April 25, 2017 will be remembered by developers as a liberation day, because it’s the day Linaro announced the HiKey 960 board from HiSilicon. This innovative board was designed to resolve one of the persistent problems they’ve been facing: access to both competitive hardware and latest operating system code.
HiSilicon HiKey 960 board
While it’s been fairly easy to go and purchase a flagship smart phone with great hardware and the latest OS, these devices have their limitation: developers simply don’t have all the required tools, nor the access to the information they need to identify the root cause of issues and optimize their code. Not to mention, many tools and accessibility features, are only available on older-generation hardware or an OS release that’s not guaranteed to benefit from sustained support or updates.
This is something developers have had to grin and bear for years now. Yet, we know that innovation does not come from a single source these days. Innovation is a combination of robust hardware, a stable and widely used OS that runs on it, and app/service developers working to realize their brilliant ideas on an easily accessible and sustainable development platform. There are many devices that partially fulfill these needs, but not in full, and that’s always been a problem for developers.
Enter the HiKey 960 board, the solution to this age-old problem… It’s equipped with the same HiSilicon Kirin 960 SoC that powers Huawei’s flagship Mate 9 smart phone. Inside it, the main computing is provided by the latest Arm big.LITTLE technology with four Arm Cortex-A73 and four Cortex-A53 CPUs. The Cortex-A73 processor is Arm’s most-efficient, highest-performing mobile processor so far, sustaining high performance with excellent power consumption and great thermals. The Cortex-A53 processor provides optimal power efficiency when intensive compute performance is not required. With both processors configured with big.LITTLE topology, the Kirin 960 SoC delivers both high performance and maximum efficiency. So, now that we’ve covered the CPU, let’s talk graphics. When it comes to GPU, the 960 board has the latest Arm offering, the Mali-G71. Built upon the new Bifrost architecture, Mali-G71 delivers a new level of high-end mobile graphics capabilities and huge advancements in efficiency.
As we all know, great hardware is no good without software, and what’s really exciting for me is the software support for the HiKey960 board. The software is maintained and provided from the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) source tree, based on the Android Common Kernel and using the Linux 4.4 kernel release. Furthermore, Linaro and HiSilicon are working on the Linux 4.9-based Android Common Kernel and maintaining support for the Kirin 960 SoC in the mainline kernel.org tree. This allows for the availability of multiple Linux distributions targeting this board in the future.
The HiKey 960 board will open many doors for developers. For example, game developers can use the board to develop and optimize their games, using various APIs such as Vulkan and OpenCL™ provided with Mali-G71 GPU, and it becomes easily deployable as Mali is now the top-shipping GPU, designed into half of all smart phones. But the usefulness of the board will go beyond the traditional mobile AOSP space to derivative markets like digital signage, point of sale (POS) and robotics thanks to the strong support of peripherals such as HDMI 1.4 and PCIe M.2 card interface.
Now that the latest and most advanced Arm technology coupled with AOSP and Linux kernel software is in the hands of developers, they have the ability to take their innovation beyond mobile and into new and previously unimagined segments. I am thrilled to be able to witness this, and hope you are too!
Kirin 960 octa-core CPU 4x Cortex-A73 cores to 2.4 GHz 4x Cortex-A53 cores to 1.8 GHz
Mali-G71 MP8 GPU
AOSP with 4.4 AOSP common kernel
32GB UFS flash storage and microSD card slot
Video Output / Display Interface
HDMI 1.2a up to 1080p plus 4-lane MIPI DSI
Dual-band 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1 with on board antennas
2 x USB 3.0 type A host ports
1 x USB 2.0 type C OTG port
1x 4-lane MIPI CSI
1x 2-lane MIPI CSI
PCIe Gen2 on M.2 Key connector
40 pin low speed expansion connector +1.8V, +5V, DC power, GND, 2x UART, 2x I2C, SPI, I2S, 12x GPIO
60 pin high speed expansion connector 4L MIPI DSI, 2L+4L MIPI CSI, 2x I2C, SPI (48M), USB 2.0
LEDs for WiFi & Bluetooth, 4x user LEDs, power button
8V-18V/2A via 4.75/1.7mm power barrel (EIAJ-3 Compliant),12V/2A power supply recommended
85mm x 55mm
it's sound interest, where can buy it?
This looks like a great board for developers, for Android and Linux.
It's also seems like a great candidate for running RISC OS too if the low-level documentation is in depth enough.
It is excellent news to see high-end SoC products are available for developers and are offered at a fair price. However, developers also need accessible documentations which in most cases, it is not available. As a researcher, I would like to utilize features such as the virtualization extensions, but till now I have not found any Armv8 SoC that lets me do so. Please let me know if you know this board or any other Armv8 device (other than Juno platform) is available for such research.
Glad to hear news about mainline kernel support and mainline AOSP support for such a high-end SoC !