The PI and the APC
Until recently, most of the discussion around the competition for Raspberry Pi has centred on the Arduino microcontroller kits and Andrew Back in his recent post covers this ground very well. In my view they complement not compete with each other, saying as much back in May at an early demo in London with Eben Upton himself.
The APC is a much closer match in terms of capabilities, if not in size, as is obvious in this picture. The APC has a different processor to the Pi, but with the same ARM 11 core and floating-point maths unit. It runs at 800MHz, but the Pi can now be overclocked to that speed too. Undoubtedly the Pi has the superior graphics processor and boasts a full 1080p spec whereas the APC is limited to 720p resolution. It just depends how important the graphics is to you: APC managed perfectly acceptable smooth motion video as far as I’m concerned. Many will appreciate the VGA monitor connector on the APC: it means that it can drive a standard analogue monitor as well as an HD TV. I’m sure many school and college IT departments will value this provision.
Both boards feature 512MB of RAM, but the APC also has 2GB of NAND Flash memory which contains the pre-installed Android 2.3 operating system. This means that APC runs ‘straight out of the box’ without the need for a programmed SD card to be plugged in, although a microSD card slot is provided for up to 32GB of mass storage. It boots up into a simple GUI screen which is fast and responds very quickly to mouse clicks and key presses. A basic Internet browser and a version of the game Angry Birds are provided. The presence of clock and calendar functions on the APC screen is the clue to some extra hardware on the board that was left off the Raspberry Pi to reduce cost and size: a real-time clock.
The Pi was designed down to a price and to be as small as possible. It was designed as affordable inspiration for young minds used to big, clunky PCs that discouraged experimentation. The APC has also been designed down to a price, a slightly higher one, but is still at heart a PC albeit running Android rather than Windows. It’s not difficult to argue that the APC is a Raspberry Pi for ‘professionals’ used to standard PC features.
- Half-size mini-ITX format board. Sockets grouped on one side and a metal shield is supplied.
- Power-on button and LED. A remote panel button and LED can be connected via a header.
- Alternative ATX PSU 4W socket for power.
- 4 x USB 2.0 sockets. USB0 can be selected as host or device by a jumper.
- Headers for UART and SPI serial port connections.
The Pi has a number of non-standard ports including GPIO. This is in-keeping with its role as a board for experimenters. Like the Raspberry Pi, APC is an Open Source product and much information is provided on their website which includes an active forum. One of the regular posters to that forum has ported a version of Raspbian across to the APC which opens up the possibility of running applications written for the Pi.
Conclusion? The fact is, I love both for different reasons. The Pi is a masterpiece of miniaturisation at a very low price. The APC is a beautifully thought-out and built product that ‘just works’ without any fuss. As for price, it must be remembered that Raspberry Pi is sold at cost as part of a charitable enterprise: APC is a commercial product with appropriate mark-ups by the manufacturer and distributer. Even so, the price is still under £40 + VAT and carriage.
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As a postscript to the above, I can say that I have run Raspbian successfully on the APC. The .zip file containing the image can be downloaded from:
http://www.raspbian.org/ApricotImages . No problems were experienced and when the APC was powered up with the microSD card containing the image plugged in, a nice clean desktop resulted. The browser connected with no fuss and I was able to apt-get Python 3.2 from the repository.
Power-on without the microSD card and Android boots up once more from the on-board Flash memory. Nice.