Booting 3.8+ kernels on Marwell Kirkwood ARM Zyxel NSA 310

Zyxel NSA 3xx are excellent and cheap NAS devices and finally support for model NSA 310 landed in Linus tree in the 3.8 version. Good news, but this Marwell Kirkwood-based ARM device is using DTS (Device Tree). I had no experiences with compiling DTS kernels, until this night.

So the Device Tree, or The Flattened Device Tree, (FDT) is a data structure for describing the hardware in a system. It is a derived from the device tree format used by Open Firmware to encapsulate platform information and convey it to the operating system. The operating system uses the FDT data to find and register the devices in the system. (Taken from

Simply put, Device Tree helps us to boot various (ARM) hardware without need of recompiling kernel for each device. The basic idea is to compile information about the hardware (DTS is the source file, DTB is binary compiled data structure) into the kernel and to integrate bootloader with it so it is able to pick up the relevant DTB and continue booting the kernel.

The issue with NSA 310 is it’s bootloader does not support Device Tree. Fortunately, there is an option to tell the linux kernel to load DTB from end address using an option and concatenating the DTB info to it.

Let’s do it. First of all, get a 3.8+ kernel and see what we can do:

# make help
Architecture specific targets (arm):
* zImage        - Compressed kernel image (arch/arm/boot/zImage)
  Image         - Uncompressed kernel image (arch/arm/boot/Image)
* xipImage      - XIP kernel image, if configured (arch/arm/boot/xipImage)
  uImage        - U-Boot wrapped zImage
  bootpImage    - Combined zImage and initial RAM disk
                  (supply initrd image via make variable INITRD=<path>)
* dtbs          - Build device tree blobs for enabled boards
  install       - Install uncompressed kernel
  zinstall      - Install compressed kernel
  uinstall      - Install U-Boot wrapped compressed kernel
                  Install using (your) ~/bin/installkernel or
                  (distribution) /sbin/installkernel or
                  install to $(INSTALL_PATH) and run lilo

There are some patches in the testing arm repositories that adds new make targets that does the trick for you, so you can do something like:

make dtbuImage.kirkwood-nsa310

to get DTB-enhanced kernel for uImage directly. This hasn’t been merged into the Linus tree yet. We are going to do this manually now. First of all, configure your kernel. Make sure you have NSA 310 support and DTB loading:

# grep "ARM_APPENDED_DTB|NSA" .config

As well as other ARM options. Then compile the kernel:

# make zImage
Kernel: arch/arm/boot/zImage is ready

Then we will compile our NSA 310 DTS into DTB binary representation:

# make dtbs

The above target creates kirkwood-nsa310.dtb along with other kirkwood files (and all of those you have enabled in your configuration). Now we need to concatenate it into our kernel:

# cat arch/arm/boot/zImage arch/arm/boot/dts/kirkwood-nsa310.dtb > /tmp/X
# mv /tmp/X arch/arm/boot/zImage

We have changed zImage, but we can continue building our u-boot image because the file is newer and GNU make will have no problems with that. So let’s create the final u-boot kernel:

# make uImage
Image Type:   ARM Linux Kernel Image (uncompressed)
Data Size:    3684110 Bytes = 3597.76 kB = 3.51 MB
Load Address: 00008000
Entry Point:  00008000
Image arch/arm/boot/uImage is ready

We are done, copy your kernel to the final destination:

# cp arch/arm/boot/uImage /boot/uImage-nsa310

To boot it just do something like this in your u-boot environment:

ide reset; ext2load ide 0:1 0x800000 /uImage-nsa310; bootm 0x800000

This depends on where you boot your device from. I will maybe create some other articles about booting Fedora on this device. What I want to focus on is creating my own setup on USB flash drive and F2FS.

If you googled my article, please drop me a line bellow. Take care!

17 March 2013 | linux | fedora | arm