free software

OpenOCD, a Free Software JTAG utility with ARM and MIPS support

JTAG adapter for parallel port

Just FYI, I've recently updated the OpenOCD Debian package in unstable. OpenOCD is a Free Software JTAG utility which currently supports quite a large number of JTAG adapters and various CPUs/targets (many ARM and now also some MIPS ones). It's being used by a number of Free Software related projects such as OpenMoko and many others.

Here's an example of how you usually use the (new) OpenOCD with a cheapo parallel port JTAG device. First, start the OpenOCD server, providing it an interface config file and a target config file (you can copy/adapt them from /usr/lib/openocd/{interface,target}/*.cfg, or use those files directly if they work for your target, of course).

  $ openocd -f parport.cfg -f lpc2148.cfg

Then, in another xterm for example, connect to the now-running OpenOCD telnet server. Here you can now run various commands to probe, control and program the JTAG device(s). Try help for a list of commands. As an example, for flashing a binary onto some LPC2148 eval board you would do something like this:

  $ telnet localhost 4444
  Connected to localhost.
  Escape character is '^]'.
  Open On-Chip Debugger
  > reset init
  JTAG device found: 0x4f1f0f0f (Manufacturer: 0x787, Part: 0xf1f0, Version: 0x4)
  srst pulls trst - can not reset into halted mode. Issuing halt after reset.
  target state: halted
  target halted in Thumb state due to debug-request, current mode: Supervisor
  cpsr: 0x800000f3 pc: 0x7fffd2a2
  requesting target halt and executing a soft reset
  target state: halted
  target halted in ARM state due to debug-request, current mode: Supervisor
  cpsr: 0x800000d3 pc: 0x00000000
  > flash write_image /home/foo/program.bin 0
  wrote 1236 byte from file /home/foo/program.bin in 0.533683s (2.261701 kb/s)
  > resume 0

The final resume 0 will start to execute your program on the ARM LPC2148 microcontroller.

Check out the openocd info page (info openocd on the command line) for lots more documentation.

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

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.

LinuxBIOS is now called coreboot

Public Service Announcement: The LinuxBIOS project, a Free Software project which intends to replace the proprietary BIOS found in most computers these days, has been renamed to coreboot.

The old name has become quite a misnomer in recent years; the name LinuxBIOS created the impression that it's a drop-in BIOS-replacement and that it's using Linux or is Linux-specific in any way. Neither is the case.

  • coreboot is not a BIOS in the sense that it provides the legacy BIOS callbacks / interrupt routines. Instead, coreboot is just a small hardware initialization firmware. It does some basic hardware init, then hands over control to one of many possible payloads. This can be a boot loader such as FILO (or GRUB2, which shall ultimately replace FILO) if you want to boot from disk, or Plan 9, or memtest86, or a Linux kernel, or OpenBIOS/OpenFirmware/SmartFirmware, or...
  • coreboot is not Linux or Linux-specific. Yes, it can indeed use Linux kernels as payload (i.e., you put the Linux kernel in your flash ROM chip together with coreboot) or boot a Linux kernel indirectly using FILO/GRUB2. But as mentioned above it can also be used (together with the fitting payload) to boot other OSes or systems such as Plan 9, Windows, FreeBSD, and others.

The initial author and project leader of LinuxBIOS/coreboot, Ron Minnich, explains in more detail why the renaming was done in his original announcement on the coreboot mailing list.

Sim City, Micropolis, Lincity, Lincity-NG

Lincity-NG screenshot

Hm, time for some nostalgia. The original Sim City game is now GPL'd under the new name Micropolis, and currently being packaged for Debian. There goes my 3.7 minutes of spare time per day...

If you're into such games, the Lincity clone has been around for some time now, too. And, as I found out yesterday, there's also Lincity-NG, which is a more recent clone with better (3D/isometric) graphics, sound, etc.

$ apt-get install lincity-ng

(run it as lincity-ng --sdl if you don't have 3D-accelerated drivers)

Have fun!

Flashing a BIOS the Linux Way (tm) using flashrom

There are a gazillion HOWTOs out there for flashing a BIOS image without having to resort to ugly "boot DOS from floppy" or "run Windows *.exe file from BIOS vendor" and other ugly stuff. Unfortunately, the proposed solutions are equally ugly (e.g. creating custom CD-ROMs which contain the "floppy" with DOS/Windows flash tools).

Folks, this is so much simpler than you think:

The flashrom tool (GPL'd, written for LinuxBIOS purposes, but works perfectly fine with proprietary BIOSes, too) will easily do what you want, on a running Linux system. No floppy crap, no CD-ROM crap, no DOS/Windows crap, no rebooting crap.

Install it:

  $ apt-get install flashrom

Detect whether flashrom knows about your chipset/mainboard/BIOS chip:

  $ flashrom

Read the BIOS image into a file:

  $ flashrom -r backup.bin

Write a BIOS image (proprietary or LinuxBIOS) on the ROM chip:

  $ flashrom -wv newbios.bin

WARNING: This will overwrite your current BIOS! Make sure you know what you're doing!

For the Debian-challenged, flashrom is available in source form too, of course:

  $ svn co svn://
  $ cd flashrom
  $ make

The list of supported chipsets, mainboards, and ROM chips is limited of course, but it's constantly expanding. Contact us on the LinuxBIOS mailing list if you want other hardware supported (or even better: if you have patches!). In many cases adding support for new hardware is pretty easy...

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