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A baby Power10, if you're desperate


Are you really desperate to have your own Power10 (libre issues notwithstanding) while we wait for S1? IBM historically releases "little" versions of their servers after the launch systems have exhausted their novelty and now it's time for this generation's. If you've got 2Us in your rack, a wad of money in your wallet and an IBM salesdroid in your Rolodex, in about a month the Power S1012 could be yours.

Based on the size of the board, no one would mistake this for a Blackbird, yet it's pretty much the IBM equivalent: a single socket supporting up to eight cores. It comes as either a rackmount or in IBM's mega-tower case with four RAM slots for up to 256GB of memory. Tape and RAID are options, and it boots Linux, AIX or IBM i. If you need more sockets, there's the S1022 with a second one in the same form factor, and if you need more capacity, the 4U S1014 has you covered — and is still tower-ready in the same way that Orson Welles was suit-ready.

IBM hasn't shown as much love for their baby towers recently, though. In fact, there wasn't an IBM 2U option at all in POWER9's generation (no doubt much to Raptor's relief); if you wanted Big Blue in a Littler Box, you had to buy the 4U S914 instead (or a leftover POWER8 S812). Also, it seems like the S1012 tower's power output is gimped somewhat: the spec sheet says the rackmount can put 240W through the single CPU socket but the tower manages "only" 195W, which limits your core count. In the glory days, though, we had things like this.

This is my long-trucking POWER6 p520, the 2U baby of the old POWER6 generation. You could get it with two sockets and the same CPUs as its larger siblings, and since the POWER6 was SMT-2, I've got four threads running on its single LPAR. It has RAID and an optical drive and 16GB of RAM, with more available if you were willing to do battle with IBM Capacity on Demand codes. All in all, not bad for 2009.

Of course, I'm being very facetious in this article, because naturally none of these towers are really workstation substitutes. The S1012 (and certainly the S1022) is undoubtedly as loud as the POWER6, and while the POWER6's back baffle reduces some of the noise, it correspondingly reduces ventilation. There's a reason, after all, that I gave the thing its own room with the other geriatric servers. Plus, IBM doesn't talk to us end users: you'll have to buy it through a VAR or authorized rep. That was why I said screw it to buying a brand-spanking new POWER7 back in the day and got the POWER6, because it was used, cheaper and actually available. Which reminds me — if you have to ask how much it is, you almost certainly can't afford it. Hope you've been saving your pennies for the S1.

Rocky Linux 9.4


Rocky Linux 9.4 is out, based on RHEL 9.4, but, you know, free. (Note that Rocky Linux 8.9 doesn't come in a ppc64le version, so Rocky 9.x is your only choice.) If you want the stability of RHEL but don't like the pricetag and don't need the support, here's one of your options. As is typical for such point releases, this one primarily refreshes included software along with security updates. Boot, minimal and DVD ISOs are available for download.

End of the road for PowerPC 40x in Linux


The original PowerPC 400-series embedded chips are no longer supported in the Linux kernel as of today. Despite its prior design wins in many set top boxes, service processors and network equipment, there are no known current consumers of the code and no maintainers. The change affects the 401, 403 and 405, but in case you were worried the change is irrelevant to the embedded PowerPC 405 variant used as an on-chip controller for OpenPOWER, since it runs the Self-Boot Engine and not mainline Linux. It also does not extend to the 44x and above, like the Amiga clone Sam440ep and Sam460ex (AmigaOne 500) boards, which use the AMCC 440EP and 440-derived AMCC 460EX respectively and thus remain supported.

Fedora 40 mini-review on the Blackbird and Talos II (and a taste of Chromium)


This is Chromium running on GNOME in Xorg in Fedora 40 on the Talos II. I think it says it all, really.
Now, I won't mince words here: I don't like Chromium on philosophical grounds and you shouldn't expect me to be complimentary. But I salute the work that went into making it run. I'll have more to say about that later.

Meanwhile, it's that time again: in the same way I preface all these mini-reviews, Fedora was one of the first mainstream distributions to support POWER9 out of the box, it's still one of the top distributions OpenPOWER denizens use and its position closest to the bleeding, ragged edge is where we see problems emerge first and get fixed (hopefully) before they move further downstream. That's why it's worth caring about it even if you yourself don't run it. Also, as always, recall both my T2 and Blackbird are configured to come up in a text boot instead of gdm and I start the GUI manually from there. I always recommend a non-graphical boot as a recovery mechanism in case your graphics card gets whacked by something or other, and on Fedora this is easily done by ensuring the symlink /etc/systemd/system/default.target points to /lib/systemd/system/multi-user.target.

F40 is the first release since the 2.10 Petitboot PNOR firmware update and I had high hopes that it would fix the problem with stuck XFS logs sometimes making it puke, since it leapfrogs to a much more recent kernel. Both my GPU-less 4-core Blackbird and WX7100 dual-8 Talos II were already upgraded to the current PNOR before beginning and I recommend you do the same. Don't forget to save a copy of your BOOTKERNFW flash partition if your GPU requires it since this operation will erase it (you can flash it back when it's done).

dnf still!!!!! doesn't update grub's config (bug 1921479, showing messages like 0ed84c0-p94177c1: integer expression expected during the process), so the process remains largely unchanged from F38 and F39:

dnf upgrade --refresh # upgrade prior system and DNF
grub2-mkconfig -o /boot/grub2/grub.cfg # force grub to update
dnf install dnf-plugin-system-upgrade # install upgrade plugin if not already done
dnf system-upgrade download --refresh --releasever=40 # download F40 packages
dnf system-upgrade reboot # reboot into upgrader

I always do the Blackbird first as a checkpoint, and got this:

I'm not sure what the issue was, since the Blackbird mostly runs Workstation with only a few extra packages. This didn't happen on the T2. However, I crossed my fingers with --allowerasing and I was able to get it to download on the Blackbird and install.

I also should note that there was no installation screen on either the Blackbird or T2 this time around; for both systems I needed to log in as root on an alternate VTY (Ctrl-Alt-F2 or as appropriate) and dnf system-upgrade log --number=-1 intermittently to watch the updates. You can probably also still monitor it on the virtual TTY in the BMC web interface. Both systems then rebooted (fast reboot is disabled on both) and came up clean, so no XFS burp on the T2! One more grub2-mkconfig -o /boot/grub2/grub.cfg was needed to get Petitboot's menu looking right and the install was complete. I do note with approval that Fedora's boot from Petitboot to prompt was very quick this time around. Good work there.

Now, that desktop environment. I migrated to KDE from GNOME a few releases back after GNOME started messing with my themes, but KDE Plasma 6 in F40 is now Wayland-only; startplasma-x11 doesn't even exist. There is apparently an unofficial package to restore the X11 session but I haven't tried this yet due to a bigger problem I'll get to momentarily. On the GPU-less Blackbird this is a problem because Wayland remains limited to 1024x768 over the built-in HDMI output (Xorg can be coerced up to 1920x1200 with a modeline), so if you've decided to give up and embrace the KDE Wayland Wasteland, you either get to compute like it's 1999 or you get a GPU.

GNOME, on the other hand, does still work in Xorg and performs well on both the Blackbird and T2. Set your .xinitrc to

export XDG_SESSION_TYPE=x11
/usr/bin/gnome-session

and then the usual startx will bring it up from a text boot. Which brings us to this screenshot again:

Chromium is now officially available for the first time on ppc64le as a Fedora package. However, in Xorg it has many visual glitches, and this is true whether or not you have a GPU (this was taken on the Talos II, which has the Raptor BTO WX7100 workstation card).

The reason I entertained running it under Xorg at all was Plasma 6 pretty much broke my custom theme completely and a lot of my applets, even though its Wayland compositor runs fine on the Talos II. (Start it from the text prompt simply with startplasma-wayland.) But the application appears normally.

There are many problems with Chromium on ppc64le (big endian need not apply) and I suspect the major reason is because its JIT appears unfinished. In particular, it seems like most Wasm and certain other operations will make it trap, and as such it's not yet ready for prime time. I'm sure it will continue to improve and the porters are to be congratulated for their hard work on it, but I'll still be trying to get all the pieces in Firefox to go in the same direction, and once the next ESR (128) starts hitting the beta channel we'll at least have Baseline JIT acceleration available for it while I continue to struggle with Ion and Wasm.

Before that, though, I'm deciding what to do, whether to go back to GNOME or try to piece together my custom theme again in KDE. It'll need a fair bit of work. I guess this means it wasn't a good upgrade, though not because it doesn't work on OpenPOWER; it just wasn't a good upgrade, period. I certainly hope the churn will be less in F41.

Fedora 40


Fedora 40 is now out, the most current release that I personally use on my own Talos II and Blackbird systems. (This means that Fedora 38 will go EOL in about a month.) This release is presently based on kernel 6.8.7 and GNOME 46, but not the anticipated new Anaconda installer and DNF5 package manager updates. Also included are gcc 14.0, GNU binutils 2.41, glibc 2.39, gdb 14.1, Golang 1.22, LLVM 18, Ruby 3.3 and PHP 8.3.

Perhaps the biggest news for this release is that an official Chromium build is available once again for ppc64le while I still spin my wheels with the Firefox JIT (Wasm is now broken again and I have not been able to figure out why). I don't like Chromium for philosophical reasons but I'm sure it will make many of you happy.

That said, this release is probably more notorious for eliminating X11 support in the KDE Plasma 6 spin, which yours truly also uses. It will be interesting to see how well that works on the GPU-less Blackbird here since I haven't seen anything to suggest the issue with 1920x1080 through the onboard HDMI has been fixed, but the trusty old BTO WX7100 in the T2 should be fine in the Wayland Wasteland. Attempts to remove the X11 session from GNOME reportedly didn't land for this release either, so we'll see how that turns out too. I usually give the repos a few days to catch up before updating and then I'll post my usual mini-review (here's the one for F39).

OpenBSD 7.5


OpenBSD 7.5 is out with multiple kernel and SMP improvements (we love SMP improvements on our multicore beasts), more hardware support, and LibreSSL 3.9.0, OpenSSH 9.6/9.7, and LLVM-clang 16.0.6. The only headliner Power ISA specific improvement to the big-endian powerpc64 port is a smoother upgrade process, but all the other advancements are welcome too. Download from any of the many mirror sites.