Via’s Nano still missing

It’s official – Via’s not going to come to market anytime soon. Considering the raging success of Intel’s Atom, it’s hard to imagine how (even in this economy), Via can’t get the only viable competitor to market.

I’ve previously written (maybe not here, but *eh*) about my desire to pick up a Via Isaiah/Nano/C-Vapor processor-powered HTPC, to do the job of running my storage, media player, and firewall apps on a single box, isolated from my main desktop. Unfortunately, however, Tom’s Hardware reports that the dual-core version is still more than a year out (More details). Combine this with the simple fact that Via claimed to “ship” the product almost a year ago, but it’s still not available on the open market.

This sucks. The Atom is hardly as inspiring, lacking any real muscle but also lacking any sort of functional GPU component. Boxed into the crappy Intel graphic chipsets, and without any sort of hardware-level extensions for media decoding, encryption, or compression, it is an incredibly lackluster component in comparison. Yes, it may benchmark pretty well against the shipping-but-missing Nano, but noone buys a netbook to run Quake – People buy netbooks to run software that can be very, very heavily optimized for the right kind of processor. Tying in the gzip decompression of Firefox, full-disk encryption requirements for laptops, and hardware-assisted decoding of digital media with a processor designed to take the load would result in a much better product.

That said, though, I’ve reached the point where I’m willing to buy an Atom based mini-PC rather than wait 13-14 months for Via to finally make their parts available. An Eee w/HDMI would fit 2/3 of the needs outlined above and, in this particular case, have an incredibly compelling design. With integrated UPS, HDMI support with sound (thanks to a discrete AMD GPU), and a stylish design, this box is one of the most compelling devices I’ve seen in a long time. Now if only it was had the hardware-level instructions necessary to also run my VPN on this boring little processor.

*le sigh*

Gigabyte M912 – To SDHC or not to SDHC?

Click for the wiki article
Click for the wiki article

It’s always (ie for the last 18 months [when I discovered these]) bugged the living hell out of me that there were no tablet netbooks on the market, though it could plainly be done. End user accessible kits even exist for the purpose. ASUS et al hadn’t announced a tablet and noone had shipped one, or an Atom-based machine, before I left the United States for Nepal. As such, I went ahead and bought the ASUS Eee PC900 with Xandros Linux. I’ve got a couple of gripes about the Linux setup, including the lack of adequate and properly protected security updates and a clunky wifi manager, but all in all it works quite well. Amazingly light and easy to use (for my wife as well) and with absolutely incredible boot times, it is hands down the coolest laptop I’ve ever owned. That said, though, the simple addition of a rotating tablet screen or even the OLPC’s cheap but marvelous display would make it far more useful, allowing it to replace my PDA as an ebook reader and do a number of other handy things.

Now, however, it seems to be possible to get a tablet for a netbook’s price through Gigabyte. It seems to lack the software that drives most tablets when you buy it with Windows, but there are promises of a Linux version which, though it would probably be far less useful, would scratch a certain itch of mine – I’ve always been utterly fascinated by projects like Dasher. (Check out their web-based implementation for a demo.) The biggest thing holding me back, of course, is the fact that the Linux build hasn’t shipped and the American retailer Dynamism wants damned near $800 for the Windows version.

The second biggest concern, though, is the incredibly murky picture surrounding its SDHC support, or lack thereof. Its official spec sheet only claims MMC and SD support and, when queried on the subject, their technical support responded that “it does not support SDHC.” Dynamism, however, ran a test for me with some random 16GB card, and it seemed to work just fine:

“I just tried the M912 we have in the office with a Patriot 16GB SDHC card we have (the same ones we offer for the Eee PC’s), and the system did recognize the card and was able to read the full formatted capacity. It very may well be able to read SDHC, but not support some of the faster transfer speeds that the format affords, and it could also depend on the brand as well. With the large number SD/SDHC cards out there it would be difficult to test each and every one available, but it could be possible that the system reads most available ones on the market.”   Dynamism sales support

This seems to be reflected in the drivers offered for the device as well – It ships with drivers for precisely the same series of SD controller that the MSI Wind (which does claim SDHC compatibility) ships with. Weird situation – Can any owners give a little more information on this subject, like an lsusb and lspci output and the boot log in Linux?

*Update – Dynamism’s knocked the price down to $700 for the HDD-laden Windows version, if pre-ordered prior to Oct 1. Still, though, there are some other tradeoffs for not waiting for the Linux build. See the Wikipedia link above.