Pine64 Linux images and information
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apritzel tools: add arch timer skip test program
The ARM Generic Timer implementation in the Allwinner A64 SoC suffers
from an implementation errata, where the monotonic system counter seems
to occasionally jump, both forward and backwards, with catastrophic
consequences. Samuel wrote an elaborate description of the problem for
the mainline Linux kernel patch:

This test tool reads the Linux monotonic time source and the virtual
counter system register in quick succession to spot those (backwards)

ARM/ARM64 only, (cross-)compile with:
$ gcc -Wall -O -o test_timer test_timer.c
Latest commit 6f18106 May 25, 2018

Usage instructions for the image files

Quick start

Extract a firmware image and flash it onto a microSD card, replacing sdX with the name of your SD card device file.


This will overwrite most of the first megabyte of that SD card, but leaves an MBR partition table untouched. If your first partition starts below 1 MB, you will loose data, so better backup any holiday pictures from that SD card first.

# xzcat pine64_firmware-xxxxx.img.xz | dd of=/dev/sdx bs=1k seek=8
# sync

This firmware image contains the primary bootloader (U-Boot SPL), an ARM Trusted Firmware build (ATF), the device tree file (DTB) and the actual U-Boot image.

  • Connect your PC to UART0 on the Pine64 (see Pine64 linux-sunxi Wiki) and connect a terminal program with a 115200n8 setting on your PC to it. Alternatively connect a monitor to the HDMI port and an USB keyboard to the lower USB socket on the Pine64.
  • Put the microSD card into your Pine64 and give it some power.
  • If you let the U-Boot prompt time out, it will start looking for kernels on the SD card, any USB mass storage device (pen drive, hard disk), also trying PXE network boot. It will automatically detect standard compliant EFI applications from devices, so distribution installers should just work (given their kernel supports 64-bit Allwinner devices).

Adding a root filesystem

The image comes with only the firmware bits, no further data or partitions. You can add (or reuse) any partitions, given that the area below 1MB remains intact (most partitioning tools do that anyway). The recommended layout is to have an EFI system partition (ESP) of about 100MB as the first partition, then any Linux root and data partitions afterwards.

Normally you would not need to provide a .dtb file, as you can use the version that ships as part of the U-Boot image. Simply use $fdtcontroladdr when you need to specify the DTB load address:

=> booti $kernel_addr_r - $fdtcontroladdr

Rebuilding the firmware image

The Pine64 firmware consists of four parts:

  • The on-chip boot ROM (BROM), which cannot be changed and does the very first steps in loading code. It is part of the A64 SoC and thus not included here.
  • A secondary program loader (SPL). Its main task is to initialize the DRAM and load the remaining firmware parts. Due to BROM limitations the SPL is limited in size to 32K. The SPL is part of U-Boot, find it under at spl/sunxi-spl.bin after a U-Boot build.
  • An EL3 runtime firmware. The task of this code is to provide runtime services like PSCI. It stays resident during the whole time and can be called from an OS like Linux to enable or disable secondary cores or request other services. It also takes care of low level CPU initialization and some errata handling. We use a version of ARM Trusted Firmware, based on the official 1.0 release from ARM and ported by Allwinner to support the A64. There are a lot of patches on top of this to fix some Allwinner accidents and bring it into a sane state again.
  • An U-Boot bootloader. This provides an user interface and allows to load kernels and other data into the memory to eventually start the system. Since version 2016.07-rc1 the Pine64 board is supported by upstream U-Boot.

To rebuild the firmware image, you will need to:

Build ARM Trusted Firmware (ATF):

Check out the latest version and compile it:

$ git clone
$ cd arm-trusted-firmware
$ export CROSS_COMPILE=aarch64-linux-gnu-
$ make PLAT=sun50iw1p1 DEBUG=1 bl31

The resulting binary is build/sun50iw1p1/debug/bl31.bin. Either copy this file to the root of your U-Boot source directory, or put the absolute file name into the BL31 environment variable.

Build U-Boot:

Check out the latest upstream HEAD and compile it:

$ git clone git://
$ cd u-boot
$ export CROSS_COMPILE=aarch64-linux-gnu-
$ make pine64_plus_defconfig
$ make

The resulting binaries are spl/sunxi-spl.bin and u-boot.itb, which contain the SPL, the ATF binary, DTBs and the actual U-Boot proper.

Assemble the parts:
$ cat spl/sunxi-spl.bin u-boot.itb > u-boot-sunxi-with-spl.bin
Write to an SD card:

The resulting image can now be written to sector 16 of a micro SD card:

 # dd if=u-boot-sunxi-with-spl.bin of=/dev/sdX bs=1k seek=8

WARNING: This step overwrites parts of the SD card, so backup any data before! WARNING

Replace /dev/sdX with the name of your SD card block device. On most ARM boards and non-USB card readers this could be /dev/mmcblk0 (with a possibly different number at the end).

Partition the SD card:

The firmware occupies the area from 8KB till at most 1MB of the SD card. The rest of the card can be used at will, for instance to put a MBR partition table at the beginning. Just let the first partition start at 1MB.