IPFire 2.13 Beta 1 - Part 1 ARM

by Arne Fitzenreiter, January 2, 2013

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Today, we officially release the first beta version of IPFire 2.13.

IPFire 2.13 is the next major version of IPFire, the Open Source Firewall Solution. It brings a huge amount of new functions and updates. Because of the huge number of changes, we will need your help! Please help us testing this release as much as possible.

You may either download this version right here or update your existing installation.

Please keep in mind, that this is a development version and is not recommended for use in a productive environment. We recommend that you set up your own testing lab and we appreciate bug reports.

As there are so many new features coming with IPFire 2.13, we would like to focus on them in more detailed posts. So, this is the first part about ARM.

Part 1 – ARM version is declared stable

The very first feature, we would like to draw attention to is the support of the ARM architecture. Started in 2011, the IPFire developers have been working very much on this topic. We bought hardware, ported IPFire to it and we tested. Hell, we did.

During this process, which influenced the whole development work very deeply, we learned a lot new things about the IPFire distribution as an operating system. Things, we could do better and so, the working on the ARM port did not only improve this architucture, but maybe even more the x86 version of IPFire.

In the result, we now have IPFire 2.13 and the IPFire 3 development branch fully up and running on various ARM hardware platforms. One thing, you need to know about the ARM architecture is, that adding support for a new hardware platform is really really much work. You will need to compile an extra kernel for each single board, which will hopefully become obsolete in the future. Adding a new kernel takes about 2 hours compiling. Not only once – every time someone builds the latest version of IPFire. Because of that, we asked you guys to support us buying faster build machines and you did. Thank your very much for that.

So, IPFire 2.13 now supports a couple of common boards with ARMv5 and ARMv7-based System-on-Chips. First to mention is Pandaboard, which is the fastest one we currently own and which was sponsored by Watterott. Raspberry Pi created a lot of fuzz recently, but is much much slower than all the other ones. Of course, support for Marvell Kirkwood-based SoCs is still available, too.

That sounds all a bit too good to be true, right? It is. There is still a long way to go, until we get we aim for, which is a very environment-friendly and powerful piece of hardware running IPFire. There is for example the kernel issue, pointed out above, but also the hardware is going into a direction that we certainly don’t like. There is only the Globalscale Dreamplug, which comes with eligable network connectivy which is two Gigabit Ethernet interfaces. All others boards, that are currently available on the market only come with one 100M Ethernet adapter – some of them connect it to the USB bus, which makes performance very poor. The trend in the economy is towards mobile applications which don’t need wired Ethernet adapters at all. So we have to hope that at some point, there will be a cheap ARM-based board that brings what we need: Gigabit Network adapters en masse.