Pinebook Pro ReviewI received

Found at: colorfield.space:70/~jboverf/pbp.txt

Pinebook Pro Review

I received my Pinebook Pro (PBP) back in January
but I wanted to "use it in anger" for several
weeks before posting a review. The bottom line:
I like it and would recommend it to developers,
tinkerers, and probably everyone in the tildeverse.
I would not recommend it to your grandmother.
There are plenty of sharp edges still but you'd
be hard-pressed to find better value right now at

Initial Setup

The PBP came with a short setup guide the directs
you to the forums. I was able to power on and log
into the default Debian distribution that comes
factory installed. The desktop environment is
heavily modified and has a few rough spots I wasn't
a fan of. For one, even though the PBP has a 64-bit
ARM chipset, the userland in the default Debian
installation is 32-bit. This is apparently because
the Widevine DRM binaries for watching Netflix only
come in 32 bit for ARM chips. I guess if you watch
Netflix on your computer this might be a good
thing for you. As an aside, this kind of B.S. is
exactly why we didn't want DRM "standards" on the
web in the first place. Also, the Debian PBP support
is not official and thus the way you get updates for
certain core packages is by pulling them down via
an included script. All this script does is download
from some GitHub repo. Not great. These factors
immediately led me down the path of installing a
different distro.

Enter Manjaro

After perusing the forums, I found the Manjaro
team had received an early developer PBP unit
and support was quite good already. Most importantly,
they have an installer which you can flash to a
microSD card and it will automatically flash to the
internal eMMC memory on the PBP. Otherwise, you'd
have to take out the eMMC and flash the image
yourself. Go for the "emmc" images here [1]. The
install worked perfectly on the first try and I
booted into a nice, dark-theme XFCE4 desktop.

WiFi and everything else that worked on Debian
worked out of the box on Manjaro, but now I had
the 64-bit userland I desired. I tried some
quick development on it, downloading the arm64
binary Go distribution. Compilation was, of
course, a bit slower than my top of the line
machines, but not terrible. This was my first
time using Manjaro, but I was able to install
the usual packages after looking up docs for
pacman, the package manager it shares with Arch.

Printing and Compiling

I joked about this on Mastodon, but it's true.
arm64 will bring you back to the good old days
of Linux. Get ready to compile a ton of software.
Anything that wasn't a common library or program
has to be compiled. One of the things I wanted
to try was running some of my ham radio software.
Fldigi was not available in the Manjaro repos,
so I compiled it. There are instructions out
there for raspberry pis that can be adapted
for the PBP [2]. I got that working, plugged
in my radio CAT control and actually made a
PSK31 contact with KD5ILA on 40 meters. Will
it ham? Yes!

The same day I set up the PBP in earnest, I
actually had cause to print something. I've used
a Brother black-and-white laser printer for some
time now and have been very pleased. My main
computer runs Lubuntu and Brother provides
.deb files to install the drivers. However,
the only other packages they provide for Linux
are rpms. Well, I can't use either of those
on Manjaro! I installed CUPS and started it up
to try to configure via the CUPS web interface.
The Generic drivers didn't work (no surprise).
I ended up having to break open the deb
archive to pull out the PPD file and upload
it to the CUPS web interface in the Add Printer
section to get it working. How nostalgic.

There were probably other ways to do this, but
I used the IPP protocol in CUPS. The URL should
be ipp://<ip of the printer>/ipp/port1

If you have a Brother laser printer you want to
set up with the PBP, let me know and I can help.

I think I might set up a CUPS server for my
whole network on an RPI and then just have
any new computers hit that CUPS server to prevent
having to do this on any future non-Ubuntu machines.

Rough Edges

The following is a list of strange things that
either were a problem or are still a problem with
Manjaro on the PBP:

* xfce4-screensaver is not installed by default,
  thus there is no lockscreen. A simple install
  via pacman fixed the problem but that's...odd

* I can't get my RTL-SDR to work. I installed the
  package for it and gqrx, but for some reason the
  OS won't get samples from it. I haven't spent
  the time to dig into this one yet

* WSJT-X won't compile, so no FT8 :-( Looks like
  this is an issue in the Arch package too - the
  version of Qt that ships is too new and there
  is a naming conflict it seems.

* When audio starts up, it crackles for a second
  until it gets going. Very strange.

* The headphone jack doesn't work. This seems to
  be common on the PBP and none of the prescribed
  fixes have worked for me. In the meantime I
  plugged in a USB audio interface which works fine
  The integrated speakers work fine however *shrug*

Next Steps

It seems that BSD support is chugging along, but
for a laptop I can't install anything that doesn't
support 5GHz WiFi. I live in a city and the 2.4GHz
band is so saturated that it is unusable. That's a
shame because I'd really like to try NetBSD on the
PBP - I'm sure it would hum.

That's it for now! Hit me up with questions/comments
@jboverf@mastodon.sdf.org or <my username here> [at] sdf.org!

[1] https://osdn.net/projects/manjaro-arm/storage/pbpro/xfce/
[2] http://www.kk5jy.net/fldigi-build/