If you’re looking for a modest RISC-V computer capable of running Linux, with AI and other acceleration thrown in, to evaluate the architecture, the people behind the BeagleBoard have teased such a thing: the BeagleV board, starting from $119 (£87).
The single-board computer is the creation of three organizations: chip designer StarFive, Internet-of-Things hardware biz Seeed, and BeagleBoard.org – which is best known for producing affordable Arm-based dev kits, and is now giving RISC-V a shot. StarFive, meanwhile, is linked to SiFive, the RISC-V chip-and-board outfit.
As you'll see, the computer is aimed at engineers, makers, and technologists who want to evaluate the RISC-V architecture and the kinds of processing units, peripherals, and software stacks in its orbit without spending several hundred dollars on higher-end offerings. A Debian-based Linux distro will be available, at least, for the board.
What's on the BeagleV? Here's what we know so far. At its heart is the StarFive JH7100, aka the VIC-7100: this is a 64-bit RISC-V system-on-chip running at up to 1.5GHz. It uses a pair of SiFive-designed U74 RV64GC cores each with a dual-issue, in-order eight-stage pipeline. All the usual MMU and privilege modes are available to run OSes like Linux, and the cores come with 2MB of L2 cache.
We're told the system-on-chip also includes a Tensilica-VP6 Vision DSP to speed up computer vision tasks; an instance of Nvidia’s open-source NVDLA engine, which is a deep-learning accelerator configured with 2,048 MAC units running at 800MHz or 3.5 TOPS; and a neural-network engine featuring 1,024 MACs at 500MHz or 1 TOPS. It's seemingly enough to get going with some network-edge-level AI.
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The BeagleV will ship with 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM, with a price tag of $119, or 8GB for $149. According to the team behind it, the computer also includes H.264/H.265 video decode and encode acceleration in hardware that can go up to 4K at 60 FPS; camera and display serial interfaces; HDMI output running up to 1080p at 30 FPS; JPEG hardware encoding and decoding; USB 3.0 ports; gigabit Ethernet; the all important 3.5mm audio jack; an audio DSP; GPIO pins; a microSD slot for the OS and data storage; Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity; and other bits and pieces. Power comes in via USB-C.
One thing to keep in mind is that there will be two spins of the BeagleV: a pilot revision due to ship in April for enthusiastic early adopters, and an updated revision in September. The early version won't sport a dedicated graphics processor, and 8GB of RAM will be the only memory option. Jason Kridner, president of BeagleBoard.org, told El Reg it will still be able to support “a full graphical user interface” via HDMI.
The autumn-expected board will be available for everyone, and include a GPU from PowerVR designers Imagination plus open-source video drivers, we’re told. Presumably, that addition will improve the graphics output of the BeagleV. This enhanced system will also cost $149 for the 8GB model and $119 for the 4GB version.
Kridner also told us that the VIC-7100 system-on-chip will only be available for early Beagle boards, and the later VIC-7110 SoC with the Imagination GPU "will, however, be available for other applications." Said 7110 chip on the later boards is also expected to sport four RV64GC U74 cores. ®