When it comes to operating systems for the TI OMAP4 PandaBoard and PandaBoard ES, Ubuntu Linux is usually the winner for several reasons. However, with last month's release of Fedora 17 for ARM, how is the Red Hat sponsored distribution running on these ARM development boards? Here's an overview of my experiences when running the latest Ubuntu and Fedora releases on the ARM Cortex A9 development hardware along with Arch Linux. There are also benchmarks comparing the ARM Linux performance.
Thanks in part to Linaro, the Ubuntu support for the Texas Instruments OMAP3 and OMAP4 platforms is in great shape. For Ubuntu ARM there's daily install images of Ubuntu that can be easily loaded on these OMAP ARM development boards and all around things generally "just work" when running Ubuntu on the dual-core ARM hardware. The official Ubuntu releases are also available for the OMAP3 and OMAP4 platforms that can be easily copied to an SD/SDHC card and then easily booted.
I have been using Ubuntu on the PandaBoard ES for more than a half-year and it has been smooth the entire time and only improved since the initial support was there. The performance improved in Ubuntu 12.04 thanks to proper OMAP4460 cpufreq support and switching to ARM hardfp binaries, there are more improvements for Ubuntu 12.10 due to ARM performance boosts with GCC 4.7, and all around the Ubuntu ARM situation has been looking great. Ubuntu Linux on the OMAP4430/OMAP4460 development boards just isn't great for a low-power Linux desktop but can also be competitive for a 12-core ARM cluster or even a 96-core solar-powered super-computer when using 48 of these development boards that usually top out at drawing 5~6 Watts.
With the recent Fedora 17 ARM GA release there are ARM images available for the CompuLab Trim-Slice, Calxeda Highbank, PandaBoard, Beagleboard xM, Freescale iMX, Versatile Express (QEMU), Marvell Kirkwood (Sheevaplug/Guruplug/Dreamplug), and the Raspberry Pi. Similar to having the Ubuntu OMAP4 ARM version available with a desktop (Unity) or a head-less/server configuration where there's just a console, Fedora has two ARM versions targeting the PandaBoard: an SD image with Fedora 17 running the Xfce desktop and then another spin that will just boot to the console. Rather than trying to run the full GNOME environment as found on Fedora x86/x86_64, Xfce is the lightweight desktop of choice.
Fedora 17 ARM GA for the PandaBoard is built for ARM hard floating-point and ships with the Linux 3.4.2-3.fc17 kernel, Xfce 4.8, X.Org Server 1.12.0, Mesa 8.0.2 with LLVMpipe, GCC 4.7.0, and uses the EXT4 file-system. The Xfce and console versions were both tested. Using LLVMpipe as the default means of 3D fallback acceleration on ARM is interesting, although the performance isn't the best.