Raspberry Pi improvements in Fedora 29

So Fedora 29 is probably going to account for the largest single improvement to support on the Raspberry Pi support in Fedora since we added initial support in Fedora 25. It certainly wasn’t without issue, but after quite a bit of debug we’ve got the post release issues with the WiFi back to being stable!

WiFi improvements
The support for upstream NVRAM files and the ability to add those files to linux-firmware means we get WiFi support for the Raspberry Pi 3 Series of devices out of the box! No need to grab anything, it just works! Well mostly, we had some issues with WiFi being very intermittent, as well as a missed bug around aarch64 but now with the 4.19.10 kernel everything appears to be working and stable. This makes me very happy and it took longer than I had hoped but we’re there. This device specific NVRAM driver support will also help another bunch of cheap Arm and x86 based devices that ship with Broadcom/Cyprus based WiFi support moving forward.

ZRAM enabled by default
By supporting and enabling ZRAM swap by default we get a more responsive device and less wear on the MicroSD storage. Over all we’ve seen reasonable performance improvements and to no date no major issues.

GNOME performance improvements
In May 2018 the Raspberry Pi Foundation kindly hosted a GNOME Performance Hackfest in the lovely Cambridge. Over a couple of days we managed to fix a number of issues seen, review and document a number of issues and work on a number of ways of reducing the memory usage of GNOME. Of course this improvement is primarily seen constrained devices like the Raspberry Pi but ultimately less memory utilisation by GNOME even helps devices with decent amounts of RAM and CPUs too. The fixes didn’t arrive in time for Fedora 28, but a bunch have landed in Fedora 29 providing noticeable improvements, and the GNOME team is by no means done and there will be more coming in Fedora 30 and beyond! It was an excellent start and I expect there will be ongoing enhancements here into the future especially with devices like the Purism Phone which will have similar constraints.

Initial CPU frequency support
Another of the largest issues around the Raspberry Pi is complaints it was slow, part of the issue here is that there’s no upstream CPU Frequency driver which means all models of the Raspberry Pi run at a glacial, but safe, 600Mhz out of the box compared to the highest speed, which on the 3B+ is 1400Mhz. With Fedora 29 we’ve landed an experimental cpufreq driver which allows us to run the Raspberry Pi 3-Series at much closer to optimal speeds. While this is experimental it might not stay around if we find out it causes issues or ends up being a maintenance burden but to date it hasn’t yet appeared to have caused any issues.

HWmon Voltage Sensor
There’s a new driver that reports when the voltage supplied by the PSU drops below the required voltage. It can be a bit noisy in dmesg but one of the biggest support problems we have with the Raspberry Pis is people using a power supply that’s not powerful enough, this issue is more of a problem with Fedora 29 because with the support for running at faster frequencies due to the cpufreq driver it means we also draw more power and some PSUs that were previously fine now cause issues because they can’t supply enough current.

Enhanced support for config.txt
A lot of the hardware addons are supported in Raspbian are done by enabling things in the config.txt file, this in turn does things like loading DT overlays and merging them with the base DT to enable extra hardware like HAT support. We have enhanced the way Fedora works with this which enables us to be much closer to the way Raspbian handles these things. The advantage this has is that the documentation that’s written for Raspbian is then usable by Fedora in the wider Raspberry Pi ecosystem which in turn makes it easier for end users to get HW up and running due to less differences in process. There’s further enhancements to make here but every step closer is easier for everyone to enable and use their favourite HATs.

Improved bcm283x firmware support
In preparation for grub2 support we enhanced how we deal with the firmware that the Raspberry Pi uses for booting. This deals with the early startup. We never use to upgrade it by default to ensure things didn’t break, but it also meant most users also didn’t by default get the fixes and enhancements. Now we do. The config.txt is also handled directly which means if you never edit the file you now automatically get any changes we make, because rpm handles the file as a config file, if we change it you get a .rpmnew file so you won’t lose your changes.

Camera support
This wasn’t available in the Fedora 29 4.18 kernels, but with the rebase to the 4.19 kernel the support for the camera on the Raspberry Pi CSI Camera interface improved enough we could enable this in Fedora. The early 4.19 kernels don’t automatically detect and load support if the camera module is attached. There’s some patches in 4.20 in rawhide for this, and we’ll bring some of this to 4.19 soon, and we’re working with upstream to further improve the camera support. You’ll also want the latest bcm283x firmware which tweaks some of the config.txt and updates to a firmware with ISP fixes.

Another improvements
There was also a number of general Arm improvements which sped up crypto on the Raspberry Pi, improved the USB, fixed up some issues with the wired ethernet on the 3B+, power and a number of other fixes. As always there’s more coming. The 4.20 kernel rebase should also bring with it analog sound support early in the new year.

Conclusion
Overall I was pleased with the work that landed in Fedora over 2018 for the Raspberry Pi. The WiFi regression was disappointing, but now with that fixed in 4.19.10 we have WiFi support out of the box without users needing to download anything which moving forward will make things a lot more straight forward. The initial support for the camera makes it much more useful in numerous use cases and we’ll really polish up the HAT support in Fedora 30 which for me is the last remaining big ticket item for Raspberry Pi support. There’s still some annoying bits around the EDID detection in the display, but there’s work to improve that upstream, and also there’s work to land the media decode offloading upstream too which will also one of the few remaining bits.

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