Flashing U-Boot on Efika MX Smartbook

From time to time I read posts where people wrote that their Efika MX Smartbook does not boot any more. The only thing which it does is white power led blinking about twice per second. Standard reply in such case is “send device back to Genesi”.

Some time ago a friend of mine borrowed Efika MX Smartbook from me. During his experiments he managed to get netbook into such state. I have serial/jtag debug dongle so decided to take a look at it (and unbrick device). I managed to fix it but also somehow broke serial port so can not check why my automate way does not want to work.

What needs to be done to get Smartbook back to live? Few things:

Needed steps:

  1. Repartition SD card. You can use any tool for it. All what has to be done is set up first partition at 1MB offset so we have space for U-Boot.
  2. Format partition (if needed) as FAT.
  3. Run “sudo dd if=u-boot.imx of=/dev/sdd bs=1k seek=1” (replace /dev/sdd with your SD card).
  4. Put card into SD slot of Efika MX Smartbook.
  5. Take out keyboard — you need to use small screwdriver to push holes near F1, F6, F10, End keys.
  6. Change DIP switches – they are in a middle of motherboard. You need to reverse default setup.
  7. Power on your Efika. There should be U-Boot output on screen. You may even get system loaded up at this step ๐Ÿ˜‰
  8. Take out SD card and copy ‘boot.scr’ to it.
  9. Power off Efika, put SD card and boot.
  10. Old U-Boot will be stored into NOR flash (output will be visible on screen).
  11. Change DIP switches – they are in a middle of motherboard. You need to reverse them to default setup.
  12. Put keyboard back.
  13. Take out SD card.
  14. Boot your Efika MX Smartbook — operating system should load.

Some information:

  • old U-Boot got flashed because new one was not tested for NOR boot
  • finding out information for this how to took me few hours
  • this procedure can be done without Efika MX Smartbook serial/jtag dongle
  • similar procedure can be used for Efika MX Smarttop but as I do not have such I can not offer help

Thanks goes to:

  • Genesi for giving me free Smartbook and serial/jtag dongle
  • Marek Vasut for his work on mainlining U-Boot support for Efika MX devices
  • Matt Sealey for some hints on IRC

Debug board for Efika MX Smartbook

I finally found a time to connect debug board to Efika MX Smartbook. I got that dongle about week ago but had more important things to do.

Package arrived in small box with BBRV signature on it:

Inside was “Lange 3 DB Board” made by Pegatron company. This provides ARM JTAG and serial connectors.

To connect it with Efika MX Smartbook first thing to do is take out keyboard. To do this small screwdriver is needed to push in four places at the top edge:

Inside you see empty space for mini-pciexpress card (but only USB signalling) which is used for 3G modems. On the right is half size mini-pciexpress card (also USB only ofcourse) wifi card based on Ralink 3273 chipset. Debug board cable needs to be connected to CONN1501 connector under 3G modem space (contacts bottom).

Keyboard can be put back into place so it is possible to use serial/JTAG and keyboard at same time:

What for I would use debug board? Time will show. So far I found out that kernel based on 10.08 Freescale code drop has worse battery driver then previous one (10.07 based). After one hack I got at least system which boots normally.

New architecture on my desk

Yesterday I unpacked Atmel NGW100 developer board. It is simple board without any whistles etc. but result is cheap device for those who wants to play with AVR32 architecture.

Board contains:

  • one serial port (female instead of male)
  • two Ethernet ports (I got 40Mbps with iperf)
  • USB device port
  • SD/MMC socket
  • JTAG connector
  • 32MB sdram
  • 16MB flash
  • few expension connectors with extra signals
  • footprint for mictor-38 connector for NEXUS emulator

And this is how it looks on my desk:

Atmel NGW100 board

I had to connect it like that because of female serial port I had to plug it directly to FTDI adapter because I lack straight serial cable ๐Ÿ˜€

New interesting devices

Recently few interesting devices appeared on a market. And they have high geek factor D:


SheevaPlug from Marvell contains MV88F6281 cpu running at 1.2GHz with 512MB of DDR2/800 memory. Other nice things are:

  • 1GbE network controller
  • 512MB of NAND for storage
  • USB 2.0 controller (up to 480Mbps speed)
  • RS232 serial port
  • SDIO slot
  • U-boot as bootloader

Everything in small package and for only 99 USD. I think that this will be nice addon to my collection of ARM devices (it is also one of fastest available ones).

Touch Book

Few days ago Koen Kooi wrote on his blog about Touch Book. It is ARM (TI OMAP3) based combination of tablet and netbook. Composed from two detachable parts it can be tablet (one part) or netbook (two parts connected).

There are few things in it’s design which make it special:

  • 8.9″ 1024×600 touchscreen
  • up to 15h on battery (in netbook mode)
  • two internal USB connectors to hide dongles inside
  • six USB connectors in total
  • just 0.9kg
  • no fans, no moving parts
  • opensource design
  • runs ร…ngstrรถm based distribution

Total price is 399 USD for netbook or 299 USB for tablet. Too bad that they offer selling to US only — but this can be handled by US friends D:

To get one or to not get one is tricky question. Current design lacks any video output so using it instead of laptop will be hard (no way to show presentation slides) but size, weight and battery time are interesting. I will definitely track their progress.

BeagleBoard C2

At the end of March new version (C2) of BeagleBoard has to be released. It has 256MB ram compared to 128MB of currently sold B7 version and also working EHCI USB port (B7 offers only one OTG port). I planned to buy this version but now I am not sure about it — Touch Book looks too interesting D:

Small does not mean powerless

Koen’s post about AVR32 Network Gateway and few posts on usenet reminded me that many people still think that small devices are crap and lack power to do anything.

Do they? I think that not. Here I use two small embedded devices:

  • Linksys NSLU2 as NFS server (plans are to add TFTP, Samba, CUPS and Bluetooth AP)
  • Linksys WRT54GS as router/firewall

Both do their work without any problems, both runs Linux and opensource distributions (OpenSlug and OpenWRT).

Soon will add something based on one of AT91 devboards but more to experiment with software then normal usage. And as I have 20 pin header soldered to OpenMoko debug board it can even be bricked (JTAG port was already tested with other device then Neo1973).

Great thing is that systems like AT91SAM9263EK, Gateway or STK1000 (another AVR32 devboard from Atmel) can be used to produce many different devices — I remember talk with one guy who shown his developer board (about A4 size) and final device (small rugged mobile device with barcode scanner) and told that this devboard was used to create about 10 misc models.

My friend made a project of own device based on AT91 ARM cpu with few peripherials. Total cost was less then 100 EUR and it can be used to different tasks and also give possibility to learn how to write kernel code (to handle all addons).

As Cliff Brake wrote: you cannot afford to not use Linux in your own projects. There are too many drivers and ready to use code to not make use of them. You can even get nice modules for less then 100 dollars (ARM, AVR32, x86 based) if you do not want to design own one. Then next step is OpenEmbedded and you have problem which software to choose as there is too much to choose ๐Ÿ™‚

Sharp Zaurus JTAG cable

From time to time people are asking about schematics of JTAG cable for Zaurus machines. Such cable can be used to restore flash memory content after destroying it.

For all models newer then collie (SL-5000/5500) there is a hope still as they are much harder to brick. User can enter “Diagnostics menu” via magic keycombo (which usually is holding “D” and “P” during Power key on boot) and then use “NAND Restore” function (NAND Backups are available in few places — TRIsoft is one of them).

Anyway below you should see schematics of such cable — taken from collie service manual. On Zaurus side you have to use Hoshiden TCX3106 connector (docs were available on Sharp Deutschland website) and is available for few USD in Five Star Associates. How to use cable? Do not ask me — I never had to use JTAG.

Sharp Zaurus JTAG cable schematics