Milk-V Reveals Raspberry Pi Compute Module Based on RISC-V Architecture

September 08, 2023 by Aaron Carman

Housed in a familiar form factor, Milk-V’s latest SBC tackles embedded compute problems with RISC-V processing.

Aiming to give designers a way to ease into the RISC-V ecosystem, Milk-V has developed its Mars CM as a RISC-V replacement for Raspberry Pi compute modules. It’s no secret that the RISC-V instruction set architecture (ISA) has been steadily gaining popularity among designers, and the Mars CM now gives interested developers an easy way to access the benefits of RISC-V in a familiar form factor.


The Milk-V Mars CM

The Milk-V Mars CM uses the Raspberry Pi CM form factor to allow designers to use CM IO boards and expand functionality. Image used courtesy of Milk-V

As the RISC-V ISA extends to new applications such as server-class compute cores or vector cryptography, many developers are looking for ways to use a RISC-V system without completely redefining interfaces. As such, the Mars CM leverages the well-known Raspberry Pi Compute Module footprint as a starting point and offers designers the ability to integrate RISC-V into projects that would normally rely on an Arm-based Raspberry Pi.

This article breaks down the known specs of the Mars CM to give designers a sense of where it could be used as a Pi replacement. In addition, we’ll examine Milk-V’s RISC-V momentum leading up to this announcement about the Mars CM.


Mars CM: The New RISC-V Compute Module

At the core of the Mars CM is the Starfive JH7110, a 64-bit RISC-V SoC offering quad-core performance at up to 1.5 GHz. An integrated GPU and a rich set of peripherals ensure that the chip performs at a very high rate for image processing or other computing applications. In addition, onboard gigabit Ethernet PHY reduces the design complexity for any backplanes to interface with the board.


Block diagram of the Mars CM

Block diagram of the Mars CM. Image used courtesy of Milk-V

One of the most notable (and most readily evident) features of the module is its similarity to Raspberry Pi CMs. This similarity extends beyond simply mimicking the form factor but also allows designers to use “classic” IO boards to provide Ethernet, USB, and many more IOs.

The Mars CM complements the Milk-V Mars single-board computer (SBC) and, as such, is offered in 2 GB, 4 GB, and 8 GB versions with and without Wi-Fi. As the board becomes more widely adopted, it is likely the system will offer considerably more software support.


Milk-V Adds to Its Rich RISC-V Ecosystem

The Mars or Mars CM is not Milk-V’s first foray into RISC-V computing. In fact, the broader Milk-V portfolio includes several familiar RISC-V systems to ease the transition to the ISA. The Milk-V Pioneer allows for native RISC-V development in a desktop system using a 2 GHz SOPHON processor, while the Milk-V Duo addresses compute applications that require a small form factor.


Milk-V Mars offers designers the same processor in a more traditional footprint

The Milk-V Mars offers designers the same processor in a more traditional footprint for easier prototyping. Image used courtesy of Milk-V

Between the Pioneer and Duo are the Mars and Mars CM platforms built to provide computing support for a variety of applications. In addition, the Milk-V Vega uses RISC-V processors as a 10 Gb Network Switch. While RISC-V may not have caught up to Arm or x86 processors in terms of total market share, companies such as Milk-V are helping to close the gap.


Easing RISC-V Adoption

In the case of adding RISC-V support, it can be daunting to determine whether the move to RISC-V would provide enough benefit to compensate for the development time. The ability to drop RISC-V processing to legacy systems gives designers much more flexibility in choosing ISAs, while the familiar form factor reduces the overhead for students and hobbyists to develop RISC-V programs.