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posted by martyb on Sunday November 01 2020, @03:04AM   Printer-friendly
from the gimme-five! dept.

SiFive has announced a mini-ITX motherboard with its SiFive Freedom U740:

At the heart of the SiFive board is a SiFive FU740 processor coupled with 8 GB DDR4 memory and 32 MB SPI Flash. It comes with a 4x USB 3.2 ports and a 16x PCIe expansion slot. The mini-ITX standard form factor makes it easy to build a RISC-V PC.

[...] SiFive Unmatched board will be available by Q4'20 for USD 665, and you can already register your interest. You will get a mini-ITX board, 32 GB MicroSD, and 3-meter CAT5e ethernet cable. SiFive did not speak on the commercial aspect of the product but are very confident about future development. Android and Chrome support is something we can see in the future. The product looks promising and we are excited to see future development in the RISC-V PC ecosystem.

Performance will probably be comparable to a Raspberry Pi 3. Alternatively:

PolarBerry is a Compact, Linux-capable RISC-V FPGA SBC and module (Crowdfunding)

Powered by Microchip PolarFire RISC-V SoC FPGA, PolarBerry is both a single board computer with Gigabit Ethernet and 40-pin GPIO header, as well as a system-on-module thanks to three Samtec board-to-board connectors.

[...] PolarBerry is not available just yet, but LinuxGizmos reports the SBC/SoM will be soon launched on Crowd Supply for $995 and shipments are expected to start in January 2021. Besides the aforementioned crowdfunding page, additional details may be found on the product page.

See also: SiFive Is Launching The Most Compelling RISC-V Development Board Yet

Previously: SiFive to Debut a RISC-V PC for Developers in October

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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by bzipitidoo on Sunday November 01 2020, @02:21PM (2 children)

    by bzipitidoo (4388) Subscriber Badge on Sunday November 01 2020, @02:21PM (#1071592) Journal

    If it's possible to really put an entire System on a Chip, why do they keep putting these chips on boards? To better spread out and dissipate heat? Is a printed circuit board still the best way to connect chips to peripherals? Seems an area worth a hard look.

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  • (Score: 3, Informative) by takyon on Sunday November 01 2020, @02:37PM

    by takyon (881) <> on Sunday November 01 2020, @02:37PM (#1071594) Journal

    A bigger board can have more connectors, and fit into standard mini-ITX cases. It could also have room for RAM slots, but they didn't do that here.

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  • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Sunday November 01 2020, @05:45PM

    by Grishnakh (2831) on Sunday November 01 2020, @05:45PM (#1071621)

    If it's possible to really put an entire System on a Chip, why do they keep putting these chips on boards? To better spread out and dissipate heat? Is a printed circuit board still the best way to connect chips to peripherals? Seems an area worth a hard look.

    It's not about heat; PCBs are made of fiberglass, which is not a very good heat conductor, though layers of copper can be added to conduct heat intentionally. PCBs are used because no one's come up with a better way of connecting the chip to all the things it needs to connect to: external memory (even "SoCs" still generally have external memory, so the "system on a chip" moniker isn't really accurate), connectors, peripherals like cameras, etc. Back in the old days, before PCBs were invented, electronic components were connected together with point-to-point wiring. So there was some kind of metal chassis holding major components, and lots of hand-soldered wires connecting everything together. It required an enormous amount of labor to make an electronic assembly, and mistakes were common and quality was poor because of human error. PCBs revolutionized all this, because this moved most of the "wiring" to a single, mass-produced board, and all humans had to do was insert the components into the appropriate holes in the board and solder them. It also reduced the need for a metal chassis to hold the components, as most of them just sat on the board, except for very heavy ones (transformers) or high-heat ones (large power transistors). Later, more automated ways were devised for "stuffing" the components onto the boards, and later, "surface mount" electronics were invented where the components just sat on top of the board, adhered only by solder. This is where we are currently: mass-produced boards are loaded into an automated assembly line where "pick and place" machines automatically stick the components onto the appropriate location on the board (aided by "solder paste", a stick paste with solder in it, which the components stick to), and then after all the components are placed, the whole thing goes into a "reflow oven" which melts all the solder paste and all the components are now fully soldered to their final locations. There's very little labor that goes into a modern electronic device now, which is why TVs don't cost nearly as much as cars, unlike back in the early days of TV.

    Anyway, back to your question: what I described here is the state of the art, and just keeps getting more and more miniaturized. No one's come up with some alternate way of connecting electronics together other than fiberglass-based PCBs which works as well in terms of cost, ease (and automatability) of assembly, and reliability. There are some more specialized kinds of circuit boards out there that get used in special applications (like military or spacecraft), and some of this technology may filter down to consumer-level stuff: different PCB materials, implanting capacitors and resistors into the board itself, etc., but I don't think PCBs are going anywhere for a very long time.