Ubuntu on the BeagleBoard-xM

After debating whether or not to move away from Ångström and try out Ubuntu on the xM, I finally decided to just do it and it's been a good experience so far.

I've been running the Ubuntu 10.10 image referenced on the eLinux BeagleBoard Ubuntu page for several days now and it seems to be pretty solid.

As someone who has worked quite a bit with Ubuntu desktop and server, this was an instantly familiar environment. It also had the added advantage of being configured as a minimal, text-based installation (i.e. no X11 by default, which is perfect for my needs) rather than the richer yet demo feel of the Ångström image (in fairness, the Ångström image *is* first and foremost a demo image and the fact that it is also a usable Linux environment is secondary.)

As this installation was a more traditional Linux installation, I wanted to pretty quickly move /var and /tmp out of flash to maximize the life of the card. I went with a RAM disk for about a day (which worked fine) before finally picking up a laptop hard drive that can be powered via one of the BeagleBoard-xM's USB ports. This will be a home server and needed more storage than flash cards or thumb drives can offer anyway, so it didn't make sense to use the RAM disk long term as that RAM will be needed for processes down the road.

There are a few rough edges I've run into. By default, it only runs the BeagleBoard-xM at 800MHz with a comment in the boot script indicating that the kernel can't currently handle 1GHz. Also, with heavy network and/or disk activity (on the order of tens of gigabytes of continuous transfer) the kernel was spewing messages (over 40 meg of logs in less than an hour) re: running out of memory (I was running without swap but had 400+ meg allocated as cache when the messages occurred) I don't recall noticing messages like these on my x86 Ubuntu installs when there actually is sufficient memory. I'm going to attempt to replicate the workload on another system (factoring in the larger installed memory on the x86 box) though I suspect they are most likely the normal bumps in the road that appear, and will eventually get resolved, with a maturing platform. Update: the out of memory/log file issue has a workaround.

The net result of this move is that I've gone from an environment that felt like it needed a lot of work to turn into a server to one that feels like it's mostly there. So unless/until I pick up a second xM to use as a media player or I run into a major problem, my current plan is to stick with Ubuntu.

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