Coreboot hacking: How to solder a PLCC socket on your board

Desoldering station.

When trying to port coreboot (previously LinuxBIOS) to a new mainboard you're often confronted with a big problem: the BIOS/ROM chip on the respective motherboard is soldered onto the board (i.e., not in a socket).

This means that you cannot easily (hot-)swap the chip during development or for recovery purposes. So you basically have exactly one try to flash the ROM chip with a fully working/booting coreboot image. If that goes wrong your board is bricked.

Desoldering the chip

This makes it pretty much impossible to develop a coreboot port for such boards (and soldered-on ROM chips are becoming more and more common, unfortunately).

However, I've recently tried to replace the soldered-on (PLCC) ROM chip on one of my boards with a socket. What sounds pretty scary at first, especially given that I have almost non-existant soldering skills, turned out to be really not that hard. Also, it can be done with relatively cheap and readily available equipment.

I have written a short HOWTO for desoldering chips and soldering on sockets in the coreboot wiki, and also finished a video showing most of the process, which I hope will be helpful for others:

Place the PLCC chip

The video is CC-BY-SA 3.0, music is taken from ccmixter.org and is CC-NC 3.0 licensed. Video editing was done using Kino (which uses ffmpeg2theora for Ogg Theora export).

I also tried to upload the video to Vimeo, but first they told me to install the Flash 10 abomination (and there's no way I will do that). After browsing the help/forum pages a bit I found a traditional, non-flash upload form, but that then tells me that I cannot upload Ogg Theora videos. WTF?

Soldering the socket

The Ogg Theora video support feature request has been open for more that a year. Until that issue is fixed I'll just use other video services, thanks...

Google Tech Talks: coreboot (aka LinuxBIOS): The Free/Open-Source x86 Firmware

coreboot Google Tech Talk 2

Here's a nice opportunity for everyone to learn more about coreboot, a Free Software / Open Source firmware/BIOS for x86 PCs.

Ron Minnich, founder of the LinuxBIOS (now called coreboot) project, Peter Stuge of Stuge Konsult, and Stefan Reinauer of coresystems GmbH have given a presentation for the Google Tech Talks series recently. The topic was (of course) coreboot, its history, goals, features and technical details, surrounding tools and libraries such as flashrom and libpayload, as well as an automated test system for running a hardware test-suite upon every checkin in the coreboot repository.

coreboot Google Tech Talk 1

A video of the talk, aptly named coreboot (aka LinuxBIOS): The Free/Open-Source x86 Firmware (134 MB), is available from Youtube, get it for instance via:

  $ apt-get install youtube-dl
  $ youtube-dl http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X72LgcMpM9k

The talk includes various demos of coreboot and various payloads you can use with coreboot. One nice example is the TINT payload, a Tetris-like game for Linux (apt-get install tint for the curious), which has been reworked to be usable as a coreboot payload.

coreboot Google Tech Talk 3

So, yes, you can now put Tetris in your BIOS ROM chip and play it from there (no hard drive required).

Other demos included some cluster nodes with coreboot, and a "normal" x86 desktop board booting coreboot + Linux in a very few seconds (much room left for optimizing there though, if you really want to get into fast booting).

Check out the full talk for more infos, and if you're willing to give it a try (see the list of currently supported boards), contact us on the mailing list or join the #coreboot IRC channel on Freenode.

23C3 - Day 1

Some observations while on an 8 hour (night) train ride to the 23rd Chaos Communication Congress (23C3) in Berlin:

  • DVB-T doesn't really work exceptionally well in a train that's moving at 200-300 km/h.
  • I also had almost no GPS signal in the train either, not sure why. The speed should not be a problem as GPS is supposed to work at high speeds (unlike DVB-T). I intended to create a nice visualization of all wireless networks on the way to Berlin (using Kismet and GPSDrive), but... well, without GPS data that's not too funny.
  • They have coffee in the train! Not exactly cheap, but it's there.
  • Having a ticket for waggon 23 of the train is somewhat... fitting.

There's a lot of press coverage about the congress already, so I won't repeat all of that here. Just let me tell you that there's a tremendous amount of great lectures, many of which I have attended (and they're also streamed on the web, as well as broadcast via DVB-T locally here in Berlin, which is great!).

Forensic Discovery - a (free) book by Wietse Venema and Dan Farmer about forensic techniques for gathering digital evidence

I accidentally stumbled over this today: the book Forensic Discovery, written by two security gurus — Wietse Venema and Dan Farmer - has been published by Addison-Wesley.

Which is nice and all, but even nicer is the fact that the book is freely available for online reading. There's also a ZIP-file, if you want to get the whole thing.

This should make for some interesting reading during the next few weeks...

22C3: Final Stuff

More Bandwidth

OK, I will make this short because a gazillion of other people will probably blog about the 22C3 for several days or weeks to come... Today (last day) I only attended one talk — Bluetooth Hacking - The State of The Art. Funny stuff you can do with Bluetooth...

All in all it was a great conference. Get the proceedings or browse the list of talks (most of them have PDFs attached) for more details. Videos of all talks should be available anytime soon (I hope!).

Oh, and the 22C3 is probably the only event where you will see such signs (attached to walls by the congress staff!)...

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