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Installing Debian 12 on a Banana Pi M5

I recently bought a Banana Pi BPI-M5, which uses the Amlogic S905X3 SoC: these are my notes about installing Debian on it.

While this SoC is supported by the upstream U-Boot it is not supported by the Debian U-Boot package, so debian-installer does not work. Do not be fooled by seeing the DTB file for this exact board being distributed with debian-installer: all DTB files are, and it does not mean that the board is supposed to work.

As I documented in #1033504, the Debian kernels are currently missing some patches needed to support the SD card reader.

I started by downloading an Armbian Banana Pi image and booted it from an SD card. From there I partitioned the eMMC, which always appears as /dev/mmcblk1:

parted /dev/mmcblk1
(parted) mklabel msdos
(parted) mkpart primary ext4 4194304B -1
(parted) align-check optimal 1
mkfs.ext4 /dev/mmcblk1p1

Make sure to leave enough space before the first partition, or else U-Boot will overwrite it: as it is common for many ARM SoCs, U-Boot lives somewhere in the gap between the MBR and the first partition.

I looked at Armbian's /usr/lib/u-boot/ and installed U-Boot by manually copying it to the eMMC:

dd if=/usr/lib/linux-u-boot-edge-bananapim5_22.08.6_arm64/u-boot.bin of=/dev/mmcblk1 bs=1 count=442
dd if=/usr/lib/linux-u-boot-edge-bananapim5_22.08.6_arm64/u-boot.bin of=/dev/mmcblk1 bs=512 skip=1 seek=1

Beware: Armbian's U-Boot 2022.10 is buggy, so I had to use an older image.

I did not want to install a new system, so I copied over my old Cubieboard install:

mount /dev/mmcblk1p1 /mnt/
rsync -xaHSAX --delete --numeric-ids root@old-server:/ /mnt/ --exclude='/tmp/*' --exclude='/var/tmp/*'

Since the Cubieboard has a 32 bit CPU and the Banana Pi requires an arm64 kernel I enabled the architecture and installed a new kernel:

dpkg --add-architecture arm64
apt update
apt install linux-image-arm64
apt purge linux-image-6.1.0-6-armmp linux-image-armmp

At some point I will cross-grade the entire system.

Even if ttyS0 exists it is not the serial console, which appears as ttyAML0 instead. Nowadays systemd automatically starts a getty if the serial console is enabled on the kernel command line, so I just had to disable the old manually-configured getty:

systemctl disable serial-getty@ttyS0.service

I wanted to have a fully working flash-kernel, so I used Armbian's boot.scr as a template to create /etc/flash-kernel/bootscript/bootscr.meson and then added a custom entry for the Banana Pi to /etc/flash-kernel/db:

Machine: Banana Pi BPI-M5
Kernel-Flavors: arm64
DTB-Id: amlogic/meson-sm1-bananapi-m5.dtb
U-Boot-Initrd-Address: 0x0
Boot-Initrd-Path: /boot/uInitrd
Boot-Initrd-Path-Version: yes
Boot-Script-Path: /boot/boot.scr
U-Boot-Script-Name: bootscr.meson
Required-Packages: u-boot-tools

All things considered I do not think that I would recommend to Debian users to buy Amlogic-based boards since there are many other better supported SoCs.


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