Opening the bootloader for OpenHardware projects [1] : Coreboot and the BIOS

Posted on Mon 15 February 2010 in Hardware by xcarcelle

The OpenHardware community had been seeking for more and more openess lately in the hardware side, as well as in the software side. We see more and more steps forward of the software side into the configuration of the hardware (i.e. HDL projects for reconfigurable hardware such as FPGAs and CPLDs) to reduce the constraints coming from the hardware configuration.

The hardware part is composed of the schematics, pcb routing files, gerber production files to enable the open description and output of the features.

The software part is roughly composed of the bootloader (allowing the CPU/SoC/uController to boot the memory controller and enable the peripherals) which will indicate the memory address of the kernel.

In-between the hardware and the software part of the device, the bootloader is definitely a important "glue" that should be also open to allow users to implement their own peripherals initialization and boot optimization of the kernel. For CPU architecture and namely x86 architecture, the booloader also known as the BIOS had been a closed industry for quite a long time with companies such as American Trends providing the boot sequence we all know on our PC-environment. The only options we could have from this BIOS interface are mainly: boot sequence, CPU frequency clocking, IRQs configuration and some memory mappings. "Open BIOS" are then a dream of x86-based OpenHardware projects and coreboot seems now mature enough to make this future true.

Previously known as LinuxBIOS, coreboot 1 is a GPL project developing an OpenSource BIOS firmware for a various number of platforms and architecture. As we post this message, coreboot is supporting 213 different mainboards.The different supported mainboards "table of hardware" are available here:http://www.coreboot.org/Supported_MotherboardsThe different chipsets supported are listed in 5 categories: north bridge (fast data bridge), south bridge(slow data bridge), super I/Os chipsets, CPUs (x86, PowerPC and emulated QEMU CPUs) and SoCs (AMD Elan SC520 and Intel Tolapai EP 80579). This list is available here:http://www.coreboot.org/Supported_Chipsets_and_DevicesThe different payloads (that we could name also as "second stage loader") such as the bootloaders and the kernels mainly are listed here:http://www.coreboot.org/Payloads

Coreboot is now available in version 3 and provide features such as: express boot sequence (3s to linux console, advanced network booting, peripherals advanced support.

We will test Coreboot v3 on the targetted x86-based CPU chosen for the XiVO OpenHardware IPBX and give documentation and feedbacks on the usage feasability for this appliance in upcoming posts as well as describing with more details the battle to open the bootloaders (once you open the bootloader you allow the hardware hackers to play with your device definitely).

1 : http://www.coreboot.org