Milk-V's Pioneer Is a Tall Glass of Cold RISC-V with 64 Cores, Up to 128GB of RAM

With promises to make schematics and design files available soon, the 64-core Milk-V Pioneer is an absolute monster of a board.

Gareth Halfacree
1 year ago β€’ HW101

(UPDATE:7/4/2023): Milk-V Technology has officially opened crowdfunding for the Pioneer, a RISC-V-based barebones computer offering 64 application-class processor cores and support for up to 128GB of RAM.

The hardware, which primarily targets software developers wanting to compile on a native RISC-V system, is priced at $1,199 for the motherboard with processor and a cooling heatsink; a $1,999 ready-to-run bundle adds a case, power supply, 128GB of DDR4 memory, a 1TB SSD, an Intel X520-T2 two-port 10-gig-Ethernet network card, and an AMD R5 230 graphics card.

All hardware is expected to ship by the end of December 2023, the company has confirmed, with more information available on the project's Crowd Supply campaign page.

Original article continues below.

Chinese hardware company Milk-V Technology is preparing to launch a high-performance RISC-V computer with a difference: the Pioneer packs in 64 physical cores and supports up to 128GB of RAM in user-upgradable DDR4 DIMM modules.

"Milk-V Pioneer is a developer motherboard, based on [the] Sophon SG2042, in a standard mATX form factor," Milk-V's Yiran Ke explains. "With PC-like interfaces and PC industrial compatibility, Pioneer provides a native RISC-V development environment and desktop experience. It is an excellent choice for developers and hardware pioneers looking to experience the cutting edge technology of RISC-V."

Milk-V is hoping to capture the high end of the RISC-V market with a 64-core board supporting up to 128GB of RAM. (πŸ“Ή: Milk-V)

The Sophon SG2042 at the heart of the board, which stops short of being a true single-board computer by dint of requiring add-on RAM modules, packs 64 T-Head XuanTie C920 64-bit RISC-V cores running at up to 2GHz. Based on the open source C910, the C920 adds vector acceleration extensions to improve performance for machine learning workloads β€” but, it must be noted, is based around the pre-ratification RISC-V Vector (RVV) 0.71 standard which lacks broad support in compilers.

Even without this, the SG2042 is a powerful processor β€” and can be paired with up to 128GB of DDR4 memory, not included, while the chip's PCI Express lanes are brought out to three full-length PCIe Gen. 3.0 slots with eight lanes each. There are five SATA ports for storage, a microSD card slot, two M.2 M-key slots both offering four lanes of PCIe 3.0 and compatible with NVMe storage, and an E-key slot for an optional wireless module.

For external connectivity, the board β€” designed to slot into any mATX or larger PC case β€” includes an impressive eight USB 3.0 ports, a header for a further two ports, and a USB port for a dedicated debug console. There are two 2.5-gigabit-Ethernet ports, but no on-board video output β€” meaning that, for anyone hoping to hook the machine up to a monitor, you'll need to take up one of the three PCIe slots with a graphics card.

To get people started quickly, Milk-V is to launch the motherboard alongside a fully-built PC system dubbed the Pioneer Box. In this, the board is paired with 64GB of DDR4 memory, a 1TB SSD, an Intel X520-T2 network card with two 10-gigabit-Ethernet ports, an AMD R5 230 graphics card, a 350W power supply, a heatsink and fan, and a "slim white enclosure with handle."

Interestingly, Milk-V is leaning in to the free and open source nature of RISC-V by pledging to make all hardware schematics and design files available under an as-yet unspecified open source license prior to the launch of its crowdfunding campaign.

Interested parties can find out more and sign up to be notified when the campaign goes live on Milk-V's Crowd Supply page. Pricing, however, has yet to be announced.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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