Balsa Hardware Requirements

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This page answers the question, "What hardware does Balsa require?" The question has not been investigated thoroughly. However, Balsa has run a variety of hardware platforms and we can give some tentative answers to that question.

Rough Guidelines

Here are some rough guidelines for minimal requirements of a Balsa system.

  • SD card: 4 Gigabytes minimum, 8 Gigabytes recommended
  • RAM: 512 Megabytes
  • CPU: Intel processor at 700Mhz -- this is a rough estimate
  • Screen Size: 800x480 (AdaptIt requires 800x600)
  • Host hard drive: At least 1 gigabyte available space. 4 or 8 GB to create a Balsa SD card.

More detail for each of these follows.

The Jaunty Prototype runs on OLPC hardware.

Balsa has been run experimentally using a USB stick instead of an SD card.

SD Card

Balsa requires a 4 gigabyte SD card, an 8 gigabyte SD card is recommended.

The Balsa configuration and data files are not stored on the SD card. In future this will probably change. We plan to change Balsa that so that the SD card will also contain a copy of the user's data. When this happens, an 8 gigabyte card will be necessary.

Some applications, for example, Audacity with large sound files or Firefox with large downloads, may create large temporary files. With the current Balsa configuration, these would be put on the SD card, and it could run out of room.

Some older laptops have an internal SD card reader that will only handle an SD card 2 gigabytes or less. Other SD card readers used by some Dell Computers don't work with the Linux system that Balsa is based on. These machines would have to use a more capable external USB SD card reader.

The best way to verify whether a card reader works with Linux is to boot a live Ubuntu 10.04 system and try to access a card. However, if you don't have one of these available and you already have a Balsa SD card, you can try booting it. You will get messages about not being able to find the "root filesystem" if the card reader doesn't work with Balsa.


The Xubuntu operating system that Balsa is based on has modest requirements, something like 256M of memory.

Individual applications inside Balsa will require more. Editing a huge file in Audacity can chew up a large amount of memory.

I have loaded Balsa and run Bibledit on a Asus netbook with a only 512M of memory. I haven't tried, but would not want to try to edit a 1 hour sound file in Audacity on that computer.


Balsa must run on an Intel/AMD processor.

With regard to processor speed, this will frequently be a matter of taste. Some people can live with slow systems. Anything slower than 600 to 700Mhz would probably be too slow.

Screen Size

Balsa itself has been run on screens as small as that of the Asus Eeepc 701 (800x480).

AdaptIt needs a screen at least 600 pixels high. Other programs, particularly those with multiple windows may need a larger screen for ease of use reasons if not as a requirement of the software.

Balsa can run on an external display if the internal display is too small.

Hard Disk Space

Running on a Windows host system, Balsa creates a file that contains the users data and configuration files. The default size for this is 1 Gigabyte.

On a Linux host system, the user files take only as much space as needed for the files themselves.

In addition, Balsa also creates a 1/2 Gigabyte swap file on the host hard drive.

The comments about large files in the section about the Balsa SD card apply here as well.

Creating a Lucid Balsa SD card from the compressed image requires making a file as large as the SD card, i.e. 8 gigabytes for an 8GB card, 4 gigabytes for a 4GB card. This file can be deleted after the card is made.

Hard disk requirements for a system building a Balsa image is available on the page, Running the Balsa Builder

BIOS Update

We have seen some issues that are resolved if the computer has the most recent BIOS upgrade.

Some EEEPC 1005P machines have a screen brightness problem that can be fixed by upgrading the BIOS. The instructions are here and here (under EZ Flash). Note that it may not be able to handle large FAT partitions, but YMMV.