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back to article VIA outs $49 Raspberry Pi-alike

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 Pi …

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gpu

does it have one?

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FAIL

Re: gpu

Knowing Via is has some awful non standard homegrown chipset which has little or no support.

Dear Via, if you'd ever shipped the nano cpu with anything resembling a working & supported graphics chipset I'd have considered buying one.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: gpu

Wondermedia.

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).

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FAIL

Re: gpu

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.

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JDX
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Does the banana come with it?

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Trollface

If it does I hope they ship em quicker than Rasberry Pi - otherwise it'll just be a black smear of banana-smelling goo.

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720p

It'll only do 720p? It's obsolete before it's launched.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: 720p

Not everyone wants a media player (there are platforms far better for that than this or the Pi).

The 512MB RAM is very welcome.

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Re: 720p

Even as a media player it could be okay. Not everyone has 1080p content. It might also be capable of downscaling 1080p to 720p. Really depends on what GPU is in there, the size of the VRAM and how much hardware acceleration it offers.

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Re: 720p

A Ram slot would be nice to replace the memory with some more of what I want.

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Looks more useful in some ways

More memory, onboard flash, more USB ports. I'd be worried about the 720p output though. What's that mean for the GPU / hardware decoding capability of the device.

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JDX
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Re: Looks more useful in some ways

For normal programming you don't need a GPU. By the time you start doing 3D graphics you're pretty advanced.

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Re: Looks more useful in some ways

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.

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Trollface

Well at least

there's somebody with some manufacturing capability behind this one --

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Devil

Re: Well at least

This being Via you can expect shipments in sample quantities by the end of 2015.

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Meh

Compared to Raspberry Pi

Things to like:

* Extra CPU cycles

* Extra RAM

Things not to like:

* Soldered-on flash - makes it brickable

* No 1080 graphics / OpenGL ES 2

* No GPIO - at least none mentioned

Who really needs a VGA connector these days?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Compared to Raspberry Pi

> Who really needs a VGA connector these days?

Loads and loads of schools with older monitors?

Actually seems a more appropriate platform to learn programming than the Pi - you don't need 1080p video playback for that, but extra memory is nice.

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Re: Compared to Raspberry Pi

I also like the form factor. Should go in normal cases.

A shame they didn't just make it a clone of the Pi.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Compared to Raspberry Pi

This also has mounting holes. Sadly missing from the Pi making casing it a bit tricky.

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Re: Compared to Raspberry Pi

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.

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Re: Compared to Raspberry Pi

Soldered on flash doesn't mean you have to use it. The chances are it'll run uboot, which means you can boot off a USB disk.

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Re: Compared to Raspberry Pi

If it'll run Android, it'll run any Linux (you DO know Android is based on the Linux kernel, right?).

And the chances are that it'll be able to boot from USB, which makes it just as unbrickable.

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Re: Compared to Raspberry Pi

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.

http://www.wondermedia.com.tw/en/products/platform/soc/wm8750/

Why this Via says 720p only is a mystery. Maybe it hasn't the VRAM for any higher.

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Re: Compared to Raspberry Pi

Actually one of the biggest complaints/wishes about the Raspberry Pi is the lack of VGA, it's possible that it might appear in a future revision.

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Re: mounting holes (Re: Compared to Raspberry Pi)

"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.

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Re: mounting holes (Compared to Raspberry Pi)

That's the alpha board. The final board does not have mounting holes.

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Anonymous Coward

brickable?

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.

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Re: Compared to Raspberry Pi

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.

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Soldered-on flash

And a socketed BIOS. So only as brickable as, say, a Joggler.

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Re: Compared to Raspberry Pi

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.

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Re: Soldered-on flash

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.

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Re: Compared to Raspberry Pi

Who really needs a VGA connector these days?

How about anybody who does not have an HDMI monitor and would like something a little better than composite video? Hell, even S-video is a step up!

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Re: Soldered-on flash

"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..

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NiC location seems odd.

Putting the network connector on top of the USBs almost doubles the height of the board, which means the case has to be much larger.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: NiC location seems odd.

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.

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New unit of measure

The Reg occasionally looks at strange units of measure, especially comparing countries to be multiple times the size of Wales. Well, I like the introduction of the banana. 3/4 banans in size looks good to me.

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Anonymous Coward

Hmm.

If the banana gets added to the list of standard measures and we use it to measure ARM boards like the Raspberry Pi does that make a smoothie?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Hmm.

only if it appears on will it blend....

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So, a bit like...

... the R-Pi only it's likely to become available in volume before the R-Pi, then?

Plus double the RAM, similar price, _AND_ *TX form factor! Sounds pretty awesome!

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Size?

quote "1708 x 85mm"

Is this thing really nearly 2m long?

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Re: Size?

It's actually 170x85mm.

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Facepalm

Re: Size?

"quote "1708 x 85mm"

Is this thing really nearly 2m long?"

That's a big banana.

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Silver badge

Banana or Raspberry. Which is best?

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Joke

Only one way to find out...

TRIFLE!

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Hobbyist Wars

Is this the start of a war behind rival manufacturers trying to cash in on the coding enthusiast? Bring it on I say!

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Yay

I for one welcome the new era of cheap ARM development boards!

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I like!

That 2GB of flash sounds handy - instantaneous bootage (well, close) and having all the ports along one edge is definitely a good move.

This is exactly the sort of competitive reaction that benefits consumers and users. Anyone want to buy my Pi?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I like!

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.

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Coat

sounds like they'd like..

a piece of the pi

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Assembled in...

I can see "Assem: GB" on the board - does that mean it was actually made in Britain? There's actually a factory somewhere, making physical goods? How marvellous!

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