With the recent announcement of BeagleVTM, reported by premium technology media Ars Technica, Tom’s Hardware, CNX Software, as well as many others, a new name has emerged in front of the eyes of tech enthusiasts and geeks – StarFive. The BeagleV board was brought to the RISC-V and open source community as the first affordable RISC-V computer designed to run Linux by three companies/organizations – BeagleBoard.org, Seeed Studio and StarFive. I really like the analogy made by Jason Kridner, President of the Board for the BeagleBoard.org, in his video introducing BeagleV and the three-way partnership. He described the StarFive Intelligent Vision system-on-a-chip (SoC) with RISC-V processors as the intelligent brain for the BeagleV board to deliver the performance and flexibility demanded by developers, while Seeed put around that brain a strong body of peripherals, connectivity, and accessories that will greatly speed access to the possibilities this platform provides. Finally BeagleBoard has sought to give BeagleV a kind soul by working to make sure the developer experience is smooth, taking you from the out of box experience to working with the largest body of open source software available for embedded system design and a community of experts to help everyone learn and succeed.
Who is StarFive?
Established in August 2018, StarFive Technology is a leading RISC-V CPU processor core IP and semiconductor SoC platform solution provider. Focusing on the new era of AIOT (Artificial Intelligence of Things, the convergence of AI and IoT for a wide range of applications from smart home speakers to self-driving cars) computing, StarFive solutions are based on the free and open RISC-V instruction set architecture and incorporate high-performance, power-efficient, highly customizable and scalable processor designs as well as heterogeneous computing elements of intelligent vision, audio, AI/machine learning, neural network and networking/communication accelerations.
Built on a strong partnership with SiFive, StarFive started as an exclusive distributor of SiFive RISC-V core IP products in the greater China region, yet the company’s vision is to attract world-class R&D and engineering talents in processor and SoC design to create a strong portfolio of IPs and agile SoC design methodologies for the new generation of applications including intelligent vision, 5G communications, edge computing, cloud infrastructure, AI and Internet of Things.
Although StarFive is only a little over two years old, it has garnered some marquee customers and partners in the Greater China region including H3C, Sunplus, InnoGrit, Bouffalo Lab, UNISOC, Huami, and more. The applications have spanned a wide range of use cases from power sensitive microcontrollers, industrial IOT, wearable, enterprise and data center storage, to network infrastructure.
Beyond these initial commercial successes, StarFive has grand vision and is working hard to position our company to take advantage of the tremendous interest in the open RISC-V architecture in the greater China market. StarFive ‘s primary focus is on three key areas: High-performance RISC-V processor core IP, domain specific SoCs, and the RISC-V software ecosystem.
High-Performance Processor Core IP – 1st Server-Grade RISC-V CPU
As we transition into the AIoT era, computing is becoming increasingly distributed, heterogenous, intelligent and secure. This era demands more performance and data throughput at better power efficiency. When StarFive was founded, RISC-V had taken the microcontroller and embedded IOT market by storm. With those as the cornerstone, RISC-V is adding the likes of the vector and hypervisor extensions to ready this architecture to move upstream for AI, machine learning, edge and cloud data centers applications. StarFive is standing on the shoulder of the giants to reach for the stars – filling a hole that the RISC-V community and the semiconductor industry have for a truly high performance CPU based on open architecture.
Dubhe was born out of this ambition. In December 2020, at the ICCAD conference in China, StarFive unearthed the industry’s highest-performing RISC-V core with some impressive initial data points to rival Arm NeoVerse or Cortex A76/77 series in terms of performance and functionality:
- 1st application processor to support RISC-V Hypervisor extension
- Scalable RISC-V Vector extension support
- Frequency of 3.5GHz on TSMC 7nm process node
- SPECint2006 is estimated to be 31.2 at 3.5GHz
- Dhrystone benchmark of 5.6DMIPS/MHz
We named it Dubhe because we want it to be one of the brightest stars in the processor night sky and we hope to see wide adoption in edge and cloud data centers, PC, mobile communications, 5G infrastructure as well as AI and machine learning fields.
Intelligent Vision SoC Platform – 1st RISC-V based AI Vision Platform
One of the key design points for RISC-V was to create domain specific accelerators to mitigate the gap between the stagnation of Moore’s Law and the pressure for exponential computing performance enhancement driven by the explosive data deluge. RISC-V’s open and scalable nature makes it a perfect fit to design SoCs tuned for the needs of various vertical workloads and applications.
Ever since StarFive’s inception, it has built a strong SoC engineering team to focus on designing a platform for the emerging AIoT use case, an SoC platform that can see, perceive and think, integrating computer vision, image processing, voice recognition with advanced neural networks processing. In September 2020, we announced Jinghong 7110, the world’s 1st RISC-V based AI vision platform with the following features:
- Dual core SiFive U74 with 2MB L2 cache, running at 1.5GHz on mature 28nm process node.
- In-house developed Image Signal Processor (ISP) that can adapt to most mainstream camera sensors and process 4K resolution images in real time.
- The built-in image and video processing subsystem supports H265/H264/JPEG codec. Integrated with high-performance, low-power Vision DSP and Neural Network Engine realize smarter computer vision.
- The platform is configured with additional peripherals to provide the dual-core U74 CPU with sufficient system bus bandwidth and on-chip storage resources, as well as a 64-bit LPDDR4/DDR4 storage interface with a maximum transmission rate of 3200Mbps, unleashing abundant performance for real-time processing and analysis of complex video streams processing at the edge.
The name JingHong came from classic Chinese literature, and it literally means stunned swan geese. We hope the stunning performance and capabilities can bring stunning benefits to mankind with smart home, smart city, autonomous vehicles, intelligent surveillance, industrial robotics and many other computer vision related applications.
BeagleVTM – 1st Affordable RISC-V Computer Designed to Run Linux
A successful hardware architecture always surrounds itself with a strong software ecosystem, and as RISC-V moves upstream, rapidly enabling the community to port and run their software workloads on RISC-V architecture is utterly important. The software community has been asking for an affordable yet performant RISC-V computer capable of running the most prevalent open source operating system – Linux. We heard this request and along with our partners BeagleBoard.org and Seeed Studios, we designed BeagleV™ to fill that need.
BeagleV is centered around an SoC based on the StarFive JingHong platform, boasting a truly open architecture and rich AI vision features at a price point of lower than $150. BeagleV™ provides the open-source community with the opportunity to build projects with a higher performance development board. Our vision is to help and enable the RISC-V ecosystem to grow, to productize RISC-V based projects, and to contribute much more open hardware in the global developer community.
In the era of AIoT, computing platforms will manifest in thousands and millions of designs, and we want everyone, no matter which part of the world you are in, to be able to turn your AIoT design to reality. We hope BeagleV can democratize AIoT system design, and unleash the creativity of many aspired inventor everywhere.