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Open Source Firmware Trivia Questions List (OSFTQL)

Goal of following questions list is to provide answers to terribly trivial topics or questions that were asked and answered gazillion times. We believe to move forward with so limited resources we have to stop wasting community precious time on something we agree on, but move forward with discussion.

Other role of this list is to create taxonomy of OSF trivia questions for community and Dasharo customers, to avoid repeating explanation of topics which most of community already agree on.

[OSFTQL0003] Binary blobs - what are they? What do we need them for?

Binary blobs are a term referring to proprietary, closed-source software components. They are called "blobs" because, unlike open-source code, you can't see their internal structure, nor verify their security; they are an undifferentiated mass (or "blob") of binary data. While often frowned upon in the Open Source community for being inauditable and suspicious, some are required by coreboot for most of the recent platforms. Here are some common types of binary blobs you might encounter when working with coreboot:

  • CPU Microcode:

    • Modern CPUs often require microcode updates to fix bugs or security vulnerabilities. These microcode updates are usually distributed as binary blobs.
  • Memory Initialization:

    • Some platforms require binary blobs for memory initialization. The code that sets up the RAM is sometimes provided only in binary form by the hardware manufacturer.
  • Video BIOS:

    • The video BIOS (VBIOS) is a piece of firmware that initializes the graphics hardware. In some cases, the VBIOS might be required to get graphical output during the boot process.
  • Management Engine (ME) Firmware (Intel platforms):

    • Intel's Management Engine is a controversial component required for Intel systems to boot. It requires a binary blob.
  • Platform Security Processor (PSP) Firmware (AMD platforms):

    • Similar to Intel's ME, AMD's Platform Security Processor (PSP) requires binary firmware to function.
  • Firmware Support Package (FSP) (Intel platforms):

    • Intel provides a Firmware Support Package (FSP) which is a binary blob used to initialize the processor, memory, and chipset on some Intel platforms.
  • Embedded Controller (EC) Firmware:

    • The firmware for the embedded controller (which handles things like power management, fan control, etc.) may also be a binary blob.

To see in fine detail which are required for your platform of interest, please refer to this coreboot wiki page.