Sven and the Art of Computer Maintenance

Sven and the Art of Computer Maintenance

20 Jun 2021

Arch Linux ARM on a Pinebook Pro

Pinebook Pro

Those who monitor my blog might note that I have mentioned Arch Linux ARM a time or two. This Linux distribution is very flexible, which is why I like to use it on many different devices

PINE64 released the Pinebook Pro late 2019. It is an ARM-powered notebook running many different Linux and BSD distributions. I managed to order one just before they were out of stock due to global component shortages.

Arch Linux ARM is on the list of available operating systems for the Pinebook Pro, but the pacman repository was retired and the GitHub repositories were put on read-only just when I was about to report a fix for a bug. The owner stated that work on it was halted indefinitely.

On the same day that the repositories were locked, I received a mail from a concerned Arch Linux ARM user, who gave his appreciation for the fix I proposed just before all development was stopped.

Realizing the need of the many, I decided to pick up the torch. Exactly one week since it was unavailable, Arch Linux ARM on Pinebook Pro can be found in my GitHub account. Everything that one needs to install and use it can be found there.

The philosophy of the implementation is quite simple. I am not a die hard Linux developer (blessed they be!). While I enjoy tinkering, I need Linux more for productivity. The repository I host only contains packages that supplement Arch Linux ARM with support for the Pinebook Pro. Manjaro ARM has been the distribution that is shipped on the Pinebook Pro since mid-2020, and most Pinebook Pro-specific improvements are implemented very quickly. Since Manjaro ARM and Arch Linux ARM are both based on Arch Linux, implementing packages from one on the other is so straightforward that it can be automated. Thus, the Pinebook Pro specific packages in Manjaro ARM are monitored for updates. Once updated, they are build for Arch Linux ARM and added to the repository. This dramatically reduces maintenance effort.

There are a few packages that I created or customized heavily, but they concern software that is not updated daily. One example is the bootloader, Tow-Boot, for which a package does not exist yet. Another is a package that normally is only executed the first time the system is installed. It had some Manjaro ARM-specific stuff in it that is not needed in Arch Linux ARM, and required a bit of clean up.

Working on the Pinebook Pro is quite an experience. As a notebook with a ‘community price’ of $220, it is a nice machine to tinker on and with. Compared to a Raspberry Pi, it is easier to think of use cases for it as well since at the end of the day it is ‘just a notebook’. I hope they are available again soon for those interested in them.