Raspberry Pi 3: Testing out Manjaro ARM 18.12

I'm trying out the latest release of Manjaro Linux ARM for the Raspberry Pi 3 Models B and B+
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

The last time that I wrote about non-Raspbian Linux on the Raspberry Pi, I overlooked Manjaro because I thought their ARM project had been shut down. This error was pointed out to me in a comment to that post, and I subsequently found the Manjaro ARM re-launch announcement from last spring.  

It now exists as a project with its own web page, a small group of dedicated developers, and a focus on the Raspberry Pi 3 and Odroid C2 SBCs, and the Pinebook laptop. When I saw the announcement of Manjaro-ARM 18.12.1 on the Manjaro News page, I decided it was time to get back to this, so here we go!

First, a few words about supported devices. I'm not sure that I really understand everything about this; the release announcement specifically mentions the Pi 3, Odroid C2 and Pinebook laptop, with LXQt and KDE desktops, and a "minimal" version which I assume is CLI-only for the Pi and Odroid. However, it doesn't specifically mention the Raspberry Pi 2, and although there is not a new image for the Pi 2, it does say that "Old images should just keep on rolling". I will just give that a try before I finish this post.

I got the latest download from the Manjaro-ARM Downloads page. It is a zipped image, so to dump it to a microSD card I used:

    unzip -p Manjaro-ARM-lxqt-rpi3-18.12.1.zip | dd bs=4M of=/dev/sdX iflag=fullblock oflag=direct status=progress

Note that the name sdX in this command will be whatever the SD card is called on your system.

The image expands to about 5GB, so you will not be able to get by with a 4GB microSD card, but an 8GB will be large enough.

Manjaro ARM boots very quietly. I mean very, very quietly. When I put the microSD card in one of my Pi 3 systems and powered it on for the first time, the power LED came on, and the disk LED blinked once, and then nothing. It didn't put four raspberries on the console (or dragons, or whatever), it didn't put any text on the console, it didn't blink the LED any more, it just sat there. Hmm. I have been working with Raspberry Pi systems for long enough to know that isn't a good sign. 

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I tried several times, in both a Pi 3 Model B and a B+, with the same results. I had finally left the Pi 3 sitting there powered on (apparently doing nothing) and turned back to my desktop system to look for some information about what I was doing wrong, when I noticed that the disk LED had finally started to blink again, and then some text finally started coming out on the display.

It turns out that there is about 15-20 seconds of complete silence after powering on the Pi 3 before it finally shows some signs of life. It then boots the rest of the way up reasonably quickly, so you just have to be a bit patient (obviously not one of my strongest traits).

During this time I also confirmed that the Pi 3 image does not boot on a Pi 2, so make sure that you download the correct image for your model. (In fact, it will also not boot on a Pi 3 Model A+, so this is a Model B/B+ only image at the moment.)

Once it finally boots, Manjaro-ARM comes up to a login screen. There are two users predefined, manjaro and root, with the password the same as the login name. Logging in (finally) got me to the LXQt desktop:


Manjaro-ARM LXQt on a Raspberry Pi 3B

ImaIge: J.A: Watson

At first glance, everything seems to work -- HDMI display, USB keyboard and mouse, wired and wireless networking. Nice. The next thing I tried was Bluetooth, and both keyboard and mouse paired and worked with no problem. Very nice.

The LXQt menu looks pretty complete, it includes Firefox, LibreOffice and the like. Performance seems pretty reasonable, at least for things like desktop and menu response, and starting applications such as QTerminal and Octopi.

The Octopi notifier informed me that there were updates available, so I installed those -- that all seemed to go well, and pretty quickly. That brought the Linux kernel up to version 4.20.0!

So, everything seemed pretty peachy up to this point. Then I started Firefox. Whoops. The performance was awful. Slow, jerky, sometimes appearing to be just dead, and then suddenly sputtering back to life for a few seconds. Not good at all. Now, I know that Firefox is pretty hard on the Raspberry Pi, so I generally use Midori even on my Raspbian systems, so I went to Octopi and installed that (it was in the repositories). Unfortunately, this did not produce a big improvement. Basically, trying to do anything with either browser just brought everything to a grinding halt -- and this was on a Pi 3 Model B+. Ugh.

After a bit of investigation, I think that I see what the problem is -- the browsers are eating all the available memory. The top utility shows that there is about 450MiB of free memory when nothing is running; but starting either Firefox or Midori drops that to near-zero. Sigh.

When I rebooted the Pi, I ran into one more very irritating problem. Although my Bluetooth keyboard and mouse had paired and worked with Manjaro ARM in the initial tests, it doesn't reconnect after rebooting. Neither the keyboard nor mouse works until I have logged in. Grrr. This definitely does not happen with Raspbian, even when it is configured to boot to a login rather than boot directly to the desktop, the Bluetooth devices connect automatically and can be used to enter the login information.

Well, that's about enough investigation on the Pi 3 for the moment. I also want to try the Manjaro ARM Pi 2 image, so I will move along to that.

Downloading the Pi 2 image, unzipping and dumping it to a microSD card is exactly the same as it was for the Pi 3 image above.  But on trying to boot it, well, things got even more weird.

First, in a Raspberry Pi 2 v1.2 (the newer board), the Manjaro-ARM Pi 2 LXQt image doesn't boot at all. The power and disk LEDs come on and stay solid, not indicating any activity at all. 

Then, on nothing more than a wild hunch, I tried it in an original Pi 2 v1.1 board, and much to my surprise it appeared to boot! That is to say, at least, the power LED came on and the disk activity LED blinked like it was actually doing something, but nothing ever came up on the console. Power cycling a couple of times produced the same result, apparent disk activity but no console output, and returning to the Pi 2 v1.2 board also produced the same result -- no activity.

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I then took another look at the microSD card on my desktop system, and I could see that the root filesystem had been extended to fill the available space (it was only about 3.5GB when I checked it before booting the first time), so obviously it had been booting, but it wasn't working with the my HDMI display. Well, I have a bit of an old, weird display which uses a DVI-to-HDMI adapter, perhaps that is a problem (although it has never been a problem with any other Raspberry Pi / Operating System combination).

Well, I'm nothing if not determined, and I have one more possibility that I can try... I have an original Pi 7" touchscreen, so I could hook the Pi 2 v1.1 up to that... That requires disassembling the case it is currently mounted in, and disconnecting the Pi 3B that is currently connected to it... Oh, what the heck, I'm still on New Year's break, what else do I have to do?

So, 30 minutes later I have the hardware switched over, I power on the new setup... and it boots! Hah! Hooray! See, determination (some might call it stubbornness) does pay off sometimes! Hmm. That's interesting, this version of Manjaro-ARM displays the four raspberries when it boots. Wouldn't it have been nice if the Pi 3 version had done that...

Anyway, Manjaro-ARM Pi 2 18.10 boots on a Raspberry Pi 2 v1.1, and is now up and running with Linux kernel 4.14. Of course this being a Pi 2, there is no built-in Wi-Fi (or Bluetooth), but I can connect an Ethernet cable, and then let it download and install all the latest updates. That chugs along nicely, and after about 10 minutes it is updated. Reboot one last time, and....  AAAARRRGGGGHHHH! It boots, but the GUI desktop won't come up. It gets to "Reached target Graphical User Interface", and then it just hangs. Forever.

OK, at this point I surrender. Some days you eat the bear, and some days the bear eats you. Today I have been a bear's lunch.

In summary, Manjaro-ARM for the Raspberry Pi 3 works on Models B and B+, but not on the Model A+. Furthermore, although it installs, boots and runs properly, it is so close to the limit on resource use that starting any kind of web browser brings it to a grinding halt. Manjaro-ARM for the Raspberry Pi 2 initially boots and runs on the v1.1 boards, but not on v1.2; after installing the latest updates it will actually boot on v1.2 boards as well, but it hangs when starting the GUI desktop. Sigh.


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