ARM hardware now and the not so distant future

So one of the things that I noticed during the heated discussion on the devel mailing list is the impression is why would we want to promote ARM to a Primary Architecture when there wouldn’t even be hardware available to run it in the next year or so. Well the lack of hardware is completely untrue and that will only increase in the coming months and years. So I thought I would try and cover off some of the hardware that is either available now or will be in the next year or so that you might want to run Fedora on. All of the devices covered are available now or should be available by the time Fedora 18 makes it’s Halloween début, of course I have no crystal ball as to HW time lines so things might well change.

Development Boards: all these devices are currently available, there will no doubt be new releases or refreshes in the coming months, likely as Cortex-A15 chips become more widely available.

  • BeagleBoards: There’s three main varieties of these single core Cortex-A8 devices consisting of the original BeagleBoard, the BeagleBoard xM and the new tiny BeagleBone. They range from 800Mhz – 1Ghz and 256-5126Mb RAM with a few other options.
  • PandaBoards: There’s the PandaBoard and the PandaBoard ES. Bother at dual core Cortex-A9 processors the former at 1Ghz, the later at 1.2. From there the specs are similar with 1Gb RAM, WiFi, BT, 100Mb ethernet and various other features.
  • Raspberry Pi: The little baby that took the world by storm taking pre orders in the order of 200K boards and taking a couple of sites offline. There’s a model A and B based on a Broadcom ARMv6 chip the later has ethernet, both have 256Mb of RAM. Fedora is the recommended OS by the Foundation
  • Snowball: A ST-Ericsson based dual core Cortex-A9 with 1Gb RAM, wifi, BT, GPS, ethernet, 4/8Gb emmc and a raft of other fun stuff. It also has a MALI GPU which has development on the open “LIMA” driver
  • Origen: based on a Samsung dual core 1Ghz Cortex-A9 processor which can be replaced, it has 1Gb of RAM, wifi and number of other bits including the same MALI GPU of the igloo
  • Freescale i.MX53: A single core 1Ghz Cortex-A8 Freescale board 1Gb RAM, SATA, ethernet, with options of LCDs etc

SmartBooks, SmartTops, Terminals: These devices are the equivalent of the x86 netbooks and nettops, all are mostly available now.

  • OLPC XO 1.75: Initially shipping with Fedora 14 but we’ve already got dev images running F-17 and it will be the basis of the June stable release. The first production shipment of this device will be 60,000 units. There’s various SKUs but it’s a 1ghz Marvell processor with either 512Mb/1Gb RAM, 4/8Gb emmc, wifi, and the usual XO features, it should have in excess of 9 hours of battery life.
  • Efika SmartBook: a 800Mhz Cortex-A8 Freescale processor, 512Mb RAM and with all the usual 10 inch Netbook style of features
  • Efika SmartTop: the same specs as the smartbook
  • Toshiba AC100: A dual core Cortex-A9 1ghz processor with 1gb of RAM, and all the usual 10 inch netbook options, very thin and light with great battery life but the device wasn’t widely available but is sought after
  • ASUS eeePad Transformers: These devices are a combination tablet and netbook. Depending on the model they either come with a dual core 1ghz Tegra2 or a quad core Tegra 3 CPU with various specs. They are a tablet with the option of a keyboard dock which makes them into a netbook. With touchscreens, quad core processors, an interesting form factor and an unlocked bootloader they’re an interesting format.
  • HP t5325 thin client: A Marvell 1.2ghz Cortex-A8 512Mb RAM thin client
  • Trimslice: A Tegra 2 based smarttop desktop device with a couple of different modes all with a dual core 1ghz Cortex-A9 processor with 1Gb of RAM, 1Gb ethernet plus a couple of options including dual HDMI, 11n wifi.

Tablets: these aren’t readily available at the moment but should be available this year.

  • OLPC XO 3: Similar specs to the XO-1.75 but in tablet form factor, it will ship the Fedora derived OS all touch based UX it will likely be one of the first production devices using the new gtk3 and XInput 2.2 touch support in Fedora 17
  • Vivaldi: A 7inch tablet running KDE Plasma tablet UX on Mer the HW is a 1ghz single core Cortex-A9 processor with 512Mb of RAM and a MALI GPU it’s not the highest spec device but it should be easy to run Fedora on it

Servers:

  • HP Moonshot: In conjunction with Calxeda this is a quad core processor server with 4GB of RAM with up to 288 servers in a 4U chassis. Includes all the expected server features with things like a fully reconfigurable switch backplane with each device using a mere 5 watts of power.
  • Dell: has announced it’s intention to enter the ARM server market, there’s not much detail as yet
  • Seco Carrier Boards: these are various boards using Tegra processors used in things like the Barcelona Super Computer

Plug Computers: There’s a number of plug computers out there based on the Marvell Sheeva Plug generally a 1ghz ARMv5tel processor with 512Mb RAM. These devices are low power, generally quite cheap and come in a number of different devices.

So I think that gives a reasonable overview of ARM based devices that will be available in the coming months, if not already, that should be easily able to run Fedora on ARM without too many problems. This covers but a few of the available ARM based devices but they are a subset that should be relatively easy to run Fedora on them in the coming releases. ARM processors have a number of interesting advantages hardware wise. Firstly they are generally very low power with a lot of quad core devices needing only 5 watts to run, but some of the other advantages is HW encode/decode support for things like MPEG2/4 out of the box which would enable HD decode without having to ship encumbered codecs in Fedora as well as HW crypto as well.

I’m also sure this isn’t a definitive and there’s a lot of other devices that should be able to run Fedora on ARM without too many problems if someone is prepared to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in.

14 thoughts on “ARM hardware now and the not so distant future”

  1. Why aren’t you honest about your hardware statistics and exclude those offers whose CPU architecture is not supported by Fedora’s ARM spin anyways (like ARM6 in case of the raspberry pi).

    1. Anonymous I am completely honest about the hardware stats. The Raspberry Pi is completely 100% supported by Fedora in terms of architecture just like all ARMv6 devices. In the initial release it’s supported as a ReSpin as we work with Broadcom to deal with Firmware distribution and opening of one small piece of code dealing with the GPU. That doesn’t change the fact that the device will still be supported within the umbrella of the Fedora ARM SIG. The GPU issue is same for OSes running on the Raspberry Pi and the Foundation is working to address the issue.

    1. They’re currently available, the A15 devices haven’t even appeared. Ultimately it depends on if you just look at just CPU power, some would argue the power usage x86 of is laughable. You need to realise that ARM isn’t necessarily competeing with x86 so you can’t compare the two. These devices aren’t necessarily what would be used for the build farm

      1. > They’re currently available, the A15 devices haven’t even appeared.

        Isn’t that kinda the point? And anyway, what will the specs of those be?

        > Ultimately it depends on if you just look at just CPU power,

        Those devices don’t just save on CPU power. The amount of RAM is also ridiculously low-end, as are some other, less obvious specs (e.g. some of these machines are using USB (!!!) for their internal HDD/SSD!). They are crippled all over the place and a perfect illustration of “you get what you pay for”.

        > some would argue the power usage x86 of is laughable.

        Oh, low power usage is all you want? My TI-89 with its 10 MHz Motorola 68000 can work off 4 AAA batteries for weeks to months! Oh, so CPU power (and RAM, the TI-89 has only 256 KiB!) does matter? 😉

        > You need to realise that ARM isn’t necessarily competeing with x86 so you can’t compare the two.

        Then why are you trying to make it a primary target of Fedora?

        > These devices aren’t necessarily what would be used for the build farm

        They look very unimpressive for any other uses, too.

        1. What actually utimately matters is energy use per dollop of computing, not power or speed per se. ARM is currently a lot more energy efficient that x86 and that’s a good thing.

          You can poo-poo specs if you like but that’s short-sighted. People will choose this architecture becuase of energy efficiency. They already do for nearly all portable devices. They will for desktop and server uses too.

          If you want Fedora not to be sidelined into ‘legacy/high end x86 world’ then ARM needs to be treated as a first-class arch.

          Yes SATA-over-USB is crappy and SD is slow, but those are chips targetted at mobile. Newer hardware increasingly has real SATA (im53, imx6, armada, and all the server-class machines will have). It’s horses for courses – there are litterally hundreds of ARM CPUs all optimised for some market or other. You shouldn’t dismiss the architecture just because a lot of current hardware is targetted at mobile. It’s an architecture, not a single platform, so not quite like PC world.

          1. As nice as low power consumption is, are you sure people will put up with the state of the art being rewound by a decade for it? Those specs for brand new ARM hardware are at best very similar, usually worse, than those of my 9 year old x86 desktop.

        2. > They look very unimpressive for any other uses, too.

          The world seems to disagree.. Last year more Linux machines with ARM cores being sold (eg the ~200 million android phones) than Linux machines running x86 cpus (a slice of the yearly 8 million unit server market).

          It is curious that some Fedora people level such antipathy on ARM when all other major distros are already gone there.

          I’m also curious since when is 1GB of RAM “laughable”. my commercially bought VPS server gives me a 256MB slice and it has been more than enough.

          1. I believe that (unfortunately), due to M$’s uncompetitive “racketware” bundling practices, the vast majority of GNU/Linux PCs are actually acquired as Window$ PCs and have GNU/Linux installed after the fact (with or without getting the Window$ license reimbursed). Then there are machines sold without OS (as my notebook was) or with FreeDOS (common at large OEMs which have an agreement with M$ forbidding them from selling machines without an OS), on which GNU/Linux is also commonly installed. So you cannot look at sales of PCs with GNU/Linux preinstalled to know what PCs actually end up running GNU/Linux as their primary or only OS.

            1 GiB of RAM is laughable because that’s what my 9 year old (!) desktop has. My 4 year old notebook has 4 GiB. These days, 8+ GiB are common.

            (By the way, the proper unit for RAM is the GiB (gibibyte, i.e. 1024³ bytes), not the GB (gigabyte, i.e. 1000³ bytes) as you wrote, and definitely not the “Gb” used in the original post, which normally means “gigabit”.)

  2. One other platform that could potentially become interesting for ARM Linux (and hence Fedora ARM) is the Xilinx Zynq chip.

    Currently the evaluation boards are very expensive ($895 for the Xilinx board, $395 for the Zedboard), but the chip specs vs power are pretty impressive – dual core ARM Cortex A9, clocked at 667MHz, for less than 3 watts.

    Admittedly the RAM is limited to 1GiB, but the higher-end Zynq chips will be able to do real SATA, so large fast storage should be possible.

    For me, one major benefit of Linux versus Windows is that it can have a much smaller RAM footprint – Linux used to run just fine on PCs with 20MiB of RAM, so for many tasks 1 GiB is plenty in 2012.

    1. There’s already a lot of platforms that are similar or higher spec than that with the same feature set and similar power draw so those chips are what I would call about average for an A9 platform.

  3. I only have a cell phone galaxy note as my primary PC. Getting a full desktop distribution on the phone is not just an option, it’s the only option. Deployed soldiers need arm as main PC to keep their privacy in their own palm. The projectors/hdtv are disposable in a battle field. Having privacy in their own palm for connecting with family back home keeps a person on the line of fire sane.

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