Installing Fedora on Power9 —

Installing Fedora on Power9

by Joshua Branson — March 06, 2023

My friend has a TalosII machine. He currently uses void linux, but void has dropped their Power ISA support. So I convinced him to give Debian Gnu/Linux a try. First we downloaded the debian image:

We navigated our way around the website to download a complete debian DVD image, which was about 5 GB. We then tried to figure out how to verify the installer image, which basically means, to check that the file we downloaded was not malware.

Well let’s first import the debian GPG keys:

gpg --keyserver hkp:// --recv-key \
    "1046 0DAD 7616 5AD8 1FBC  0CE9 9880 21A9 64E6 EA7D"

gpg --keyserver hkp:// --recv-key \
    "DF9B 9C49 EAA9 2984 3258  9D76 DA87 E80D 6294 BE9B"

gpg --keyserver hkp:// --recv-key \
    "F41D 3034 2F35 4669 5F65  C669 4246 8F40 09EA 8AC3"

Let’s double check that we have those signing keys:

gpg --list-keys | grep debian

uid           [ unknown] Debian CD signing key <>
uid           [ unknown] Debian CD signing key <>
uid           [ unknown] Debian Testing CDs Automatic Signing Key <>

Sweet. Now what? How do we actually and practically, via what commands, verify the installer images? Well the debian page is not specific about what to do next. So I had to searching the internet for how to verify debian images. And I found this awesome blog post. Here’s how we do it:


gpg --verify SHA512SUMS.sign
gpg --verify SHA512SUMS.sign SHA512SUMS

sha512sum -c SHA512SUMS 2>/dev/null | grep debian-11.6.0-ppc64el-netinst.iso

debian-11.6.0-ppc64el-netinst.iso: OK

We then tried to boot the usb debian power image. That failed to boot. Then we tried burning that image to a DVD. That did not work.

So I am guessing that Debian GNU/Linux will work on power, BUT the graphical installer does not currently work on Debian (I found out later that the Debian ncuruses installer does work on power).

My friend then installed Ubuntu server. Ubuntu server's installer actually worked! Then we just turned Ubuntu server into a Xubuntu like environment via command like: sudo apt install xfce -y.

Then we rebooted and everything worked! Well, Gnome did not. And Xubuntu did not, but then we used gdm to log into xfce desktop. That worked flawlessly.

The netsurf web browser also worked really well! Which meant we could use any website that had virtually no javascript.

Then I thought, it would be great to have a modern web browser working on my friend’s desktop...

Well it looks like Firefox can run on Power9!

The latest blog post says that you can run Firefox version 110 on Power9. You can either add in a --disable-webrtc in your .mozconfig or you can compile Firefox with a tiny patch.

AND nonguix has a recipe for building Firefox. Let’s see if I can just install guix set up the nonguix channel and build Firefox that way!

If the nonguix packaged Firefox doesn’t work, then I can try to set build firefox from source via this video:

Devaun was also a possiblity. That is a fork of debian that does not use systemd. My friend is not a big fan of systemd.

I was also told that Fedora is probably the easiest linux distribution, in which to run GNU/Linux on Power9.

Well installing Fedora was actually easy. The installer just worked. (Apparently Debian GNU/Linux disables the ast driver by default, which means a VGA display will not work). And I have a working Firefox. Apparently I can run a slightly older version of firefox that has a working javascript JIT.

My friend now has a working Xfce desktop courtesy from Fedora GNU/Linux. My only concern is that this blog post seems to suggest that updating Fedora on a Power9 machine is going to be quite annoying. I would not want to have to re-install Fedora every time they upgrade. I personally no longer have any issues upgrading my laptop to my distro latest release, because I have found that GNU Guix System just works really well. And if an upgrade breaks, then I can always roll back to the previous known working system during the boot process.

It looks like Fedora can support something like this:

Maybe it is already enabled by default. Who knows.

I would personally love to recommend my friend to use GNU Guix System, but currently you cannot boot Guix System from Power9. The next step for me in this journey to help my friend set up his TalosII is to make sure his AMDGPU works. This wiki article should help with that.

Also from the #talos-workstation chat log on irc, I found out that the Linux kernel is having some issues with the graphics drivers on Power9. Currently the user is required to do some manual fiddling. However those workarounds should not be necessary by kernel 6.3ish. So until my friend runs Linux 6.3, he will probably have the best desktop experience in Xfce or KDE. Gnome has some minor issues apparently.