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This HOWTO contains instructions for using LinuxBIOSv2 on the VIA EPIA-M and MII
mini-itx based motherboards.
Version 1.0 initial write for LinuxBIOSv2 by Nick Barker
Using materials and inspiration from
- EPIA HOWTO for freebios/linuxbios by Mark Wilkinson
- Based on the K7SEM HOWTO by Brenden Bixler,
- which is based on the Sis 630 HOWTO by Ron Minnich.
- Getting Started with freebios2 - a mail posting by Jay Miller
Unfortunately, there is a step in this HOWTO that could be hazardous. The
hazards include (but are not limited to)
1) destroying your motherboard
2) hurting yourself
3) killing yourself
Because of these hazards, you must take full responsibility if you
decide to install LinuxBIOSv2 following these procedures. Neither the
author of this HOWTO or any organisation or individual associated with
the LinuxBIOSv2 project can be held responsible for any adverse consequences
of your attempt to follow these procedures.
WARNING: We assume you've built kernels, know how to open up your PC,
and how to yank the flash part out while power is on and put in a
different part. There is NO WARRANTY, express or implied, with this
software. In fact, if you don't know what you're doing, and you get
careless, you're going to end up with a nice paperweight instead of a
motherboard, an emergency room bill, or a funeral service.
Additional information available at:
Linux distribution: Most modern distributions are supported.
Other software notes: You MUST have 'as' version 2.9.5 or later.
You MUST have 'gcc' version other than 2.96.
Before you start there are a few things which you need to arrange:
Since you are going to be re-programming the flash rom on the mainboard, and
it is likely that you first few attempts / images will not be right, then
you need a way of restoring a known working bios onto a board which is otherwise
Recommended: you might want to get a Bios Saviour (RD1-PL) - this is
a handy little piggy-back flash chip that saves you destroying the original
flash image. This howto assumes that you have this device, though other methods
and devices exist for programming flash roms.
LinuxBIOSv2 sends debugging output through the first serial port. You might want
to arrange a null modem serial cable for connecting this serial port to a
second computer running a terminal emulation program. I use 'microcom' which
is simple and allows all output to be captured into a file for later analysis.
The port is set up to use 115200 baud, 8bit, No parity, 1 stop bit.
Under LinuxBIOSv2 you have a choice of 'payloads'. The payload is the program
which LinuxBIOSv2 hands over to once it has finished initialising everything
on the mainboard at boot time. The payload is included in the flash rom along
with LinuxBIOSv2, and usually its function is to locate and load the operating
system. The 2 most common payloads are FILO, for booting Linux off an IDE
disk, and Etherboot for booting a diskless workstation accross a network.
This howto assumes the use of FILO.
A vga bios image. LinuxBIOS2v2 uses the vga bios of the original Via BIOS to
initialise the vga. It is not directly downloadable, but you can capture it from
a system running with the original bios, so you might as well capture it now:
dd if=/dev/mem of=/video.bios.bin \
bs=1 count=65536 skip=790528
Getting Going
The steps for loading LinuxBIOSv2 are simple:
1) Get Linux installed on your machine.
2) Download and install LinuxBIOSv2 sources.
3) Understand how to flash your rom.
4) Download, Configure and build the FILO payload
5) Configure and build LinuxBIOSv2.
6) Burn the LinuxBIOSv2 image to the flash.
7) Reset the machine -- did it work?
Options Once it has booted
i) Speeding up the boot
ii) Enhancing ACPI support
iii) On EPIA-MII, booting the computer from on-board compact flash
Step 1)
Get Linux installed on your LinuxBIOSv2 machine.
Don't forget to note which partition is / (/dev/hda3 etc.)
Step 2)
Grab the LinuxBIOSv2 source.
cd to the directory you want the source tree to be.
Note: this will create a sub directory called LinuxBIOSv2 which contains
the LinuxBIOSv2 source code
Download the latest code for LinuxBIOSv2 from the downloads page at
having expanded the tarball, cd into the LinuxBIOSv2 directory and browse around.
The top level directory includes:
'src' - where all of the source files for LinuxBIOSv2 are located.
'targets' - where all of the platform specific configuration files
for each platform supported by LinuxBIOSv2 are kept, and
where the build files and build process occur.
'util' - where various utilities required for the build process
and debugging are kept.
Hereafter, this howto refers to directory locations relative to these directories,
unless an absolute pathlist is given.
Step 3)
Whilst getting LinuxBIOSv2 going on your EPIA-M, you are almost
certainly going to be re-programming the flash rom several times, and
there is a very high probability that at one of these stages you will
get a flash rom that fails to boot your mainboard into Linux.
Before we proceed any further, it is absolutley vital that you have
worked out how to program the flash chip, and how you are going to
get back to your original bios when things go wrong. Otherwise you
will end up with a very expensive paper weight as described earlier.
You can use a professional Data I/O burner, or you can be foolhardy
and simply re-program the flash part of a running machine. However
whilst getting going a BIOS SAVIOUR RD1-PL is a very inexpensive
but effective device for ensuring that you always have a working
BIOS to hand.
The bios saviour is a little device which plugs into the flash rom
socket of the motherboard, and the original flash rom then plugs into
the bios saviour. The bios saviour includes a second flash rom chip,
and either of these chips can be selected as the active chip by a
simple supplied electrical switch mounted on flying leads. Make
sure that this switch is clearly visible, so that you know which
chip you are booting from, and which chip you are about to re-program.
Decide which chip you are going to use for LinuxBIOSv2, and which chip
you are going to keep the original working bios in, and mark them
clearly on this switch.
In the 'util/flash_and_burn' directory is the source for the 'flash_rom'
utility, which is great for re-programming the flash chips on the
EPIA-M / MII. Once you have built this utility:
Make sure that it can detect both flash chips on the bios saviour:
with switch set to chip 1 run 'flash_rom'
flash rom should search through a list of known flash rom
device types until it finds the type of the original chip
from your EPIA-M, and report what it has found.
with the switch set to chip 2, run 'flash_rom' again and confirm
that it can 'see' the second flash chip.
If your are lucky, the actual part number of the 2 chips may
be different, which you can use just prior to re-programming
a chip to make sure you are programming the right chip.
Make sure that you can read / write and verify a flash chip:
with switch set to 1 (original BIOS) run
'flash_rom -r original.rom'
this should read the contents of the original bios into the
file original.rom
confirm that the newly read file matches the original bios
'flash_rom -v original.rom'
set the switch to 2
confirm if you can that flash_rom 'sees' the second chip
'flash_rom' - and look for the detected device type
write the known good bios to the second chip with
'flash_rom -w original.bios'
verify that it has written correctly
'flash_rom -v original.rom'
with switch left at position 2, reboot the machine and make
sure that it comes up corectly. If it does then you now have
a working flash programming environment. If it does not, then
set the switch back to 1, reboot the machine, and investigate
Step 4)
Download FILO from, and expand
In the FILO source directory, type 'make'
The first invocation of make builds the default Config file, which
should be edited to meet your needs. In particular look at the line:
and make sure that it looks sensible for your setup. The line
AUTOBOOT_FILE "hda1:/vmlinuz root=/dev/hda2 console=ttyS0,115200"
reads as:
- find a linux os image on device hda partion 1 called vmlinuz,
- load this image
- execute the image passing kernel command line parameters of:
"root=/dev/hda2 console=ttyS0,115200"
after editing Config, type 'make' again, and this will build the file
'filo.elf' which is the payload we will be using.
Copy this file to somewhere which the LinuxBIOSv2 makefile can easily
find it. I just tend to keep it in the root directory though I'm sure
others will condem me for that practise:
'cp filo.elf /'
Make sure that you have compiled a kernel bzImage, and copied it to
the file location you identified in the FILO Config file.
Step 5)
The next step is to create the build environment for the epia-m. This
step creates the appropriate makefiles and build directories for the
'cd targets'
'./buildtarget via/epia-m'
This step will create a subdirectory in the targets/via/epia-m
directory called epia-m, which is the build directory for LinuxBIOSv2.
The main configuration file for the epia-m is in
If you need to make any changes to the configuration, for example you wish to
locate filo.elf in a place other than '/filo.elf', or during the more advanced
steps of this HOWTO, then these changes are made to this file.
You need to re-run the './buildtartegt via/epia-m' after any such change.
The directory 'targets/via/epia-m' contains other sample files, any
of which can be copied through to in order to become the current
Once you have your set up to your needs, and the build environment
created with './buildtarget', it is time to build a rom image.
Change directory into the build directory 'targets/via/epia-m/epia-m'
The configuration as set up by the buildtarget process will create a LinuxBIOS
which is exactly 196608 bytes long, which is exactly 64K bytes short of what
needs to go into the 256K flash rom. The other 64K is for your vga bios
which is simply merged with the linuxbios image. The easiest way to make this
happen is to edit the Makefile and change the line
cat fallback/linuxbios.rom > linuxbios.rom
cat /video.bios.bin fallback/linuxbios.rom >linuxbios.rom
Note: the above order of merging the files together is critical
You will need to remember to make this change every time after you have run
the buildtarget program.
Type 'make', and wait for the build process to complete.
If all went well, then you should find a file 'linuxbios.rom' in your
current directory. Check that it is 262144 bytes long - i.e. exactly the right
size for the flash rom chip in your EPIA-M / MII.
Step 6)
Assuming that you are using a Bios Saviour, make sure that the switch is set
to the position for your LinuxBIOSv2 image.
Type 'flash_rom' to make sure it can see the flash chip, and verify its type if
Only once you are happy that you are about to re-programme the desired chip, type
'flash_rom -w linuxbios.rom', and wait the few seconds it takes to program it.
Once it has finished, verify that the chip was re-rogrammed correctly - type
'flash_rom -v linuxbios.rom'
Step 7)
Power cycle the machine. LinuxBIOSv2 should come up in a few seconds.
With a connection to the serial port set at 115200, you should see LinuxBIOSv2
come up, launch FILO, and if you have a timeout set in FILO, then it may be
waiting for you to confirm its boot command line.
As long as you have this command line set up correctly, and an os image in the
right place, then FILO should proceed to boot into your Linux os.
If you do, CONGRATULATIONS ! It WORKED ! Pat yourself on the back,
why not try the optional steps now ?
If you don't, time to start capturing the output of the serial port
and talking to the linuxbios mailing list.
Optional steps - for use only if step 7 was successfull.
OK so now we have a BIOS which boots your computer fully into the operating system, and
depending upon your needs that may be all that you want. However LinuxBIOSv2 has a few more
tricks up its sleeve should you find yourself hungry for more.
Speeding up the boot
Linuxbios sends its debugging output to the first serial port and, depending upon the amount of debug
output selected, can be the limiting factor in the speed with which it boots your computer - regardless
of whether you have anything attached to the serial port.
Linuxbios uses the notion of debug levels to control what is sent to the serial port. These levels
range from 0 to 9 with 0 being the least verbose and 9 being the most verbose.
These levels are defined in the file described earlier. To reduce the output set:
to lower values.
Next you will have to run 'buildtarget' again to propagate the effects of the config change.
Then edit your Makefile again to include your video bios in the final merging.
Then run 'make clean' followed by 'make'.
Advanced ACPI
LinuxBIOSv2 now supports ACPI on the epia-m and epia-m II. In particular the interrupt
processing in Linux can be done through ACPI, and crude power management support
is provided. This includes software power off, and power management events from the
power button.
It is possible to enhance this behaviour to provide the full capabilities of the
original BIOS, which includes different sleep levels and wake from these levels
upon certain events. This is achieved by using a 'grabbed' copy of the ACPI
Differentiated System Descriptor Table or DSDT from the original BIOS.
For copyright reasons this table cannot be included with the source distribution
of LinuxBIOSv2.
You MUST have 'iasl' - Intel's ACPI Asl compiler for Unix/Linux -
To replace the LinuxBIOSv2 DSDT with the grabbed one from the original BIOS:
- Start the computer using the original BIOS, and make sure that you
have ACPI set up in the kernel that you are running
- Grab the DSDT table - 'cat /proc/acpi/dsdt >dsdt.aml'
- Convert to asl code - 'iasl -d dsdt.aml' (creates dsdt.dsl)
- Convert it to a C hex table - 'iasl -tc dsdt.dsl' (creates dsdt.hex)
- Replace the file 'src/mainboard/via/epia-m/dsdt.c with dsdt.hex
Now re-build LinuxBIOSv2, re-program the flash and power cycle.
If you wish to return to the LinuxBIOSv2 DSDT, then the original file dsdt.asl can be converted
into a C hex file using 'iasl -tc dsdt.asl'
Boot from Onboard Compact Flash (MII only)
LinuxBIOSv2 now supports the onboard compact flash on the MII as an IDE drive,
and it is possible to boot directly from this drive using the following steps.
The first step is to get Filo or whatever payload you are using to recognise
and use this device.
In order that the pcmcia subsystem of the Linux kernel can correctly configure
the device later on in the boot process the CF is set up with its I/O
registers in a contiguous block of 16 bytes at 0x1e0 through 0x1ef. Unfortunately
this is not a standard IDE address which is why we need to 'fix' filo to use it.
(Actually it is half of the address range used by IDE4, and so we need to
be careful to tell the kernel not to probe that address - more on that later).
The first step is to change the filo Config file.
1) Comment out SUPPORT_PCI=1. This line instructs filo to search for PCI based IDE
adapters only, and the CF is not attached to a PCI based IDE controller.
2) Add the following two lines somewhere in the Config file:
IDE2_CMD = 0x1e0
IDE2_CNTRL =0x1ec
The second step is to modify the file drivers/ide.c in the filo source directory.
Find the function 'find_ide_controller_compat' and change it to look like
static int find_ide_controller_compat(struct controller *ctrl, int index)
return -1;
#ifdef IDE2_CMD
if(index == 2){
ctrl->cmd_base = IDE2_CMD;
ctrl->ctrl_base = IDE2_CNTRL;
return 0;
ctrl->cmd_base = ide_base[index];
ctrl->ctrl_base = ide_base[index] + IDE_REG_EXTENDED_OFFSET;
return 0;
Filo will now recognise the CF as the first device on the third IDE controller
(i.e. ide2), and can be referred to as 'hde'
The next step is to create an initrd file for your Linux kernel. What? Why?
The CF socket on your MII is hardwired to the PCMCIA controller and for all intents
and purposes it is a PCMCIA device. This means that once Linux boots it will be under
the control of the pcmcia manager. Now according to the pcmcia-utils documentation,
the pcmcia manager is intended to control and configure devices on an already
running system. Yet if we need the CF to be the root device, it needs to be mounted
very early on in the boot sequence, before the stage where pcmcia devices would normally
be configured. The answer is to use an initrd file to get the pcmcia manager running early
for the CF. If you are unfamiliar with initrd then 'man initrd' will give you more background.
The easiest way to create an initrd is to use the script 'mkcfinitrd' which is at the bottom
of this howto. This is a tailored version of the 'pcinitrd' script from the pcmcia-utils package.
Make sure that 'ash' is available on your system as this is the tiny shell programme used during
the initrd phase of booting.
It is worth mounting the initrd generated, and looking over it to make sure that
it contains all of the modules necessary to load and initialise the CF. It does not
need drivers for whatever you use in the pcmcia socket, as that can be initialised
later on in the boot process as before.
Finally gzip the file created, and move it alongside your kernel.
Next adjust your FILO command line to pick things up from the CF. My linux command
line in filo looks like:
AUTOBOOT_FILE = "hde:/vmlinuz initrd=hde:/initrd.gz root=/dev/hde console=tty0 ide4=noprobe"
The ide4=noprobe option is required to stop the kernel from probing the address used
by the CF. As this address is half that used as the standard address for a fifth (i.e. ide4)
controller, the kernel hangs whilst trying to initialise this device if this option
is not given.
Finally make sure that you have copied the necessary files onto your CF, and re-boot
your computer.
******************* mkcfinitrd script **************************************
# Utility for constructing CF initrd for Epia-MII CF Boot
# Copyright (C) 2005 Nick Barker --
# Based on pcinitrd
# Copyright (C) 1999 David A. Hinds --
MODULES="pcmcia/pcmcia_core.o pcmcia/ds.o pcmcia/yenta_socket.o"
KERNEL=`uname -r`
BIN="bin/mount bin/umount sbin/insmod sbin/cardmgr"
LIB=`ls /lib/ | sort | tail -1`
ETC="/etc/ /etc/pcmcia/config /etc/pcmcia/config.opts"
DEV="/dev/console /dev/null /dev/ram /dev/tty1 /dev/tty2 /dev/tty3 /dev/tty4"
# name of the initrd file to make
umount $MNT
rmdir $MNT
exit 1
if [ -d $3 ] ; then
DEST=$3/`basename $2`
strip $1 --verbose -o $DEST $2 | sed -e 's/([^ ]*)//g' || fail
mkdir --verbose $MNT || exit 1
echo "Creating filesystem on $TARGET"
if [ -b $TARGET ] ; then
rm $TARGET || fail
dd if=$ROOT/dev/zero of=$TARGET bs=1k count=$SIZE
echo "y" | mke2fs $TARGET $SIZE >/dev/null || fail
mount --verbose -t ext2 -o loop $TARGET $MNT || fail
rm -rf $MNT/lost+found
echo "Creating Directories on $TARGET"
for DIR in bin dev etc lib proc tmp mnt ; do
mkdir --verbose $MNT/$DIR || fail
for DIR in block misc fs net pcmcia ; do
mkdir --verbose $MNT/lib/$DIR || fail
echo "Copying Files to $TARGET"
for F in $DEV ; do
cp -a --verbose /$F $MNT/dev || fail
if [ -e /dev/systty ] ; then
cp -a --verbose /dev/systty $MNT/dev || fail
for F in $BIN ; do
strip_cp --strip-all /$F $MNT/bin
strip_cp --strip-all /bin/ash $MNT/bin/sh
for F in $LIB ; do
strip_cp --strip-debug /$F $MNT/lib
cp --verbose /lib/ $MNT/lib || fail
for F in $ETC ; do
cp --verbose /$F $MNT/etc || fail
for F in scsi network ftl ide memory serial ; do
touch $MNT/etc/$F ; chmod +x $MNT/etc/$F
for MOD in $MODULES ; do
strip_cp --strip-debug $MODDIR/$MOD $MNT/lib/$MOD
strip_cp --strip-debug $MODDIR/$BLK $MNT/lib/block/ide-cs.o
echo "Creating linuxrc startup script"
cat > $MNT/linuxrc <<- 'EOF'
mount -t proc /proc /proc
echo ""
echo "==== initrd: starting PCMCIA services ===="
echo ""
insmod $PC/pcmcia_core.o
insmod $PC/yenta_socket.o
insmod $PC/ds.o
insmod /lib/block/ide-cs.o
if [ "$DEBUG" != "" ] ; then V=-v ; fi
cardmgr $V -q -o -c /etc -m /lib -s /tmp/stab -p /tmp/pid
umount /proc
echo ""
if [ "$DEBUG" != "" ] ; then
/bin/sh < /dev/console
chmod +x $MNT/linuxrc
df -P $MNT | awk '/tmp/ { printf "%dK/%dK used\n",$3,$2 }'
umount $VERBOSE $MNT
rmdir $MNT
echo "Finished $TARGET"
echo "Now gzip $TARGET to create final initrd.gz"
exit 0
*************************** end mkcfinitrd ***********************************