[coreboot] What are the best motherboards/systems out there foropen-source software?

Ken.Fuchs at bench.com Ken.Fuchs at bench.com
Fri Jun 20 19:28:03 CEST 2008

David Christensen wrote:

> coreboot:
> I am researching parts to build a new open-source desktop 
> system, and came across coreboot tonight.
> I have heard of open-source projects to implement x86 BIOS, 
> but have always wondered how they fared given the fact
> that most motherboard vendors and chip vendors consider
> their products confidential intellectual property and won't
> provide technical documentation necessary for software 
> development without an contract (NDA, etc.).

Just to be clear, NDA is short for Non-Disclosure Agreement.
There is no standard NDA; even the same company will have
a different NDA for a different purpose.  An NDA will often
list exactly what will be shared and protected, but often
companies will want this list to be very general so that
almost anything shared that was not previously shared by
legal means will be protected by the terms of the NDA.

Some companies will provide enough information about their
boards, processors, chipsets, ancillary chips and embedded
controllers with or without an NDA.  With an NDA in place,
they will often want to review code based on an open source
project (i.e. coreboot), before allowing it to be publicly
released.  There may be a few companies that are resistant
to any open source BIOS and may not agree to an NDA for
that purpose, but I know of no such case yet.  Companies
will tend to do what is best for their bottom line; we just
need to convince them that an Open BIOS/firmware like
coreboot will help them improve their bottom line.

When a company is resistant to releasing technical information
even with an NDA or the prospect of getting approval to release
source created via NDA protected information is doubtful, there
is the option of reverse engineering the technical information
via JTAG debuggers, logical analyzers and similar tools.
Of course this is only an option for those that do not sign
any relevant NDA.  Also, care must be taken to ensure that the
reverse engineering activities do not violate any applicable

> Are there any modern x86 motherboards and/or systems 
> currently available for which technical documents are
> available for the motherboard and everything on it?

I'm not aware of any x86 main boards with complete technical
information that are available without signing an NDA.  Some
that may come close would be on the coreboot main board list,
but some of these may have been developed under NDA, which
means the only public technical information available may be
the approved & released chipset-specific, coreboot source code


Perhaps, someone else is aware of such a board with complete
publicly available technical information, including full
schematics and BOM?

> Are matters better or worse for alternate architectures?

The situation for non-x86 processors is much better.  U-Boot
seems to support almost any non-x86 based board that exists.
If a board is not supported, its architecture often is supported
and thus a port U-Boot to it is usually quite easy to do.

In my opinion, U-Boot's non-x86 firmware market share is so high
that embedded board designers ignore U-Boot at the own peril.
This is especially true of architectures that MS Windows CE does
_not_ support.  (CE supports only x86, MIPS, ARM and SuperH where
ARM is the only one that is really significant; CE's bootloader
Eboot is really a joke compared to the power of U-Boot in any



Ken Fuchs

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