Friday, December 2, 2022

Upcoming RISC-V laptop promises free silicon upgrades

The world’s first laptop to use the RISC-V open source instruction set architecture (ISA) will reportedly start shipping in September.

The Roma laptop is available for preorder on Xcalibyte’s website, but the site merely takes interested parties’ information without providing much detail or any pricing. According to a report from The Register on Friday, the laptop will start shipping in September, according to spokespeople from Xcalibyte, which did system tuning for the laptop; a company called DeepComputing, which engineered the laptop; and RISC-V International.

According to the announcement from DeepComputing (which shares the same CEO with Xcalibyte, The Register reported), the Roma uses an unspecified quad-core processor with a 28 nm or, for the “pro” version, 12 nm node in a system-on -module (SoM) package. There’s also an Arm SecurCore SC300 security enclave processor, an unnamed GPU and neural processing unit, and a feature accelerator.

The system-on-chip’s motherboard is supposed to be user-upgradeable, too. DeepComputing’s announcement said that owners of a Roma will have access to SoC and SoM upgrades for free.

“The Roma platform will benefit developers who want to test their software running natively on RISC-V, and it should be easy to transfer code developed on this platform to embedded systems,” Mark Himelstein, CTO for RISC-V International, said in RISC -V International’s blog post on Friday.

RISC-V processors are typically less powerful than the more common x86-64 or Arm chips, but they have more open intellectual property, so it’s easier for anyone to make RISC-V CPUs. We’ve seen RISC-V adopted in products like the BeagleBoard V single-board computer, embedded processors, and development kits, as well as for enterprise workloads, like high-performance computing. But the Roma is the first RISC-V product announced in laptop form.

“This design is a crucial bridge between development boards and RISC-V-based business laptops that will be used for day-to-day work,” Calista Redmond, CEO of RISC-V International, said on the nonprofit’s blog.

Beyond its RISC-V heritage, the Roma comes with up to 16GB of LPDDR4x memory and 256GB of storage. It also supports “most” versions of Linux, according to DeepComputing.

The laptop also has a questionable focus on NFTs, promising 100 of them to the first pre-orders, claiming to be “Web3-friendly,” and, according to RISC-V International’s blog, partnering with companies like the LatticeX.Foundation for NFTs and proof-of-stake blockchain.

While PCs based on the RISC-V ISA are far from mainstream, the Roma represents a small step toward options beyond just x86 and Arm. SiFive, which licenses RISC-V-based CPU designs, has shown microcontrollers that could lead to supporting phones and laptops. And in March, the company told The Register that its customers could release RISC-V SoCs for PCs by 2025.

This article was updated to include information about Roma’s NFT ties.

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