Richard Bucker

What about ARM84 processors?

Posted at — Jan 23, 2020

In recent months Google and Amazon have announced and released ARM-based VPS servers. For months I have been thinking about this configuration because ARM processors are cheaper and in their configuration offer an interesting performance curve. It’s even interesting that hardware like Raspberry PI uses this processor. It’s even more interesting that many phones and tablets use this processor too and so the tools are out there.

But now what?

I recently purchased a PinebookPro and a FriendlyElec RK3399… and while I had high hopes for the hardware it has been a failure. The Pinebook boots quickly and the distro functions well… there are just some odd behaviors that I do not appreciate. Like the sensitivity of the trackpad. It’s a challenge to select a window border and resize. But the biggest challenge is trust. I do not know if I can trust the distro.

The FriendlyElec NanoPC is an interesting piece of hardware. The challenge here is that the default OS (Android) is so old that it’s a terrible experience. I’ve tried to update the OS with OpenBSD but it just will not boot from the MicroSD card. The various documentation suggests There is a need to use a second machine with a serial connection but then there are no other details.

So that’s the ARM experience but what is it good for?

These devices are really project boards. Most have DI/DO ports and can be used as some sort of embedded system experiment. But while there is nothing wrong with that there are some who are experimenting with Docker and other sorts of development including multi-device clusters. I’ve said it before this hardware is not cost effective when working in that scale. That’s when bare metal intel and/or VMWare make more sense. The DEVOPS experience alone has increased costs based on the tooling required to make the ARM systems work.

So for the timebeing we will have to suck it up. The x86 platform and bios is very well understood. That the ARM team had to do something different makes me wonder what they were thinking.

And so now I have two dead pieces of hardware or at least hardware I’ll never use.