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First production Kestrel and Arctic Terns? (OpenPOWER compute modules exist!)

Thanks, D, who's quicker on the draw than I am: this image popped up on the Raptor Wiki. Looks like Kestrel and Arctic Tern made it to full prototyping, and maybe on the way to production!

This image shows a Blackbird being brought up solely with the Kestrel soft BMC (the metadata says the ASPEED BMC was completely disabled), powered by a much more advanced design than the ECP5 card we saw in the last iteration, especially because this is now a set of custom boards. The PCIe carrier card has Ethernet and two HDMI ports to the left, and what looks like JTAG and serial (grey ribbon) on the right near the LEDs. The "hat" board has been incorporated into the carrier with the LPC, FSI (the black cables curling around out and back into frame go to the connector next to DIMM A1) and I2C signals, and a separate ribbon cable carries the TPM lines.

So far, this is mostly just moving components around. But new on this carrier card are two SO-DIMM style module slots, both populated with what looks like the same sort of card, though only the top one seems to be active. These modules are labeled "ARCTIC TERN ECP5 MODBMC (?) CARD AT1MB1 REV 1.01 (C)2022 RAPTOR COMPUTING SYSTEMS, LLC" (there was a rev 1.0? what did we miss?). This is clearly the CPU card on which the Kestrel soft BMC software runs. The BMC flash likely lives on these boards, but not the PNOR, which appears to be on flash chips on the carrier to the left of the LEDs. UPDATE: this thread says the modules have 1GB of DDR3 RAM each (!), and the CPU fan is directly connected to the carrier. They can be accessed remotely.

It really looks like it may be shipping in the very near future and I'm jazzed about how fast Kestrel reportedly can bring the system to power-ready. But there are two more exciting things about this: first, if this is laid out the way it appears to me to be, this means you can have two BMCs for a libre dual-monitor setup right out of the box, no extra PCI cards or firmware blobs required. (Suck it, Nvidia.) Second, and even more notable, this means that OpenPOWER compute modules may soon be a thing! Given Raptor Engineering, I'm sure hoping these will be sold for standalone projects, especially if the onboard Microwatt-core performance is competitive with RPi and other ARM boards. Maybe then the people whining about how much it costs to play with OpenPOWER will finally get something at a lower price point to play with (and then they can complain about that).

That said, we still don't know price or availability yet, and we don't know if there will be a way to add a Kestrel setup without using a precious PCIe slot (after all, the T2 Lite has only three, and the Blackbird just two; hopefully it can be configured to pull power from something else). But there's a lot of good things in this picture and we're looking forward to hearing more in what are no doubt soon-to-come official announcements.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 9 and AlmaLinux 8.6

And more updates for Linux on OpenPOWER: RHEL 9 and AlmaLinux 8.6. AlmaLinux 8.6 continues on kernel 4.18 from version 8.5 with the usual bug fixes and security updates, plus updated streams for Perl, PHP and log4j and updated toolchains for gcc, LLVM, Rust and Go. ISOs are available. Currently your best bet on OpenPOWER for RHEL-style stability without the RHEL-style price, support for AlmaLinux 8.x is expected through at least 2029.

But hey, let's say in these inflationary times you think support contracts are a good investment. IBM-Red Hat's got you covered with RHEL 9, the first release based on CentOS Stream (version 9) instead of directly off Fedora, meaning this is actually F34 instead of the recently-released F36. This is particularly notable for ppc64le because you won't get the new long double support in F36 (it's "only" glibc 2.34), but then you won't have to deal with the GNOME 42 stupidity either. Fortunately application streams will cover keeping your toolchains current. If you're still on RHEL 8, though, you're still supported until at least 2030, and big-endian systems and others putting along on RHEL 7 will be supported through mid-2024 (with extended support planned for two years after that).

FreeBSD 13.1

FreeBSD 13.1 is now available, notable as it comes in both big-endian and little-endian flavours depending on how you swing (as well as 32-bit ports for Power Macs and the AmigaOne A1222). The biggest change in this version is that 13's shift to the PowerPC ELF ABIv2 makes it binary-incompatible with 12.x (so you may need to rebuild or relink; the release notes also suggest doing kldxref /boot/kernel after successful installation or upgrade). However, there are also fixes for the bootloader on the LE port, OpenSSL performance improvements, a serial console fix for the BE port, a fix for running FreeBSD with HPT superpages enabled on QEMU with TCG (if you're trying before you're buying), and — particularly of relevance to those of us on OpenPOWER hardware — a fix for the AST2500 console on bootup with recent OpenBMC firmware. It's a big update but one that makes OpenPOWER an even better citizen on FreeBSD (now if only NetBSD would get with the program, because at this point it's just embarrassing). Read the release notes, or download.

AOSC for old and new Power

Another choice in OpenPOWER distros, but with another choice for old-school 32-bit PowerPC, too. AOSC/OS (short for "Anthon Open Source Community") is an Debian (formerly OpenSUSE) derivative claiming to have a wide variety of packages and good port parity at the cost of larger space and a generally manual installation process. The desktop experience is KDE, though a server version is also available. Support for POWER8 and up is listed as "experimental" but is available for download, and most packages appear available to ppc64le.

However, another notable feature of AOSC/OS is its planned "retro" spin, including specific support for Power Macintosh, from the G3 through the G5 (the G5 using a 64-bit build). Unfortunately there isn't support yet for other PowerPC or bigendian systems, and the process is even clunkier since it requires another Linux installation as a trampoline, though the trampoline can be an old version. The retro spin also supports Loongson MIPS, Intel i486 and ARM going back to ARMv4; on desktop you have your choice of Trinity, a "spiritual successor" of KDE, or a "retro" X11 experience with IceWM. Currently these downloads are in the Alternative Downloads area.

Fedora 36 released

Fedora 36 is out. This distro is important to me personally as I run it on both my Raptors (my Talos II and my HTPC Blackbird), and even if you don't run it yourself it's a good early warning indicator of future platform issues because new support and features often hit Fedora first. However, I have mixed feelings about this milestone: we get LLVM 14 and gcc 12 and we're finally getting proper long doubles on ppc64le (as part of glibc 2.35), but it's also got GNOME 42, which means my customized, carefully curated to match my muscle memory Mac theme is screwed on GTK 4 apps (but in a worst of all worlds approach GTK 2/3 apps still use any custom theming while new hotness libadwaita apps don't). It might still be better than the alternatives, but it sucks, so in our upcoming usual mini-review (see my F35 one for an example) we might dive a bit into some of the alternative desktop environments offered on Fedora and see how they work on OpenPOWER — I'm thinking about Pantheon, myself. As usual, the review will come out in a week or so once any immediate breakers are identified and mirror sites have caught up. Meanwhile, here's the complete list of changes.

Firefox 100 on POWER

You know, it's not been a great weekend. Between striking out on some classic hardware projects, leaving printed circuit board corpses in my living room like some alternative universe fusion of William Gibson and Jeffrey Dahmer, one of the yard sprinkler valves has decided it will constantly water the hedge (a couple hundred bucks to fix) and I managed to re-injure my calf muscle sprinting to try to get a phone call (it went pop, I yelped and they hung up anyway). But Firefox is now at version 100, so there's that. Besides the pretty version window when you start it up, it has captions on picture-in-picture and various performance improvements.

Fx100 also broke our PGO-LTO gcc patches again; mach now needs to be patched to ignore how gcc captures profiling information or it will refuse to start a PGO build. This is rolled into the ensemble PGO-LTO patch, which works with the same .mozconfigs from FIrefox 95.

Between everything that's been going on and other projects I've wanted to pay attention to I don't think we're going to make the Fx102 ESR window for the POWER9 JIT. I'll still offer patches for 102ESR; you'll just have to apply them like you do for Firefox 91ESR. Meanwhile, I'll keep trying to get the last major bugs out as I have time, inclination and energy, but although I know people want this really badly, we need more eyes on the code than just me.