Raspberry Pi improvements in Fedora 26

So since I landed support for the Raspberry Pi 2 and 3 just in time for Fedora 25 Beta it’s been a bit of a fun ride. The support for Raspberry Pi is mostly done in my spare time along side all the other responsibilities I have and it’s been interesting to see people’s feedback. Going into Fedora 25 I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect but the experience was going to be reasonable for newbies to get going without generally needing serial consoles and it met Fedora’s (and mine) exacting standards on free drivers. I think we achieved that quite well but I also learned a lot in the Fedora 25 cycle and what’s coming in Fedora 26 is quite a substantial jump forward.

Hardware for a good experience

So what have I learned about the first six months or so of Raspberry Pi in Fedora? Well there’s a couple of things that the user can do to ensure a decent starting experience themselves. The biggest FAQs I’ve dealt with on the various support forums are generally fixed by these three things:

  • A proper spec power supply. For the RPi2 this means at least 2 AMPs and for the RPi3 at least 2.5 AMPs. If you want to plug in USB WiFi dongle and a USB HDD you’ll likely want to add a little more! In most cases an old phone charger will not suffice.
  • A good quality Class 10 micro SD card. I generally use Samsung EVO or SanDisk Ultra cards.
  • A Raspberry Pi 2 or 3. Yes, it’s surprising how many people hope to run it on something else. SORRY (actually, I’m not!)!

What’s in Fedora 26 Final

So enough of what to do! Everyone wants to know what improvements arrived in the Fedora 26 Final with the 4.11.x kernels:

  • Pi3 WiFi: It’s been working in F-26 since Alpha and is surprisingly stable. There’s a file you need to grab to enable it. See details in the wiki here.
  • Performance: In the process of dealing with wifi I worked out one of the reasons we were seeing poor performance on the SD card. We’ve had some minor improvements in F-25 but this fix over doubles the performance for me on the SD card.
  • HDMI video: There’s been issues around certain monitors crashing the video (vc4) driver and people getting black screens during boot. While this isn’t perfect yet (ain’t hardware great!!) it’s greatly improved across numerous devices.
  • Composite video: We’ve had support for the composite video since 4.10 but I need people to help test this.
  • Sound: HDMI audio is supported, I’ve done minor testing with the one HDMI audio capable device I have. Analogue audio out isn’t upstream yet.
  • HAT support: We now have all the support needed to do overlays in the kernel/bootloader and dtc stack. I just need to test it some more, document it and work out how we can best distribute pre built overlays to ease consumption. There’s still no consensus on an Overlay Manager from upstream to auto load overlays based on EEPROM on the HATs. In a lot of cases you want to load the overlays from u-boot anyway for things like display. Look out for docs and blog posts on this soon!

What arrived with the 4.12 kernel rebase

  • Thermal support: so if the RPi runs too hot it’ll slow it down
  • More performance improvements and tweaks.

What’s coming in the 4.13 kernel rebase

  • Bluetooth support: upstream finally tracked down the issues here. It’s been a much requested features and I should have the bits in place soon!
  • More performance, stability and graphics improvements and tweaks.

What about Fedora 25?

Some of the above pieces will be coming to Fedora 25 with the 4.12 rebase. The focus of my spare time is Fedora 27 mostly now, with the above coming to F-26. Some components are a lot harder to back port without issues or a complex series of package updates to ensure smooth upgrade. The WiFi and performance improvements were the hardest as part of that change moves around the use of hardware blocks and drivers. I managed to stop both the RPi2 and RPi3 booting numerous times in testing before I properly realised the implications of the change. Getting these changes for users back into a stable release without issues is hard and time consuming to do across all the various use cases. I tried this with some fixes in 4.9 and ended up making the RPi3 very unstable. This cost me a lot of time to debug and fix and I don’t really want a repeat of that!!

Graphics device

One of the surprising side effects was the discovery of a device that is five years old is that Fedora suffered from early adopters issues. We were one of the first distributions to adopt a fully upstream open kernel and graphics stack and with that came a number of issues around monitor detection, especially older/cheaper models that aren’t 1920/1080 “Full HD” or via HDMI to VGA adapters. We’re still working through these with upstream and have improved the situation quite a bit in Fedora 26 overall but it takes time and reproducible use cases which with random hardware isn’t easy or quick! 🙁

Next up?

I’ll leave Fedora 27 features and functionality for another, this post has been sitting in my drafts folder since June so it’s time to get it out and like my development move on to Fedora 27!