Raspberry Pi OS Gets an Official 64-Bit Build, with a Shift From Raspbian to Debian Upstream
Raspberry Pi has announced the promotion of its 64-bit Raspberry Pi OS Linux distribution, previously available in beta, to first-class citizen — making the move away from the Raspbian upstream to Debian in the process.
Raspberry Pi announced the latest version of its eponymous operation system, built atop the community-driven Raspbian project which in turn uses Debian Linux as its base, late last year. Based on Debian 11 "Bullseye," the new release bought some user interface improvements, a new camera subsystem, and a speed boost for selected models — though also a few compatibility issues which led to the release of a "legacy" version as a stop-gap alternative.
Also promised, to follow at a later date: A 64-bit version, to be officially supported and updated alongside the existing 32-bit release. It's a big shift for the company, which had previously focused on providing a single operating system image compatible with every single one of its single-board computer — going all the way back to the original Raspberry Pi Model B and its ARM1176 cores, and even beyond to the first alpha boards ever shipped.
Raspberry Pi OS 64-bit, by contrast, is incompatible with older boards: It will run perfectly well on the Raspberry Pi 3, Raspberry Pi 4, and Raspberry Pi Zero 2 ranges, but won't boot on the original Raspberry Pi, Raspberry Pi 2, or Raspberry Pi Zero models.
"We've come to realize that there are reasons to choose a 64-bit operating system over a 32-bit one," explains Raspberry Pi's Gordon Hollingworth of the move. "Compatibility is a key concern: Many closed-source applications are only available for [64-bit] arm64, and open-source ones aren't fully optimised for the [32-bit] armhf port. Beyond that there are some performance benefits intrinsic to the A64 instruction set: Today, these are most visible in benchmarks, but the assumption is that these will feed through into real-world application performance in the future."
Functionally, board compatibility aside, the two operating systems — 32-bit and 64-bit — should appear identical to the end user, though the move does leave the 32-bit version building atop the Raspberry Pi-specific Raspbian distribution while the 64-bit version goes straight to Debian. There's one exception: A lack of support for Widevine DRM in the 64-bit Chromium browser. For those who would like to stream protected content, a 32-bit alternative is provided:
sudo apt update && sudo apt install chromium-browser:armhf libwidevinecdm0
The 64-bit build is now available on the Raspberry Pi Downloads page, and will appear in the official Imager utility in due course.