Chinese RISC-V computer startup Milk-V recently began selling a $9 board with a 1 GHz dual-core processor in China, and announced plans to launch a Raspberry Pi-sized PC with a 1.5 GHz quad-core RISC-V chip.

But now the company has launched a crowdfunding campaign for one of the most powerful RISC-V computers available to the general public. The Milk-V Pioneer is a workstation-class motherboard with 64 RISC-V processor cores, support for up to 128GB of DDR4 memory, two 2.5 GbE Ethernet ports, and three PCIe Gen x16 slots. It’s up for pre-order through a Crowd Supply crowdfunding campaign for $1,199 and up.

The starting price gets you a motherboard, processor, and heat sink, but you’ll need to supply your own memory, storage, case, and software.

Or you can pay $1,999 for a Milk-V Pioneer Box that comes with:

  • 128GB of DDR4-3200 memory
  • 1TB of PCIe Gen 3 solid state storage
  • 1 x Intel X520-T2 network card with two 10 GbE Ethernet ports
  • 1 x AMD R5 230 graphics card
  • 1 x MSI A350 350-watt power supply
  • 1 x cooler with a 2,300 RPM fan
  • Enclosure with a carrying handle

Both models feature a SOPHON SG2042 processor featuring 64 T-Head C920 RISC-V processors cores with support for speeds up to 2 GHz, 64MB of SPI flash, for DIMM slots with support for up to 32GB of ECC memory each, and plenty of I/O connectors including:

  • 2 x PCIe slots (1 x PCIe 4.0 x6 and 1 x PCI 4.0 x8)
  • 2 x M.2 2280 (PCIe 3.0 x4) slot
  • 5 x SATA connectors
  • 3 x PCIe Gen 3 x16 slots
  • 8 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports (10 Gbps)
  • 2 x USB 3.0 headers
  • 1 x microSD card reader
  • 2 x 2.5 GbE Ethernet
  • 1 x M.2 E-Key (for optional WiFi and Bluetooth)

Note that those specs don’t include any video output – you’ll need a graphics card for that. If you get the Pioneer Box model, the included AMD graphics card has HDMI, VGA, and DVI ports.

The Milk-V Pioneer board measures 244 x 244mm (8.82″ x 8.82″), making it a little smaller than a microATX motherboard.

RISC-V is an open, royalty-free instruction set architecture that’s generated a lot of buzz over the past few years as a possible alternative to x86 and ARM chips. For the most part RISC-V processors lag behind the competition in terms of performance and software compatibility. But one way to change the latter is to put more RISC-V devices on the market so that developers can create more software that runs on them. And one way to approach the performance issue is by cramming a lot of CPU cores together.

That said, this is still very much a product aimed at developers and early adopters. Expect limited software support for the foreseeable future, and just having a lot of CPU cores won’t make much of a dent in single-core performance, although it should at least allow applications that benefit from multiple cores to run much more quickly

Milk-V expects to begin shipping the Pioneer board and Pioneer Box to backers of the crowdfunding campaign in December, 2023. But the company has already released software and documentation including a Fedora 38 image for the board, as well as Linux kernel source code, a bootloader, hardware design files, and a list of supported memory and PCIe cards (including graphics cards, wireless cards, and USB controllers).

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  1. I don’t know crowdfunding because of the risk, but I would love to have something like this in a laptop form factor. This is what I’ve been waiting for.

    I sent a message off to Framework a few months ago requesting they make a RISC-V compatible board for their laptops. I don’t know if they ever will, but I am extremely interested in this.

    If I could run Debian or Fedora on such a machine, it would be heavenly. And I tell you, I would ditch x86 in a real hurry.

    But I keep waiting…

      1. Thanks a lot for the link. That’s the quad core that, as you said, is available in the PineTab.

        This one being the 64 core one, should be far more performant.

        I do hope that the software catches up. And I mean, like I can do now with x86, just download a live iso, boot and install, and be ready to go. I really do hope we get there with Risc-V some time.

        Thanks again for the link.

    1. That will not happen with this chip any time soon. That chip takes a lot more power than most laptops provide to the whole system. You’d need to build it into one of those gaming laptops, which is probably fine anyway because you’d also need a dedicated GPU because one isn’t included. Look at the price for this desktop kit with a delivery delay, and consider the extra cost required to shrink it, add heat management for a laptop, and add the rest of the parts from a laptop. Be honest, are you really happy to spend at least double the price on a device such as I described? Framework is also not going to produce a RISC-V option in the near future either; nothing really runs on it, so few people will buy it. Unless you’re planning to single-handedly buy thousands and you can find a few others like that, the market isn’t there.
      As for the main idea, I’m not sure why you’re so eager to switch architectures, but I think you’ll be disappointed. You can do it if you want to, but you’ll find that the performance isn’t comparable and the software isn’t there. That will change eventually, but if the hardware became available tomorrow, it wouldn’t be next week. If you want to participate in driving that forward, I suggest that you get one of the RISC-V SBCs with four cores. It won’t be snappy, but it will allow you to test on something not quite as expensive as this is. Of course, if you have the money and the interest, you could get this as a faster way to develop for the environment.

      1. I’d expect someone to make a Raspberry Pi CM4 compatible board first. That might sell enough for MOQ, since a. it’s raspberry pi and b. there’s more than one module that can use CM4 carriers.
        Haven’t seen any in RISC-V though.

  2. Was really looking forward to a consumer level RISC-V mobo, but over a grand pushed it out of my budget. And not even a socketed CPU either. Guess this is targeted only for corporate and university researchers with extra cash laying around.

    1. I wouldn’t call it “consumer level” just yet. You’d have to really want to be doing the development necessary to make that happen at this point.
      I got their email the other day and while it certainly is interesting, it’s an awful lot of money for something that’s not really ready for prime time.
      Maybe in a couple of years they’ll have an actual consumer product.

      1. RISC-V appears to be a lot closer to being consumer-ready than I’d expected it to be at this point.

        I know that boards up to now have been tricky to flash, but the LicheePi comes with Debian already there.

        And as for packages, there seems to be quite a lot available already, and with boards getting into the hands of software developers, that’s going to improve things rapidly.

        Google made RISC-V a tier-1 client at the end of last year, and Debian just promised the same for their next release… All very promising.

        I’m surprised we’ve not had an OEM promise a midrange phone yet, running Lineage or PostmarketOS.