First Look at Armbian Linux on Raspberry Pi 4

Armbian Linux Raspberry Pi

Armbian, a powerful project providing Debian and Ubuntu Linux environments for ARM boards and computers, has recently started offering images for the Raspberry Pi 4 SBC.

Every time I write an article about Armbian, people ask: when will Raspberry Pi support be available? Well, the wait is (almost) over as the Armbian community has finally added build framework support for the Raspberry Pi 4 single-board computer.

So of course I had to see Armbian Linux in action on my Raspberry Pi 4 Model B SBC with 8GB RAM. Armbian is currently providing builds based on the upcoming Ubuntu 22.04 LTS (Jammy Jellyfish) operating system series with the Xfce and Cinnamon desktop environments pre-installed, as well as a text-based (CLI) variant.

Installation and first impression

Installing Armbian Linux on the Raspberry Pi 4 is as easy as downloading the image (new builds are generated every day) and writing it to a microSD card with an SD card flashing utility, such as the Raspberry Pi Imager or GNOME’s Disks. No tricks or gimmicks!

First boot takes a bit as the filesystem needs to be resized and hardware optimizations applied. During the first run, you are promoted to enter a strong password for the root (system administrator) account, choose the default system shell (Bash of ZSH), as well as to create a user and set a password for it (optional).

Once you’ve done the steps above, the system will automatically enter the live session, Xfce or Cinnamon in this case. Of course, I’ve tested both variants to see how they work.

Fair warning: These are nighly builds and come without any warranty whatsoever. You’ll also see a warning during the first-run setup mentioned above, so read it carefully and be aware of the fact that your system may break in the future.

Xfce or Cinnamon?

Armbian for Raspberry Pi 4 uses the same theme for both the Xfce and Cinnamon editions. There are very small differences between the two environments, so, in the end, it’s only a matter of choice, if you like Xfce or Cinnamon.

In addition, they both come with the same pre-installed apps, arranged in the same categories for easy reference. Some popular apps included in the Raspberry Pi 4 Armbian builds are Firefox and Chromium web browsers, GIMP image editor, LibreOffice office suite, Thunderbird email client, Transmission torrent downloader, Pinta drawing app, and MPV media player.

There is, however, a major difference between the two editions, and that’s the fact that the Xfce flavor uses the Xfce 4.16 desktop environment, while the Cinnamon edition ships with the old Cinnamon 4.8 desktop environment rather than the newer Cinnamon 5.0, or recently released Cinnamon 5.2.

What works and what doesn’t work?

Sound doesn’t work on either edition, and this may be a major drawback for many of you wanting to run Armbian Linux on your Raspberry Pi 4 computers. While the Cinnamon edition features a volume control in the system tray area (doesn’t do anything), the Xfce edition doesn’t even come with a system tray volume applet by default.

The good news is that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth work out of the box. What also works, and quite well, is HD (720p) and Full HD (1080p) YouTube video playback, but without sound it’s no fun. Apart from that, connecting an external drive or remote share works, and I couldn’t find any other major issues. For a nightly build, it works very nice!

Final thoughts

One thing that I like about Armbian Linux is its powerful configuration utility that lets you do a lot of things, including but not limited to installing IR support, disable IPv6 for APT, create a Wi-Fi hotspot, disable Armbian kernel updates (which may break your system), change the CPU speed and governor, and much more.

All in all, I find Armbian Linux on the Raspberry Pi 4 to be fast and work without issues, for a nightly build. I really hope that this becomes a stable build in the near future, but the Armbian community needs an official maintainer for it to become reality.

Last updated 1 month ago