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Linux device designers looking for faster boot/reset times should consider alternative BIOSes, suggests Peter Seebach in a technical introduction to open BIOSes published on IBM’s DeveloperWorks website. Among other benefits, open BIOSes can save the time wasted by proprietary BIOS legacy support for MS-DOS and other unnecessary functions, Seebach notes.

According to Seebach, the proprietary BIOSes typically found in off-the-shelf PCs and boards often account for more than half of total boot time. And, much of this time is spent loading drivers and compiling information useful to legacy OSes such as DOS, but largely useless and redundant when using a modern OS such as Linux, which tends to do its own hardware probing, and load its own hardware drivers.

The solution, according to Seebach, is to replace proprietary BIOSes with open BIOSes. Open implementations can be configured or customized to perform only those initiatialization tasks that really are required, before bootstrapping the OS.

Seebach begins with an overview of Open Firmware, which he says provides a much more hacker-friendly alternative to proprietary BIOSes. Although developed by Sun and Apple for PowerPC, Open Firmware also has a lot to offer other architectures, including x86, writes Seebach.

Another interesting approach involves using Linux itself to initialize the hardware. The LinuxBIOS takes the approach of loading a small Linux kernel directly into the boot ROM. This approach is increasingly practical now that boards have 1-2MB of flash ROM onboard, according to Seebach.

Seebach notes that reflashing a board’s BIOS carries risk, because if the new BIOS fails to bring the board up, there will be no way to further reflash the BIOS without expensive, specialized equipment.

To read more about open alternative BIOS projects, read Seebach’s introductory article, here.

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