Introducing a new RISC-V Mainboard from DeepComputing

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We’re excited to share a preview of a Framework Laptop 13 Mainboard with a new CPU architecture today, and it’s probably not the one you think it is. The team at DeepComputing has built the first ever partner-developed Mainboard, and it uses a RISC-V processor! This is a huge milestone both for expanding the breadth of the Framework ecosystem and for making RISC-V more accessible than ever. We designed the Framework Laptop to enable deep flexibility and personalization, and now that extends all the way to processor architecture selection. DeepComputing is demoing an early prototype of this Mainboard in a Framework Laptop 13 at the RISC-V Summit Europe next week, and we’ll be sharing more as this program progresses.

There is excellent philosophical alignment between RISC-V and Framework. Both are built on the idea that an open ecosystem is more powerful than the sum of its parts. To explain why, first we’ll go into what RISC-V even is. RISC-V is a fully open Instruction Set Architecture (ISA), which is the interface point between software and hardware. It’s a defined set of instructions that software is compiled and assembled into that the processor executes to run the actual program. x86 (or the latest version, x86-64) is the most common ISA for PCs today, and it’s what is used in the processors for each Framework Laptop we’ve shipped to date. The x86 ISA was invented by Intel, extended on by AMD, and is proprietary, with Intel and AMD being effectively the only two companies able to use and create processors around it. ARM is another popular ISA, owned by Arm Holdings. Arm licenses the ARM architecture out, which enables companies to pay a license fee for cores to make their own processors that leverage it. What makes RISC-V unique is that it is an entirely open architecture, which means that anyone can extend on it and create their own processors that use it without paying a fee. RISC-V International is the collaborative organization that exists to help develop the standard and define common versions to ensure cross-compatibility of hardware and software. There are hundreds of companies now developing cores and chips around RISC-V, but most of these have been hidden away in embedded applications. The DeepComputing RISC-V Mainboard is one of the first instances of leveraging this ecosystem for the main processor in a consumer-facing product.

All of this is what makes RISC-V unique from an ecosystem enablement perspective. The actual technology is equally interesting. The base instruction set of RISC-V is simple and streamlined, while there are a number of extensions enabling high performance and specialized compute. This means that RISC-V cores can be developed for anything from tiny control CPUs embedded inside a sensor (the Fingerprint Reader we’ve used in Framework Laptops since 2021 actually has a RISC-V core!) to monstrous multi-hundred-core server processors. The DeepComputing RISC-V Mainboard uses a JH7110 processor from StarFive which has four U74 RISC-V cores from SiFive. SiFive is the company that developed CPU cores using the RISC-V ISA, StarFive is the processor designer that integrated those CPU cores with other peripherals, DeepComputing created a Mainboard leveraging that processor, and Framework makes laptops that can use the Mainboard. The power of an open ecosystem!

This Mainboard is extremely compelling, but we want to be clear that in this generation, it is focused primarily on enabling developers, tinkerers, and hobbyists to start testing and creating on RISC-V. The peripheral set and performance aren’t yet competitive with our Intel and AMD-powered Framework Laptop Mainboards. This board also has soldered memory and uses MicroSD cards and eMMC for storage, both of which are limitations of the processor. It is a great way to start playing with RISC-V though inside of a thin, light, refined laptop. The Mainboard will be able to drop into any Framework Laptop 13 chassis or into the Cooler Master Mainboard Case. DeepComputing is also working closely with the team at Canonical and the Fedora community to ensure Linux support is solid through Ubuntu and Fedora. We’ll continue to keep you up to date as we work with the team at DeepComputing to complete development of this new Mainboard and enable access to it. You can sign up in the Framework Marketplace to get notified when we have updates.

We have a couple of other updates around scaling access to Framework Laptop 13. The first is that just like we did for Framework Laptop 16 last week, today we’re sharing open source CAD for the Framework Laptop 13 shell, enabling development of skins, cases, and accessories. The second is that we now have Framework Laptop 13 Factory Seconds systems available with British English and German keyboards, making entering the ecosystem more affordable than ever. We’re eager to continue growing a new Consumer Electronics industry that is grounded in open access, repairability, and customization at every level.

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THIS IS SO EXCITING!

I’m so happy with the money I spent on my Framework 16, and Framework may have given me the reason I’ve been looking for to spend more.

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Absolutely huge news. Will be watching progress intently.

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This is really cool to hear about, I’m curious to see where it goes from here.

Oooh! I don’t know much about the real-world desktop use of RISC-V, but the idea of an open-source CPU architecture has always been intriguing to me. Maybe one day I’ll have a powerful laptop made of entirely open-source hardware and software.

Whether or not that may be a pipe dream, I’m extremely glad to see Framework’s mission of 3rd parties producing Framework-compatible parts becoming real. Almost everyone I told about Framework had the same concern, which is that the envisioned ecosystem of parts and manufacturers may never come to exist. This should show that it’s going to happen.

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I sincerely hope that this kind of hardware (and GNU/Linux software) makes their way to automotive industry so we no longer need to worry about dieselgates, expensive ECU/sensors diagnostics and repairs, subscription anti-features that already built into the car, or car manufacturer selling driver behaviors to insurance companies.

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As someone who has hardly ever heard about RISC-V. Can someone ELI5 to me what this actually is?

What are the advantages of a processor like this and is there a world in which I would choose a RISC-V laptop in let’s say 2 year because it is competitive to e.g. Macbook ARM or will this only be something for niche users?

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It’s for running Haiku. The ARM port of Haiku has not managed to gain traction for various reasons, but the RISC-V port is making excellent progress.

Of course for legacy systems with huge software catalogues such as GNU/Linux and Windows it will be ages (if ever) when all the utilities are ported over to ARM, let alone RISC-V. For the everyday user on these mainstream operating systems, there is no urgent need to switch from regular x86.

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The differentiator is that it’s open source. If that’s not something that appeals to you, you would definitely not enjoy a RISC-V processor right now considering they currently perform worse on performance and presumably efficiency. Compatibility is also significantly reduced, since it’s not x86 or even ARM.

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And what made you think it’s a good idea to partner with some shady firm that’s involved in cryptocurrency / NFT?

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The soldered memory is a bummer but cool anyway.

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This is such a great use case for the drop in nature of framework. A person with a normal framework 13 will be able to open it up, pop out the previous board, and drop in the Risc-V board in a matter of minutes. Once they’re done with dev work, pop it back out to have a fantastic X86 pc. Fantastic for dog fooding without the need for a seperate PC. Your ergonomics are the same, same general feel, high quality pc but with a dev board. Incredible what’s being done here.

When I first heard about framework I had no idea they’d be this forward on FOSS and other open standards/technology. Very impressive. I likely won’t buy the first iteration, other devs likely need it more than me, but I’d love to get one at a later point and start out with Risc development. I haven’t even touched arm though, so I’m definitely not the main target for this.

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Same, idk if I’d buy it right away, but if I could scoop one up for $500 USD through the factory seconds program, that’d be sweet. I don’t need one, and idk what I’d use it for, but I do know I want to play with a RISC-V device and see what I can do with it… but I don’t want to buy e-waste either.

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This is very cool, just spent all my money on a FW16 but maybe down the line I’ll grab a factory seconds 13 to drop one of these into.

eMMC is not a limitation of the processor. Deep Computing offers the same with an SSD. And two other RISC-V laptops based on the same processor also can support SSDs. Those just started hitting the wider news today, so… And with prices that are, ahem, “competitive.”

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What’s wrong with that? All they did was offer an NFT if you purchased their first laptop

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Preorders when? Sign me up! I’ve had my eye on the StarFive JH7110 in SBC format for a while now, so this news is VERY exciting. I’ll be following any developments closely and cant wait to see what comes of it.

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Many of us wouldn’t want anything to do with shady actors like that. It’s about broken trust.

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Now the next bit of news I want to hear is that at some point FW will bring ARM into the fray. Smart for not jumping right into the pile w/ the other manufacturers adopting Snapdragon X. Let that one play out first.

Definitely excited about a RISC-V variant, even though it’s not for me. Glad developers will be able to get there hands on a consumer product to develop for.

What an exciting time!!!

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First of all, welcome to the Framework community @Han_Hui_Teoh :slight_smile:

Are you referring to something DeepComputing has specifically done regarding their use of these technologies, or are you saying that all cryptocurrency/NFT related work is inherently bad?

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