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Free ARM emulator beats real hardware

Sep 27, 2006 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 17 views

French Debian developer Aurelien Jarno has published a how-to about installing Debian (or another Linux distribution) on the open-source QEMU emulator. When run on newish AMD-based PCs, the setup can outperform actual hardware development targets, he says.

(Click for larger view of Debian ARM running on QEMU)

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QEMU is an open source software emulator for x86 that can emulate systems with processors of various architectures, including 386, x86_64, ARM, MIPS, PowerPC and Sparc. For ARM, two emulated platforms are available — an older “Integrator” platform, and a newly-added “Versatile” platform.

The new Versatile platform includes a SCSI hard disk controller, Ethernet card, and graphical display. According to Jarno, when run on an Athlon 64 3800+, it can perform 20 percent faster than the ARM-based LinkSys NSLU2 (aka “Slug,” pictured at right), an inexpensive network-attached storage appliance that is commonly pressed into service as a full Debian ARM development target.

Jarno's how-to begins by describing how to download and install QEMU from CVS, to ensure that the Versatile platform support is included. He then configures QEMU to emulate a 10GB hard drive, and downloads a publicly shared Versatile kernel that he created (Debian ARM does not yet include a kernel that supports the image, he says). Next he downloads Debian's “Etch” installer, and bootstraps the installer using a qemu-system-arm command.

Versatile console
first boot

(Click to enlarge)

Jarno next describes several harmless error messages, leading ultimately to the emulated ARM system's first boot (pictured at right). Jarno completes the basic installation by installing a more complete kernel.

Jarno's how-to goes on to explore a few more advanced topics, such as running an Xorg server, increasing the amount of RAM to the maximum supported size of 256MB, and setting up a network bridge to allow the emulated system access to the Internet. The how-to closes with a list of additional resources.

The full how-to can be found here.

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