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Most powerful 96Boards SBC yet offers M.2 expansion

Apr 26, 2017 — by Eric Brown 5,913 views

Archermind and LeMaker have launched a “Hikey 960” 96Boards CE SBC for AOSP using HiSilicon’s 4x -A73, 4x -A53 Kirin 960 SoC, and featuring M.2 expansion.

The Hikey 960 design from Linaro’s is now available from Archermind and LeMaker, which sell the boards via their Alpha Star and Lenovator sites respectively. The SBC is also available on Amazon ($240) and Seed ($239), among other venues. The open source boards comply with the same 85 x 55mm 96Boards CE spec adopted by LeMaker’s Hikey SBC, and run Android Open Source Project (AOSP). Linaro plans to add Linux support over time (see farther below).

Hikey 960, front and back
(click images to enlarge)

The Hikey 960 builds upon the Kirin 960 SoC, manufactured by Huawei’s HiSilicon unit, which follows the octa-core -A72/-A53 Kirin 950. The original Hikey board tapped HiSilicon’s similarly octa-core, but all Cortex-A53, Kirin 6220. The difference is that four of the Kirin 960’s cores use ARM’s top-of-the-line Cortex-A73 architecture.

On the Hikey 960, the Big.Little configured Kirin 960 has its four -A73 cores clocked at up to 2.4GHz, according to Linaro’s announcement, and 2.3Ghz according to Seeed. The four -A53 cores run at 1.8GHz. The SoC also provides the new Mali-G71 MP8 GPU, which ARM introduced in conjunction with the Cortex-A73.


The Kirin 960 is one of the first Cortex-A73-based SoCs. It closely follows MediaTek’s recently released deca-core Helio X30, which has dual -A73 cores, four -A53 cores, and four -A35 cores.

Archermind and MediaTek teamed up last year on a 96Boards CE SBC called the MediaTek X20 Development Board, which showcased MediaTek’s Helio X20 SoC with 8x -A53 cores, as well as a pair of -A72 cores. ARM has claimed that the Cortex-A73 provides up to 30 percent better sustained performance and efficiency than Cortex-A72. It’s unclear, however, if that requires a 10nm fabrication process, which is supported by Cortex-A73. The Kirin 960 uses a 16nm process.

Hikey 960 angle view
(click image to enlarge)

Aside from the powerful new processor, the Hikey 960 offers some interesting variations on the 96Boards CE spec. This is the first 96Boards SBC to support DDR4 RAM, with a set installation of 3GB of LPDDR4, and it’s the first to provide fast UFS flash storage. The board supplies 32GB of UFS 2.1.

The Hikey 960 is also the first 96Boards entry to provide an M.2 expansion slot, which is offered here in addition to the standard 96Boards 40- and 60-pin low- and high-speed expansion connectors. The M.2 Key M slot enables PCIe Gen2 expansion.

Hikey 960 detail views
(click images to enlarge)

The Hikey 960 is further equipped with a microSD slot, 2x USB 3.0 ports, and a micro-USB 2.0 Type-C port. There’s also an HDMI port, a 4-lane MIPI-DSI interface, and 4- and 2-lane MIPI-CSI camera interfaces. These same MIPI interfaces are duplicated on the 60-pin connector. The DSI interface supports 4K or 4x HD encode and decode streams, but the HDMI port is limited to 1080p output. Linaro’s announcement calls it HDMI 1.2a, but the 96Boards and distributor pages say HDMI 1.4.

Like most 96Boards entries, the Hikey 360 lacks Ethernet, but provides wireless functionality, in this case WiFi-ac and Bluetooth 4.1. The 8-18VDC powered board’s expansion connectors support 96Boards Mezzanine board add-ons. There are still only five officially sanctioned options, however.

Aimed at AOSP developers

The HiKey 960 is designed for AOSP mobile developers looking to innovate with sensors, security features, and other peripheral hardware and software, says Linaro. The board should also interest developers “working on derivative products for markets like digital signage, point of sale (POS), robotics and others outside the traditional mobile AOSP space,” says the ARM-backed open source code development firm.

The HiKey 960 is supported in the AOSP source tree based on the Android Common Kernel using the Linux 4.4 kernel release. Linaro and Huawei are also working on the Linux 4.9 based Android Common kernel, and are maintaining support for the Kirin 960 in the mainline tree. This should allow for “the availability of multiple Linux distributions for this board in the future,” says Linaro. Google has posted instructions for loading Android 7.1 on the board.

Specifications listed for the Hikey 960 include:

  • Processor — HiSilicon (Huawei) Kirin 960 (4x Cortex-A73 @ up to 2.4GHz, 4x Cortex-A53 @ up to 1.8GHz); Mali-G71 MP8 GPU
  • Memory/storage:
    • 32GB UFS 2.1 flash
    • MicroSD slot
  • Wireless — Dual-band 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.1 with antennas
  • Display/camera:
    • HDMI 1.4 port up to 1080p
    • 4-lane MIPI-DSI at up to 3840 x 2400 @ 60Hz
    • 4-lane MIPI-CSI
    • 2-lane MIPI-CSI
  • Other I/O:
    • 2x USB 3.0 type A host ports
    • Micro-USB 2.0 type C OTG port
  • Expansion:
    • M.2 Key M with PCIe Gen2
    • 40-pin 96Boards low speed expansion connector (+1.8V, +5V, DC, GND, 2x UART, 2x I2C, SPI, I2S, 12x GPIO
    • 60-pin 96Boards high speed expansion connector (4L MIPI DSI, 2L+4L MIPI CSI, 2x I2C, SPI/48M, USB 2.0)
  • Other features — 2x wireless LEDs; 4x user LEDs; Tensilica HiFi3 3.0 DSP audio system
  • Power — 8V to 18V/2A jack with 2000mA adapter; 12V/2A supply recommended; power button
  • Dimensions — 85 x 55mm; 96Boards CE
  • Operating system — AOSP with 4.4 AOSP common kernel; compatible with Android 7.1; Linux support coming in future

Further information

The Hikey 960 board is available worldwide at Lenovator and at Seeed for $239. U.S. buyers can also find it for $240 at Amazon. It’s also available at Alpha Star in China, at SwitchScience in Japan, and at All-Net in Germany. Shipments begin in early May.

More information may be found in Linaro’s Hikey 960 announcement and the 96Boards Hikey 960 page.

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3 responses to “Most powerful 96Boards SBC yet offers M.2 expansion”

  1. Pundir says:

    It doesn’t run “Linaro’s version of Android Open Source Project (AOSP)”, it runs vanilla AOSP.

  2. twodogs says:

    Hey, mikeschinkel, here’s an SBC with a storage option! :D

  3. mikeschinkel says:

    @twodogs – Yes, thanks! And for *only* US$240. heh. I can get far cheaper Gigabyte Brix that supports SATA for that. I am looking for a board I can use as a base for a product, and so COGS is extremely important.

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