A Dream Come True: Running Coreboot On A Modern, Retail Desktop Motherboard

Written by Michael Larabel in Motherboards on 30 June 2022. Page 3 of 5. 58 Comments

After flashing Dasharo on the MSI motherboard and rebooting, after the few seconds of nervousness of waiting for the system to POST and the display to light-up, it was refreshing how easy the experience was. I had picked up the MSI PRO Z690-A WiFi DDR4 motherboard weeks earlier when things were heating up for Dasharo on this motherboard but with my busy schedule and long TODO list had been putting it off, with remembering the times from many years ago with Coreboot and building it from source and flashing headaches. But 3mdeb has done a very nice job on their documentation and making their pre-built binaries easily available. The experience only took a few minutes and the install process could be achieved by any comfortable Linux enthusiast.

For those wondering about what binary blobs around the FSP and the like are still required, 3mdeb has published an openness score looking at the areas still bolted together by blobs.

Check out the Dasharo documentation for the other common questions around running this alternative Coreboot-based firmware on the MSI PRO Z690-A WiFi DDR4.

Of course, being a performance junkie, I was curious about the performance of this Alder Lake system running Coreboot... So I ran plenty of benchmarks back on the proprietary BIOS and then again with this Dasharo 1.0 firmware release. As there isn't a means of enabling the XMP memory profiles while running under Coreboot, on the proprietary BIOS I did benchmarks both stock and then with the XMP memory profile enabled for reference. No hardware changes were made during this testing.

In my testing I quickly found that the Dasharo-flashed configuration to be slightly slower than the default proprietary BIOS...

But during the testing I was also keeping track of other system vitals with the Phoronix Test Suite. In this test and others it was showing the peak CPU frequency achieved during testing to be about 4.3GHz for the i5-2400 when using the proprietary BIOS but only 4.0GHz with the Coreboot-based firmware. On the bottom end, in moments of idle the proprietary BIOS let the CPU go down to 600MHz but with the Coreboot firmware stayed up near 1.2GHz. The Core i5 12400 is rated for a 4.4GHz maximum turbo frequency with 2.5GHz base frequency.

The Dasharo firmware peaking lower than the proprietary BIOS did lead to a lower CPU power draw.

On a power efficiency basis, this actually led to the Dasharo firmware delivering a better performance-per-Watt over the proprietary BIOS from MSI.

This also equated to slightly better thermals.

In the case of some workloads, the performance of the Dasharo firmware was very close to that of the upstream proprietary BIOS for this MSI motherboard. But still as shown by the sensor metrics sometimes exhibiting differences in power management behavior.

For some workloads there is a small but measurable hit to the performance but hopefully a future Dasharo update will better tune the clocking / power management behavior. In any event it tends to rather be a small performance loss that many would likely be willing to trade for having this open-source firmware.

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