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First 64-bit distro for Raspberry Pi 3 is… SUSE?

Nov 22, 2016 — by Eric Brown — 12716 views

[Updated: Nov. 24] — SUSE released the first 64-bit distribution for the Raspberry Pi 3 with its SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. OpenSUSE, Fedora and Ubuntu should be there soon.

When we reported on the potential for 64-bit Linux distributions supporting the Raspberry Pi 3 earlier this year, the server focused SUSE Linux was not even on the radar. This week, however SUSE and the Raspberry Pi Foundation announced that SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) would be the first 64-bit distro for the quad-core, Cortex-A53 based RPi 3, supporting its ARM A64 instruction set and ARMv8-A architecture.

Raspberry Pi 3 with SLES in case, distributed by SUSE and ARM at last week’s SUSEcon conference
(click image to enlarge)

SLES beat out Fedora and Ubuntu, both of which have demonstrated userlands running on a working 64-bit kernel built by Electron752, according to Raspberry Pi Trading CEO Eben Upton in his announcement. The SUSE announcement made no mention of the Electron752 kernel project, suggesting that it had developed the distro in-house. “SUSE have kindly upstreamed the patches that they needed to make this work,” wrote Upton, “so hopefully official support from other vendors won’t be far behind.”

Because the release comes from the commercial vendor SUSE rather than the community-backed OpenSUSE project that it sponsors, downloading the release requires the acceptance of a one year free subscription contract. There’s no guarantee the distro will be updated for free after that, but it’s possible SUSE will simply extend the free contract. However, there’s also a 64-bit OpenSUSE image for the RPi 3 that appears to be in beta, and does not appear to have been blessed by the RPi Foundation. A minimalist 32-bit image has been in beta for the Raspberry Pi since 2012.

The surprising emergence of SLES as the first Raspberry Pi 3 distro stemmed in part from the work that had “already been done as part of the SLES for ARM project,” says the SUSE blog. SUSE for RPi moved forward because “we saw an opportunity to introduce SLES to a lot of people who did not already have experience with SUSE Linux,” says SUSE. “Third, we thought that it would be really a cool way for our field team to demonstrate SLES at trade shows. And finally, we did it because it looked like a lot of fun!”

SLES for Raspberry Pi features include:

  • Enabled for built-in I/O including WiFi, Bluetooth, HDMI, Ethernet, and GPIO
  • Boots to an easy-to-use graphical user interface
  • Uses the btrfs filesystem for simplified administration
  • Includes GCC and popular development tools
  • SUSE Linux OS packaging as an image that is ready to be copied to an SD Card
  • Free, one-year self-service subscription for updates and fixes
  • No commercial support for now, but a forum is available for tech support.
  • Requires 8GB SD card, USB KB/mouse, HDMI cable/monitor, 2.5A or more power supply

“Special adaptations” required to get SLES up on the RPi 3 included devising a way to use uboot to provide an EFI boot environment, as well as adaptations and patches to get things like WiFi and Bluetooth working, says SUSE. “Because there have been several ARM enhancements in the latest levels of gcc, you should use gcc-6 instead of gcc for compiling programs,” says SUSE. Not all SLES capabilities are enabled, however, such as Docker support.

In addition, “We chose to use the ICE Window Manager as the default for the Pi due to the somewhat limited memory resources on the Pi,” says the SUSE blog. It will be interesting to see how SLES for the Raspberry Pi 3 performs with only 1GB of RAM, ICE or no ICE. A version of the Raspberry Pi with 2GB, which many believe is a requisite for achieving most of the performance benefits from 64-bit, would appear to require enhancements made to the Broadcom BCM2837 SoC’s Broadcom VideoCore IV GPU.


Aside from Canonical’s Ubuntu and Fedora, which is a community-backed upstream sandbox distro that forms the basis for SLES rival Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), other distro projects working on 64-bit RPi versions include Arch Linux, and there’s been a 64-bit Gentoo Linux image available for several months that still “remains unstable and is not recommended.” The Raspberry Pi Foundation has announced no plans to update Raspbian, although when it announced the RPi 3 in February, it said it would “consider” such a move.

SUSE Linux background

SUSE was one of the first Linux distributions, back in 1992, and emerged as one of the top Linux server distributions along with market leader Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) while also holding its own on the desktop. In the first decade of the millennium, SUSE frequently appeared as a supported option for high-end embedded x86 boards, although this has fallen off somewhat in recent years.

In 2011, Attachmate acquired most of the assets of Novell primarily for the SUSE technology, and formed a SUSE business unit in Nuremberg, Germany. In Sept. 2014, Micro Focus International acquired Attachmate, but left the SUSE unit intact. The SUSE business was once again the main focus of the acquisition. A month later, SUSE released SLES 12, which is still the current release.

Further information

More information on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for Raspberry Pi may be found in the SUSE and Raspberry Pi Foundation announcements. Sign up for downloads may be found on this SLES for Raspberry Pi page.

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8 responses to “First 64-bit distro for Raspberry Pi 3 is… SUSE?”

  1. Adrian Klaver says:

    There are openSUSE versions available:

  2. Tomaso Bulligan says:

    Thanks! Nice article!

    A quick correction: we released SLES 12 on October 27th, 2014 not in 2012.

    SLES 12 SP2 has just been released two weeks ago.

  3. lyoko says:

    WRONG! the first distro would be ArchLinuxArm since it had armv8/arm64 before the RPI3 was even released.

    • HackerBoards says:

      We appreciate the feedback. However, the RPi 3 page of currently says…

      “Note: The current installation uses the 32-bit Raspberry Pi 2 armv7h root filesystem. This will be changing eventually to use our AArch64 repository to take full advantage of the ARMv8 Cortex-A53 cores. If you want an AArch64 system, consider the ODROID-C2.”

      Can you point us to a reference that indicates that an AArch64 filesystem for RPi 3 with ARMv8 Cortex-A53 support is now available? Thanks!

  4. Ricardo says:


    You are now this is working with a MongoDB 64 bits ?

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