Since the first Raspberry Pi launched almost a decade ago, there’s been an explosion of small, inexpensive single-board computers with ARM-based processors and support for Linux-based operating systems.
The new BeagleV is a little different. It’s a small single-board PC with a RISC-V processor and support for several different GNU/Linux distributions as well as freeRTOS.
Update: The BeagleV Starlight board has been canceled, but BeagleBoard and Seeed Studio are hoping to ship a different model in early 2022.
With prices ranging from $120 to $150, the BeagleV is more expensive than a Raspberry Pi computer, but it’s one of the most affordable and versatile options to feature a RISC-V processor. The makers of the BeagleV plan to begin shipping the first boards in April and you can sign up to apply for a chance to buy one of the first at the BeagleV website.
RISC-V is an open instruction set architecture (ISA) that’s available under an open source, royalty-free license. That means anyone can use it to design, use, or modify chips that use the RISC-V ISA. But it still takes a lot of work to do that, and so far the space has been largely dominated by SiFive, a 5-year old company that designs and produces RISC-V chips.
Late last year the company unveiled a mini-ITX board called the HiFive Unmatched that’s arguably the first general-purpose computer powered by a RISC-V processor. But with a $665 price tag and relatively low-performance processor (compared to the latest Intel, AMD, or ARM-based chips), there’s still a pretty high cost of entry for folks that want to develop software or hardware using the board.
The BeagleV is less powerful, but it will sell for less than one quarter of the price, making it a more accessible option for hardware and software hackers looking to get started with RISC-V.
The board features a SiFive U74 1.5 GHz dual-core processor with 2MB L2 cache and performance that’s expected to be about on par with what you’d get from an ARM Cortex-A55 processor. The $150 version of the BeagleV that will be available at launch has 8GB of LPDDR4 memory. Eventually the plan is to offer versions with less RAM for as little as $120.
Other features include:
- 1 x HDMI port (1080p @ 30 fps)
- 4 X USB 3.0 Type-A ports
- 1 x Gigabit Ethernet port
- 1 x 3.5mm audio jack
- 1 x microSD card reader (for OS and storage
- 1 x USB-C port (for 5V/3A power supply)
- 40-pin GPIO connector
- 2 x MIPI-CSI connectors
- 1 x MIPI-DSI connector
- 802.11b/g/n WiFi (2.4 GHz only)
- Bluetooth 4.2
The processor includes a neural engine for hardware-accelerated deep learning and computer vision tasks and supports up to 4K 60 fps video decoding (even if the HDMI port doesn’t support outputting video at that resolution).
Developed via a partnership between BeagleBoard.org, Seed Studio, and StarFive, the BeagleV should support Fedora, Debian, and possibly other GNU/Linux distributions by the time it ships later this year.
Interestingly, the first batch of BeagleV boards to ship will not have a GPU. According to CNX Software and Ars Technica, another batch which is scheduled for manufacture in September will have a graphics processor made by Imagination Technologies.
BeagleBoards are solid, but still spendy. I am waiting to see what the Sipeed XuanTie C906, which should tick at least some of the same boxes at 1/10th the price: https://www.cnx-software.com/2020/11/09/xuantie-c906-based-allwinner-risc-v-processor-to-power-12-linux-sbcs/
A much better option than the mini-itx board. Good to see that they are still being funded and look forward to their next SOCs. I’m not interested in their A55 class performance.
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