I completely agree.
The original Pi was based on an SoC so obsolete and amortised that it didn’t even have Thumb2! Its ARM11J6JZF-S core was released around 2004. I’m sure they got them very cheap.
The Pi2 and especially Pi3 (Cortex A53) are more modern, but still cut cost corners severely – the Pi3 is in practice maybe half the speed of the A53 based (and only $5 more) Odroid C2 that on paper has a clock speed only 25% faster.
The fastest roughly Pi-priced ARM board is the Odroid XU-4, which goes for as low as $62.50 on Amazon (but includes the needed beefy 4A power supply). That has a quad 2.0 GHz Cortex A15 out-of-order superscalar processor (plus four smaller A7 cores) in a Samsung Exynos5422. That’s the same SoC as the (non-US) Galaxy S5 which was released in early 2014 and would have sold a few tens of millions of units.
Interestingly, the S5 reportedly sold about 40% fewer units than the S4, so it might just be possible that Samsung overproduced components and has a warehouse of Exynos5422’s somewhere, going cheap.
I agree that it’s not realistic to expect anyone to sell Raspberry Pi class RISC-V boards for Raspberry Pi prices in the near future, at least not at a profit. Don’t forget that Raspberry Pi is a non-profit.
It is, however, very possible that RISC-V boards might be sold at basically any price you could name as a loss leader to encourage the ecosystem. If you’re only going to sell 100 or 1000 boards then it’s irrelevant to a company such as SiFive whether the price is $1, $100, or $1000 – it’s not a profit-making exercise, in isolation. I’d think the pricing is more about matching demand to production.
Disclaimer: I currently work for Samsung and used S5 (and Nexus 5!) to prototype OS changes for the S6 and S7, but I’ve been away from phones for a couple of years working on Tizen stuff (using Odroids and Pis) and more recently working on a GPU compiler.
As a mere HiFive1 customer (and money already paid for a Hifive Unleashed - Early Access!) I have no inside information and so any speculation about SiFive internals or future plans is, up to now, exactly that.