This month’s Linux User & Developer magazine includes two of my hardware reviews, both from the world of low-cost, embedded computing: VIA’s APC microcomputer and Gert van Loo’s Gerboard accessory for the Raspberry Pi.
First, VIA’s product. Designed as a response to the overwhelming popularity of the Raspberry Pi, the VIA APC 8750 – to give the device its full name – takes a WonderMedia 8750 system-on-chip processor based around the same ARMv6 instruction set as the Raspberry Pi, adds in a generous 512MB of memory and wraps it all up in a surprising new form factor the company calls ‘neo-ITX.’
Unlike the ultra-compact Pi, the result is a behemoth of a system by embedded computing standards – but one that can be mounted in any standard ITX case, complete with bundled I/O shield for the quite generous connections on the rear. It’s even possible to power the device from a standard PC power supply, using one of the 12V lines normally used to provide the extra power required by modern multi-core processors.
It’s an impressive beast, but at twice the price of the Raspberry Pi can it really be a tempting proposition? Hopefully by the time you’ve read the review, you’ll have an idea.
The second review is of a device designed to increase the somewhat limited input-output capabilities of the popular Raspberry Pi ARM-based microcomputer. Designed by Gert van Loo – a Broadcom engineer responsible for the design of the BCM2835 multimedia processor used at the heart of the Pi – the board includes analogue to digital converts, motor drivers, LEDs and buttons galore.
It’s also a complete pain to assemble. I’m no stranger to soldering, but surface mount soldering is always awkward – and when the first component, a tiny capacitor around half the size of a grain of rice, went skittering across the floor and there were no spares, I knew I was in for trouble.
Still, three hours or so later I had a working Gertboard to review for the magazine – mostly. If you’re picking the magazine up especially for this review, there’s some good news: the kit version reviewed is being discontinued in favour of a pre-built kit assembled by machine by van Loo’s partner company Farnell – and it’ll be cheaper than the kit, too.
Linux User & Developer Magazine Issue 121 is available in all good newsagents now, while additional details are available on the official website.