POWER to the people in Linux

A recent comment on another post prompted today’s entry. (I love it when life is a conversation!) Here’s the question.

Miron Cristea

Hi! I have an IBM Power workstation running AIX, but I want to install an Open Source OS on it. What do you recommend?

I think POWER is a great architecture and am a little jealous that you have one available.

Without technical details on your specific system it’s hard to give a solid recommendation. IBM has a community for discussion of Linux on POWER. I’ll bet that a question there with details about your machine would get you a solid answer quickly.

Distro.Watch shows a few Linux distributions aimed at the POWER architectureYellow Dog Linux used to be the only real recommendation, but now there are a number of choices, including Fedora and Ubuntu. As I recall, the trickiest thing was getting the system into a mode where you load something else… requiring split-second timing with an obscure key-chord. Hopefully it will be easier for you. I really think that you’ll be able to get this going in no time.

Of course, the big Linux news with POWER is POWER8. One of the big sticking points in development for this architecture was the Big Endian/Little Endian issue. Essentially the modes for addressing memory were reversed between some architectures (specifically POWER and Intel) meaning that software written for one had to be rewritten for the other. Yes, there were libraries that helped, but using them cost precious mips (which is why developers were using direct addressing anyway) and many just were not aware enough of the issue to give it any thought. This made traversing platforms a costly venture which many avoided. It also wreaked havoc with open-source projects by requiring some forking of code to support multiple architectures, which often didn’t happen.

So, one of the big news for POWER8 is that has native support for little-endian (Intel-style) addressing. This means that a whole flood of existing Linux (and other) software will likely run on POWER8 with little more than a recompile.  According to this IBM page you can get a starting Power System for under $8k. That’s not so bad, all things considered.

I’d like to see POWER make a move back into workstation and laptop space. It’s really efficient for number crunching, which is good for all kinds of graphical and data space. I’d love to see what I could do with Blender on one of those!

I hope this helps you get started, Miron. Let us all know how it goes!

5 thoughts on “POWER to the people in Linux”

  1. After getting the machine to boot from CD/DVD – the most important task – we’ve inserted a PowerPC Ubuntu 12.04 LTS install CD. One of the machines didn’t work because the optical drive was faulty (dust?) but on other we’ve got the “boot:” prompt and typed “install” (with some options available). Unfortunately, after a dozen of lines (like starting the 2 cpu cores) it got blocked – faulty optical drive again most likely. We’ll keep trying maybe with a net install CD, I am much more optimistic now.

  2. Things are getting better, Fedora 20 installation is over, did the updating (YUM), only left to fix a display problem (yellow blue swapping). Thank you Chris!

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