Tech tinkerers keen to tussle with RISC-V will be thrilled to hear there’s an affordable new ‘toy’ in town: the BeagleV.
The BeagleV (pronounced ‘beagle-five’) is a small single-board PC (think Raspberry Pi) that uses a RISC-V processor, touts support for several different Linux distributions (including desktop Fedora), and is priced from a comparatively cheap $119.
For more on this device, who it’s aimed at, and what it’s specs are like, keep reading.
Most single-board computers on the market (with Linux support) are ARM-based. A few use x86-64 chips, and an even-fewer few MIPS. The BeagleV uses a RISC-V processor.
RISC-V (pronounced ‘risk-five’) is an open source instruction set architecture (ISA) free of patents and devoice of licensing fees. The source code for it is available under a BSD license, meaning anyone can create and tinker with the RISC-V designs to meet their needs.
First introduced in 2010, RISC-V is a relatively ‘new’ tech, and it’s not the most ‘powerful’. But its power efficiency and openness has led to it being used in embedded devices.
More general-purpose applications of it thus far have been pricey. StarFive is the best known company producing RISC-V chips. Their ‘entry-level’ board launched last year starts priced from $670.
BeagleV is less powerful than rival devices, but also less expensive. Its affordability has the potential to lower the barrier to entry enough to allow a wave of innovation and interest to wash on in to the RISC-V ecosystem.
BeagleV: Specs & Price
BeagleV is built around a dual-core 1.5 GHz StarFive SiFive U74 processor with 2MB L2 cache. Compared against other RISC-V chips this is ‘high-performance’, but it won’t come close to matching most years-old ARM chipsets.
There’s no dedicated GPU on the first batch of boards either, so the Vision DSP hardware is being to handle the task of powering, for example, a full graphical desktop environment in Fedora. Future versions will come with a dedicated GPU.
A neural engine for hardware-accelerated computing, and a video decoder/encoder able to handle 4K 60 FPS video decoding.
Other features include a HDMI out port (30fps 1080p), 4 regular USB 3.0 ports, ethernet, audio, and microSD card slot, a USB Type-C port for power, plus integrated Wi-Fi 2.4GHz b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.2. Tinkerers can leverage the board’s 40-pin GPIO connector, two MIPI-CSI connectors, and a MIPI-DSI connector.
Does Ubuntu Support RISC-V?
At the time of writing this — January 13 —Ubuntu support is not being promised for this device, even though other well-known Linux distros are. The board does have mainline Linux kernel support though, which suggests it won’t be too tricky to raise some sort of RISCBuntu offshoot.
The Ubuntu community has proven to be an industrious one. If the BeagleV doesn’t have Ubuntu support in some shape or another by the end of the year I will buy a red hat and eat it.
Great! When Can I Buy One?
Here’s the catch: you currently have to sign up for the chance to buy the BeagleV. Oh, and only the $149 8GB model (sans GPU) is available to start with. So you can’t just point your web browser at a webs store and place a pre-order — that’d be too easy, right? 😅
The good news is that the first batch of BeagleV boards will ship to early-bird buyers from April. You’ll need to wait until the general releases to snag the $119 4GB version, as well as a board with dedicated graphics unit.
In summary, the BeagleV is an attractive, affordable, and adaptable single board computer using the open-source RISC-V processor. While it is more expensive and less powerful than a Raspberry Pi the BeagleV stands to do for RISC-V what the Pi did for ARM.