OpenISA Launches Free RISC-V VEGAboard

RISC architecture is gonna change everything, and I still can’t tell if we like that movie ironically or not. Nevertheless, RISC-V chips are coming onto the market, chipmakers seem really interested in not paying licensing fees, and new hard drives are shipping with RISC-V cores. The latest development in Open instruction sets chips comes from OpenISA. They’ve developed the VEGAboard, a dev board with two RISC-V chips and Arduino-style pin headers.

The VEGAboard comes loaded with an NXP chip which combines an ARM Cortex-M0 and Cortex-M4. So far, so good, but there are already dozens of boards that combine two ARM microcontrollers on a single development platform. The real trick is the RI5CY and Zero-RI5CY chips on the VEGAboard, a 4-stage RISC-V RV32IMCCXpulp CPU. This comes from the PULP platform, meant to be a small, low-power, but parallel platform for various processing needs. In short, with the VEGAboard, you’re not running a blink() sketch on the RISC-V microcontroller. You run the blink() sketch on the ARM microcontrollers, while using the RISC-V chip to read accelerometers and toggle pins. It’s a coprocessor, but it’s RISC-V.

Other features of the VEGAboard include 4MB of Flash, a light sensor, accelerometer, magnetometer, an RGB LED, OpenSDA serial debug adapter, an on-board BLE radio, and of course those wonky Arduino pin headers.

There are, or were, free VEGAboards available, but those are long gone. It’s still an interesting platform, though, and if you’d like to get your hands on one, production will resume shortly. Of course, if you need RISC-V right now, there are actual RISC-V Arduinos, a RISC-V with built-in neural networks, and SiFive will soon have a Linux-capable RISC-V multicore board. These are exciting times, and every day we’re seeing how RISC architecture is gonna change everything.

40 thoughts on “OpenISA Launches Free RISC-V VEGAboard

    1. It looks badly thought out. If intended to showcase the RISC-V it’s not doing it. Especially when you need a dual core ARM chip to do the grunt work.

      Ideally the RISC-V should stand on it’s own.

  1. Arduino headers must die! Arduino must die! Person responsible for making countless devboards and addons un-breadboard-able shall be remembered as the idiot of the highest degree. For this crime against common sense every devboard and every addon created in that form factor should be stacked together and that clustef**k of bad engineering shoved up the a****le of the original perp, sideways!

    In other words I’m not a fan of Arduino form factor…

    1. Let me play you the worlds smallest violin.

      Nobody cares. The form factor is out there, changing it now is not going to happen overnight. There are countless of other form factors that ARE breadboard-able. Use one of those instead of shouting about physically harming a person for the sheer audacity of making something people are somehow actually interested in using, even if the design isn’t perfect.

      1. I care. And I agree with him! Well.. so long as he only means figuratively. I don’t actually want to hurt the guy.
        Although.. considering he basically stole the design from his student who he was supposed to be helping and that ridiculous form factor was his only real contribution maybe some small pain is in order. Am I still ok if I wish him a nasty papercut?

        Sure, there are other form factors available but the magnitude of community support behind Arduino vs other platforms plus the economy of buying such mass-produced stuff vs less common things really push one towards Arduino over and over again.

        1. On second thought. Maybe the Arduino form factor isn’t so bad. At least it isn’t the Raspberry Pi form factor.

          Arduino has pins on two (uno) or three (mega) sides of the board. That means “shields” are at least decently supported. RaspiHats have pins on only one side. The board is left hanging. What asshat designed that?!?!

          Actually it seems like somehow bad design has become thought of as a synonym for beginner friendly. That should not be so.

          1. > RaspiHats have pins on only one side. The board is left hanging. What asshat designed that?!?!

            You do realize Raspberry Pi Hat specification explicitly states that mounting holes must be provided? Treating pin header as only mechanical support where spacers should be used is a bit silly.

          2. @ziew

            I’ll give the Raspi designers some points for at least having holes that can be used for mounting.

            They are tiny holes, M2.5 sized which is rather hard to find and overpriced when you do. The standard size for such things is M3. I’m afraid I don’t remember where but I know I once read an article where somebody asked why they used such a crappy size and the answer was that those weren’t originally intended as mounting holes at all. They are actually just there as guides to be used by the pick and place machine.

          3. The original RPI had no holes and I do remember talking to Eben in the Pub asking why o why cant you put some holes in even if they are horrid M2.5s . Apparently Sony were asking the same question and were going to charge more for manual testing of the boards thus we got some holes. They did say it was impossible to do in the size but when Sony was gonna charge them it became less impossible ;-)

          4. @Yobi Buh

            I’m confused. You’re giving points for an asshat design? ;-) Anyway, while it’s easy to source M2.5 spacers from eBay, they actually seem to be more expensive than M3. I did not notice that earlier.

          5. @ziew

            Yes, of course I’ll give points for an asshat design. Have you never used a public restroom?

            Yes, M2.5 things can be “easily” sourced on Fleabay but at least in my part of the world that means waiting a month or two for arrival.

          6. Yes M2.5 really became a thing when the RPI crowd started demanding them…Yeah I know they’ve always existed but now it’s easy to get them but before they were a bit of a rare egg! You do pay a premium for them though ‘cos they are often sold for the RPI much like stuff for the Arduino often raises the price !

          7. “somehow bad design has become thought of as a synonym for beginner friendly.” When an academic comes up with a great product, and it looks profitable, it might get co-opted. One example is Intel using Tanenbaum’s Minix. Bad designs aren’t likely to be stolen for profit, although if somehow successful, they can still be exploited within academia. TI-84 is the only example I’m familiar with. The same model was sold for $100 for 30-something years. Much better, cheaper models came along, but generations of teachers were trained to teach TI-84 by Texas Instruments, for free. So yes, bad design Does become a synonym for beginner friendly. Also R. Gabriel’s “Worse is Better” comes into play. “Good enough” beats “Elegant”.

    2. HI I’m the idiot of the highest degree… thanks for the kind words. It was a mistake, it worked out anyway and it’s hugely successful. It served its purpose to make electronics more approachable by beginners. Stop complaining about other people’s work and use your skills to make a meaningful contribution which will make life simpler for the rest of the world :) Peace & Love

      1. If you don’t get insulted, you’re doing something wrong! ;) I bet getting a response from you was a bit of a shock to the OP. I like to tell people to read Gabriel’s “Worse is Better” essay and follow-ups. It changed my perception of technology altogether, although maybe that’s just because I’m an idiot. ;)

      2. Whenever you are trying to do something new, there are always hundreds who will say beforehand “That won’t work.”, thousands who will say after “That didn’t work.”, but rarely even one who will say during the process “Let me help you make it work.”

  2. “…chipmakers seem really interested in not paying licensing fees…”

    No one likes the “lifetime of consequences for a one-night stand” business model even though some themselves impose the ball-and-chain, subscription model on others.

    1. great metaphor, but how does FOSS fit in? Trying to abide by a license, but for free? Is it the elusive “long-term girlfriend you need to stay faithful to, but without the marriage license or diamond ring?” I’m probably overthinking this; it’s been too long since I had a date: ;(

  3. “RISC architecture is gonna change everything” – is it? RISC architecture has been around for decades. So it’s already changed what it’s “going to change” – not all that much, although Microchip / PIC processors have always been cool in my book.

    1. Maybe you’re taking a cheesy movie line waaay too seriously? At least it’s not like multikernel GNU or fusion power; the breakthrough tech of the next 20 years, every year

  4. Has everyone here missed the importance of this? This is _NXP_ manufacturing an SoC with TWO RISC-V processors in it!

    This is not some fly-by-night Silicon Valley grad-student startup (not necessarily describing SiFive).

    This is a THE NUMBER ONE microcontroller manufacturer in the world (by sales), manufacturing an SoC with RISC-V cores.

    RISC-V is officially here to stay. I’m sure the ARM controllers are in there just to satisfy upper management.

    I can’t even find this part on the NXP website, but right there on the VEGA website, you can download the documentation package, which contains the official NXP data sheet and reference manual for the RV32M1. Nice work, NXP.

    And I don’t even have stock in NXP…

    1. Actually the RV32M1 used to be on the NXP site as an actual chip with the specifications and reference manual, but it isn’t any more. At the same time the article here doesn’t state anything new, the boards were available (only for free) for a while and are not anymore. It all looks sort of odd. When the VEGABOARD was announced 2 months ago I was also thinking ‘WTF NXP is putting out a RISC-V SoC, and even tossing in a RADIO peripheral’. Now there is barely any trace about the SoC in question besides the VEGABOARD documentation.

    2. @Backwoods Engineer said: “I’m sure the ARM controllers are in there just to satisfy upper management.”

      So what are you implying? That Upper Management at NXP are taking kick-backs from Arm/Softbank?

    3. Trust me, no one’s getting kickbacks from ARM. Also, neither ARM nor NXP are making any money on this chip. It’s an evaluation/test-chip that is likely being produced in limited quanities.

      More information on this chip:
      https://www.eejournal.com/article/priming-the-risc-v-pump/

      “Technically, all four cores can be independently used together, but the cores in each RISC-V/ARM pair share a bus with no arbitration, so that limits everyone running at the same time. Rather than this being a four-core multicore chip, it’s more like a two-core heterogeneous platform, with a choice between RISC-V and ARM for each core. So it would be much more appropriate for comparing apps or comms on one core vs. the other.”

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