We’ve been tracking the rise of RISC-V since the ISA debuted nearly a decade ago. While the highest-performing RISC-V CPUs are still far behind their x86 or ARM equivalents, the absolute level of performance you can get from a RISC-V core is increasing rapidly. Even better, especially for those who like experimenting with new architectures, the cost is coming down.
It’s been possible to buy a RISC-V board before this, but the options have been limited, particularly for the money you’d spend. We discussed an expensive SiFive option last year — a quad-core chip, in that case — but there’s now a much cheaper Beagle board option.
The CPU is a dual-core U74 built by “StarFive” — you can see the label below — but the U74 is a SiFive CPU core. StarFive and SiFive use the same logo, implying a relationship between the two. The company may do business under both names or have spun off part of its chip development team. Regardless, the U74 core is common to both this $119 BeagleV and the more-expensive Hive Unmatched platform we covered back in 2020. Features include:
- VIC-7100 RISC-V dual-core at 1.5GHz with 2MB L2 cache.
- Vision DSP Tensilica-VP6
- NVDLA engine (2048 MACs @ 800MHz)
- Neural network engine (1048 MACs @ 500MHz)
The board costs $149 with 8GB. H.264 and H.265 decode are both supported, as is 1080p @ 30Hz refresh rate output over HDMI. There are 4x USB 3.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and 802.11b/g/n wireless. There’s also a 40-pin GPIO header, as you can see:
There are two versions on the way. The first, shipping soon to enthusiast backers, lacks dedicated video hardware and only ships with 8GB of RAM. The second will supposedly feature a GPU by PowerVR along with open source drivers. It’ll ship in two flavors — a $119 4GB variant and an 8GB variant, at $149. These later boards are expected to swap to a new SoC, trading out the VIC-7100 for the VIC-7110. This will be a quad-core SoC, with the aforementioned dedicated video hardware.
It’s nice to see RISC-V prices coming down and we’ll be curious to see if the open ISA starts picking up fans in the consumer space. Raspberry Pi is obviously the 800-pound, $35 gorilla in the room, but a fair number of companies have launched similar DIY products with higher price tags than the RBP and correspondingly larger feature sets.
The U74 is said to have performance similar to a Cortex-A55, so don’t expect miracles from the diminutive chip, but top-end performance on RISC-V is improving nicely, year to year. If any ISA is going to establish itself as a high-performance (broadly construed) alternative to ARM or x86, it looks like it’ll be RISC-V.
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