[coreboot] Doubts about necessity of propietary parts in the firmware

Marc Jones marcj303 at gmail.com
Tue Apr 13 17:44:02 CEST 2010

Hi Xavi,

Thanks for your interest in coreboot. This is a long email! :)

 I have made some small comments below.

On Mon, Apr 12, 2010 at 3:07 PM, xdrudis <xdrudis at tinet.cat> wrote:
> Hello.
> First things first: thank you all for working in coreboot, yet another
> free software project I wouldn't think possible if you hadn't made it
> real.
> I've been reading the archives and browsing coreboot.org, but I have
> little clue about firmware so I still have doubts I would like  to
> clear beforing buying/building my next computer
> Is it necessary ?. I've seen some reports of using coreboot with a
> propietary VGA BIOS, either run from the graphics card ROM or reaped
> from the motherboard propietary BIOS. Is this an intermediate state in
> development and it is eventually replaced with free code ? or we're
> not there (yet?). Can one live without any VGA BIOS ? Leaving it out
> means coreboot boots blindly but then (a deblobed) linux/X initializes
> the graphics hardware all right and you have display just like with
> VGA BIOS, only later in the boot process ? Or the GPU can't be used
> without the propietary VGA BIOS ? Can GRUB display a menu without VGA
> BIOS ? (SGA BIOS doesn't seem useful here, since I don't want to use a
> serial link forever) Btw, can GRUB show background images without VGA
> BIOS ?  Do these answers depend on the GPU or northbridge ?

VGA BIOS is not required. You could have a headless system. Or a
system with a framebuffer driver like Geode.

> Double graphics is a problem ?
> As far as I know the only modern desktop class chipsets supported by
> the manufacturer, are AMD RS780/SB700 , am I wrong ? (thanks, AMD!). I
> think all come with an ATI IGP , which requires blobs in the linux/X
> driver (AtomBIOS).  I may be misinformed on AtomBIOS, but I think I
> don't want to use it.  I've heard nouveau has just deblobed its
> driver, so I might add an Nvidia graphics card to it (at least while
> Open Graphics Project isn't ready for consumers). I'll try to buy one
> second hand, as lesser evil, since I dislike buying directly from
> vendors not supporting free software. Does having both the ATI IGP and
> the Nvidia card give any additional complication ? (besides it's going
> to be less tested than more usual setups). I wish Intel supported
> coreboot or radeonhd didn't use AtomBIOS (like it once was).

This is a continued area of development, but yes, many drivers use the
vbios too hold proprietary information. Again, not an issue if you are
running a headless machine.

> Any AMD RS780/SB700 boards roadmap ?
> Any hints which AMD RS780/SB700 boards are going to be supported first ?
> (I'm using the suggestions I see on the mailing list, but I've heard of
> GSoC potential effort and I don't know if there're priorities already set
> for it)

There is no specific roadmap. This is usually driven by board
availability. I think some boards will be ported during GSoC. If you
have a preferred board, send an email to the list. Someone might be
working on it.

> DDR3 coming soon ?
> I've heard optimism on DDR3 but I believe it's not yet supported by coreboot.
> Do you have any estimation on how long can it take or how much would it cost
> if someone was to pay for it ? (I don't think I can pay, it's just to quantify the
> effort). For now I'm planning to avoid DDR3 just in case. I'm not sure it's
> a huge performance benefit.

I think that DDR3 support will be critical for coreboot this year. I
am optimistic that we will get some help from AMD this summer.

> How to choose socketed boards ?
> How can one know whether a card has socketed or soldered BIOS ROMs besides
> looking at it or some photos ? Should it be in the specs or manual ?
> (I don't trust myself with a soldering iron).

This will usually be in the manual. Many boards are SPI flash now and
you need an external programmer with a test clip to program them. This
is an area we need to improve on the wiki.

> I don't like Treacherous Computing and the like so I would prefer to
> buy a motherboard without TPM. If I can get coreboot to run then the TPM may
> become harmless, but I still don't want to encourage vendors to put TPM in.
> The question is, are there security benefits if you control the firmware,
> like you would eventually increase security by using your own keys, or
> are the keys hardwired and unreplaceable so that the best you can hope
> for is to disable them? I don't really know how many  boards without TPM
> are in the market, anyway.
> Thanks for reading so far and sorry for abusing this list thus. I'm
> going to include a little background now, but your answers can help me
> even without you reading further.

> If this is a tall order, then I just want to get as close to it as
> possible.  I would like to buy and/or build a computer soon which is
> as close as possible to someday reach that goal, maybe after some
> more effort in software/firmware, or after hardware upgrades.
> And of course I'm just a consumer, with no business plans about any of
> this.

These are great goals. It sounds like you have a lot in common with
the folks at the FSF. :)

There are a couple AMD and Intel platforms that might meet your needs.
I expect more boards (like the 780/710) to be supported this summer if
you are willing to wait. I am also hopeful that we see coreboot on
systems available from vendors in the future.



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