Open hardware company Pine64 has made a name for itself in recent years by offering low-cost, hacker-friendly hardware including smartphones, laptops, and single-board computers sporting ARM-based processors.

But Pine64 has also dabbled in RISC-V architecture. The Pinecil line of smart soldering irons have a RISC-V chip. So does the Pinecone IoT dev board. Now the company is preparing to launch its first single-board computer (SBC) that will be its most powerful RISC-V device to date. Meet the Star64.

RISC-V is a royalty-free, open instruction set architecture that’s been gaining steam over the past few years and there are a growing number of products featuring RISC-V processors (not to mention, a growing number of chip makers introducing new processors based on the architecture).

At the heart of the Star64 board is a StarFive JH7110 64-bit RISC-V processor with four 1.5 GHz SiFive FU740 CPU cores and Imagination BXE-4-32 graphics. According to Pine64, the chip should deliver performance that’s comparable to the Rockchip RK3566 quad-core ARM Cortex-A55 chip at the heart of the company’s Quartz64 board.

Incidentally, this is the same processor that powers the StarFive VisionFive 2 single-board computer, which means that at least some of the work software developers do to support that board will be helpful to folks using the Pine64 Star64, and vice versa. Efforts are already underway to port the Debian and Fedora GNU/Linux distributions to run on devices with JH7110 processors.

Pine64 plans to offer two configurations of the Star64, one with 4GB of RAM and another with 8GB. They’re expected to sell for around $60 and $80, respectively.

Both models are expected to feature a PCIe connector, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, an HDMI port, one USB 3.0 and three USB 2.0 ports, an audio jack, and GPIO headers. The company plans to offer models with just one Ethernet port in the future for about $5 less than the dual Ethernet versions.

The board also features an RTL8852BU wireless module with support for WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2, a MIPI display connector with support for touch panel input, a CSI camera connector, and support for eMMC storage as well as a microSD card reader. The Star64 has a 12V power port and can also supply power to other hardware plugged into the board.

Pine64 says the board will follow the “Model A” form factor, meaning it’ll measure around 133 x 80 x 19mm (5.24″ x 3.15″ x 0.75″). That makes it a bit larger than a Raspberry Pi Model B, but the extra space means there’s room for that PCIe slot and other I/O connectors.

It’s still unclear when you’ll actually be able to get your hands on the board.

via Pine64 June 2022 UpdateJuly 2022 update, and August 2022 update

This article was first published June 28, 2022 and most recently updated August 28, 2022. 

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  1. As consumers, should we (eventually) expect RISC-V boards to be cheaper than “equivalent” Arm boards since there is one less cost for the chip maker? How influential is the instruction set license cost on the overall price of a CPU? So far, RISC-V boards seem to be more expensive than competitors…

    1. An interesting question, that undoubtedly has a complicated answer!

      I’ve been led to understand that the reason that application level RISC-V chips have been more expensive until now, is that they’ve been produced in relatively small quantities, and that that’s much costlier. So far, that’s been okay, because RISC-V has been very much in the realm of the developer, but perhaps that’s now beginning to change. (I presume the >= 10billion lower-order RISC-V chips that have been in kit for a while now, are at least at the same cost as the ARM equivalents.)

      Some – but not all – RISC-V processors won’t have the same licensing fees and royalties that some – the higher end – ARM chips have. But in the world economy, Arm (and proprietary RISC-V designers) will be subject to market forces, and will probably have no choice but to reduce their prices.

      However, top end RISC-V will have the same order of magnitude of logic gates and design-hours attached to them as the equivalent ARM processors, and that has to be paid for, one way or another… either directly by the consumer, or indirectly via government departments or industry-university collaborations.

      My gut feeling, is that we’ll see cheaper RISC-V tech produced and exported out of China to poorer economies first. (They will probably be running open source software too, until China makes good on their promise of a translation layer similar to Apple’s Rosetta2.)

  2. Lol 🙂 at stacked Ethernet ports despite bigger size 🙂
    StarFive VisionFive 2 is MUCH better in every way!

  3. PCIe – what version, how many lanes? I’m thinking to add a PCIe/SATA adapter card for a headless (remote desktop) NAS.

  4. The interesting Risc-V will come from China, they push hard as they want a ISA that cannot be held away from them. Also they have seen in ARM cupboards and her secrets.

    1. One day, in the not too distant future, the RaspberryPi Foundation are going to look around and wonder where all their open-source-loving customers went. The answer will be to (open source) RISC-V.

      The misstep, immho, is when they decided to design their own silicon using the ARM ISA, and not RISC-V.

      1. I wouldn’t be so harsh on them. They’ve had a long, fruitful partnership with Broadcomm and built a community around an ARM-based ecosystem, and ARM is open, just not free as in beer, at least not for the high-performance cores. The Cortex-M0 which they used for the rpi2048 is free as in beer. Even x86 ISA if you’re prepared to accept 20-year-old specs, is free as in beer.

        RISC-V OTOH has open ISA and open core licenses available from the likes of AliBaba, but there aren’t any manufacturing partners comparable to Broadcomm available to the Pi Foundation quite yet, so threatening their relationship with Broadcomm by indicating they’re moving away from ARM probably isn’t the smartest move today.

        As much as it tickles me, I doubt we’ll see a Raspberry-V next.

        1. I just can’t work out where RaspberryPi go next… There was talk of a flotation a while ago – to raise money for what?

          Will the inevitable RaspberryPi 5 be a more powerful ARM board? Won’t they then be starting to encroach on much more competitive territory just as sales of higher end consumer electronics are plateauing?

          And with StarFive’s announcement and (already way-oversubscribed) Kickstarter campaign of RISC-V SBCs which appear to be much the same as Pine64 are planning here, but coming as soon as November : I don’t know where Pine go either.

          I guess the back-stop for ARM is a mature software ecosystem that RISC-V can’t boast… yet. But even that’s being erroded. And there’s not the same lock-in with ARM that there is with X86.

          Where are the ARM core diagrams published? T-Head’s published their XuanTie chip designs on GitHub.

  5. I wonder if a cooling fan would be needed. I might assume no. And with two Ethernet ports I could foresee making a gateway. I’m currently using a small industrial computer (about size of a novel) running Debian server and iptables. I ssh in as needed which is pretty much never as it is extremely robust. And I like the ipset feature to block all ip addresses from hostile sources. I guess I should learn nftables now.

    1. I don’t think so.
      It looks to be based on a 28nm (SMIC ?) lithography, and uses between 0.5W-3.0W depending on the voltage/frequency. So the passive cooling is more than enough. It only requires around 2GB RAM, but Pine64 has gone overkill with the options. Overall this is performing between a Cortex A53-to-Cortex A515, really depending on the calculation / application.

      Hopefully, they sell a bunch of these and continue this open-hardware and open-software lineup. I’d like to see a future competitor, with LinuxOS, 64GB eMMC 5.1 memory built-in, large options of 4GB RAM, built on 16nm node, 6W thermals, powerd by an Out-of-Order (P550 ?) processor. Something to challenge the likes of the Raspberry Pi 4 and Odroid N2+. Then maybe an even better model, supporting AndroidOS, 256GB UFS 3.0, 16GB RAM, 8nm lithography, and an 8W TDP limit… to challenge the RockChip RK3588 Handhelds and SBCs.

  6. Pine64 have lots of interesting products at compelling prices, and this is yet another one. But, I usually get as far as trying to put a few items in my cart before realizing that they are either out of stock (tablet, laptop, phone) or cost a relative fortune to ship to Australia (SBCs, watch, pinecil). It would be nice if I could order their products from my local electronics store like a Pi or Arduino.

  7. This (as usual) looks very tempting from Pine64… The JH7110 processor is the updated version of what’s in the VisionFive..which apparently had some issues. And with an Imagination GPU, presumably this board will be able to handle videos well.

    I wonder what OS is going to be bootable on it, and I wonder what apps will be available? (I know that, ironically, Armbian is now running nicely on boards with the D1 chip…)

  8. A “single-board computer” is an oxymoron, since you need at least components like a keyboard, a screen that can’t possible be on a board, not even mentioning disks (mostly SSD these days) and RAM, none of which seem to be on that specific board.

    It’s just seems to be a classic motherboard with a small format, so why not call it just what it is?

    1. Because generally the semi-permanently mounted expansion cards and modules attached to the conventional “motherboard” can be called “daughterboards” and if you can’t put a daughterboard into the board that has the CPU on it it’s not a motherboard. Of course one could argue that something semi-permanently mounted in a USB slot is a daughterboard, but I think by this point most people have accepted that “SBC” means “looks like and is used like a Raspberry Pi” and there’s not much of a point to messing that up. Also, SBCs can be used without peripherals, you just need to set up the data and programs on their storage on another computer first, and after that every interaction can be more “remote management” than “using the computer”.

    2. Often times SBCs are used in a headless configuration, meaning no screen, no keyboard. You don’t need a disk, they have onboard memory (unlike classic motherboards). You connect power and a network cable and you’re good to go – no other boards! The point is that it has all the basics on the board and you don’t need anything more than the single board to use it as a computer, thus single board computer. You cannot use a classic motherboard in the same fashion.

    1. Trusted yes, they are awesome people, but keep in mind they have been far from reliable when it comes to shipping deadlines and handling returns. It’s not all their fault of course, every industry has been affected by COVID and supply chain issues for a couple of years now. I’m just saying you should keep your expectations tempered.