openSUSE makes baseline CPU requirements a little friendlier than feared

Tumbleweed rolling-release distro to need v2 of x86-64 – and drop x86-32 edition

The future direction of openSUSE distros is firming up and has ramifications for its business-focused offspring SLE and Adaptable Linux Platform (ALP).

It's not all that often that specific sub-versions of the x86-64 spec come up, but you can expect it to happen a lot more often as the 64-bit x86 platform reaches 20 years old next year. So far, there are four revisions of the x86-64 spec, appropriately enough just called v1, v2 (2008-2011), v3 (2013-2017) and v4. More will doubtless emerge in the future.

Back in July we covered the debate about CPU requirements for SUSE Linux Enterprise (SLE). For a rundown of the differences between the revisions, refer back to that article.

Around the middle of the year, SUSE was mulling making version 3 of the x86-64 instruction set a requirement, which would cut out a lot of relatively recent kit that was well under a decade old. That isn't going to happen, at least for now. There was some controversy over this quite high requirement, so it's been taken down a level. Instead, SUSE's next-gen enterprise distro, the MicroOS-based Adaptable Linux Platform (ALP for short) will mandate x86-64-v2, the same baseline required by Red Hat's RHEL 9.

Now the Tumbleweed project is going to do the same. Tumbleweed is the openSUSE project's rolling-release distro, built from packages emerging from the Factory channel on SUSE's Open Build Service online continuous-integration service after they've undergone automated testing in OpenQA. In turn, for several years now, openSUSE Leap and the commercial SLE distros are built from the Tumbleweed upstream, just as RHEL is built from Fedora and Fedora is built from snapshots of Rawhide.

So, at some point fairly soon, Tumbleweed will switch to requiring CPUs with x86-64-v2 or above, and in turn, future releases of openSUSE Leap will need the same.

At the same time the project maintainers plan to drop the x86-32 edition of the distro. It won't drop support for x86-32 packages, so users will still be able to install and run old 32-bit binaries, which reminds us of the backlash Ubuntu faced when it planned to drop support for 32-bit apps.

What this means is that users won't be able to install their beloved chameleonic distro on 32-bit machines or VMs. We doubt there will be too much of an outcry there – Ubuntu dropped its 32-bit editions in 2019 without much complaint. Neither Tumbleweed nor Leap are especially lightweight or low-end distros, and there are still distros for PCs that are old enough to marry, vote, or get a driver's license.

What we think this may well highlight are the people who don't realize that they're still using the first few generations of 64-bit chippery. You won't be able to install new versions of openSUSE on the first generation of 64-bit hardware: original AMD Opteron or Athlon64 kit, or Intel Core 2 or pre-Haswell Core i-series boxes.

It's only in the last couple of years that anyone had to even think about what version of x86-64 they had, and mostly it was gamers and overclockers who cared about CPU revisions and process generations – and gamers generally tend to favor Windows anyway. This particular vulture still actively prefers laptops which only just scrape past the Haswell cutoff, and is not looking forward to their CPUs being declared obsolete. ®

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