Milk-V Mars CM is a RISC-V Compute Module in a Raspberry Pi form factor

Alfonso Maruccia

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In context: RISC-V provides an open standard instruction set architecture (ISA) derived from RISC, a potential alternative to Arm and x86 CPUs for powering new hardware devices and low-cost manufacturing. Compared to Arm, RISC-V isn't encumbered by royalties and can essentially be used everywhere, for everything.

While chip manufacturers around the world are betting big bucks on the future of RISC-V, smaller companies such as Pine64 have adopted the open-source ISA for their single-board computers to encourage hardware development and software experimentation. A new compact, RISCV-based board now comes from Milk-V, a Chinese venture entirely focused on the growing RISC-V ecosystem.

The Milk-V Mars CM board is a RISC-V Compute Module in a compatible form factor; compatibility here means that the device features the same dual 100-pin connectors found in the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4. The 55mm x 40mm board has no other connections or input/output options, but it should work pretty well with the same "carrier" boards designed for the aforementioned Raspberry Pi CM4.

The beating (computing) heart of the Milk-V Mars CM is a Starfive JH7110 quad-core, 1.5GHz RISC-V SoC, featuring a 64-bit instruction set (RV64GC) and an integrated GPU with 3D acceleration (IMG BXE-4-32). The board supports hardware options for 1 HDMI 2.0 port, 1 Gigabit Ethernet port, 1 PCIe Gen2 connector, 1 USB 2.0 port, and more. Optional support for wireless connectivity (WiFi 5, Bluetooth 5.2) is provided as well.

Memory configurations can vary from 2GB to 8GB of LPDDR4 RAM, while storage support includes eMMC modules and 16MB of NOR flash for booting duties. Milk-V says that the Mars CM board supports "HD Multimedia" with H.264 and H.265 decoding in Ultra HD and 60 frames per second, while encoding supports H.265 streams in Full HD and 30 frames per second.

Furthermore, Mars CM can provide dual-video output, dual-channel stereo audio output, and support for "multiple high-speed peripherals." Supported operating systems include Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE and the everlasting Debian Linux distro, even though the software side of the RISC-V market is still in its infancy from a consumer/prosumer point of view.

The Milk-V Mars CM can be already pre-ordered for $34 with 2GB of RAM and 8GB of eMMC storage. Adding wireless support, 8GB of RAM and a 32GB eMMC drive will rise the price up to $84. For developers interested in making software rather than toying with hardware Lego-styled setups, Milk-V also provides the Mars single-board computer with full support for input, output and connectivity options.

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