you put it) are helping to fund the long term educational goal. Yes, it's unfortunate that people who couldn't be bothered to read the FAQ got sucked in by all those tech "journalists" (who also never did their homework), but it's done now. It's also clear from forum posts that a few of the "initially disappointed" are battling on and that's a massive result imo.

Remember too that education in the first instance isn't about reeling off "open terminal, sudo this and that -whatnot, blah, blah...". It's about engaging someone who doesn't quite know why they are here, or even where "here" is. :)

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by jamesh » Thu May 31, 2012 9:08 pm
hzrnbgy wrote:
jamesh wrote:
hzrnbgy wrote:You brick the APC if you manage to kill the BIOS. Same is true for the RPi, you brick it if you managed to kill the GPU/SoC. At least for the APC, you can always replaced the BIOS chip as its socketed (it is probably a cheap EEPROM which means its programmable and hacker friendly). On the Pi, good luck replacing the SoC or even changing the boot ROM.


Wuh?

So what you are saying is that you can brick the Pi if you kill the SoC. Well, if you hit it with a club hammer maybe. You cannot do it from software. This argument is of the strawman variety.


Which is my reply to this...

Assuming the BIOS functions in a similar way to a PC BIOS, it just seems an unnecessary (and costly) addition, as indeed is the Flash storage, which in combination with the BIOS may make bricking a possibility. Perhaps the way the Raspberry Pi boots is a unique feature of the Broadcom SoC, but its undoubtedly a cheaper and more hacker/tweaker friendly solution.


I didn't say you can brick it from software. I was merely replying to someone who argues that having a BIOS chip and a flash drive means that its brickable, which it is and the same applies for the RPi. Maybe you should read previous post first before spewing garbage.


Careful dude, I am very close to banning you. Not just for this post, but for others you have posted. Next offence and you are gone.
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by obarthelemy » Thu May 31, 2012 9:11 pm
Actually, the charity is not a business, by definition. And the bills to pay are pretty much only the BOM+manufacturing/distribution costs, plus a bit of PR costs for travel I guess. They were supposed to hire someone full-time, I'm not sure if they have done it yet.
I'm not sure at all what's happening with misinformed people buying a Pi expecting a turnkey, quasi-windows, PC is a good thing, especially not right now. For the 10% that will be converted to trying to broaden their horizons, there will be 90% mighty unhappy people that will clog the forums and tarnish our image and distract us (well you, I'm fairly useless) from moving forward. Especially because right now, and for some time to come, they are grabbing scarce Pis from people who'd actually enjoy them, and put them to good use.
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by gritz » Thu May 31, 2012 10:03 pm
obarthelemy wrote:Actually, the charity is not a business, by definition. And the bills to pay are pretty much only the BOM+manufacturing/distribution costs, plus a bit of PR costs for travel I guess. They were supposed to hire someone full-time, I'm not sure if they have done it yet.


Oh God, resorting to semantics already! It is a business in the sense of meeting upfront costs and not being able to conjour funds out of thin air.

obarthelemy wrote:I'm not sure at all what's happening with misinformed people buying a Pi expecting a turnkey, quasi-windows, PC is a good thing, especially not right now. For the 10% that will be converted to trying to broaden their horizons, there will be 90% mighty unhappy people that will clog the forums and tarnish our image and distract us (well you, I'm fairly useless) from moving forward. Especially because right now, and for some time to come, they are grabbing scarce Pis from people who'd actually enjoy them, and put them to good use.


I'm disappointed to see these arguments from a moderator.

1) Of course the "90% mighty unhappy people" will come here - this is the support portal! To say that they will "clog the forums" suggests that these boards exist only for some higher esoteric purpose. Arrogant chin-stroking nonsense! The "feedback", "general", "setup" and "troubleshooting" sections are seeing some traffic, but considering the numbers of Pis that are getting into the wild it's really not that bad - and patterns are becoming apparent. Grit your teeth and talk to the Great Unwashed -they need you. It's time to step up to the plate or go back under the Blanket Fort. Do the right thing and no images will be tarnished.

2) The Pi was put on general sale. Deserving people missed out, but that's how it is. It's far better than having pallets of unsold product sitting in a warehouse somewhere. Hating on someone because they got a Pi and didn't deserve it is beyond schoolyard - it's almost Cupertino.

Sorry if I sound harsh, but the simple, front of house stuff is important. There are plenty of boffins behind the scenes, fiddling with switches that we'll never comprehend, so don't worry about the techie stuff. Right now what the forum needs is someone with a gift for pattern recognition and a little empathy who can resist the urge to shout "Do a forum search, dammit!" at the first sign of pressure. Is that you? Of course it is. ;)

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by obarthelemy » Thu May 31, 2012 11:22 pm
I intend no insult to the unwashed masses, I'm one of them. Frankly, there's only so much that can be done for us, at some point it makes more sense to just give up, which is what I've done about all my previous trys with Linux, except the last one where UKScone spent hours debugging and compiling stuff to help me, and the end result is a smartbook (ARM netbook) that kinda does work, but crashes several times per week. In terms of results, sticking with a Windows netbook would have been much better, and in terms of learning stuff, I've mostly learned to stay away from Linux as much as possible, and give up at the first problem to avoid getting sucked into 3 weeks of head scratching then banging. The learning curve is just too steep, and the docs too hard to find and filter for relevancy/applicability, when they exist. And I'm computer-literate, on the DOS/Windows side of things. (the very nostalgic thread about this adventure: viewtopic.php?f=62&t=952 , thanks again guys, esp. UK ^^ )

As for "general availability", that can be argued too. The Pi is sold through Farnell and RS, not Amazon. I didn't even know those 2 existed before Liz's post about distribution. Of course, anyone can buy from them, but their customary customers (sorry) do fit the profile of technically-competent, or a least -minded, people.

PS: I'm trying to help whenever I can, but with no Pi and little Linux knowledge, I'm being obsoleted ^^
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by Vindicator » Fri Jun 01, 2012 3:51 am
The VIA board should cost twice as much after all the arguing it has sparked LOL. :oops: :lol:
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