Lichee Console 4A portable RISC-V development terminal review – Part 1: Unboxing, teardown, and hands on

Sipeed has just sent me a “Lichee Console 4A portable RISC-V development terminal” for review. It’s a quad-core RISC-V mini laptop based on the Alibaba T-Head TH1520 processor with a 7-inch touchscreen display, and my model is equipped with a Lichee LM4A module fitted with 16GB RAM and 128GB eMMC flash.

I’ll start the review of the RISC-V developer kit with an unboxing, a teardown, and a quick try with the preinstalled Debian 12 “Bookworm” image, before testing the latter in the second part of the review. The second part will take some time as we have about twenty reviews planned for now, four of which I’ll be taking care of myself…

Lichee Console 4A unboxing

I received the device in a package indicating I had been sent the 16GB+128GB model and reading “Lichee Console 4A portable RISC-V developer terminal” which makes it clear it’s based on RISC-V, is portable (as a mini PC), and should be viewed as a development kit rather than a consumer product.

Sipeed Lichee Console 4A Portable RISC-V development terminal

The package comes with the RISC-V mini PC, a 12V/2.5A power supply, and a mini HDMI to HDMI to connect an external display if needed.

Lichee Console 4A power supply mini HDMI cable

It’s a cute little device that fits into one hand. My poor eyes will likely struggle with the small display, so I’m glad there’s HDMI output as well!

RISC-V mini laptop review

The bezels are quite thick, but that’s not an issue for a development kit and a webcam can be found on the left side of the screen. The QWERTY keyboard also includes a “RedPoint” pointing stick and two mouse buttons.

One of the sides comes with a 3.5mm audio jack, a USB 2.0 port (despite the blue color), and a microSD card slot, while the rear of the laptop features a USB 3.0 port, the DC jack, a mini HDMI port, a USB Type-C port, and a gigabit Ethernet port that should be great for sysadmin and people who prefer not to use WiFi. There are also some ventilation holes for cooling.

Lichee Console 4A ports

The USB 2.0 port and microSD card socket are not exactly straight and a bit inclined, but we’ll check that in more detail in the teardown.

Teardown of the Lichee Console 4A portable RISC-V development terminal

As with most devices, the teardown begins by removing the bottom cover.

TH1520 mini laptop bottom cover

But before we do that, there’s a small cover made to insert an NVMe SSD, and the top model from the Console 4A family ships with a 1TB SSD. We can also access the serial console from there if needed although it would require some soldering…

M.2 SSD socket

The laptop bottom cover is tightened through six smaller screws which all need to be loosened and then the cover comes out relatively easily with the help of some plastic tool.

Lichee Console 4A teardown

The main struggle was loosening the Philips flat head screws without damaging them as they are of questionable quality and easily damaged. I managed to remove five with the appropriate screwdriver and by exercising some pressure, but I was not so lucky with the last one which I damaged.

damaged screws
Damaged screw after teardown

Since the metal is quite malleable, the solution I found was to use a flathead screwdriver and gently tap on top a few times to have the screwdriver penetrate the screw and I was finally able to remove it.  It will not be an issue for most users, but if you plan on replacing the battery or CPU module that’s still something you’d have to do, and you may want to prepare some spare screws just in case.

Sipeed Lichee Module 4A RISC-V development motherboard

Let’s have a close look at the design. It’s clearly a low-volume platform rather than high-volume consumer hardware with a 3D printed mount for the fan and what looks like a DIY cooling solution with a copper bar covering the CPU module through a thermal pad, some black tape, and two more thermal pads in contact with the bottom side of the enclosure. It’s also possible that Sipeed sent me a prototype rather than the version they sent to paying customers.

We can also see an AIC8800 WiFi 6 (up to 300 Mbps) and Bluetooth 5.4 module with one antenna, and several PCBs stacked upon each other. The 7.6/3,600 battery is removable can could be replaced if needed.

Bent PCB

I mentioned above that the USB 2.0 port and microSD socket did not look straight and that’s because the PCB is slightly bent which I suppose gives another meaning to flexible PBCs… I think it’s also the first time I see this type of USB connector with a slanted edge which might make it easier to insert peripherals.

Lichee Console 4A RISC-V devkit replaceable battery

Removing the battery reveals some cabling for the display, touchscreen, and other parts of the mini laptop. I can also see one of the connectors is not used, but since I can’t see any marking on that side of the PCB I don’t know what it could be for.

First boot to Debian 12 with LXDE

The first time I pressed the power button nothing happened. That’s because the battery was depleted. So I charged the battery and then could boot to the Debian 12 image with LXDE desktop. I was a little surprised a the beginning as the boot starts with four Tux logos (since we have a quad-core processor) and the kernel output in portrait mode, but Debian 12 shows in landscape mode so all is good.

LIchee Console 4A Debian 12 review

You’ll find the boot log on pastebin. From there, I had no problem connecting to WiFi 6, browsing the files, and accessing the laptop through SSH (using Debian/Debian). But Chromium will start and crash within two seconds before I can type anything in the URL bar. The screen from my Lichee Console 4A will stay black if I wake up the mini laptop from sleep, and sometimes I have strange effects with the display. I’ll have to talk with Sipeed about whether it might be a hardware issue (I may have slightly dislodged a cable during teardown although it worked fine for the first few minutes), or whether I should just upgrade to a more recent image before the second part of the review.

Sipeed Lichee Console 4A Debian 12
Debian 12 screenshot on Lichee Console 4A (1280×800 resolution) right after first boot.

In the meantime, I gather some system information in an SSH terminal window:


I have a system running Linux 5.10 with 16GB RAM and about 128GB storage as expected. Let’s run inxi for a few more details:


The TH1520 is a quad-core 64-bit RISC-V processor clocked at 300 MHz to 1.5 GHz, the open-source etnaviv driver is enabled for the Vivante 2D graphics engine, while the pvrsrvkm module is used for Imagination Tech BXM-4-64 3D GPU, and we have two Ethernet shown because that’s what the Sipeed LM4A module supports, although the Console 4A only has one GbE RJ45 port.

I’d like to thank Sipeed for sending the Lichee Console 4A portable RISC-V development terminal for review. The exact model tested here with 16GB/128GB configuration sells for $399 plus shipping (and taxes if relevant), but there’s also a cheaper 8GB/32GB variant going for $355, and one adding a 1TB SSD for $459.

Continue reading “Lichee Console 4A RISC-V devkit testing – Part 2: benchmarks and features in Debian 12“.

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9 Comments
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Marcin
Marcin
4 months ago

The statement: “the open-source etnaviv driver is enabled for the Imagination Tech BXM-4-64 GPU” is false. Etnaviv driver (which is part of Mesa) is used for NPU, more information can be found here: https://www.phoronix.com/news/Etnaviv-NPU-Comes-Together

As everyone, I am waiting for driver (kernel and Mesa) for Imagination Tech BXM-4-64. Imagination guys are close, but some work still left.

Marcin
Marcin
4 months ago

I don’t see any 2D device – https://github.com/sipeed/sipeed_wiki/blob/main/docs/hardware/en/lichee/th1520/lpi4a/1_intro.md, but my knowledge of the TH1520 is marginal.

Marcin
Marcin
4 months ago

Thanks for a link. You have right, GE2D is Vivante GC620.

Sander
Sander
4 months ago

“I may have slightly dislodged a cable during teardown”

Maybe in the future: first use & test, and after that teardown?

Brucce Perens
Brucce Perens
4 months ago

Everybody got the same thermal setup with the heat pipe.
The biggest lack I see so far is there is no cover switch. If you close the cover, the display backlight stays on and the device does not suspend.

Michael Paul Hunter
Michael Paul Hunter
4 months ago

I have one of these and have the same issue with chromium. Dump didn’t provide any additional info. Wish they would have just enabled dumps by default on a dev box (minor nit). I almost have a chromium build done to see if I can figure out what is busted. Wish they shared their build tree so that kind of thing was easier. Build times on this thing are not bad although the startup and interactive response of vscode usable but not great.

Khadas VIM4 SBC