Need help with LinuxBIOS speech (fwd)

Eugen Leitl eugen at
Fri Sep 6 02:57:14 PDT 2002

-- Eugen* Leitl <a href="">leitl</a>
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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 5 Sep 2002 16:22:59 -0600 (MDT)
From: Ronald G Minnich <rminnich at>
To: Christer Weinigel <christer at>
Cc: linuxbios at
Subject: Re: Need help with LinuxBIOS speech 

On Thu, 5 Sep 2002, Christer Weinigel wrote:

> I think I need a short introduction to LinuxBIOS and also a short
> history of where it came from.

history: I started this project at LANL three years ago this month. The
original purpose was to make clusters easier to manage. Clusters take 1
FTE per 128 nodes to manage at minimum, and that was no longer workable
ca. 1999, as we envisioned clusters of 256 or 1024 or more nodes. At the
same time, existing BIOSes were too stupid to be useful, and took a lot of
effort to keep running -- I once had to do the "magic key" sequence to get
128 nodes to boot from CDROM. Remy Evard at Argonne got to move a keyboard
and cart around to over 256 nodes to do a bios upgrade -- twice. Systems
with existing BIOSes could not be used to build manageable clusters.

It seemed to me that with the demise of ISA and other old PC junk, and the
common use of self-describing hardware, we could build an open-source
BIOS. My hope was that we could further use Linux as the bootstrap and
second half of the BIOS. There were thus two key questions to ask: could
Linux boot Linux, and could we write an open source BIOS? If both these
questions could be answered "yes", then an open-source BIOS was practical.

I spent the next few months figuring out if Linux could boot Linux. I had
a fair number of core folks tell me this was impossible, but we did it
anyway, and other folks have come along since and written much better
systems that do the same thing (see kexec and two kernel monte and

Once we knew linux could boot linux, it was time to check out open source
bioses. James Hendrix and Dale Webster found OpenBIOS and over winter
break showed that our L440GX+ boards could be booted with OpenBIOS -- from
a floppy, under DOS.

The next few months were consumed with me trying to figure out how to get
flash written on the 440GX, and then trying to figure out why DRAM did not

Sometime that spring SiS joined the effort. The first "multi-user login"
message on the web page is "New as of 5/5/00: First login, 9:15 AM MST".

Also that Spring we moved the code base to FreeBIOS as it had more C and
less assembly.

Ca. 5/10/00 the NPS tried to burn Los Alamos down so we took a short

>From that point on, more and more people have joined the effort, and at
this point LLNL and linuxnetworx are building a 1000+ node linux cluster
using linuxbios machines.

> >   - What are the main benefits in using LinuxBIOS?

maintainable clusters
maintainable systems
fast boot (matters to some people)
better control of the system
LinuxBIOS in many cases does a better job of chipset config

>     Not as flexible as a normal BIOS.

well, not really true in all cases. Check out the cwlinux offering, where
flash boots into busybox linux. NO BIOS is that flexible!

>     Requires hardware and chipset documentation, it's hard to keep up
>     with the hardware development..

true for now, although at least two motherboard vendors are plannning to
support linuxbios.

>     Hard to handle PCI cards with expansion ROMs on them that expect a
>     standard PC BIOS.

partially true, but getting better.

> >   - What chipsets are supported by LinuxBIOS today?
> Is there a list of supported chipsets?
ls src/*bridge*/*/*


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