Using Buildroot to flash and boot the beta version of BeagleV Starlight

Bootlin recently received a beta prototype of the BeagleV Starlight featuring a RISC-V 64 bit SoC capable of running Linux, designed by StarFive This early version is not available to the general public, but several of us at Bootlin volunteered to join the beta developer program to assist with upstream software development. BeagleBoard.org has a public BeagleV forum that everyone can join for future updates on the project.

Two days after my colleague Thomas Petazzoni received his board, he managed to submit a patch for the mainline version of Buildroot to add support for this new board. Actually, compiling an image with Buildroot and preparing an SD card is easier than downloading and flashing the initial Fedora image offered for this beta board.

If you are just interested in testing the software on your board, you may directly get our binaries from our Build results paragraph.

The following instructions are derived from the board/beaglev/readme.txt file in Thomas’ proposed patch.

How to build

First, clone Buildroot’s git repository if you haven’t done it yet:

$ git clone git://git.buildroot.net/buildroot

Then add a remote branch corresponding to Thomas Petazzoni’s own tree, as his changes haven’t made their way into the mainline yet, and checkout a local copy of his beaglev branch:

$ git remote add tpetazzoni https://github.com/tpetazzoni/buildroot.git
$ git fetch tpetazzoni
$ git checkout -b tpetazzoni-beaglev tpetazzoni/beaglev

Now you can build the binaries for the board:

$ make beaglev_defconfig
$ make

Build results

After building, output/images should contain the following files:

  • Image
  • fw_payload.bin
  • fw_payload.bin.out
  • fw_payload.elf
  • rootfs.ext2
  • rootfs.ext4
  • sdcard.img
  • u-boot.bin

The two important files are:

  • fw_payload.bin.out, which is the bootloader image, containing both OpenSBI (the Open Supervisor Binary Interface, allowing to switch from Machine mode to Supervisor mode) and U-Boot.
  • sdcard.img, the SD card image, which contains the root filesystem, kernel image and Device Tree.

Tested versions of these generated files are available on our website.

Flashing the SD card image

You just need to insert your micro SD card into a card reader (assuming the /dev/sdX device file is used), and type the below command:

$ sudo dd if=output/images/sdcard.img of=/dev/sdX

Preparing the board

To prevent the experimental board from overheating, connect the BeagleV fan to the 5V supply (pin 2 or 4 of the GPIO connector) and GND (pin 6 of the GPIO connector).

To access a serial console, connect a TTL UART cable to pins 6 (GND), 8 (TX) and 10 (RX):
Beagle V - How to connect the serial port

Insert your SD card and power-up the board using a USB-C cable.

Flashing the bootloader

The bootloader pre-flashed on the BeagleV has a non-working fdt_addr_r environment variable value, so it won’t work as-is. Reflashing the existing bootloader with the bootloader image produced by Buildroot is therefore necessary.

When the board starts up, a pre-loader shows a count down of 2 seconds. Interrupt it by pressing any key. You should then reach a menu like
this:

bootloader version:210209-4547a8d
ddr 0x00000000, 1M test
ddr 0x00100000, 2M test
DDR clk 2133M,Version: 210302-5aea32f
0
***************************************************
*************** FLASH PROGRAMMING *****************
***************************************************

0:update uboot
1:quit
select the function:

Press 0 and Enter. You will now see C characters being displayed. Ask your serial port communication program to send the fw_payload.bin.out file using the Xmodem protocol (with the sx command). For example, here’s how to do it with picocom

picocom should be started as:

$ picocom -b 115200 -s "sx -vv" /dev/ttyUSB0

When you see the C characters on the serial line, press [Ctrl][a] [Ctrl][s]. Picocom will then ask for a file name, and you should type fw_payload.bin.out.

After a few minutes, reflashing should be complete. Then, restart the board. It will automatically start the system from the SD card, and reach the login prompt:

Welcome to Buildroot
buildroot login: root
# uname -a
Linux buildroot 5.10.6 #2 SMP Sun May 2 17:23:56 CEST 2021 riscv64 GNU/Linux

Useful resources

Here are useful resources for people who already have the Beagle V board:

We will keep updating this page according to progress in the upstream projects:

  • Support for the board in mainline Buildroot
  • Later, support for the board in mainline U-Boot and Linux

Videos and slides of Bootlin presentations at FOSDEM 2021

The videos from Bootlin’s presentations earlier this month at FOSDEM 2021 are now publicly available. Once again, FOSDEM was a busy event, even if it was online for once. As in most technical conferences, Bootlin engineers volunteered to share their experience and research by giving two talks.

Maxime Chevallier – Network Performance in the Linux Kernel, Getting the most out of the Hardware

Abstract: The networking stack is one of the most complex and optimized subsystems in the Linux kernel, and for a good reason. Between the wild range of applications, the complexity and variety of the networking hardware, getting good performance while keeping the stack easily usable from userspace has been a long-standing challenge.

Nowadays, complex Network Interface Controllers (NICs) can be found even on small embedded systems, bringing powerful features that were previously found only in the server world closest to day to day users.

This is a good opportunity to dive into the Linux Networking stack, to discover what is used to make networking as fast as possible, both by using all the features of the hardware and by implementing some clever software tricks.

In this talk, we cover these various techniques, ranging from simple batch processing with NAPI, queue management with RSS, RPS, XPS and so on, flow steering and filtering with ethool and TC, to finish with the newest big change that is XDP.

We dive into these various techniques and see how to configure them to squeeze the most out of your hardware, and discover that what was previously in the realm of datacenters and huge computers can now also be applied to embedded linux development.

Here are PDF slides for this presentation.

Michael Opdenacker – Embedded Linux from Scratch in 45 minutes, on RISC-V

Abstract: Discover how to build your own embedded Linux system completely from scratch. In this presentation and tutorial, we show how to build a custom toolchain (Buildroot), bootloader (opensbi / U-Boot) and kernel (Linux), that one can run on a system with the new RISV-V open Instruction Set Architecture emulated by QEMU. We also show how one can build a minimal root filesystem by oneself thanks to the BusyBox project. The presentation ends by showing how to control the system remotely through a tiny webserver. The approach is to provide only the files that are strictly necessary. That’s all the interest of embedded Linux: one can really control and understand everything that runs on the system, and see how simple the system can be. That’s much easier than trying to understand how a GNU/Linux system works from a distribution as complex as Debian!

The presentation also shares details about what’s specific to the RISC-V architecture, in particular about the various stages of the boot process. This presentation shares all the hardware (!), source code build instructions and demo binaries needed to reproduce everything at home, and add specific improvements. Most of the details are also useful to people using other hardware architectures (in particular arm and arm64).

It’s probably the first time a tutorial manages to show so many aspects of embedded Linux in less than an hour. See by yourself! At least, that’s for sure the first one demonstrating how to boot Linux from U-Boot in a RISC-V system emulated by QEMU.

Here are PDF slides for this presentation.

Bootlin at FOSDEM 2021: two talks, member of Embedded program committee

FOSDEM21Like all conferences in these times, FOSDEM will take place as an online, virtual event. For all the FOSDEM regular attendees, it will certainly be a very different experience, and for sure, we will all miss the chocolate, waffles, beer, mussels as well as the rainy, muddy, snowy, foggy and cold weather that characterize Brussels in early February. But nevertheless, knowledge sharing and discussions must go on, and FOSDEM will take place! As usual, FOSDEM takes place the first week-end of February, on February 6-7, and the event is completely free, with no registration required.

This time around, Bootlin is once again contributing to FOSDEM:

Make sure to check out the rest of the Embedded Devroom schedule, as well as the overall FOSDEM schedule.