Mainline U-Boot 2022.04 on RockPro64 - works from SD card

Had to downgrade gcc to version 11 on Arch ARM (otherwise ATF won't build), then (using git repos):

arm-trusted-firmware $ git checkout v2.7.0
arm-trusted-firmware $ find . -name '*.bin' -exec rm -vf '{}' \;
arm-trusted-firmware $ make PLAT=rk3399 bl31
arm-trusted-firmware $ cd ../u-boot
u-boot $ git checkout v2022.04
u-boot $ make mrproper && make rockpro64-rk3399_defconfig
u-boot $ make BL31=../arm-trusted-firmware/build/rk3399/release/bl31/bl31.elf

Create a GPT partition on SD card to hold boot files:

├── boot_arch
│   ├── dtbs/
│   ├── Image
│   └── initramfs-linux.img
└─── extlinux
    └── extlinux.conf

Write U-boot image to the same SD card (it will not break GPT) - directions in doc/README.rockchip in U-boot source tree, "Booting from an SD card on RK3399", Option 3. Works fine.

SPI flash doesn't work though, sf probe complains:

unrecognized JEDEC id bytes: ff, ff, ff

Installing BSDs on Cubieboard1


  • Download SD Card Image for armv7/GENERICSD from here, burn to SD card as usual
  • This image does not contain a U-boot capable of booting Cubieboard1. I couldn't figure out how to download FreeBSD packages without having FreeBSD installed, but U-boot image for Cubieboard1 is available in Parabola repos, after unpacking write it to the same SD card with dd if=u-boot-sunxi-with-spl.bin conv=notrunc,sync of=/dev/sd_card_device bs=1k seek=8. More info here
  • Boot, go through installation wizard, reboot, log in. Out of the box, FreeBSD takes 2.3Gb of space
$ uname -srm
FreeBSD 13.1-RELEASE arm

FreeBSD spoofed the MAC address for Cubieboard's builtin NIC for some reason. Overall it works well - boots quickly, the usual shell work feels snappy.


  • Download armv7.img.gz right from the homepage, burn to SD card as usual
  • Add U-boot, the command is slightly different from FreeBSD: dd if=u-boot-sunxi-with-spl.bin conv=sync of=/dev/sd_card_device bs=1k seek=8 (source)
  • Download .tgz "sets" from here, place them on a FAT partition on a USB stick
  • Insert both SD card and USB stick, boot. Mount the partition on USB stick. An adventure in and of itself - the name of the block device is different across commands (/dev/rsd0d, sd0 (not /dev/sd0), /dev/rsd0e and I don't remember what I used for mounting) - see the link for details
  • Run sysinst command, choose "Local directory", set the "Binary sets dir" to mounted USB partition dir. Clear all the other text fields, otherwise it will fail with some cryptic error. Choose "(Re-)Install additional sets" and "Minimal install"
  • Reboot, log in. Out of the box, NetBSD takes 2.2Gb of space
$ uname -srm
NetBSD 9.2 evbarm

NetBSD is significantly slower than FreeBSD (I/O operations, installing packages, ssh logins etc). By default, the hostname is the one received from DHCP server. NetBSD used the native MAC address of the builtin NIC, just like Debian.


I followed the installation manual to get it onto the SD card and it sent the board into a reboot loop with "DRAM init failure" error. I searched for it on the web, didn't find any obvious solutions/workarounds, not really interested in digging into it at the moment.

I want to use this board as a CI target, the BSD + armv7hf combination should be exotic enough to catch portability issues.

Installing Debian stable on Cubieboard1

It was tricky and required an SD card (2Gb or larger, to install Debian to) and a USB stick to store the installation image.

  • Download CD or DVD iso image for armhf from here, currently debian-11.3.0-armhf-DVD-1.iso
  • Copy iso file to a partition on USB stick (I used MBR + ext4). Burning it as usual for (GNU/)Linux distros did not work
  • On this page go other images -> armhf -> hd-media -> SD-card-images, download firmware.Cubieboard.img.gz, partition.img.gz, README.concatenateable_images, follow the 1-step instruction in the README and cat resulting .img file to SD card device (e.g. /dev/sdg, not /dev/sdg1)
  • Insert both SD card and USB stick into Cubieboard1 and boot - it'll start the installer from SD card, which will find and use the .iso image on USB partition. In it, choose "Use entire disk" at partitioning step and point to SD card - this will overwrite it with new partitions
  • Go through the installation wizard, remove USB stick, reboot. Out of the box, Debian takes 1.6Gb of space
$ uname -srm
Linux 5.10.0-14-armmp armv7l

Self-hosting address books

I wanted to self-host a server to sync my contacts across devices. One that uses an open protocol (CardDAV) and easy to self-host. Radicale was very easy to set up on Arch, but davx5 client (Android) couldn't sync the changes. Xandikos works flawlessly in combination with nginx. The package is in Arch repos but required some assembly:

# (as root)
mkdir /var/lib/xandikos /etc/xandikos
chown xandikos:xandikos /var/lib/xandikos
useradd -U -s /usr/bin/nologin xandikos
htpasswd -c /etc/xandikos/htpasswd usr

/etc/systemd/system/xandikos.service, ugly hack here because Xandikos can't use an existing socket:

Description=Xandikos CalDAV/CardDAV server
ExecStart=/usr/bin/xandikos \
  -d /var/lib/xandikos \
  --current-user-principal=/usr \
  -l /run/xandikos/socket
ExecStartPost=/usr/bin/sh -c 'sleep 2; chmod g+w /run/xandikos/socket'


upstream xandikos {
    server unix:/run/xandikos/socket; # nginx will need write permissions here
server {
    server_name home-dav;
    # Service discovery, see RFC 6764
    location = /.well-known/caldav {
        return 307 $scheme://$host/user/calendars;
    location = /.well-known/carddav {
        return 307 $scheme://$host/user/contacts;
    location / {
        proxy_set_header Host $http_host;
        proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-For $proxy_add_x_forwarded_for;
        proxy_redirect off;
        proxy_buffering off;
        proxy_pass http://xandikos;
        auth_basic "Login required";
        auth_basic_user_file /etc/xandikos/htpasswd;

Add this line to nftables ruleset to allow sync on LAN only:

tcp dport 8099 ip saddr { } ip daddr accept comment "Accept connections to xandikos behind nginx"

To sync to local directories I use vdirsyncer, on Android - davx5 (in F-Droid repos).

RockPro64: booting OS from SATA, installing Arch ARM

If U-boot problems with RockPro64 are fixed then most of this cumbersome setup will become unnecessary and this article will get 5 times shorter. Right now it might be easier to use this fork, author claims SATA support (I didn't try it). I chose upstream U-boot to send bugs to developers.

Currently the master branch of U-boot has 2 problems with RockPro64 - SATA doesn't start and the board is not booting since commit 3ae64582, hangs after loading the kernel. Wrote to developers about the second issue, there seems to be some interest. If it's fixed I'll report SATA issue next. There is a patch with PCIe code from OpenBSD, but the description is not encouraging.

So right now booting upstream U-boot is rather tricky:

  • U-boot is on SD card
  • There is a small flash drive in USB2 port with ext4 filesystem to store /extlinux/extlinux.conf, kernel and initrd
  • Other partitions (/, swap, /home etc) are on SATA devices

Commands below are for Arch or Parabola on amd64. There are cross-compilation packages in Arch repos - let's install them:

# pacman -S arm-none-eabi-gcc aarch64-linux-gnu-gcc dtc

Download latest ATF release (currently arm_cca_v0.3), remove binary files and build:

curl -O
tar -xzf arm_cca_v0.3
cd arm-trusted-firmware-*
find . -name '*.bin' -exec rm -vf '{}' \;
make realclean
make CROSS_COMPILE=aarch64-linux-gnu- PLAT=rk3399
cd ..

Now we can build U-boot 2020.07, to boot from SD we need u-boot-rockchip.bin:

curl -O
tar -xjf u-boot-2020.07.tar.bz2
cd u-boot-2020.07/
export BL31=../arm-trusted-firmware-*/build/rk3399/release/bl31/bl31.elf
export CROSS_COMPILE=aarch64-linux-gnu- CC=aarch64-linux-gnu-gcc
make mrproper
make rockpro64-rk3399_defconfig

A convenient distro to get started is Armbian. Download Bullseye from here, write it to SD card (/dev/sde here, needs to be 4Gb or larger):

unxz -dc Armbian_21.08.1_Rockpro64_bullseye_current_5.10.60.img.xz > /dev/sde

Boot RockPro64 with it, download ArchLinux ARM "Generic" root tarball from here. Create a 20Gb partition on SATA device, mount it to /mnt, unpack Arch there:

tar -xzf ArchLinuxARM-aarch64-latest.tar.gz -C /mnt

I wrote the following steps from memory, please contact me if something doesn't work, I'll try to fix it. Mount the filesystem on USB flash drive to /mnt_usb, move boot files from SATA to USB so that U-boot can see them:

mkdir /mnt_usb/boot_arch
cp -r /mnt/boot/* /mnt_usb/boot_arch/
lsblk --fs -oMOUNTPOINTS,UUID|awk '/^\/mnt_usb\s/ {print $2}' # UUID_USB, see below

Add entries to /etc/fstab: 1) to mount the filesystem on USB and 2) to bind the boot_arch directory on USB filesystem to /boot so that pacman uses it during kernel upgrades:

UUID=<UUID_USB> /bootUSB ext4 defaults,noatime 0 1
/bootUSB/boot_arch /boot    none    bind 0 0

Add Arch boot entry to extlinux/extlinux.conf on USB filesystem using PARTUUID of SATA partition (get it with lsblk -o+PARTUUID):

timeout 60
menu title Muh boot options
default Arch_Linux_SSD
label Arch_Linux_SSD
  kernel /boot_arch/Image
  append root=PARTUUID=111111-1111-111 nowatchdog console=ttyS0,115200n8 console=tty1 rootwait rw earlyprintk LANG=en_US.UTF-8
  fdtdir /boot_arch/dtbs
  initrd /boot_arch/initramfs-linux.img

Write U-boot to SD card, if you have a spare one (any size) - use it so you will still have a working one with Armbian. In this example SD card is /dev/sde, check it on your PC with lsblk:

dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sde bs=4096 count=2600
dd if=/path/u-boot-git/u-boot-rockchip.bin of=/dev/sde seek=64

Insert it into RockPro64, power on - if all went well you'll see U-boot 2020.07 and Arch will boot from SSD. Add pacman Arch ARM keys as described here.

Download linux-libre-firmware from Parabola repo, install it instead of linux-firmware:

RemoteFileSigLevel = Never # in /etc/pacman.conf
pacman -U
RemoteFileSigLevel = Required DatabaseOptional # in /etc/pacman.conf
pacman -U linux-libre-firmware-1:1.4-1-any.pkg.tar.xz

I added -mtune=cortex-a72.cortex-a53 to CFLAGS in /etc/makepkg.conf so GCC optimizes makepkg-built packages for this CPU architecture.

What works:

  • Bluetooth (headphones)
  • 1080p video playback
  • WiFi 802.11n Access Point
  • Sharing Internet connection via 1 Gbit/s cable (crossover)
  • Battle for Wesnoth: it's a big project and it's not in Arch ARM repos, so I decided to build it, see if it'll work on aarch64. Works like a charm: asp export wesnoth ; cd wesnoth ; sed -i 's/^arch=.*/arch=(aarch64)/' PKGBUILD ; makepkg, profit. Thanks to Wesnoth developers for portable code. Made a thread about it on Arch ARM, if I have time will make a github PR to add Wesnoth to Community repo, it looks simple enough
  • All the usual software I use on a home PC

Next on the list - linux-libre. I'll have to either build it for Arch/aarch64 or switch to a distro where it's already packaged. This will take some time.

PC on Libre/Free Software: hardware selection, RockPro64

I've been using a libreboot-ed ThinkPad T500, but USB system started to show its age - only one port works, and it's a random one on each boot.

Started to look for a replacement with these requirements:

  • Supported by Libre/Free Software - linux-libre, upstream U-boot without vendor blobs
  • Ability to install OS to SATA/NVMe drive. SD/eMMC/USB are too slow/unreliable
  • Sharing Internet connection via twisted pair and WiFi
  • Working Bluetooth
  • Upstream software: linux-libre, U-boot. I don't want to install forks of outdated versions.

Main candidates:

  • Blackbird, POWER9 CPU. Has a BMC, all firmware sources are available. Firmware for built-in NIC is in development, described here. Drawbacks are price and the fact that you can't order it (logistical problems due to covid, according to Talospace)
  • MNT Reform. ARM64 laptop, no vendor blobs except 16KiB one to initialize RAM. Shipping next year
  • RockPro64 - RK3399 SBC, 4G RAM, good-enough CPU (2xA72 + 4xA53), PCIe x4, 4xUSB, 1xRJ-45 (1 Gbit/s). Gentoo approves
  • Gigabyte GA-G41M-ES2L for libreboot treatment
  • HoneyComb LX2 aarch64, 16 A72 cores, a full-fledged motherboard. More expensive than RockPro64 (it has much more functionality). I couldn't find if it requires vendor blobs, and it's not in U-boot repo (by name)

I chose RockPro64. Pine64 sells a SATA card for it but it uses an ASM chip. Judging by forum threads and my experience ASM chips are not reliable - my mPCIe card on ASM1061 works with HDD but not SSD for some reason. Found this card - 4 ports, Marvell 88SE9215 chip, supported by Linux. Bluetooth and WiFi adapters that do not require vendor blobs were found on H-node (an excellent resource).

Resulting BOM:

  • SATA controller PCE4SAT-M02 (PCIe)
  • Bluetooth controller Asus BT400 (USB)
  • WiFi D-Link DWA-126 (USB) - Access Point mode
  • Ethernet D-Link Dub-E100 100Mbit/s (USB) - for ISP connection
  • 2 USB hubs
  • Chipset cooler Zalman ZM-NB32J - fits, here is an old review
  • Aluminum box 155x85x120 mm
  • Regular PC PSU (I already had one)

DIY power connector Molex -> DC barrel:


Bolted a small aluminum plate to SATA card to hold the cables:



More photos:







Next up: installing U-boot and Arch Linux ARM.