cc

openbiosprog-spi, a DIY Open Hardware and Free Software USB-based SPI BIOS chip flasher using flashrom

openbiosprog-spi device

If you're following me on identi.ca you probably already know that I've been designing a small PCB for a USB-based SPI chip programmer named openbiosprog-spi.

The main use-case of the device is to help you recover easily from a failed BIOS upgrade (either due to using an incorrect BIOS image, due to power outages during the flashing progress, or whatever). The device only supports SPI chips, as used in recent mainboards (in DIP-8 form factor, or via manual wiring possibly also soldered-in SO-8 variants). It can identify, read, erase, or write the chips.

Of course the whole "toolchain" of software tools I used for creating the hardware is open-source, and the hardware itself (schematics and PCB layouts) are freely released under a Creative Commons license (i.e., it's an "Open Hardware" device). The user-space source code is part of flashrom (GPL, version 2), the schematics and PCB layouts are licensed under the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license and were created using the open-source Kicad EDA suite (GPL, version 2).

openbiosprog-spi schematics
openbiosprog-spi Kicad PCB layout

The schematics, PCB layouts, and other material is available from gitorious:

  $ git clone git://gitorious.org/openbiosprog/openbiosprog-spi.git

You can also download the final Gerber files (ZIP) for viewing them, or sending them to a PCB manufacturer.

Some more design notes:

  • The device uses the FTDI FT2232H chip as basis for USB as well as for handling the actual SPI protocol in hardware (MPSSE engine of the FT2232H).
  • Attaching the SPI chip:
    • There's a DIP-8 socket on the device so you can easily insert the SPI chip you want to read/erase/program.
    • Optionally, if you don't want a DIP-8 socket, you can solder in a pin-header with 8 pins, which allows you to connect the individual pins to the SPI chip via jumper wires or grippers/probes.
  • The PCB board dimensions are 44mm x 20mm, and it's a 2-layer board using mostly 0603 SMD components.

Basic usage example of the device on Linux (or other OSes supported by flashrom):

  $ flashrom -p ft2232_spi:type=2232H,port=A -r backup.bin (reads the current chip contents into a file)

openbiosprog-spi PCBs
openbiosprog-spi parts list

Over at the main projects page of openbiosprog-spi at

  http://randomprojects.org/wiki/Openbiosprog-spi

I have put up a lot more photos and information such as the bill of materials, the Kicad settings I used for creating the PCBs, the Gerber files and the Excellon drill files and so on.

The first few prototype boards I ordered at PCB-POOL.COM (but you can use any other PCB manufacturer of course), the bill of materials (BOM) lists the Mouser and CSD electronics part numbers and prices, but you can also buy the stuff elsewhere, of course (Digikey, Farnell, whatever).

I already hand-soldered one or two prototypes and tested the device. Both hardware and software worked fine basically, you just need a small one-liner patch to fix an issue in flashrom, but that should be merged upstream soonish.

In order to make it easy for interested users to get the PCBs I'll probably make them available in the BatchPCB Market Place soonish, so you can easily order them from there (you do still need to solder the components though). Note: I'm not making any money off of this, this is a pure hobby project.

All in all I have to say that this was a really fun little project, and a useful one too. This was my first hardware project using Kicad (I used gEDA/PCB, also an open-source EDA toolsuite, for another small project) and I must say it worked very nicely. I didn't even have to read any manual really, it was all pretty intuitive. Please consider not using Eagle (or other closed-source PCB software) for your next Open Hardware project, there are at least two viable open-source options (Kicad, gEDA/PCB) which both work just fine.

identi.ca - a microblogging service based on Free Software, AGPL, and Creative Commons

identi.ca logo

After a long time of ignoring (or at least not using) micro-blogging services such as Twitter, I recently tried the Free-Software based identi.ca service, and I'm beginning to like it.

The choice of service was pretty obvious — while Twitter uses proprietary software and has custom Terms of Service, identi.ca is based on software under the GNU Affero General Public License, and the contents are CC-BY 3.0 licensed.

The code behind identi.ca is called Laconica (recently renamed to StatusNet) and is hosted at gitorious:

 $ git clone git://gitorious.org/laconica/mainline.git

My account details are available under http://identi.ca/uwehermann, where I'm posting smaller announcements and notes about random technical stuff I'm working on (slightly more regularly than in this blog). Sometimes I use the web interface for posting, but using the Jabber integration available at identi.ca is even more convenient. You can both be notified of new posts ("dents") in real time via Jabber, as well as post your own dents from within your Jabber client, which is nice.

identi.ca seems to become more popular every day, which will hopefully make the proprietary Twitter pretty much irrelevant sooner or later.

How to find copies or modified versions of your photos online, e.g. using TinEye

Sugar

I found out about TinEye a few minutes ago. It's a nice little search engine which allows you to find exact copies of a photo or even similar versions of it. You can either upload an image for comparison with their database, or point TinEye to a URL of the image you want to check.

For instance, checkout this this search for my unreasonably popular "Sugar" photo. Or have a look at this list of sample searches.

The site is also used in Wikipedia for detecting the original source of uploaded images.

I know there is some other website which also allows similarity search of images, but I just can't remember the URL. Please leave a comment if you know of other such sites, thanks!

Building an ARM cross-toolchain with binutils, gcc, newlib, and gdb from source

Update: Please don't use this script, a fixed and updated version is now maintained in the summon-arm-toolchain git repo. Direct download: summon-arm-toolchain.

I've been planning to write about building custom ARM toolchains for a while (I used stuff from gnuarm.com in the past, but I switched to the lastest and greatest upstream versions at some point). Among other things, recent upstream versions now have ARM Cortex support.

First you will need a few base utilities and libs (this list may not be complete):

  $ apt-get install flex bison libgmp3-dev libmpfr-dev libncurses5-dev libmpc-dev autoconf texinfo build-essential

Then you can use my tiny build-arm-toolchain script, which will download, build, and install the whole toolchain:

  $ cat build-arm-toolchain
  #!/bin/sh
  # Written by Uwe Hermann <uwe@hermann-uwe.de>, released as public domain.
  [...]

Update: Please don't use this script, a fixed and updated version is now maintained in the summon-arm-toolchain git repo. Direct download: summon-arm-toolchain.

The final toolchain is located in /tmp/arm-cortex-toolchain per default, and is ca. 170 MB in size. I explicitly created the build script in such a way that it minimizes the amount of disk space used during the build (ca. 1.2 GB or so, compared to more than 3 GB in the "naive" approach).

Using the "-j 2" option for make (see script) you can speed up the build quite a bit on multi-core machines (ca. 30 minutes vs. 60 minutes on an AMD X2 dual-core box). Also, you can change the script to build for other target variants if you want to (arm-elf or arm-none-eabi, for example).

Checkout the blog entry How to build arm gnu gcc toolchain for Mac OS X by Piotr Esden-Tempski for similar instructions for Mac OS X users.

Oh, and while I'm at it — does anybody have any idea why there are no pre-built toolchains for embedded (microcontroller) ARM targets in Debian? There are some toolchains for other microcontroller architectures (avr, m68hc1x, h8300, z80) but not too much other stuff. Is there some specific reason for the missing ARM toolchains (other than "nobody cared enough yet")?

I have heard about Emdebian, but from a quick look that seems to be more intended for toolchains with Linux/libc, not for microcontroller firmware (i.e. no MMU, no Linux, no libc etc.), but maybe I'm wrong?

Update: Please don't use this script, a fixed and updated version is now maintained in the summon-arm-toolchain git repo. Direct download: summon-arm-toolchain.

List of my Creative Commons licensed photos being used elsewhere

As you may know I maintain a Creative Commons licensed photoblog at my website. I'm also cross-posting some of the better photos to my flickr page.

Even with my humble, and not really widely-known little photoblog, you can already see the Creative Commons license's effects on media sharing and remixing/reusing kick in. Quite a number of my photos have already been used by other people for various different purposes (blogs posts, articles, even album covers), including some of the "bigger" sites such as the Wall Street Journal Blog or Cult of Mac...

Here's the list of places I know of where my photos are used. Please leave a comment if you spot more of them in the wild. I intend to keep this list updated as more of my photos appear elsewhere.

(Oh, and I have no idea why people seem to be so obsessed with my "Sugar" photo...)

Sugar

Sugar


Clock

Clock


Autumn Leaf

Autumn Leaf


Scissors

Scrissors


Soccer World Championship 2006

Soccer World Championship 2006


Organized

Organized


Dandelion

Dandelion II


Intel Celeron CPU

Intel Celeron CPU


Smoke

Smoke


Sun and trees

Sun and Trees


POSIX.1g

Posix.1g


Easter eggs

Easter eggs


Use more bandwidth

More Bandwidth


Webcam

Webcam


Two Flowers

Two Flowers

Syndicate content