Group: Hardware/Computers/Single Board Computers

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Single-board computers (SBCs) are computers delivered as one circuit board that are powerful enough to run a real operating system. They generally contain a System-on-a-Chip (SoC) with an ARM processor. SBCs normally run the GNU/Linux system, but that doesn't mean that all is well for software freedom on these boards. Each existing SBC model has major flaws -- hardware that doesn't work without running a nonfree program.


The FSF has an article about Single-board computers written by Paul Kocialkowski. On the bottom of that page there is a contact email address that can be used to send modification to the page, report bugs, etc.


This section contain information that is not yet in the article.

Single board computers with minor issues

Allwinner SoCs

The AllWinner A13/A10/A20/A31 platforms come in many boards such as the A13-OLinuXino, Cubieboard (various versions), Gooseberry and Hackberry.

  • It seems like U-Boot-sunxi now supports booting from internal memory. (Prior to this, the device had to be booted from an SD card every time.)
  • Hardware GPU and the video decoding are currently unavailable using free software.
    • People are working on free software support for the Mali GPU (A13/A10/A20) and the Cedar A/V decoder. The mature free software project for Mali is Lima. Info for CedarX is here. Please contribute to these projects in any way you can!
    • The A31 uses a PowerVR GPU. The reverse engineering project for that hardware isn't as complete as Lima yet.
    • For now, the CPU can slowly/inefficiently create 3d graphics and decode video.
Board-specific problems
  • (The Gooseberry and some versions of the A13-OLinuXino contain a WiFi chip that only works with nonfree software. See the documentation of your board for information about using these USB devices with it.)

Single-board computers with fatal flaws

  • The Raspberry Pi requires nonfree software to start up. It can't reach the point of executing free software unless this nonfree program is part of the installed system software.
    • The startup program is, in fact, the same program that runs the GPU and the video decoding hardware. Thus, the GPU and the video decoding hardware are unusable in the free world, but these jobs can be done with free software on the CPU.
    • That program appears to implement intentional restrictions, such as blocking the video decoding hardware for MPEG-2 and VC-1 in the absence of a key that is specific to the machine in hand.
  • The Intel Galileo board, even though it is presented to be a microcontroller, runs a GNU/Linux operating system. While it would be possible to run a fully free system on the board, it needs non-free software to startup (the BIOS is proprietary).