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).