Contemplating the Arrival of a $49 Android PC

May 22, 2012
VIA Technologies is about to launch a $49 Android-based PC. Editor-in-Chief Joe Desposito comments on the specs and the hype.

While checking through my email this morning, I came across what may eventually prove to be a blockbuster announcement. VIA Technologies has announced that they are planning to ship a $49 Android-based PC in July. Dubbed the APC, the device is powered by an 800 MHz WonderMedia ARM 11 SoC and sports some rather nifty specs, such as four USB 2.0 ports, 2 Gbytes NAND flash, a microSD slot and VGA and HDMI display ports, among other features. Wow!

Before you go getting too hopped up on this, though, I neglected to mention that we are just talking about the board here (motherboard if you will). But it does seem to be an experimenter’s delight. APC is based on the new Neo-ITX form factor measuring just 17 cm x 8.5 cm and can be housed in any standard Mini-ITX or microATX chassis.

The news item doesn’t state the SoC model name specifically, but apparently it’s WonderMedia’s PRIZM WM8750. This SoC contains the 800 MHz ARM 11 core along with advanced graphics and 1080p video playback capabilities. We’ll have to see how that plays out in the real world, though, since it seems to me to be a bit underpowered for a great video experience. WonderMedia says that this SoC is also optimized for a wide range of applications, including Smart TV, SmartStream for wireless display and multimedia streaming, networked projectors, digital signage, and thin clients.

Regarding the OS, APC uses a custom build of Android that has been optimized for keyboard and mouse input, and comes with a browser and a selection of preinstalled apps. This optimized version of Android works together with hardware acceleration, so VIA claims that this combo will meet the most demanding video formats, and that the APC will deliver stunning HD quality multimedia, either streamed from sites or stored locally, plus deliver a great gaming experience on a large screen monitor or TV. So maybe I’m wrong about this mini PC’s ability to serve up a great video experience, but we’ll see.

How do you connect to the Internet with the APC? The board has a built-in Gigabit Ethernet MAC and interfaces for Wi-Fi, 3G and Bluetooth. This means that wireless is essentially not available out of the box. It remains to be seen how wireless connectivity will play out. I expect it will be available via a module or two, but nothing has been announced as far as I can tell.

Finally, the APC consumes only 4 watts when operating at idle power and 13.5 watts at maximum load. This is ten times less than a standard PC system and ensures significant power savings in large scale deployments. A 15 W power adapter is included with the system.

Just so you have all the relevant specs and features, here they are:

 WonderMedia PRIZM WM8750

• 800Mhz ARM1176JZF processor 
• OpenGL-ES 2.0 compliant graphics processor
• Multi-standard 1080p video decoding engine
• H.264 video encoding
• DDR2/DDR3 DRAM interface
• Multiple video interface including HDMI, LVDS, TV-out, DVO and VGA
• Flexible networking and peripheral interface
• Advanced hardware security engine


• Optimized Android OS
• HD TV support
• Hardware acceleration of the most demanding video formats
• VGA and HMDI display ports
• Four USB 2.0 ports
• One microSD slot
• One 10/100 Ethernet port
• Audio-out/ Mic-in
• VIA WonderMedia ARM 11 SoC
• 2GB NAND Flash
• 512 DDR3 SDRAM
• 15W power adaptor

For more information about APC visit: 

About the Author

Joe Desposito Blog | Editor-in-chief

Joe Desposito has held the position of editor-in-chief of Electronic Design since July, 2007. He first joined the publication in 1998 as a technology editor covering test and measurement but quickly expanded his coverage areas to include communications and consumer electronics. In May, 2000 Joe moved to sister publication, EE Product News, as editor-in-chief, overseeing the transition of that publication from print to web only and developing e-newsletters and a companion digital publication called eepn2.

Prior to that, Joe worked as a project leader in PC Magazine’s renowned PC Labs and was one of four team members on the original PC Labs staff. In this capacity, he worked to develop the PC Labs benchmark tests for PC hardware and software. Joe holds a BEE from Manhattan College and has written many articles and several books on computers and electronics.

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