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BeagleV SBC Runs Linux on AI-Enabled RISC-V SoC

Written by Eric Brown

[Updated: Jan. 27] BeagleBoard.org and Seeed unveiled an open-spec, $119-and-up “BeagleV” SBC with a StarFive JH7100 SoC with dual SiFive U74 RISC-V cores, 1-TOPS NPU, DSP, and VPU. The SBC ditches the Cape expansion for a Pi-like 40-pin GPIO.

In our introduction to last week’s catalog of 150 Linux hacker boards we speculated that 2021 would reveal the first Linux-based community-backed board with a RISC-V processor under $200. We did not have to wait long. BeagleBoard.org, Seeed Studio, and chip designer StarFive have announced an open hardware, RISC-V based BeagleV SBC due to sample in April for $149 with 8GB RAM and ship in volume in September along with a $119 board with 4GB.

BeagleV (left) and detail view showing major processors and coprocessors
(click images to enlarge)


The BeagleV (pronounced Beagle-Five) follows other recent BeagleBones such as Seeed’s BeagleBone Green Gateway and BeagleBoard.org’s BeagleBone AI. Yet, this is not a BeagleBone clone as it lacks the dual 46-pin GPIO headers that enabled the use of common Cape add-ons — the HATs of the BeagleBone world. The SBC is also the first without a Sitara processor from Texas Instruments, which has long been an unofficial sponsor of BeagleBoard.org. Instead, the BeagleV uses a Raspberry Pi like 40-pin connector and features a novel RISC-V SoC from StarFive.

The StarFive JH7100 SoC is built around 2x Cortex-A55-like, up to 1.5GHz SiFive U74 RISC-V cores, which are also used on the SiFive FU740 SoCs deployed on SiFive’s $665 HighFive Unmatched SBC. The U74 is more powerful than the SiFive U54 cores found on the Microchip PolarFire SoC that drives its $499 PolarFire SoC Icicle Kit.

The StarFive JH7100 is further equipped with machine vision and AI coprocessors including a Tensilica Vision VP6 DSP, an NPU, and an NVLDA (Nvidia Deep Learning Accelerator) Engine. There is also an ISP to work with the board’s MIPI-CSI interface.

The StarFive JH7100 is equipped with a 4K ready VPU but lacks a 3D GPU. However, according to reports from CNXSoft and ArsTechnica, a version with an Imagination Technologies PowerVR GPU will ship in September. The initial GPU-less model will “use the Vision DSP hardware as a graphics processor, allowing a full graphical desktop environment under Fedora,” says ArsTechnica.

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Another detail view (left) and pinout diagram for 40-pin GPIO
(click images to enlarge)

BeagleBoard.org community members can start receiving boards as early as April. CNXSoft links to a limited access pre-order form on Seeed for $149 with 8GB RAM with a Mar. 31 ship date and BeagleBoard.org has posted an application form to request early samples.

The BeagleV runs Debian or Fedora with mainline Linux, as well as FreeRTOS. Like the BeagleBones, this will be an open-spec board backed by the BeagleBoard.org community. You can also customize the board and order manufacturing runs with the Seeed Fusion PCB Assembly Service.

At 85 x 70mm, the BeagleV is wider than the BeagleBone Black or Raspberry Pi. Like the Pi and some of the later BeagleBones, such as the BeagleBone Green Wireless, the SBC offers 4x USB host ports. They are USB 3.0 ports, thereby enabling reasonably fast storage beyond the capabilities of the microSD slot. A micro-USB Type-C port inputs 5V/3A power.

Despite the 4K capability of the VPU, the BeagleV’s HDMI port is limited to HD video, which presumably goes for the DSI interface as well. The dual MIPI-CSI camera input interfaces include a MIPI-CSI TX capability “for video output after ISP and AI processing,” but no resolution was listed. The TX capability is perhaps based on a Cadence Transmitter Controller IP.

More detailed detail views — caption: 1) SiFive U74, 2) 4GB LPDDR4, 3) 2.4GHz WiFi/BT, 4) 40-pin GPIO, 5) MII-DSI, 6) PMIC, 7) USB Type-C, 8) LCD-to-HDMI IC, 9) HDMI 1.4, 10) 2x MIPI-CSI, 11) GbE, 12) 2x USB 3.0, 13) 2x USB 3.0, 14) 3.5mm audio, 15) Micro-SD

(click images to enlarge)

The BeagleV is equipped with a GbE port but is limited to 2.4GHz WiFi and BT 4.2. A Tom’s Hardware report speculates from the pinout that the 40-pin GPIO header may be compatible with official Raspberry Pi camera and display HATs, although no such claims were made.

Specifications listed for the BeagleV include:

  • Processor:
  • Memory/storage:
    • 8GB LPDDR4 via dual channels (future model will have 4GB)
    • MicroSD slot
  • Networking:
    • 10/100/1000 Ethernet port
    • 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.1
  • Media I/O:
    • HDMI 1.4 port for up to [email protected]
    • MIPI-DSI
    • 2x MIPI-CSI with MIPI-CSI TX
    • 3.5mm audio out jack
  • Other I/O:
    • 4x USB 3.0 host ports
    • USB Type-C port for 5V power input
    • JTAG and UART debug interfaces
  • Expansion — 40-pin GPIO (28 x GPIO, I2C, I2S, SPI, UART)
  • Power — 5V/3A input via USB Type-C; PMIC; power and reset buttons
  • Operating system — Debian and Fedora with mainline Linux; FreeRTOS

 
Further information

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[Updated: Jan. 27] According to Beaglebone.org, early access version of the BeagleV has very limited availability, but the mass production version will have full availability by September 2021. More information may be found on BeagleBoard.org’s BeagleV product page, which includes Register Interest link.

This article originally appeared on LinuxGizmos.com on January 13, 2020.

BeagleBoard.org | www.beagleboard.org


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BeagleV SBC Runs Linux on AI-Enabled RISC-V SoC

by Eric Brown time to read: 4 min