The Raspberry Pi 3 is a great product, but it can't be customized. People may desire more storage or a faster processor, but have to settle for features on the board computer.
The lack of customization with board computers is driven by their low prices. Buyers get features commensurate with the low price of boards like the US$35 Raspberry Pi and $15 Pine64.
No one's complaining about the low prices, but the one-size-fits-all nature may not be for everyone. Taking a page from PC makers, Via Technology is now making it possible to configure board computers to specific needs through its website.
Via's customization service drills down to the smallest details. You'll be able to select the processor, memory, storage, wireless features, and go all the way down to the pin counts.
Any company will make custom boards if you call them and specify what you want. But Via is offering a straightforward, no-frills customization interface through its website. As a chipmaker with easy access to manufacturing facilities, Via has the infrastructure to manufacture custom boards.
The customization could be handy for those who want to deploy smart devices or internet-of-things equipment on a large scale. You could prototype a device on one board and turn to Via to get boards for mass production.
Users first have to select the type of board they want, like a self-contained Pico-ITX board that can be a full-blown computer or a SOM (system-on-module) board that could plug into memory or other slots. The SOMs typically are computers that can be plugged into electronics like advertising displays, factory devices, or point-of-sale systems.
The CPU options include 32-bit ARM processors, ranging from Cortex-A8 to A17. Via makes ARM chips but is also known for its x86 chips, which aren't offered on the customization service. Users can choose up to 4GB of RAM and up to 16GB of storage. The OS options include Android and Linux.
Users can also select Ethernet, USB ports, SD card slots, and wireless connectivity options. For wireless connectivity, users can choose if they want 3G/4G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, or all of them. Users can also select if they want I2C, GPIO, and SPI.
The system doesn't provide instant pricing. Users have to submit the configuration request, and Via will respond with a price. These boards could be expensive for individual makers, especially with computing boards available for under $20. This service may be targeted for large-volume purchases.
The company did not respond to requests for further details on the customization program.
Via made a name as an x86 chip maker competing with Intel, but it has a lot of experience making developer boards. It offered computing boards -- mainly in the Pico-ITX form factor -- way before Raspberry Pi even existed, and those boards were used in robots, industrial devices, and other electronics. It was one of the few companies showing board computers at trade shows in the early 2000s.