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VIA unveils tiny DIY PC kit

After wooing the modding crowd with Mini-ITX, tiddly chip firm VIA then seemingly abandoned enthusiasts in favour of the embedded market. But the Taiwanese processsor designer is now returning to the consumer throng, introducing a DIY kit that brings its Pico-ITX technology to enthusiasts.

The Artigo A1100 measures just 146mm x 99mm x 52mm (WxDxH), and VIA says it has an internal capacity of less than one litre. Despite the poky dimensions, though, VIA says that it can accommodate a full desktop PC, complete with hard drive and 64-bit CPU.

We’re clearly not talking about a fully-fledged Intel or AMD desktop CPU here, but VIA reckons that its 1.2GHz 64-bit Nano CPU will be up to the task. It’s a basic affair with 1MB of Level 2 cache and an 800MHz front side bus, but it’s nonetheless a fully-functional x86 processor, complete with out-of-order execution.

The processor is partnered with VIA’s VX855 media system processor (MSP), which makes up for a lot of the areas where the Nano CPU is lacking. Most notably, it features VIA’s Chromotion engine, which accelerates H.264, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 and WMV9 video, and can also playback movies at 1080p.

The chipset also features VIA’s Chrome9 integrated graphics system, which isn’t going to enable you to play Crysis on the box, but will at least support Windows Aero with its DirectX 9 compatibility. The A1100 supports Windows 7, Vista and XP, as well as a number of Linux distributions.

VIA says it’s aiming the pint sized puter at “enthusiasts who want to taste the most extreme, ultra-compact desktop computing experience,” where extreme means “extremely small” as opposed to “extremely fast.” The company says that the design was inspired by its Pico-ITX motherboards, which only measure 100mm x 72mm, but have so far been mainly targeted at the embedded market.

Despite its cramped innards, VIA claims that it’s easy to install memory via a single DDR2 SODIMM slot, and that a 2.5in SATA hard drive and optional 802.11b/g WiFi module can also be installed. Meanwhile, external goodies can be plugged into the device via the machine’s four USB 2 ports, and there’s an SD card reader on the side too.

On the back, you’ll also find both VGA and HDMI video outputs, and the latter is able to output DTS audio. These are accompanied by a Gigabit Ethernet port, and the connector for the external 12V PSU.

Although it’s not going to win over the die-hard tech heads, the Artigo A1100 appears to pack an awful lot into a very small space. If its video playback is as good as VIA says it is, then it would make a great compact media centre PC that you could place next to your TV without any shame. Not only that, but there’s also a mounting kit for you to attach it to the back of a monitor, creating your own all-in-one PC.

If you fancy getting your hands on one, then you can pre-order an A1100 from the VIA Store for $243 (£157.57). VIA says the kit will start shipping in May this year, but in the meantime you can play VIA’s Simile Game, which is VIA’s attempt to find the best likeness for its tiny PC, presumably because its marketing department is running out of ideas.