[coreboot] building a coreboot (and 100% free software) compatible box

David Hubbard david.c.hubbard+coreboot at gmail.com
Thu Feb 7 08:05:46 CET 2013

Hi Csillag,

On Wed, Feb 6, 2013 at 6:58 PM, "Kristóf, Csillag" <
csillag.kristof at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hi,
> I am looking to build a new computer very soon, and I would like to ask
> for your advice about it, especially about software supports.
> My requirements are the following:
> 1. Absolutely necessary:
> 1.1. It must be able to run 100% free software. No closed BIOS. No binary
> firmware loaded to any part of the system with meaningful access to my
> data. (CPU, GPU, network card, etc.) Open display drivers. (Don't care
> about 3D.) I don't need UEFI, thank you very much.

I don't have experience with Intel motherboards.

If this sounds like I'm pushing one specific motherboard, I apologize.
Rudolf Marek did a great job porting coreboot to the Asus F2A85-M board,
and I bought one. I simply know the most about this board.

The open source radeon driver performs just fine for this board (as you
mention below, yes, there is a binary blob).

> 1.2. It must have hardware support for AES. (For hw crypto acceleration.)

For AMD that means you want a Bulldozer or Piledriver:


> 1.4. It must have hardware support for virtualization.

Which specific virtualization features are you interested in? AMD CPUs
should all have some virtualization capability. Coreboot + virtualization
has not been tested on the F2A85-M.

> 1.5. It must be able to drive 3 independent display outputs, at least in
> 1920x1200 resolution.
>     (Preferably all digital, but that's not necessary.)

The F2A85-M board has HDMI, DVI-D, and VGA sockets, but only works with up
to 2 displays. I can confirm that all three sockets work fine with the open
source radeon driver, and that dual-display works fine.

ASUS does do 3-display motherboards, just not this one. I think this means
you'll need a discrete graphics card, as you mention in 2.1 below. Bitcoin
just got ASICs so if you're the type to risk a scammer on fleabay, you
could score a great deal.

> 1.6. I must _use_ this, in a production environment, therefore it must
> work. Reliably. Now. I have ~15 yrs Linux programming experience, have
> modified stuff inside the kernel and X drivers, and I am not afraid to have
> my hands dirty, but now I am not here to run a hobby project, I want to to
> buy something that works, so that I can do my job using it.

Great! I understand that completely. The F2A85-M has some linux bugs:

1.6.1. The motherboard realtek r8169 gigabit NIC will lock up the system as
it gets fully loaded (tested up to kernel 3.7.1). Consider picking up a
cheap PCI-E NIC and ignore the on-board NIC until the bugs are well and
truly fixed.

1.6.2. The hwmon sensors driver is still a work-in-progress with
significant bugs. The stock linux kernel doesn't do anything to hwmon,
which is fine for production use.

1.6.3. I'll mention that there is almost no overclocking ability just to be
complete. The only thing coreboot supports is selecting the proper voltage
for DDR3 RAM at compile time.

> 2. Would be nice:
> 2.1. It should only use integrated graphics. (Both Intel and AMD can do 3
> displays from integrated graphics now.) If I must, I could add discrete
> card[s], but that increases power consumption and system size...

Yep, integrated graphics can drive 1920x1200 but only 2 displays.

2.2. Size small enough to be portable. Not planning to use in on the move;
> I mean portable in a (potentially huge) backpack, between several sites,
> where I intend to use them.
>     - size of Intel NUC or Thin Mini-ITX mainboard are very cool,
>     - Mini ITX is great, too,
>     - MicroATX is acceptable
>     - ATX seems to be too big, unless you can recommend me a really,
> really small case (with acceptable cooling)

The F2A85-M is a MicroATX board, for what it's worth.

> 2.3. Modern tech and High CPU performance. Of course :) Whatever is
> available...

AMD really doesn't have anything that competes with high-end Intel CPUs.

> 2.4. Low TDP, for the possibility of quite/silent cooling.
>     - definitely under 100W,
>     - probably at most 65W,
>     - ideally only 45W.

TDP for a high performance AMD CPU is ~100W. I use an aftermarket heatsink
and 120mm fan, and if you're willing to get a high-end heatsink this board
can be silent, even when the CPU and GPU are running at 100%.

> 2.5. It should be built from standard components, with standard
> interfaces. (So that I can replace anything later.) Notebook/Laptop stuff
> is hard, there is too much diversity, not enough standards. Desktop
> technology seems to be easiest. x86 is not a must (as long as the given
> arch is supported by Debian), but would be nice, since it has the most
> support.

>    * * *
> Obviously, given the requirements, I am aware that I will need to forgo
> some of the "would be nice" bits.
> If it was not for the software situation, I would go with a MoBo like
> Gigabyte GA-Z77MX-D3H TH (MicroATX, has 2x thunderbolt + DVI + HDMI), and
> with a CPU like Intel Xeon E3-1265L V2 (Quad-core with HT, 45W TDP, scores
> ~8800 on cpubenchmark I would not need to add a discrete video card.
> If I went the AMD way, I would go with ASUS F2A85-M PRO motherboard
> (eyefinity enabled, with DP + DVI + HDMI + D-SUB), and AMD A10-5700 APU.
> (65W TDP, scores ~4500 on cpubenchmark.)
>    * * *
> Now, if I understand correctly, the both GPU's (intel HD 4000 and Radeon
> HD 7660D) runs on binary firmware blobs.
> I have read about attempts to replace the Intel firmware with an open
> version, but I am not sure where it stands now.
> What are my options here?

I didn't realize Intel HD 4000 uses a binary blob. That's interesting, I'm
going to go research that. Cheers!

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