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Linux/Android hacker SBC with hexa-core Rockchip SoC debuts at $75

Nov 20, 2017 — by Eric Brown 6,827 views

The Vamrs “RK3399 Sapphire” SBC is on sale for $75, or $349 for a full kit. Vamrs is also prepping an RK3399-based “Rock960” 96Boards SBC.

Rockchip’s RK3399 is one of the most powerful ARM-based system-on-chips available on hacker boards, featuring two server-class Cortex-A72 cores clocked at up to 2.0GHz, as well as four Cortex-A53 at up to 1.42GHz and a quad-core Mali-T864 GPU. The hexa-core SoC has appeared on T-Firefly’s Firefly-RK3399 single-board computer and RK3399 Coreboard computer-on-module, as well as Videostrong’s VS-RD-RK3399 SBC and Theobroma’s RK3399-Q7 Qseven module.

Now we have a new contender: Shenzhen based Vamrs, which built the limited edition Rockchip RK3399 Sapphire SBC as the official RK3399 dev board for Rockchip, is now re-launching the board, which features a 40-pin Raspberry Pi compatible connector, with “many in stock” for a discounted price of $75.

Rockchip RK3399 Sapphire alone (left) and deployed on the Excavator EVB Kit
(click images to enlarge)

Vamrs is also the manufacturer of Rockchip’s Rock960, a 96Boards CE compatible SBC that Rockchip has largely documented, but has yet to price (see farther below). We learned about the Sapphire and Rock960 from a CNXSoft post. The Sapphire is also available in a $349 Excavator EVB Kit version featuring an Excavator baseboard connected via an MXM 310 connector, along with an eDP display. Both the SBC and the kit ship with Android 7.1 with Linux kernel 4.4, as well as a Linux BSP with Yocto and Debian distributions.


Rockchip RK3399 Sapphire

The 115 x 105mm Rockchip RK3399 Sapphire is a simpler board than the Firefly-RK3399, which is now selling for a $209 promotional price with 4GB RAM and 16GB eMMC. Compared to the Firefly, there’s no M.2 slot, onboard wireless, or extensive audio I/O, for example, and it also has fewer USB ports. The Sapphire’s comparatively minimalist I/O is understandable given its low price and the fact that in addition to being usable as a standalone SBC, it’s intended to serve as a COM-like, MXM-interfaced “coreboard” for the optional MXM-interfaced Excavator baseboard kit.

The Sapphire holds its own with the Firefly in memory and display features. It ships with 4GB LPDDR3 RAM 8GB eMMC, and a microSD slot, and offers an HDMI 2.0 port and MIPI-DSI and eVP connections. DisplayPort is available over a USB 3.0 Type-C port, and LVDS is supported on an attached carrier. A MIPI-CSI camera interface and a Gigabit Ethernet port are also available.

Rockchip RK3399 Sapphire (left) and Excavator EVB Kit detail views
(click images to enlarge)

In addition to the USB 3.0 Type-C with DP support, there are standard USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 host ports. All other interfaces use the 40-pin Raspberry Pi connector or the MXM 310 board-to-board connector. A 12V input and a PMIC are also onboard.

Specifications listed for the Rockchip RK3399 Sapphire SBC include:

  • Processor — Rockchip RK3399 (2x Cortex-A72 cores @ up to 2.0GHz, 4x Cortex-A53 cores at up to 1.42GHz); 28nm fab; Mali-T860 GPU
  • Memory:
    • 4GB LPDDR3 RAM
    • 8GB eMMC 5.1 flash
    • MicroSD slot
  • Display/camera:
    • HDMI 2.0 port for up to 4K@60Hz
    • DisplayPort 1.2 (via USB 3.0 Type-C)
    • MIPI-DSI
    • eDP 1.3
    • LVDS supported on carrier via MXM
    • MIPI-CSI camera link
  • Networking — Gigabit Ethernet port
  • Other I/O:
    • USB 3.0 host port
    • USB 3.0 Type-C port with DisplayPort signaling
    • USB 2.0 host ports
    • 40-pin, RPi-compatible expansion header
    • 314-pin MXM 310 board-to-board connector with PCIe 2.0 x4 signals
  • Power — 12V, 2A DC jack and adapter; RK808-D PMIC; power and reset buttons
  • Dimensions — 115 x 105mm
  • Operating system — Android 7.1 with Linux kernel 4.4; Linux BSP with Yocto and Debian

Rockchip RK3399 Sapphire Excavator EVB Kit

The $349 Rockchip RK3399 Sapphire Excavator EVB Kit adds an “Excavator” carrier board along with a display sub-board and a 7.9 inch, 2048 x 1536 eDP display with capacitive multitouch. The Excavator board provides easy access to all the Sapphire’s coastline ports, and adds a bunch of its own. These include a second USB Type-C port and 4x more USB 2.0 host ports, one of which does double duty as an HDMI input.

Rockchip RK3399 Sapphire Excavator EVB Kit with display sub-board (left) and sub-board with mounted eVP display
(click images to enlarge)

The Excavator board is further equipped with a second GbE port and a 2×2 WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1 module with antennas. Other multimedia features include MIPI RX, TX, and RX/TX interfaces, CVBS and eDP outputs, a 5mm audio jack, an SPDIF output, and a mic array header.

The Excavator provides a PCIe x8 interface and GPIO expansion headers. There is also an IR receiver and a sensor array with light, gyro, G-sensor, Compass, and Hall IC sensors. A DC 12V input and power switch are onboard. Schematics and other open resources are available for the Excavator, the display sub-board, and the Sapphire SBC.


Vamrs is also the manufacturer of the Rock960 board that Rockchip first revealed in September, but has yet to price. Rockchip’s first 96Boards CE compatible SBC has the usual 85 x 54mm footprint and 40-pin low-speed and 60-pin high-speed connectors that support nine available 96Boards mezzanine add-on boards. It’s available with open specifications.

Preliminary images of the Rock960 SBC
(click images to enlarge)

Preiminary specs posted at the 96rocks website reveal an SBC that combines the RK3399 with 2GB or 4GB RAM and 16GB or 32GB eMMC, plus a microSD slot. As is typical of most 96Boards SBCs, such as Arrow’s Snapdragon 410 based DragonBoard 410c, there’s no Ethernet; but you get the usual wireless support, in this case 802.11ac 2×2 MIMO with Bluetooth 4.1 BLE, supported with two onboard and two u.FL antenna connectors.

The Rock960 will also include HDMI 2.0, USB 2.0 host, USB 3.0 host, and USB 3.0 Type-C with DisplayPort ports in single helpings. An M.2 M-key PCIe connector is available for expansion beyond the standard 40- and 60-pin connectors, and there’s an 8-18V DC input.

Further information

The Rockchip RK3399 Sapphire is available for $75, discounted from $149, and the Rockchip RK3399 Sapphire Excavator EVB Kit sells for $349, discounted from $399. More information may be found on the Vamrs Sapphire and Sapphire Excavator EVB Kit shopping pages, as well as Rockchip’s Excalibur Sapphire wiki. CNXSoft says the original, limited edition Sapphire had a $20 shipping fee.

The Rock960 is not yet available for sale, but you can sign up for pre-order notification. More information may be found at the Vamrs 96Rocks community site.

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