Friday, August 19, 2022

Playing with a RISC-V SBC running Linux

Recently I began playing with a VisionFive RISC-V-based Single Board Computer (SBC). It was designed by StarFive. I purchased it from ameriDroid.

StarFive VisionFive 2-core RISC-V SBC "boron"

RISC-V ("risk five") is a relatively new Instruction Set Architecture (ISA), developed by a team at UC Berkeley, that is entirely open source, unlike Intel and ARM processor ISAs. This is the first RISC-V board I know of that is designed to run Linux (in this case, based on the Fedora distribution). It has two 64-bit 1GHz SiFive U74 CPU cores and eight gigabytes of RAM.

"boron" is my code name for this project. (Every project gets a code name.) I added the nylon feet to hold the board up off the anti-static mat on my workbench. I started out with a keyboard, mouse, and HDMI display attached to the board, but since it supported SSH right out of the box, I quickly reverted to using the command line to build and test my SW, my preferred approach. Also, it reduces the cable clutter on my workbench, which is supporting another project at the moment.

The two projects of mine that I use the most, Diminuto (a C systems-programming library) and Hazer (a GNSS toolkit), were unusually easy to clone, build, and run; unlike most other Linux distros, I didn't have to install any optional packages (much to my surprise). I have successfully completed running all the unit tests for both projects, and am now moving on to functional testing and practical use.

Since my work tends not to be very CPU intensive, I haven't run any performance tests. I'll probably leave that to someone else. I was more worried about SW functionality. But note that this board is more expensive, and and its processor slower, than the ARM-based Raspberry Pi 4 SBCs I use these days.

But the ARM processor design, and the BroadCom implementation of it, on the Pi is closed, and I appreciated the chance to try my stuff out on the open RISC-V, after having read so much about it over the past few years.

Update: 2022-08-20

Just to provide some evidence that I have non-trivial stuff running on the VisionFive, here's a screen snapshot of gpstool running on the board.

Screen Shot 2022-08-19 at 16.22.19

gpstool is the Swiss Army knife of the Hazer toolkit, which is built on top of Diminuto. Here, it's processing input in real-time from a GlobalSat BU-353W10 GNSS receiver. The receiver, a USB dongle, is based on the widely used U-blox UBX-M8030 module.

Update (2023-03-06)

I participated in crowd funding the StarFive VisionFive 2 SBC, which has four 1.5GHz RISC-V processor cores and 8GB of memory.


I got the board a few weeks ago and just recently got around to booting up the Debian-based Linux image provided by StarFive. Next step is to get my own software working on it.

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