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This document describes the Gentoo installation on Novena, an open hardware and FOSS-friendly computing platform (see Novena main page


The easiest way for installing Gentoo without initial bootstrapping is using the already shipped and working Debian installation, following a stage3 standard-installation on a second drive e.g. connected via USB. This guide focuses on the more complicated/Novena-unique parts and references to the original documentation whenever possible.

Alternatively, for an even faster start, you might consider trying one of the (unofficial) bootable Gentoo images for Novena from this project. The provided images both use OpenRC, boot to a (reasonably populated) Xfce desktop, and come with the novena overlay (see below) pre-installed.

A Second hard disk has to be connected to USB (using the USB directly connected to the mainboard). This disk is further on referred to be found at /dev/sdb in the booted Novena/Debian system. After successfully booting the new Gentoo system later on, /dev/sdb will become /dev/sda.

Make sure the CPU is sufficient cooled e.g. using a fan. Long compilations can lead to an overheating.


Base system

Follow the standard installation for the x86 architecture found in the x86 Handbook with the following differences:


The bootloader and Linux kernel is stored on the internal SD-card of the Novena platform. After loading the kernel, the standard procedure is to mount the root partition by searching for an unique disk-ID 0x4e6f7653 (see The boot process is as follows: SD-card (u-boot → Linux kernel) → hard drive (root filesystem). Because of this, the disk-ID of the new hard drive has to be changed accordingly, e.g. using fdisk:

root #fdisk /dev/sdb

Command (m for help): x

Expert command (m for help): i

Enter the new disk identifier: 0x4e6f7653

Disk identifier changed from 0x00000000 to 0x4e6f7653.

Expert command (m for help): r

Command (m for help): w

The partition layout on the hard disk for the new installation is as follows:

Device Filesystem type Description
/dev/sdb1 fat32 Boot (Not needed as boot files and kernel are placed on the SD-card but it doesn't hurt)
/dev/sdb2 swap
/dev/sdb3 ext4 Root filesystem

The present partition on the SD-card is:

Device Filesystem type Description
/dev/mmcblk0p1 fat32 Boot (contains u-boot and kernel files)
/dev/mmcblk0p2 swap
/dev/mmcblk0p3 ext4 Root filesystem

The device naming has become confusing in the Gentoo handbook. The translation from partition used in this guide to the on in the handbook is:

Novena guide Handbook
[not present] /dev/sda1
/dev/sdb1 /dev/sda2
/dev/sdb2 /dev/sda3
/dev/sdb3 /dev/sda4

Installing a stage tarball

The following information can be used to find the correct stage3 archive:

  • Architecture = arm
  • Subarchitecture = armv7a_hardf
  • Common subdirectory on mirror: [host][prefix]/releases/arm/autobuilds/current-stage3-armv7a_hardfp/

Configuring compile options

Save CFLAGS for Novena can be found at: Safe_CFLAGS#ARMv7-A.2FCortex-A9_MPCore. The following changes in /etc/portage/make.conf work for Novena:

FILE /etc/portage/make.conf
CFLAGS="-O2 -march=armv7-a -mtune=cortex-a9 -mfpu=neon -mfloat-abi=hard -pipe -fomit-frame-pointer"
FEATURES="parallel-fetch ccache"

The iMX6 CPU contains a FPU with NEON instruction set so we can set "-mfpu=neon".

Choosing the right profile

Choose: default/linux/arm/10.0 (or newer)

Configuring the USE variable

Depends on individual needs, when in doubt leave it unchanged.


Nope, nobody needs it.

Installing the sources

The kernel is installed independent from the portage version, so no need to emerge it. See:

At the time of writing the official novena-linux patches have been rebased only to version 4.4 of the kernel. An unofficial updated patchset (rebased to 4.7.2) is however available here.

Additionally, if you choose to install the (unofficial) novena overlay (see below), you can also emerge one of the following two packages:
  • sys-kernel/novena-sources. Equivalent to sys-kernel/gentoo-sources, but with the Novena-specific patchset applied in addition to the Gentoo one.
  • sys-kernel/novena_hardened-sources. Equivalent to sys-kernel/hardened-sources, but with the Novena-specific patchset applied. Has the deblob USE flag set by default; the resulting libre kernel is surprisingly usable on Novena (only Bluetooth, which requires a run-time firmware blob, is unavailable).

Additional notes

Installing ccache is a good idea as compiling on Novena can take some time.

After finishing the installation, shut down the system and connect the drive containing the newly installed gentoo installation to the SATA port. Gentoo should boot up successfully. If not, you still have Debian to check for errors (;

Bootloader update

Make a backup of the original SD-card! You have been warned.

A configuration and installation guide can be found at:

Alternatively, if you choose to install the (unofficial) novena overlay (see below), you can also emerge sys-boot/u-boot-novena, which will build U-Boot and install it (writing the second-stage bootloader to /boot and the first stage bootloader to the microSD card's MBR). A utility (novena-install-spl) is also created to allow you to write the SPL (first stage bootloader) to the MBR of other devices.

Kernel update

Make a backup of the original SD-card! You have been warned.

Novena uses the original Linux kernel extended by custom patches. Sources:

A configuration and installation guide can be found at: The new kernel is installed by mounting the SD-card copying the resulting kernel:

root #cd [kernel source directory]
root #mount /dev/mmcblk0p1 /boot
root #cp arch/arm/boot/zImage /boot/zimage # beware: target name is zimage (lower case "i")

See also the notes above.

The novena Overlay

An (unofficial) overlay for Gentoo users of the Novena SBC is available here. The overlay provides ebuilds shadowing all xobs' standard Novena packages from Debian (novena-eeprom-gui etc.), allowing you to enjoy these same facilities under Gentoo.

More details (including installation instructions) are in the project's GitHub page, but here is a brief summary of the provided ebuilds:

  • sys-kernel/novena-sources Full kernel sources for 4.7.2, with Gentoo and Novena patchsets.
  • sys-kernel/novena_hardened-sources As above, but with the hardened patchset; also, deblobbed by default.
  • dev-embedded/novena-eeprom Tool to view and edit the contents of the Novena's personality EEPROM.
  • dev-embedded/novena-eeprom-gui Qt GUI version of the above.
  • dev-embedded/novena-heirloom Support files for the heirloom laptop variant of Novena.
  • dev-embedded/novena-usb-hub Hub management tool (power control, etc.) for Novena.
  • dev-embedded/u-boot-novena Novena-packaged version of U-Boot.
  • dev-embedded/update-senoko Firmware loader for the Senoko battery/passthrough board.
  • sys-firmware/senoko-chibios Compile-from-source ChibiOS firmware for Senoko.
  • media-sound/pulseaudio-novena Support files for pulseaudio on Novena.
  • net-wireless/novena-disable-ssp Small daemon which disables SSP on all Bluetooth adaptors.
  • sys-apps/irqbalance-novena Distributes hardware interrupts across processors on Novena.
  • dev-embedded/etna_viv FOSS user-space driver for the Vivante GCxx GPUs (armada dependency).
  • x11-libs/libdrm-armada Userspace interface to kernel DRM services (armada dependency).
  • x11-drivers/xf86-video-armada-novena Accelerated video driver for the Novena's i.MX6.
  • x11-misc/xorg-novena configuration files for the armada video driver on Novena.
  • sys-devel/portage-distccmon-gui Easily view Portage jobs with distccmon-gui.
  • dev-embedded/novena-meta Merge this to pull in all baseline Novena packages (USE-flag controlled).


This is a Software Defined Radio (SDR) module which is plugable to the high speed interface of the Novena board. The following guide describes the installation of the drivers and simple usage demonstrations.

Further installation information:

[TODO: detailed description]

Further Documentation