The MNT Reform system image is deployed on a SD card. This works nicely, but is really more on the slow side, especially when you got used to these new fangled SSDs. Luckily the motherboard has a m2 slot that in case of the LS1028A processor module is suitable for the installation of SATA SSDs. There is even some scripting available to migrate your system from SD. As the processor can not boot directly from SATA, you are still dependent on the SD card for holding the boot image, consisting of RCW/PBI, Trusted Firmware-A (TF-A) and U-Boot.

The MNT Reform is a mobile device, it gets stuffed into bags and pulled out again, which leads ever so often to accidental ejection of the SD card. Without it, the system simply will do nothing when powered on. As I found that really annoying, I was looking for alternatives. Luckily the processor module comes with an eMMC on it. An eMMC is a solid state drive, very similar to a SD card, but in an IC package, so it is not removable. Which is just what I want. Unfortunately you have to tell the processor from where to boot on powerup. This means the processor samples its configuration from the status of certain pins that have to be strapped to 1.8V or GND with a resistor. This is called Power-on reset(POR) configuration.

One part of the POR configuration is the RCW source. RCW means Reset Control Word, which is a structure of 32 32-bit words that can configure many aspects of the system. The RCW source is encoded in four bits. The source can either be one of the hardcoded configurations, or it can be stored in some kind of nonvolatile memory like an SD card, an eMMC, SPI flash or I2C eeprom.

The LS1028A has an on-chip service processor that is responsible for setting up everything for the main processor to boot. It reads the RCW and writes it to the main processors Device Configuration (DCFG) registers. The service processor can also execute a custom assembly program called PBI(Pre-Boot Initialization). It has full access to all main processor registers and memory trough the chip interconnect. Normally part of the PBI program is a block copy operation, that reads the bootloader from nonvolatile memory and writes it to on-chip memory, where it can be executed by the main processor.

Hard wired to SD card boot

On my revision of the processor module(Rev02b), the plan was to encode three bits of the RCW source with DIP switches on the motherboard. Running these signals through a 3.3V to 1.8V levelshifter did not work as intended. Lukas finally decided to remove the levelshifter and hardwire the RCW source to SD card. This was no good news for me since it meant that I would have to modify the hardware in order to get rid of the SD card.

First of all I had to get rid of the hardwired strapping and cleanup everything nicely.

Hard wired strapping removed

To do this I had my ad hoc setup from work with me. Honestly my eyes are not good enough anymore to do this without a proper microscope.

Rework setup

Next step was to hardwire a strapping to eMMC boot. Before I had already copied the boot image there.

Hard wired to eMMC boot

I anxiously turned on the system, just to get some sobering results: nothing happened. Now it was pretty hard to tell what went wrong. But it was pretty clear that I would have to undo my hardware change and be able to boot from SD card again. As it was obvious that this would take some more iterations, I decided to install a jumper on the processor module to be able to switch between SD and eMMC boot.

Jumper for selecting boot source

To understand what went wrong I decided to have a look at the generated boot image. It was built using the scripts from the reform-ls1028a-uboot repository. As it is no fun to go through RCW/PBI code by hand, I decided to implement a radare2 disassembler plugin for the service processor machine code. Disassembly of the beginning of the image looked like this:

0x00000004      0000108010..   Load RCW with Checksum
0x0000008c      0013ea3120..   CCSR Write sys_addr 0x1ea1300, data 0x80104e20
0x00000094      0004e03100..   CCSR Write sys_addr 0x1e00400, data 0x1800d000
0x0000009c      0900008000..   Block Copy src 0x9, from 0xa000, to 0x1800d000, size 0x7332
0x000000ac      0000ff8000..   Stop

Most important here is the src parameter in the Block Copy command. 0x9 is for eMMC, so this was exactly what I wanted. There were still a lot of things that could go wrong later on in the boot process. So my idea was to verify, that the PBI code was executed properly in the first place. Since I have full access to the main processor registers, it would be not problem to turn on a GPIO. Luckily there is a LED wired to GPIO1_25 on the board. So I quickly hacked together a simple PBI program.

0x00000004      0000108010..   Load RCW with Checksum
0x0000008c      0000303240..   CCSR Write sys_addr 0x2300000, data 0x40
0x00000094      0800303240..   CCSR Write sys_addr 0x2300008, data 0x40
0x0000009c      0013ea3120..   CCSR Write sys_addr 0x1ea1300, data 0x80104e20
0x000000a4      0000ff8000..   Stop

The registers for the first GPIO module are at 0x2300000. At offset 0 there is the direction register, at offset 8 there is the data register. To set GPIO 25, one would expect that bit 25 must be set, which would be a value of 0x02000000. But the GPIO registers are encoded in big endian bit order, meaning bit 0 is for GPIO 31. This is a legacy from its PowerPC ancestors, that I luckily have worked with in the past. It took me a few iterations to remember that. So the correct value for ǴPIO 25 is 0x40.


The eMMC shows up as three different drives. There is mmcblk1, mmcblk1boot0 and mmcblk1boot1. As I was not sure, where the service processor was getting its data, I decided to copy the image on all three drives.

Writing is as simple as this: sudo dd if=flash.bin of=/dev/mmcblk1 conv=notrunc bs=512 seek=8 So finally my LED lit up. Joy.

Now I knew, that my setup was alright. The processor recognized my strapping, loaded the RCW and the PBI from eMMC and executed it perfectly fine. So what was wrong, when I tried to boot the full image? I remembered, that on my first try I had only written the boot image to mmcblk1boot0. Mainly from fear that my processor might die from heat without heatsink installed. So I quickly wrote the full boot image to all three eMMC drive instances.

What a nice U-Boot message

To my surprise the system the booted perfectly fine into U-Boot. The boot message also clearly said, that we were running from eMMC. Great!

My next concern was, whether SATA was working properly in U-Boot, because that would be the requirement for having the /boot partition on SSD. A quick check showed that it worked perfectly fine.

SATA working in U-Boot

Now everything was in place. There even was a sata_boot script defined in the U-Boot environment. Running that worked fine until the point where the kernel wanted to mount the root filesystem. That made me worry, but a quick inspection of the kernel commandline showed, that only the root parameter was missing. So I added root=/dev/sda1 to the bootargs variable. After that, the system booted to the rootfs. systemd went bonkers because of some issue with mmcblk0p1. I realized, that in fstab there was still an entry for the /boot partition on SD card. After changing that, the system booted perfectly fine. I was delighted.

Everything mounted from SATA

So that was quite a ride, but I am really pleased with the result. The only issue left is that the SD card is not recognized at all anymore. But I guess, we will find a solution for that.

If you want to try this yourself, be careful. The hardware mod is doable but you can easily damage your system. Also running the processor without a heatsink should only be done for very short amounts of time.

In future releases Lukas will include a working solution to select the bootdevice externally.

Once again, full access to all schematics, board layouts and sourcecode makes it possible to do such modifications. The Freescale/NXP documentation is also really helpful. I really appreciate that and prefer such vendors anytime over others that don’t give a damn before your order is seven figures, no matter how sexy their products are.