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BIOS boots to Linux in one second

Mar 10, 2008 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

Firmware company General Software announced that it is selling customized, quick-booting versions of its Linux-compatible BIOS firmware to the medical device industry. The company says its “Embedded BIOS with StrongFrame Technology” can boot to lilo (Linux loader) in less than a second.

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Fast boot times are key in the medical device market, where products compete on “time to waveform” (TTW), General Software said. Yet, most BIOSes available for x86 chipsets were built for the desktop market, and thus have not been optimized in this area, according to Steve Jones, General Software CTO.

Jones explained, “Hard drive spin-up normally takes so long that the BIOS has to wait for it anyway. Take away the spin-up time and you're left with POST that should complete in hundreds of milliseconds, but instead takes tens of seconds.”

Jones said that after hard drive spin-up delays, waiting for video card firmware to load is another major time-waster. “Depending on the video controller, it can take between 0.5 and 5 seconds, typically. Next to hard drive spin-up, this is actually the most significant part of POST and accounts for most of the time spent in the one-second measurement here. Other things, like keyboard controller initialization, mouse and keyboard device initialization, and USB initialization, all take hundreds of microseconds, and basically nickel-and-dime the POST time.”

Jones said the claimed sub-second boot time to lilo was measured between pushing the reset button on a Soyo motherboard with an Intel 815-class chipset, and the moment when the lilo prompt appeared, showing that the drive was being read. Jones says the feat was accomplished by using “Quick Boot” tuning tools available in the General Software Embedded BIOS Adaptation Kit, which is said to offer more than 1,000 configuration options at the source level. Using it, General Software or Kit licensees can tune x86 BIOS code to specific hardware, eliminating the time-consuming scans and unneeded code branches found in desktop x86 BIOS code. Another touted benefit is faster certification, since there are fewer code-paths to test.

Jones said General Software also created one BIOS capable of booting Windows Vista to a usable desktop in 24 seconds, where the same board with a traditional BIOS took 72 seconds. Much of the speed-up was attributed to building a UDMA-capable driver into the BIOS, enabling it to load the OS into memory much faster than traditional BIOSes, which use slow PIO (programmed I/O) data transfers.

General Software said its medical device customers include Siemens Acuson and GE Healthcare.


Embedded BIOS with StrongFrame Technology is available now for a wide variety of devices, including medical equipment.

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