The HiFive product uses a CPU they developed on 28nm. That's one of most expensive nodes you can use. Depending on if and how they split cost, fabbing those chips could've cost over a million dollars in masks. Low-volume, RISC workstations used to cost five digits each on older nodes. Getting a low-volume CPU on cutting-edge node for a grand is a great improvement. So long as they ship products that work as claimed.
There's been a lot of vaporware in FOSS-type hardware...
Note: I'm also talking for complex designs like a CPU or SoC instead of Bitcoin-mining primitives or something.
Edit: see my response to wmf as I partly answer thoughts on your other question about volume or eating up costs.
Maybe SiFive is eating the cost here either with the hope that they can sit at 28nm for a while and treat this chip as gravy train money in the long term? Or maybe they just want 28nm experience for higher volume runs in the future?
All these ARM single-board computers use chips that are produced for other purposes in way larger numbers (some of the Raspberry Pi models might be an exception and actually have a slightly customized design just for them, but I'm not sure about that).
So, selling something in high volume like big-name ARM's gets the prices way down per unit. Getting to high volume is a marketing and product development problem more than a technical one. Good luck on the startup. :) The ecosystem benefits will give ARM-based solutions an advantage there for a while into the future. The RISC-V chips will cost more due to lower volume unless all the heavy costs are absorbed at a loss by whoever builds them. I've recommended Universities or foundations attempt that to get good, FOSS chips started on good nodes with them sold at material, assembly, and distribution cost from there.
OpenPITON is another one with potential since they have prototypes for 32-core, OpenSPARC CPU's at 32nm. Leon3 GPL was an older one in SPARC. J2 (SuperH-style) is a compact one that's about 3 cents a core in 180nm with who knows what performance, energy usage and pricing could be achieved at 28nm-32nm. CHERI, a capability-secure extension of MIPS, could be ported to one to give it a security advantage to secure sales from defense sector. Draper is aiming for that with SAFE architecture (crash-safe.org) added to RISC-V. If wanting max reliability (eg safety-critical), VAMP was a 32-bit DLX CPU formally-verified for correctness that could be done on older node with mods for lock-step, triplicated redundancy, or board-level fault-tolerance.
So, there's possibilities to justify higher prices long enough to recover upfront costs or get them down on simpler designs. The HiFive is a serious core on a relatively-recent node, though. It's not going to be cheap unless selling boatloads. They probably didn't expect this product to sell boatloads, either.
a) No need to assert honesty - we assume everyone is trying to be honest with each other here.
b) History is littered with people believing or claiming that some thing can not possibly become smaller / cheaper / faster ... it's a dangerous predictive path to wander, with basically no recorded precedents to cite.
So I hope this won't be the first rev, and that I look back in 2 years or so and go 'well, time to upgrade it' .. this would be an economic as well as practically good investment. You know, like any computer you might purchase ..
Won't happen. It's a dev board, not a computer like you'd purchase. If you come in expecting a computer instead of a sort-of-not-broken work in progress, you're setting yourself up for regret.
I'm not sure if those are still available, but you might want to check it out!
Also availability, availability, availability. The RPi can be bought from a multitude of places across the globe.
All that said, if we could get a version with a bit more onboard IO options, and preferably something like SATA, i would be all over it.
This is more interesting for showing progress in the RISC-V ecosystem than for hacking around with.
If you want a microcontroller class chip so you can just play with the 32-bit instruction set -- you can get that with QEMU and a $60 HiFive1 board. You can run picorv32 on a $50 FPGA, even! But if you want a Linux-class chip now (with full features you expect e.g. from an ARM-class device) -- this is about as good as it gets, I think. You won't get a 1.5ghz quad core performance like that cheaply. For now. Next year it'll be different, hopefully.
I imagine the real reason this board is pricey is due to limited volume runs for the ASIC on 28nm, which is the bulk (how many people will really buy one? these are early adoption systems), and, I speculate, some of the weird material choices. 8GB DDR4 ECC, ok sure that's cool and unique, but no SATA port? Really, so I'm stuck on a stupidly large microSD card? And they specify FMC, but FMC cards are typically very expensive for high-throughput devices (think HDMI, ADC/DACs, SFP/SFP+ breakouts). Maybe they'll just go all out and have the FMC mount the system directly onto a broken-out PCIe carrier board, or something? I dunno.
As for hacking... all that said, the rather large amount of RAM and relatively fast cores do excite me -- it means you can actually use the parallelism offered for things like actual compilation. And it's real privileged silicon, so for system porters/distros/etc I think it's probably more reasonable of a purchase. I'm eager to get NixOS running on a real silicon device like this, so I've supported it (I had a lot of fun with my HiFive1). If they had just included SATA, this would be almost a no-brainer for integrators/distro porters. I just hope they'll follow up on a decent expansion option... In the mean time until it ships, QEMU should be ironed out enough by now to start a real port...
The reason for the large RAMs and microSD card is specifically to help software developers. That's who the board is for until we can drive the cost down even further for even more folks.
-Jack Kang, SiFive
It seems every board always has a catch somewhere, but if an FMC expansion can work around this, that'd be excellent. I'm looking very forward to putting this machine through its paces once I get my hands on it!
Plus, given it has a custom ASIC and rather newer components like DDR4 (DDR4 controllers aren't exactly trivial on their own) and FMC (not simple, high cost), I'm having a hard time feeling sympathetic for this particular complaint, especially considering bottom-of-the-barrel boards like the OrangePi & networking competitors like MacchiatoBin can stack in multiple SATA ports on devices in the $50 to $350 range.
I mean, the board is already $1k, and I doubt they're going as far as home grown USB/UART/JTAG chips -- probably FTDI chips, so some of the open hardware claim is a bit fluff in practice, I'm guessing (I don't think this is a huge deal, but many people do). You'd probably use an off the shelf SATA controller & chip, it's not like you really get a lot from rolling your own.
Then again, I've never taped out a board with SATA, so what do I know? But I find it hard to believe the difficulty/cost of acquiring the chip/controller, or integrating it, is a limiting factor in a run like this. Unless they actually planned on rolling it themselves, and I don't know why they would. I'm honestly guessing they're just leaving it to expansions for whatever reason, but we'll see.
It mentions low speed peripherals like UART being open source, but high speed interfaces like DDR and ethernet are 3rd party licensed IP blocks.
That said, FPGA boards are useful for doing interesting things with RISC-V, such as writing custom accelerators.
And before you think this is a silly example, I found a bug in a new microprocessor once using CRASHME. I was attempting to evaluate the quality of the supplier's testing.
That looks like mission accomplished to me.
As prototype, the price is OK, in my opinion. In volume there is no reason for not selling a tiny board with those specs for under 40 USD (e.g. 2GB RAM Pine 64 quad Cortex A53 boards with gigabit ethernet are below 30 USD, including 3D and video acceleration).
These are just SoC debug headers. Eg: GEMGXL comes from Gigabit Ethernet MAC, and GXL is a marketing term from Cadence.
The one that caught my interest right away is the PCIe module:
There's also a PCIe expansion that works with it, so increase the number of slots to five:
With those, it seems like enough to test out development for storage applications. eg NAS, etc.
Or perhaps a client port to allow a PC to talk to the board without a network connection.
Disclaimer: I have neither a HiFive1 or an Arduino myself.
Maybe someone will make a daughterboard to make that happen for a reasonable price. Then I'd maybe have fun making a little machine to run it. I really like the idea of RISC-V.
Anybody have any idea how many MIPS we're talking here?
Obviously you'd want to check a bit more carefully. I'mjust pointing out that PCIe seems like it's a go-er with the hardware right now even. :)
It'd also be nice if they had an exposed PCIe slot and/or exposed DIMM slots at this price point, but GbE is good enough for rapid testing.
$100 = Would buy this on a whim on the off-chance it's usable. Also, would consider buying 12x of them to outfit an undergrad lab.
$1000 = Have to have a clear project/vision in mind of how the board would be used and how other methods (FPGA/emulation) couldn't suffice.
It may work to bootstrap a larger market, but this board will not be a hot seller.
This board is very much to get hardware into the hands of developers who are porting software (such as me), it's not really something for end users at this time.
Sony used to price Playstation 2 dev kits at $thousands. I always figured that pricing was to ensure only rich companies with e.g. marketing budgets were going to develop games.
It's a bit bizarre that people are expecting RaspPi prices this.
What started as an "educational" board has pretty much turned into a turnkey cheap Linux board for a lot of people. So they expect that out of every board now.
I also wish Broadcom hadn't dumped these things under market price. That's another thing that has really messed up expectations.
So there are reasons why this hardware was expensive. And there absolutely no reason for console vendors to sell them at loss simply because otherwise companies will buy more devices than absolutely needed to get job done.
As for the limiting access to console Sony and others managed it fine without making devkits pricey.
You might be thinking of the alpha dev kits. Those were basically gigantic metal wirewraps, and if you were at a large game dev you might get one or two locked away in a conference room. I can't remember off hand if those cost anything actually? You had to be a substantial game studio to get one in the first place, and Sony took them back.
Either way, that's not what I was thinking of. The production PS2 dev kits (called "TOOL") cost $thousands and were not manually constructed. A game team would have a lot of these. I can't imagine these cost as much to build as they charged, especially years after the PS2 launched.
 - I wish I could remember/find the price for the TOOL, I want to say it was like $10 or $20K, even 2-3 years after PS2 launched?
Either of the above can easily be had for a few percent of the cost of the RISC-V board, will likely out-perform it and they're losing money on each one of them.
Though, as the other commenter mentioned, there are dozens.
So they are closer to what ARM is, which licenses IP for others to implement.
Upd: some news articles still mention launch prices 
-  https://www.eetasia.com/news/article/chinese-start-up-sells-...
(Edited to change part about royalties after reading article more closely.)
I'm afraid the amount of FPGA required for 4 beefier cores + 1 simpler core + 2 MB coherent L1 cache could cost more than $999, but I may be wrong.
What's the difference between a CPU core on an ASIC and a normal CPU core?
An ASIC (application specific integrated circuit) is exactly what it says on the tin - an integrated circuit designed to perform one function - in this case, executing machine code. Most of the chips you see inside electronics are ASICs (everything from operational amplifiers to ethernet PHYs and CPUs).
I probably added too much contrast into my original comment.
HiFive is the cheapest non-vaporware upgrade path for Amiga enthusiasts (if they bring their own AGA GFX)
PUN MODE OFF
1. Compute: A Quad core processor. A73 maybe?
2. Storage: 1 Sata Port to host 1 Hard disc. for Boot / Storage.
3. Network: 1 Gigabit Ethernet port.
4. Power: 1 Micro USB port.
5. RAM: 1 GB or optional 2 GB.
3. 1 USB for everything else.
That's it. No Audio port, No HDMI port, No GPIO Port. No Camera port, No extra USB ports. No MicroSD connector. Now considering Raspberry price of $35, I guess board could be done for <$20.
Every few days, I try to find one.
(Costs around $40: https://www.aliexpress.com/store/product/New-products-BPI-M2...)
Quad-core, 2GB RAM, 2x Gigabit Ethernet, m-SATA, 12V DC power
No audio port, no HDMI port, this model leaves off the GPIO headers, no camera, 2 total USB ports, 1 MicroSD connector.
It's about $99 and the case is another $10. I have several.
Even if it takes an 8-way Xeon Platinum to run it at a reasonable speed, I think more people will be able to experiment with it.
And the emulation provides some neat debugging opportunities.
$ qemu-system-riscv64 -machine \?
Supported machines are:
none empty machine
sifive_e300 RISC-V Board compatible with SiFive E300 SDK
sifive_u500 RISC-V Board compatible with SiFive U500 SDK
spike_v1.10 RISC-V Spike Board (Privileged ISA v1.10)
spike_v1.9 RISC-V Spike Board (Privileged ISA v1.9.1) (default)
virt RISC-V VirtIO Board (Privileged spec v1.10)