Qualcomm warms bed for Linux on Arm PCs

One eye on Windows, the other winking at penguins

Qualcomm may be leading the push for Windows on Arm systems, but the corporation also has an eye on Linux support with a roadmap for updates to enable the OS to boot on its Arm-based PC hardware.

The San Diego chips and telecoms biz launched its Snapdragon X Elite system-on-chip (SoC) last October aimed at tablets and Windows on Arm laptops. The corp has previously indicated it is hoping for a push on such systems from vendors mid-year, getting ready for the back-to-school period.

Asus is reported to be launching a laptop based on Snapdragon X Elite at an event next week.

Qualcomm says it already built Linux support into several generations of its SoCs with Windows on Snapdragon, and claims to post initial patchsets for upstream Linux kernel support within days of announcing new Snapdragon silicon, with the Snapdragon X Elite being no different.

The biz has already published an experimental raw disk image for a Debian installer, but warns that this only works with its reference device hardware. It uses Grub to boot into Debian, and to dual-boot Windows and Debian. Qualcomm says it will work with vendors to develop similar installers for commercially available laptops and tablets using its Snapdragon X Elite silicon.

Qualcomm lists on its developer blog all the features it has already merged into Linux kernel versions 6.8 and 6.9, including such items as SSD-NVMe over PCIe and reference board support. For kernel versions 6.10 and 6.11, there are further features it is working on, including camera, video, USB, and GPU support, plus other vital things such as memory clock and voltage scaling.

Coming to its roadmap for the next six months, Qualcomm says it needs to work on:

  • End-to-end hardware video decoding on Firefox and Chrome
  • Implementation of the libcamera-SoftISP camera solution
  • GPU and CPU performance optimizations
  • Power optimizations (Suspend/DCVS)
  • Making firmware openly available (in Linux-firmware)
  • Access to easy installers (Ubuntu and Debian)

One issue Qualcomm is seeking to solve is booting with the UEFI-based BIOS using devicetrees. It says there is currently no standard way of selecting a devicetree to pass to the kernel, while OEMs commonly put multiple devicetree blobs (DTB) into their firmware package to support devices with differing hardware.

The Snapdragon X Elite is based on a dozen of Qualcomm's custom Oryon Arm cores clocked at 3.8 GHz, plus an integrated Adreno GPU and Hexagon neural processing unit (NPU), eight memory channels for LPDDR5x DRAM and I/O including 5G modem, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. ®

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