Linux distribution: Ubuntu for Visionfive-2 RISC-V single-board computers

Canonical has released Ubuntu 23.04 for the RISC-V based single board computer (SBC) Starfive Visionfive-2. This is the first distribution to officially offer on-board operating system images.

The selection of Linux distributions for the board has thus been enriched by a variant that is officially supported by a large Linux distributor. In their announcement, Ubuntu and Starfive emphasize their close collaboration on which the Ubuntu port is based.

However, the installation instructions quickly dashed any hope that an official Ubuntu image would provide a “Plug and Play” operating system. Depending on which board revision is used, the device tree, for example, must still be selected and changed. In addition, the U-Boot boot loader needs to be updated to version 2.8.0 or later on January 19 of this year in order for Ubuntu to start on it.

Screenshot firmware update on Visionfive-2

Screenshot firmware update on Visionfive-2

After all, now the firmware update on the Visionfive-2 is easier. The firmware can then be updated with just a few commands.

(Image: heise online / dmk)

The firmware can be downloaded from Starfive’s Github project page. Starting on page 29, the current instructions describe how to carry out the update.

Foto der Boot-Switches

Foto der Boot-Switches

The current Starfive Debian boots from the SD card if the boot switches are set to “SD”. The lower dip switch must be pushed to the left for this. After the firmware update, the initial situation can then be restored.

(Image: heise online / dmk)

The first start takes a little longer. Ubuntu reports several minutes. An entry in the Ubuntu manual indicates around two and a half minutes that the initialization takes. On our test system, however, a message about a successful cloud init came after about a minute. She appeared directly on the console. What’s irritating is that, unlike previous Linux distributions, the operating LED on the board under Ubuntu does not flash green when the SD card is accessed. However, the system starts anyway.

Screenshot of the serial console

Screenshot of the serial console

Getting started with Ubuntu on the Visionfive-2 requires a serial console. Access with a mouse, keyboard and monitor directly on the Visionfive-2 is initially not planned.

(Bild: Screenshot / dmk)

Since this is an Ubuntu server system, no graphical desktop environment is pre-installed. That wouldn’t be a problem, but the keyboard and monitor on the Visionfive-2 with Ubuntu are currently useless; the monitor shows nothing, the system does not seem to respond to the keyboard. Access is possible with a serial console on the UART, i.e. with a USB-to-serial converter. This changes the password and, if necessary, the device tree and sets up SSH, for example. Only then is access via the network a little more convenient.

Default user and password are initially “ubuntu”. When logging in for the first time, you will be prompted to change your password. If you have the Visionfive 2 board in revision 1.2A, you now have to change the device tree – but these are only four simple commands according to the instructions:

echo 'StarFive VisionFive 2 v1.2A' | sudo tee /etc/flash-kernel/machine
sudo flash-kernel $(uname -r)
sudo update-grub
sudo reboot

The restriction of the currently used Linux kernel 6.2 for RISC-V is also painful. This currently supports neither USB nor PCIe. However, Ubuntu developers are expecting future kernel versions that will add support for it.

If the necessary pull-ups don’t put you off: Those interested can download the “Ubuntu Server preinstalled image” from the Ubuntu website. On the left is the navigation where the “Starfive VisionFive 2” board now appears in the selection.

Up to now, only Debian versions adapted by Starfive itself and a “Bastellinux” called DietPi as well as other community-driven Linux distributions were available for the Visionfive.-2-SBC. With Ubuntu, they are likely to face serious competition in the foreseeable future.


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