2.1. Supported Hardware

Debian does not impose hardware requirements beyond the requirements of the Linux or kFreeBSD kernel and the GNU tool-sets. Therefore, any architecture or platform to which the Linux or kFreeBSD kernel, libc, gcc, etc. have been ported, and for which a Debian port exists, can run Debian. Please refer to the Ports pages at http://www.debian.org/ports/arm/ for more details on 32-bit hard-float ARMv7 architecture systems which have been tested with Debian GNU/Linux.

Rather than attempting to describe all the different hardware configurations which are supported for 32-bit hard-float ARMv7, this section contains general information and pointers to where additional information can be found.

2.1.1. Supported Architectures

Debian GNU/Linux 8 supports ten major architectures and several variations of each architecture known as flavors.

Architecture Debian Designation Subarchitecture Flavor
Intel x86-based i386    
AMD64 & Intel 64 amd64    
ARM armel Intel IXP4xx ixp4xx
Marvell Kirkwood kirkwood
Marvell Orion orion5x
Versatile versatile
ARM with hardware FPU armhf multiplatform armmp
multiplatform for LPAE-capable systems armmp-lpae
64bit ARM arm64    
MIPS (big endian) mips SGI IP22 (Indy/Indigo 2) r4k-ip22
SGI IP32 (O2) r5k-ip32
MIPS Malta (32 bit) 4kc-malta
MIPS Malta (64 bit) 5kc-malta
MIPS (little endian) mipsel MIPS Malta (32 bit) 4kc-malta
MIPS Malta (64 bit) 5kc-malta
IBM/Motorola PowerPC powerpc PowerMac pmac
PReP prep
Power Systems ppc64el IBM POWER8 or newer machines  
64bit IBM S/390 s390x IPL from VM-reader and DASD generic

This document covers installation for the 32-bit hard-float ARMv7 architecture using the Linux kernel. If you are looking for information on any of the other Debian-supported architectures take a look at the Debian-Ports pages.

2.1.2. Three different ARM ports

The ARM architecture has evolved over time and modern ARM processors provide features which are not available in older models. Debian therefore provides three ARM ports to give the best support for a very wide range of different machines:

  • Debian/armel targets older 32-bit ARM processors without support for a hardware floating point unit (FPU),

  • Debian/armhf works only on newer 32-bit ARM processors which implement at least the ARMv7 architecture with version 3 of the ARM vector floating point specification (VFPv3). It makes use of the extended features and performance enhancements available on these models.

  • Debian/arm64 works on 64-bit ARM processors which implement at least the ARMv8 architecture.

Technically, all currently available ARM CPUs can be run in either endian mode (big or little), but in practice the vast majority use little-endian mode. All of Debian/arm64, Debian/armhf and Debian/armel support only little-endian systems.

2.1.3. Variations in ARM CPU designs and support complexity

ARM systems are much more heterogeneous than those based on the i386/amd64-based PC architecture, so the support situation can be much more complicated.

The ARM architecture is used mainly in so-called system-on-chip (SoC) designs. These SoCs are designed by many different companies with vastly varying hardware components even for the very basic functionality required to bring the system up. System firmware interfaces have been increasingly standardised over time, but especially on older hardware firmware/boot interfaces vary a great deal, so on these systems the Linux kernel has to take care of many system-specific low-level issues which would be handled by the mainboard's BIOS in the PC world.

At the beginning of the ARM support in the Linux kernel, the hardware variety resulted in the requirement of having a separate kernel for each ARM system in contrast to the one-fits-all kernel for PC systems. As this approach does not scale to a large number of different systems, work was done to allow booting with a single ARM kernel that can run on different ARM systems. Support for newer ARM systems is now implemented in a way that allows the use of such a multiplatform kernel, but for several older systems a separate specific kernel is still required. Because of this, the standard Debian distribution only supports installation on a selected number of such older ARM systems, alongside the newer systems which are supported by the ARM multiplatform kernels (called armmp) in Debian/armhf.

2.1.4. Platforms supported by Debian/armhf

The following systems are known to work with Debian/armhf using the multiplatform (armmp) kernel:

Freescale MX53 Quick Start Board

The IMX53QSB is a development board based on the i.MX53 SoC.

Versatile Express

The Versatile Express is a development board series from ARM consisting of a baseboard which can be equipped with various CPU daughter boards.

Certain Allwinner sunXi-based development boards and embedded systems

The armmp kernel supports several development boards and embedded systems based on the Allwinner A10 (architecture codename sun4i), A10s/A13 (architecture codename sun5i) and A20 (architecture codename sun7i) SoCs. Full installer support is currently available for the following sunXi-based systems:

  • Cubietech Cubieboard 1 + 2 / Cubietruck

  • LeMaker Banana Pi and Banana Pro

  • LinkSprite pcDuino and pcDuino3

  • Mele A1000

  • Miniand Hackberry

  • Olimex A10-Olinuxino-LIME / A10s-Olinuxino Micro / A13-Olinuxino / A13-Olinuxino Micro / A20-Olinuxino-LIME / A20-Olinuxino-LIME2 / A20-Olinuxino Micro

  • PineRiver Mini X-Plus

System support for Allwinner sunXi-based devices is limited to drivers and device-tree information available in the mainline Linux kernel. The android-derived linux-sunxi.org 3.4 kernel series is not supported by Debian.

The mainline Linux kernel generally supports serial console, ethernet, SATA, USB and MMC/SD-cards on Allwinner A10, A10s/A13 and A20 SoCs, but it does not have native drivers for the display (HDMI/VGA/LCD) and audio hardware in these SoCs. The NAND flash memory that is built into some sunXi-based systems is not supported.

Using a local display is technically possible without native display drivers via the simplefb infrastructure in the mainline kernel, which relies on the U-Boot bootloader for initialising the display hardware, but this is not supported by the U-Boot version in Debian 8.

SolidRun Cubox-i2eX / Cubox-i4Pro

The Cubox-i series is a set of small, cubical-shaped systems based on the Freescale i.MX6 SoC family. System support for the Cubox-i series is limited to drivers and device-tree information available in the mainline Linux kernel; the Freescale 3.0 kernel series for the Cubox-i is not supported by Debian. Available drivers in the mainline kernel include serial console, ethernet, USB, MMC/SD-card and display support over HDMI (console and X11). In addition to that, the eSATA port on the Cubox-i4Pro is supported.

Wandboard Quad

The Wandboard Quad is a development board based on the Freescale i.MX6 Quad SoC. System support for it is limited to drivers and device-tree information available in the mainline Linux kernel; the wandboard-specific 3.0 and 3.10 kernel series from wandboard.org are not supported by Debian. The mainline kernel includes driver support for serial console, display via HDMI (console and X11), ethernet, USB, MMC/SD and SATA. Support for the onboard audio options (analog, S/PDIF, HDMI-Audio) and for the onboard WLAN/Bluetooth module is not available in Debian 8.

Generally, the ARM multiplatform support in the Linux kernel allows running debian-installer on armhf systems not explicitly listed above, as long as the kernel used by debian-installer has support for the target system's components and a device-tree file for the target is available. In these cases, the installer can usually provide a working installation, but it may not be able to automatically make the system bootable. Doing that in many cases requires device-specific information.

When using debian-installer on such systems, you may have to manually make the system bootable at the end of the installation, e.g. by running the required commands in a shell started from within debian-installer.

2.1.5. Platforms no longer supported by Debian/armhf


The EfikaMX platform (Genesi Efika Smartbook and Genesi EfikaMX nettop) was supported in Debian 7 with a platform-specific kernel, but is no longer supported from Debian 8 onwards. The code required to build the formerly used platform-specific kernel has been removed from the upstream Linux kernel source in 2012, so Debian cannot provide newer builds. Using the armmp multiplatform kernel on the EfikaMX platform would require device-tree support for it, which is currently not available.

2.1.6. Multiple Processors

Multiprocessor support — also called symmetric multiprocessing or SMP — is available for this architecture. The standard Debian 8 kernel image has been compiled with SMP-alternatives support. This means that the kernel will detect the number of processors (or processor cores) and will automatically deactivate SMP on uniprocessor systems.

Having multiple processors in a computer was originally only an issue for high-end server systems but has become common in recent years nearly everywhere with the introduction of so called multi-core processors. These contain two or more processor units, called cores, in one physical chip.

2.1.7. Graphics Hardware Support

Debian's support for graphical interfaces is determined by the underlying support found in X.Org's X11 system, and the kernel. Basic framebuffer graphics is provided by the kernel, whilst desktop environments use X11. Whether advanced graphics card features such as 3D-hardware acceleration or hardware-accelerated video are available, depends on the actual graphics hardware used in the system and in some cases on the installation of additional firmware images (see Section 2.2, “Devices Requiring Firmware”).

Nearly all ARM machines have the graphics hardware built-in, rather than being on a plug-in card. Some machines do have expansion slots which will take graphics cards, but that is a rarity. Hardware designed to be headless with no graphics at all is quite common. Whilst basic framebuffer video provided by the kernel should work on all devices that have graphics, fast 3D graphics invariably needs binary drivers to work. The situation is changing quickly but at the time of the jessie release free drivers for nouveau (Nvidia Tegra K1 SoC) and freedreno (Qualcomm Snapdragon SoCs) are available in the release. Other hardware needs non-free drivers from 3rd parties.

Details on supported graphics hardware and pointing devices can be found at http://xorg.freedesktop.org/. Debian 8 ships with X.Org version 7.7.

2.1.8. Network Connectivity Hardware

Almost any network interface card (NIC) supported by the Linux kernel should also be supported by the installation system; drivers should normally be loaded automatically.

On 32-bit hard-float ARMv7, most built-in Ethernet devices are supported and modules for additional PCI and USB devices are provided.

2.1.9. Peripherals and Other Hardware

Linux supports a large variety of hardware devices such as mice, printers, scanners, PCMCIA/CardBus/ExpressCard and USB devices. However, most of these devices are not required while installing the system.