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RISC-V based PolarFire SoC debuts on open-spec, $499 dev kit

Jul 20, 2020 — by Eric Brown — 3505 views

Microchip is crowdfunding a $499, open-spec “PolarFire SoC Icicle Kit” that runs Linux on its FPGA-enabled, SiFive U540 based PolarFire SoC and offers 2x GbE ports plus CAN, mikroBus, PCIe x4, and RPi 40-pin expansion.

It’s rare to see a major tech vendor like Microchip launch a product on a crowdfunding site, but then again its PolarFire SoC is a rare SoC indeed. It combines 64-bit RISC-V Freedom U540 cores from SiFive with its popular PolarFire FPGA. Developed by Microchip’s Microsemi unit, the SoC is available on Crowd Supply in the form of a $499 PolarFire SoC Icicle Kit, with shipments due Sep. 15.



PolarFire SoC Icicle Kit, front and back
(click images to enlarge)

The Icicle Kit was partially revealed last December when Microchip announced an early access program for its Mi-V RISC-V ecosystem development tools prior to the Q3 2020 production release. Although at $499, the Icicle Kit is way over our $200 limit for our Linux hacker board catalog, it would appear to qualify otherwise, as it ships with schematics and other developer friendly resources. It’s a lot cheaper than the original $2,000 dev kit, which combines SiFive’s HiFive Unleashed SBC and Microchip’s HiFive Unleashed Expansion Board.

The headless PolarFire SoC, which will also appear in Q3 on Aries’ M100PFS compute module and optional baseboard, combines its PolarFire FPGA with 4x 1.5GHz U54-MC CPU cores supplied by SiFive. Microchip compares the SoC to hybrid Arm/FPGA SoCs such as the Xilinx Zynq or Intel Stratix 10, claiming advantages such as a more customizable, open RISC-V design, lower power consumption, and superior real-time deterministic capabilities. The PolarFire SoC also inherits the extensive security and reliability features of the PolarFire FPGA (For more details, see our original PolarFire SoC report from Dec. 2018.)



PolarFire SoC Icicle Kit (left) and PolarFire SoC block diagrams
(click images to enlarge)

The PolarFire SoC Icicle Kit, which we saw on Hackster News, uses the mid-range PolarFire SoC model MPFS250T-FCVG484EES with 254K logic elements. Other PolarFire SoC FPGA options, which do not appear to be available here, range from 23K to 460K.

The PolarFire SoC Icicle Kit is available with Microchip’s Mi-V ecosystem, which includes Yocto and Buildroot Linux and FreeBSD, and support for RTOSes including FreeRTOS and Zephyr. It also provides Renode and Libero tools. The latter is available with a free Libero Silver license. Microchip supplies a user guide, schematics, a board layout file, and a technical support portal.



PolarFire SoC Icicle Kit and detail view
(click images to enlarge)

The Icicle Kit ships with 2GB LPDDR4 and 8GB eMMC multiplexed with a microSD slot. Real-world coastline ports include 2x GbE, micro-USB OTG, micro-USB serial, and micro-USB debug ports. Internal I/O’s include CAN, SPI, and JTAG.

The board provides an interesting mix of expansion options: PCIe Gen2 x4 on the high-end, a Raspberry Pi compatible 40-pin connector, and a mikroBus connector for MikroElectronika’s Click sensor modules. The 12V board is equipped with a rail power sensor.

Specifications listed for the PolarFire SoC Icicle Kit include:

— ADVERTISEMENT —


  • Processor — Microchip PolarFire SoC MPFS250T-FCVG484EES (4x 1.5GHz RISC-V U54-MC cores); PolarFire FPGA with 254K LE; 1x RISC-V monitor core
  • Memory/storage:
    • 2GB LPDDR4 x32
    • 256MB QSPI flash
    • 8GB eMMC (multiplexed with microSD)
    • MicroSD slot (multiplexed with eMMC)
  • Networking — 2x GbE ports
  • Other I/O:
    • Micro-USB 2.0 OTG port
    • Micro-USB port with 4x serial UART
    • Micro-USB serial debug port
    • 2x CAN
    • SPI
    • I2C (for rail power sensor)
    • JTAG with 52x test points
  • Expansion:
    • PCIe x4
    • 40-pin Raspberry Pi GPIO
    • MikroBus
  • Other features — 4x user buttons; 8x LEDs (4x user)
  • Power — 12VDC jack
  • Operating system — Mi-V ecosystem with Yocto and Buildroot Linux; FreeBSD; support for FreeRTOS, Zephyr, etc.; Renode and Libero tools

 
Further information

The PolarFire SoC Icicle Kit is available on Crowd Supply through Aug. 31 for $499 ($489 plus $10 for US doimestic shipment). Shipments start Sep. 15. More information may be found on Microchip’s Crowd Supply page and product page.

 

 
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