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The linux BIOS

by Ron Minnich, James Hendricks, Dale Webster
ALS00 Proceedings of the 4th annual Linux Showcase Conference ()


The Linux BIOS replaces the normal BIOS found on PCs, Alphas, and other machines. The BIOS boot and setup is eliminated and replaced by a very simple initialization phase, followed by a gunzip of a Linux kernel. The Linux kernel is then started and from there on the boot proceeds as normal. Current measurements on two mainboards show we can go from a machine power-off state to the "mount root" step in a under a second, depending on the type of hardware in the machine. The actual boot time is difficult to measure accurately at present because it is so small. As the name implies, the LinuxBIOS is primarily Linux. Linux needs a small number of patches to handle uninitialized hardware: about 10 lines of patches so far. Other than that it is an off-the-shelf 2.3.99-pre5 kernel. The LinuxBIOS startup code is about 500 lines of assembly and 1500 lines of C. The Linux BIOS can boot other kernels; it can use the LOBOS(ref) or bootimg(ref) tools for this purpose. Because we are using Linux the boot mechanism can be very flexible. We can boot over standard Ethernet, or over other interconnects such as Myrinet, Quadrix, or Scaleable Coherent Interface. We can use SSH connections to load the kernel, or use InterMezzo or NFS. Using a real operating system to boot another operating system provides much greater flexibility than using a simple netboot program or BIOS such as PXE. LinuxBIOS currently boots from power-off to multi-user login on two mainboards, the Intel L440GX+ and the Procomm PSBT1. We are currently working with industrial partners (Dell, Compaq, SiS, and VIA) to port the LinuxBIOS to other machines. According to one vendor, weshould be able to purchase their LinuxBIOS-based mainboards by the end of this year.

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