Goofy Goofy - 3 months ago 23
Linux Question

Is QEMU good for learning programming in assembler for ARM and PowerPC?

I want to learn programming in assembler for PowerPC and ARM, but I'm unable to buy real hardware for this purpose. I'm thinking about using QEMU for that. However I'm not sure if it emulates both architectures enough well, that I'll compile and run my programs in native assembler on it?

Answer

QEMU works well for testing program correction (i.e. whether the code would properly run on an actual ARM or PowerPC) but it is not good for testing program efficiency: the emulation is not cycle accurate, and speed measured with QEMU cannot be reliably (or even unreliably) correlated with speed on true hardware.

Also, QEMU will not trap unaligned memory accesses, which is not a problem for PowerPC emulation (the PowerPC tolerates unaligned accesses) but may be for ARM (an unaligned access, e.g. reading a 32-bit word in RAM from an address which is not a multiple of 4, will work fine with QEMU but would trigger an exception on a true ARM processor).

Apart from these points, QEMU is fine for assembly development on ARM or MIPS (haven't tried PowerPC, because I found an old iBook on eBay for that; but I have done ARM and MIPS assembly with QEMU and then ran the resulting code on true hardware, and this worked). You can either emulate a whole system and run Debian in it (in which case the compiler, linker, text editor... will also run in emulation), or use the "user-mode emulation" where the ARM/MIPS executable is run directly, with a wrapper which converts system calls into those for the host PC (this assumes that the host is a PC running Linux). The latter is more convenient (you have access to your normal home directory, programming tools are native...) but requires installing cross-development tools. See buildroot for that (and link with -static, this will avoid many headaches).