Coreboot Is Set To Start Booting Laptops
This weekend in Brussels at FOSDEM along with many interesting X.Org discussions and laying out the plans for Wayland 1.0, the Coreboot project has an exciting announcement: showing off the first mainstream laptop with Coreboot support.
This open-source BIOS re-implementation project will be showing off a laptop running Coreboot. This has been known as part of the talk's abstract and then an interview published this week with Carl-Daniel Hailfinger. "We coreboot developers are proud to present the first working mainstream laptop here at FOSDEM. This talk will briefly introduce coreboot goals and current project status, and then jump right into a rollercoaster ride through laptop architecture (main processor and embedded controllers), x86 early initialization, coreboot architecture, reverse engineering, hardware debugging, and how to write coreboot support for a laptop. You'll get to know the various technical (no debug hardware available, ...) and non-technical (no datasheets, ...) roadblocks and how to overcome them."
Carl-Daniel Hailfinger, the lead of the Coreboot project, is the one presenting this week at FOSDEM in Brussels, Belgium. In the FOSDEM interview he also mentions, "There are rumors that a major company will ship affordable laptops with coreboot in spring/summer 2012, but that's not official yet." Back in the summer of 2011 I mentioned an OEM taking interest in Coreboot and potentially shipping it on select products. That didn't happen in 2011 at least for their products in the US market, but hopefully it's the same vendor to be talked about now for the laptop coverage, we'll see on Sunday.
Coreboot support of laptops has been more challenging to handle due to needing to support each laptop's embedded controller. "The embedded controller (EC) handles poweron, battery charging, backlight and other hardware functions and is essentially a second computer within the laptop. The EC and the processor+chipset interact in various undocumented ways and often even the laptop vendor has no idea how everything works together. Simply ignoring the EC is not possible, but sometimes you can get by with sniffing the host<->EC communication with a logic analyzer and replaying crucial parts of it (watchdog disabling, RAM poweron, backlight control) until you have figured out the exact meaning of everything."
Of the supported hardware for Coreboot the only laptops with proper Coreboot support so far has been the Getac P470, Roda RK886EX, Lenovo X60s (Model 1703), and the Lenovo ThinkPad T60p. All of these supported notebooks have an Intel 945 chipset with ICH7 Southbridge, although AMD has been much more friendly to Coreboot and pledging their support of it with all future products.
There's also additional Coreboot laptop information on this Wiki page.
It will be interesting to see if Coreboot support gains any traction in the mobile space considering that for desktop motherboards it now works on a wide-range of products, but hasn't seen much mainstream adoption. Among the benefits of using Coreboot is a much faster power-on/initialization process, unlimited customization possibilities seeing as Coreboot is fully open-source (GPLv2), and greater security due to being able to audit the entire BIOS/EFI implementation.
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