Linux geeks cheer as Arm wrestles x86

AlmaLinux and upstream kernel support for Raspberry Pi 5, plus a forthcoming high-performance Arm64 Tuxedo laptop

Encouraging noises are coming from multiple directions around Linux support for both current and next-generation Arm64 kit.

The performance of the Apple Silicon-powered Macs has provoked new levels of interest in Arm64 kit by showing that modern Arm devices can equal or exceed the performance of x86-64. Naturally, Arm vendors are keen to exploit this interest, not only by introducing their own next-gen SoCs, but also by ensuring these have first-class Linux support, working drivers for GPUs, chipsets, and the various other software and hardware components that all need to work together for Arm64 Linux to install and run just as smoothly as proprietary OSes with proprietary drivers.

Qualcomm's forthcoming Snapdragon X Elite chips look promising and the company is working to ensure good Linux support … although in the interest of balance, we have seen a report that the device's real-world performance isn't as impressive.

All the same, penguin botherers may be interested to know that German Linux laptop vendor Tuxedo Computers is working on a Snapdragon X-based Linux laptop. We are watching with interest. We've previously reviewed its Stellaris model and looked at its in-house Ubuntu remix with KDE.

There's more to Linux on Arm64 than just Qualcomm, though. Obviously there's the multimillion-selling Raspberry Pi series, and we recently looked at some alternative distros for the latest Pi 5. There is now a new entrant in that space, with AlmaLinux officially supporting the latest Pi, across several different versions of the OS. To do this, they've built a custom kernel based on the Pi Foundation kernel plus custom firmware. The project's installation guide will get you started and details the supported models, from the Pi 3A+ and 3B+ up. Both AlmaLinux 8.10 and 9.4 now run on the machine.

This should get easier in the near future. SUSE developer Andrea della Porta is working to get a driver for the Raspberry Pi 5's RP1 southbridge chip upstream – that is, in the Linux kernel. He's been working on improving Pi 5 support for months.

Meanwhile, Pi Foundation kernel developer Dave Stevenson has submitted a set of 31 different patches to improve the upstream kernel support for the Pi 5's Broadcom BCM2712 SoC.

As we explained when we first looked at Armbian in 2022, this kind of thing is significantly more complicated with Arm hardware, which doesn't have the same baseline compatibility as commodity x86 kit and even now is still broadly all IBM PC compatible.

For now, other distros must use the Pi Foundation's kernel patches, firmware, and drivers to run on the Pi 5. That's why it's important that these patches are upstreamed, and this is what Qualcomm is aiming toward too. When hardware starts shipping, the standard kernel will support the hardware directly, and won't need custom builds using vendors' own tweaks and adjustments. ®

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