The name is PC…Android PC

Anyone with a passing interest in Android knows that itpowers a high percentage of today’s smartphones. Others know that it’s lurkingbehind the scenes in a number of other gadgets, including televisions.  And now, Android is moving boldly into thefuture, into…a PC. Now, hold on just a second.

The new APC (from chipmaker Via) is an ultra-compactmotherboard with a custom-rolled version of Android 2.3 already baked right on,ready for mouse and keyboard input.

The APC comes in the Neo-ITX form factor, and it’s designedto connect to a monitor via VGA, or a TV/monitor via HDMI. It’s got four USBports onboard, an Ethernet jack, a speaker jack and mic input, and a mini-SDcard slot.  On the board itself there’san 800 MHz Via processor, 512 megs of DDR3 memory, and two gigs of NAND flash.

It’s a very minimal configuration, but when you considerthat the whole board is barely larger than a banana (in fact, a banana seems tobe longer than the APC board), and that the whole thing costs $49, it starts toseem more impressive.

The rationale seems to be that a lot of what we’re doing toentertain ourselves these days can be done on reasonably minimal hardware.We’re managing a lot of our digital lives on smartphones, and the era of bigcomputers with revved-up cooling fans seems more and more to be over.

That said, it’ll be interesting to see what kind ofperformance can be had from the APC. With an 800 MHz processor onboard, the APChas already fallen well behind the performance level of many of our smartphonesand tablets, which often boast two or four cores, and have speeds up in the GHzrange.

On the other hand, this rather modest configuration gets thepower consumption down to about 4 watts when idle, and 13.5 when running atfull tilt. So from a power usage standpoint, it’s certainly more efficient thanthe vast majority of home computers.

It’ll be interesting to see just how exapandable the APC is,as there aren’t a whole lot of connectors inside. There’s definitely a frontpanel connectors pinout, which means you should (at the very least) be able toconnect LED lights and a power switch. There appears to be a fan connector,too. Plus there’s a pair of other internal connectors (one of which lookssuspiciously like another USB header), but no slots for expansion cards.

More importantly, there are no obvious ways to connect yeolde traditional hard drives or SSD drives. Which means if you want an obsceneamount of storage on your APC, it’ll have to be through USB or a high-capacitySD card.

Also to be determined is the upgradability of the OS itself,especially with this being a customized version of Android 2.3. With everyoneclamouring for Ice Cream Sandwich these days, the lack of a mention of an ICSupgrade path is also interesting to keep in mind.

As with any other motherboard, users will have to providetheir own fit and finish for the APC. (Don’t let the “PC” in the name fool youinto thinking it’s more than it is.) So you’ll also need to budget a bit for aNeo-ITX/Mini-ITX/microATX case, or the materials to built your own custom casesolution.

With that in mind, it’s almost certain that the earlyadopters will be enthusiasts and hardware hackers, looking to see what coolcustom appliances they can build with this inexpensive (almost-)all-in-onesolution. And I'm definitely interested in seeing what people are going to come up with!

The APC will start to ship in July 2012.


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