Debian on the Lemote YeeLoong

Loongson Club logoLemote YeeLoong dragon mascotSo, I bought myself a Lemote YeeLoong 8089B “notebook”. Well, actually its more a netbook. As I had such god success with Debian on my SGI O2, I wanted to try a more modern MIPS based device. Something that I could actually use for something other than just show of as fancy old school hardware to my buddies. Lemote’s YeeLoong with its Chinese “dragon chip” Loongson, a reverse engineered, MIPS compatible CPU, provided me with just that thing.

Of course I installed Debian on it. I usually prefer the stable release, but I had read that the installer was not fully completed before squeezes freeze. Apparently you would have to partition your disk yourself with fdisk. Lazy as I am, I chose to directly install wheezy, the current testing release, as that installer was already complete. Using a USB stick and a mipsel image of wheezy, the install was a piece of cake. The most complicated thing was the mounting of the USB stick in the YeeLoongs BIOS replacement PMON. I mostly followed the tutorial on the Debian wiki. The basic install run flawless.

There were a couple of things that did not work out of the box. One was the Xserver. You need to install some “tuned” packages from the Anheng companys repository. In case it is down again, a friendly Russian provides a mirror of it.

More Loongson optimized packages (including iceweasel and mplayer) can be found at the repository of the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei.

For complete hardware support, including sound and battery sensors, you might want to install the linux-libre kernel instead of the Debian one.

Some additional information can be found at Lemote’s linux development community.

Oh, and then there was this nasty bug with the libXi6 library, which was a show stopper for some gnome apps like evince. They just crashed with a “bus error” on startup. The solution is described in a post at the Austrian overclockers forum (THX-a-lot Grand Admiral Thrawn 🙂 ). The bug has something to do with enforcing 8 byte alignment of memory access, which seems to be a special “feature” of this CPU. Luckily for lazy me, this was the only package I had to compile myself. 😉

5 Responses to “Debian on the Lemote YeeLoong”

  1. Where did you bought it? How much did you paid?

    How is the performance/battery life?

  2. Oh, yeah, forgot to add that: I bought mine at Tekmote in the netherlands. The model was the Lemote YeeLoong 8089 8,9″ ultra mini-laptop Pure Black for EUR 240.

    The performance is different. 🙂 When you do integer number crunching its quite fast and even comparable with Intel Core CPU. But the device is really slow doing floating point math. What is worst is the SMI712 “graphic chip”. I write that in quotes, because its basically non existent. Almost all the work is done in software.

    So, what does that all mean when running actual programs or a desktop on the device? When you are used to Intel CPUs with a rather good floating point performance you will find that some small programs that usually run pretty fast are either completely or at certain odd spots suddenly pretty slow. On the other hand crypto or compression algorithms don’t seem to be effected by that and run rather fast or at least as fast as you can expect from an 800 MHz CPU. It is no problem to open huge files or run many or huge applications, as there is plenty of RAM. But task switching or lots of concurrently running processes kill the performance. The console is pretty usable compared to some of my 233 and 300 MHz Laptops that I also run with the current stable Debian. The Desktop is barely usable. It takes up to a few minutes to start larger application like gimp or firefox. When they are started they run, well, or at least walk. It takes more than three minutes to boot the device.

    My current setup is Debian wheezy on a dmcrypted hard drive. It boots directly into a minimal Desktop with Ratpoison as window manager. I use Wicd as a network manager replacement. The gimp is a quite interesting experience to run, because some parts of it rely heavily on floating point math and others don’t. There is a firefox 7 build floating around, that was optimized for this CPU (usable on regular webpages, crawling on JS-heavy sites). Other tools I have installed are Inkscape (slow, but pretty usable), gedit (very usable, only sporadically slow when opening or saving files) and evince (it takes some time to render each page of a PDF, but the pages already in memory are very usable).

    Bottom line: It is a fun thing to play around with, if you like weird and exotic computer architectures. The Fuloong could even be used as a rather powerful embedded system or the Lynloong as a cheap kiosk system to display animations or automatically reloading webpages. On the other side the graphics performance is very poor, there is no touch screen and there is no flash player for this CPU architecture, so kiosk systems might not be such a good idea after all.

  3. By the way, I really like the design of your blog.

  4. I hoped the performance would be better.

    I thought to buy one in favor of one based on ARM.

    And run Debian LXDE on it.

  5. Yeah, its not a real alternative to a netbook.

    Fun fact: Apparently, at least in 2010, Richard Stallman was using one of these as his main laptop.

    PS: I just realized, that I forgot to tell you about the battery life. When under full load (ex. gzipping huge archive) the battery lasts for only about half an hour. When idling it will last about 50 Minutes.

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