openbiosprog-spi, a DIY Open Hardware and Free Software USB-based SPI BIOS chip flasher using flashrom

openbiosprog-spi device

If you're following me on identi.ca you probably already know that I've been designing a small PCB for a USB-based SPI chip programmer named openbiosprog-spi.

The main use-case of the device is to help you recover easily from a failed BIOS upgrade (either due to using an incorrect BIOS image, due to power outages during the flashing progress, or whatever). The device only supports SPI chips, as used in recent mainboards (in DIP-8 form factor, or via manual wiring possibly also soldered-in SO-8 variants). It can identify, read, erase, or write the chips.

Of course the whole "toolchain" of software tools I used for creating the hardware is open-source, and the hardware itself (schematics and PCB layouts) are freely released under a Creative Commons license (i.e., it's an "Open Hardware" device). The user-space source code is part of flashrom (GPL, version 2), the schematics and PCB layouts are licensed under the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license and were created using the open-source Kicad EDA suite (GPL, version 2).

openbiosprog-spi schematics
openbiosprog-spi Kicad PCB layout

The schematics, PCB layouts, and other material is available from gitorious:

  $ git clone git://gitorious.org/openbiosprog/openbiosprog-spi.git

You can also download the final Gerber files (ZIP) for viewing them, or sending them to a PCB manufacturer.

Some more design notes:

  • The device uses the FTDI FT2232H chip as basis for USB as well as for handling the actual SPI protocol in hardware (MPSSE engine of the FT2232H).
  • Attaching the SPI chip:
    • There's a DIP-8 socket on the device so you can easily insert the SPI chip you want to read/erase/program.
    • Optionally, if you don't want a DIP-8 socket, you can solder in a pin-header with 8 pins, which allows you to connect the individual pins to the SPI chip via jumper wires or grippers/probes.
  • The PCB board dimensions are 44mm x 20mm, and it's a 2-layer board using mostly 0603 SMD components.

Basic usage example of the device on Linux (or other OSes supported by flashrom):

  $ flashrom -p ft2232_spi:type=2232H,port=A -r backup.bin (reads the current chip contents into a file)

openbiosprog-spi PCBs
openbiosprog-spi parts list

Over at the main projects page of openbiosprog-spi at

  http://randomprojects.org/wiki/Openbiosprog-spi

I have put up a lot more photos and information such as the bill of materials, the Kicad settings I used for creating the PCBs, the Gerber files and the Excellon drill files and so on.

The first few prototype boards I ordered at PCB-POOL.COM (but you can use any other PCB manufacturer of course), the bill of materials (BOM) lists the Mouser and CSD electronics part numbers and prices, but you can also buy the stuff elsewhere, of course (Digikey, Farnell, whatever).

I already hand-soldered one or two prototypes and tested the device. Both hardware and software worked fine basically, you just need a small one-liner patch to fix an issue in flashrom, but that should be merged upstream soonish.

In order to make it easy for interested users to get the PCBs I'll probably make them available in the BatchPCB Market Place soonish, so you can easily order them from there (you do still need to solder the components though). Note: I'm not making any money off of this, this is a pure hobby project.

All in all I have to say that this was a really fun little project, and a useful one too. This was my first hardware project using Kicad (I used gEDA/PCB, also an open-source EDA toolsuite, for another small project) and I must say it worked very nicely. I didn't even have to read any manual really, it was all pretty intuitive. Please consider not using Eagle (or other closed-source PCB software) for your next Open Hardware project, there are at least two viable open-source options (Kicad, gEDA/PCB) which both work just fine.

Using the HP Pavilion dv7-3127eg laptop with Debian GNU/Linux

HP Pavilion dv7-3127eg

Yep, so I bought a new laptop recently, my IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad T40p was slowly getting really unbearably sloooow (Celeron 1.5 GHz, 2 GB RAM max). After comparing some models I set out to buy a certain laptop in a local store, which they didn't have in stock, so I spontaneously got another model, the HP Pavilion dv7-3127eg (HP product number VY554EA).

Why this one? Well, the killer feature for me was that it has two SATA disks, hence allows me to run a RAID-1 in my laptop. This allows me to sleep better at night, knowing that the next dying disk will not necessarily lead to data loss (yes, I do still perform regular backups, of course).

Other pros: Much faster than the old notebook, this one is an AMD Turion II Dual-Core Mobile M520 at 2.3 GHz per core, it has 4 GB RAM (8 GB max), and uses an AMD RS780 / SB700 chipset which is supported by the Free-Software / Open-Source BIOS / firmware project coreboot, so this might make the laptop a good coreboot-target on the long run. I'll probably start working on that when I'm willing to open / dissect it or when the warranty expires, whichever happens first.

Anyway, I set up a page at randomprojects.org which contains lots more details about using Linux on this laptop:

http://randomprojects.org/wiki/HP_Pavilion_dv7-3127eg

Most of the hardware is supported out of the box, though I haven't yet tested everything. There may be issues with suspend-to-disk / suspend-to-RAM, sometimes it seems to hang (may be just a simple config change is needed in /etc/hibernate/disk.cfg).

Cons: Pretty big and heavy (but that's OK, I use it mostly as "semi-mobile desktop replacement"), glossy screen, loud fans (probably due to the two disks).

For reference, here's an lspci of the box:

  $ lspci -tvnn
  -[0000:00]-+-00.0  Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] RS780 Host Bridge Alternate [1022:9601]
           +-02.0-[01]--+-00.0  ATI Technologies Inc M96 [Mobility Radeon HD 4650] [1002:9480]
           |            \-00.1  ATI Technologies Inc RV710/730 [1002:aa38]
           +-04.0-[02-07]--
           +-05.0-[08]----00.0  Atheros Communications Inc. AR9285 Wireless Network Adapter (PCI-Express) [168c:002b]
           +-06.0-[09]----00.0  Realtek Semiconductor Co., Ltd. RTL8111/8168B PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet controller [10ec:8168]
           +-0a.0-[0a]--
           +-11.0  ATI Technologies Inc SB700/SB800 SATA Controller [AHCI mode] [1002:4391]
           +-12.0  ATI Technologies Inc SB700/SB800 USB OHCI0 Controller [1002:4397]
           +-12.1  ATI Technologies Inc SB700 USB OHCI1 Controller [1002:4398]
           +-12.2  ATI Technologies Inc SB700/SB800 USB EHCI Controller [1002:4396]
           +-13.0  ATI Technologies Inc SB700/SB800 USB OHCI0 Controller [1002:4397]
           +-13.1  ATI Technologies Inc SB700 USB OHCI1 Controller [1002:4398]
           +-13.2  ATI Technologies Inc SB700/SB800 USB EHCI Controller [1002:4396]
           +-14.0  ATI Technologies Inc SBx00 SMBus Controller [1002:4385]
           +-14.2  ATI Technologies Inc SBx00 Azalia (Intel HDA) [1002:4383]
           +-14.3  ATI Technologies Inc SB700/SB800 LPC host controller [1002:439d]
           +-14.4-[0b]--
           +-18.0  Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] K10 [Opteron, Athlon64, Sempron] HyperTransport Configuration [1022:1200]
           +-18.1  Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] K10 [Opteron, Athlon64, Sempron] Address Map [1022:1201]
           +-18.2  Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] K10 [Opteron, Athlon64, Sempron] DRAM Controller [1022:1202]
           +-18.3  Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] K10 [Opteron, Athlon64, Sempron] Miscellaneous Control [1022:1203]
           \-18.4  Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] K10 [Opteron, Athlon64, Sempron] Link Control [1022:1204]

Full lspci -vvvxxxxnnn, lsusb -vvv, and a much more detailed list of tested hardware components is available in the wiki.

Using the Oasis UMO19 MCU003 400x USB microscope on Linux via luvcview

Oasis UMO19 MCU003 digital USB microscope

I've been buying quite a lot of (usually cheapo) gadgets recently, which I'll probably introduce / review in various blog posts sooner or later. Let me start with a fun little gadget, a digital USB-based microscope. I found out about it via this thread over at lostscrews.com.

You can get this (or a very similar device) e.g. on eBay for roughly 50 Euros. Mine seems to be from a company called Oasis (though they're probably just the reseller, not sure). The device doesn't seem to have a nice name, but I can see UMO19 MCU003 on the microscope, so I guess that's the name or model number.

It can focus on magnifications of 20x or 400x. The image resolution is said to be a max. of 1600x1200, but in practice most of my images are 640x480, maybe I have to change some settings and/or the resolution depends on the magnification factor and lighting conditions.

The device acts as a simple UVC webcam when attached to USB, so you can view the images easily via any compatible webcam software, e.g. luvcview and also save screenshots of the magnified areas (see images).

UMO19 chip
UMO19 fabric
UMO19 LED

First three from left to right: SMD LED (400x), clothes/jacket (400x), random PCB (20x). The other two below: A via on a PCB (400x), and the "pixels" of a TFT screen (400x).

It worked out of the box on Linux for me, the uvcvideo kernel driver was loaded automatically.

 $ lsusb
 Bus 001 Device 013: ID 0ac8:3610 Z-Star Microelectronics Corp.

I set up a wiki page for more details (including full lsusb -vvv) and sample images at:

   http://randomprojects.org/wiki/Oasis_UMO19_MCU003_USB_microscope

I will also post some more images there over the next few days.

UMO19 TFT
UMO19 via
This is a really fun device for having a look at stuff you'd normally not see (or not well enough), and also useful for e.g. checking PCB solder joints, checking all kinds of electronics for errors or missing/misaligned parts, finding the chip name / model number of very tiny chips etc. etc. I can also imagine it's quite nice for biological use-cases, e.g. for studying insects, tissue, plants, and so on.

Anyway, definately a nice toy for relatively low price, I can highly recommend a device like this. Check eBay (search for e.g. "usb mikroskop 400") and various online shops for similar devices, there seem to be a large number of them with different names and from different vendors. Just make sure it has at least 400x magnification, there are also some with only 80x or 200x which is not as useful as 400x, of course.

flashrom 0.9.2 released -- Open-Source, crossplatform BIOS / EEPROM / flash chip programmer

The long-pending 0.9.2 version of the open-source, cross-platform, commandline flashrom utility has been released.

From the announce:

New major user-visible features:
* Dozens of newly supported mainboards, chipsets and flash chips.
* Support for Dr. Kaiser PC-Waechter PCI devices (FPGA variant).
* Support for flashing SPI chips with the Bus Pirate.
* Support for the Dediprog SF100 external programmer.
* Selective blockwise erase for all flash chips.
* Automatic chip unlocking.
* Support for each programmer can be selected at compile time.
* Generic detection for unknown flash chips.
* Common mainboard features are now detected automatically.
* Mainboard matching via DMI strings.
* Laptop detection which triggers safety measures.
* Test flags for all part of flashrom operation.
* Windows support for USB-based and serial-based programmers.
* NetBSD support.
* DOS support.
* Slightly changed command line invocation. Please see the man page for details.

Experimental new features:
* Support for some NVIDIA graphics cards.
* Chip test pattern generation.
* Bit-banging SPI infrastructure.
* Nvidia MCP6*/MCP7* chipset detection.
* Support for Highpoint ATA/RAID controllers.

Infrastructural improvements and fixes:
* Lots of cleanups.
* Various bugfixes and workarounds for broken third-party software.
* Better error messages.
* Reliability fixes.
* Adjustable severity level for messages.
* Programmer-specific chip size limitation warnings.
* Multiple builtin frontends for flashrom are now possible.
* Increased strictness in board matching.
* Extensive selfchecks on startup to protect against miscompilation.
* Better timing precision for touchy flash chips.
* Do not rely on Linux kernel bugs for mapping memory.
* Improved documentation.
* Split frontend and backend functionality.
* Print runtime and build environment information.

The list of supported OSes and architectures is slowly getting longer, e.g. these have been tested: Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD, DragonFly BSD, Nexenta, Solaris and Mac OS X. There's partial support for DOS (no USB/serial flashers) and Windows (no PCI flashers). Initial (partial) PowerPC and MIPS support has been merged, ARM support and other upcoming.

Also, the list of external (non-mainboard) programmers increases, e.g. there is support for NICs (3COM, Realtek, SMC, others upcoming), SATA/IDE cards from Silicon Image and Highpoint, some NVIDIA cards, and various USB- or parallelport- or serialport- programmers such as the Busirate, Dediprog SF100, FT2232-based SPI programmers and more.

More details at flashrom.org and in the list of supported chips, chipsets, baords, and programmers.

I uploaded an svn version slightly more recent than 0.9.2 to Debian unstable, which should reach Debian testing (and Ubuntu I guess) soonish.

coreboot / flashrom in GSOC 2010 -- student application deadline today!

GSoC 2010 logo

As you may know there's a Google Summer of Code program again this year.

The deadline for student applications is April 9th at 19:00 UTC, so if you're a student and you want to work on a coreboot (open-source BIOS / PC firmware) or flashrom (open-source BIOS chip flasher) project, please apply in time.

The following coreboot/flashrom GSOC project ideas have been proposed so far (but you can also suggest your own ideas, of course):

  • Infrastructure for automatic code checking
  • TianoCore on coreboot
  • coreboot port to Marvell ARM SOCs with PCIe
  • coreboot port to AMD 800 series chipsets
  • coreboot mass-porting to AMD 780 series mainboards
  • coreboot panic room
  • coreboot cheap testing rig
  • coreboot GeodeLX port from v3 to v4
  • Drivers for libpayload
  • Board config infrastructure
  • Refactor AMD code
  • Payload infrastructure
  • flashrom: Multiple GUIs for flashrom
  • flashrom: Recovery of dead boards and onboard flash updates
  • flashrom: SPI bitbanging hardware support
  • flashrom: Generic flashrom infrastructure improvements
  • flashrom: Laptop support

See this wiki page for why and how to apply for a coreboot/flashrom project.

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