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mmga: Make MacBook Great Again

mmga is a script to help flashing coreboot on some MacBook Air and Pro models without using external SPI programmer. See this blog post on how to do the same manually.

Supported devices

As of time of writing, following devices are supported in coreboot. Other models might be supported in future.

  • MacBook Pro 8,1 (13'' Early 2011) (macbookpro8_1)

  • MacBook Pro 10,1 (15'' Mid 2012 Retina) (macbookpro10_1)

    Attention! Not all memory configurations are supported, see here.

  • MacBook Air 5,2 (13'' Mid 2012) (macbookair5_2)

    Attention! Not all memory configurations are supported, see here.

  • MacBook Air 4,2 (13'' Mid 2011) (macbookair4_2).

    Attention! Not all memory configurations are supported, see here.

iMac 13,1 is a candidate for support too, but coreboot port for this device is not actively maintained at the moment and it may fail to build. I'll add iMac 13,1 support later when it's fixed.

RAM configurations

Models with soldered RAM are sold with different memory modules, manufactured by different manufacturers. Not all of them are supported currently.

To determine which memory you have in your MacBook, you can use inteltool and this script. You need to run them on the target machine.

First, download coreboot and build inteltool:

$ cd util/inteltool
$ make -j4

Download the script and make it executable. Then run:

$ sudo ./inteltool -g | /path/to/get_macbook_ramcfg -m MODEL

Replace MODEL with your MacBook model: mbp101 for MacBook Pro 10,1, mba52 for MacBook Air 5,2 and mba42 for MacBook Air 4,2.

Then check the tables below.

MacBook Pro 10,1

RAM configuration Supported
4g_hynix_1600s 🚫 No
1g_samsung_1600 🚫 No
4g_samsung_1600s 🚫 No
1g_hynix_1600 🚫 No
4g_elpida_1600s 🚫 No
2g_samsung_1600 🚫 No
2g_samsung_1333 🚫 No
2g_hynix_1600 Yes
4g_samsung_1600 🚫 No
4g_hynix_1600 Yes
2g_elpida_1600s 🚫 No
2g_elpida_1600 🚫 No
4g_elpida_1600 🚫 No
2g_samsung_1600s 🚫 No
2g_hynix_1600s 🚫 No

MacBook Air 5,2

RAM configuration Supported
4g_hynix Yes
8g_hynix 🚫 No
4g_samsung Yes
8g_samsung 🚫 No
4g_elpida 🚫 No
8g_elpida 🚫 No

MacBook Air 4,2

RAM configuration Supported
2g_hynix 🚫 No
4g_hynix 🚫 No
2g_samsung 🚫 No
4g_samsung Yes
2g_micron 🚫 No
4g_elpida 🚫 No

If your found out that your MacBook's memory is not supported, you can help supporting it. Run sudo inteltool -m, save output to a text file and create a new issue specifying your MacBook model, memory configuration name with the text file attached.

System requirements

  • Recent Linux distribution booted with iomem=relaxed kernel parameter (required for internal programmer to work);

  • Build dependencies. Here's a list for Debian-based distros:

    # apt install bison build-essential curl flex git gnat libncurses5-dev m4 zlib1g-dev make libpci-dev libusb-1.0-0-dev
    

    If you plan to use GRUB2 as a payload:

    # apt install libfreetype-dev unifont autoconf
    

    On other distros package names might differ. Be sure to install gnat prior to building coreboot toolchain.

Building flashrom

First of all, grab recent flashrom sources and build it:

$ git clone https://review.coreboot.org/flashrom.git && cd flashrom
$ make

Optionally, install it to /usr/local/sbin:

$ sudo make install

How it works

The firmware of the devices covered by this project is stored on SPI chip. It consists of various regions: fd (Flash Descriptor), me (Intel ME) and bios (BIOS, or Apple EFI). Sometimes there are more regions, for example there may be gbe region for Gigabit Ethernet or ec region with EC firmware, but for now, let's focus on our MacBooks.

The most important region in context of this story is fd, the Intel Flash Descriptor.

The Intel Flash Descriptor is a data structure of fixed size (4KB) stored on the flash chip (resides in 0x0000-0x0fff), that contains various information such as space allocated for each region on the flash, access permissions, some chipset configuration and more. In particular, it contains access permissions for fd and me regions.

This is the flash chip layout used in MacBook Air 5,2 (which has 8 MiB flash chip). It can be extracted from stock ROM image with ifdtool:

00000000:00000fff fd
00190000:007fffff bios
00001000:0018ffff me

Normally, the fd and me regions should be read-only in production, but this is not the case with MacBooks. Apparently, Apple's "Think Different" thing applies to firmware security as well.

Instead, they decided to use SPI Protected Range Registers (PR0-PR4) to set protection over fd, but here they failed again. Due to a bug (I hope), 0x0000-0x0fff is not write-protected after cold boot and becomes read-only only after resuming from S3.

You can dump PRx protections on your device by running flashrom -p internal. If it doesn't work, make sure to boot with iomem=relaxed or try -p internal:laptop=force_I_want_a_brick.

This is what you should see after a cold boot (and, if so, mmga should work on your device):

PR0: Warning: 0x00190000-0x0066ffff is read-only.
PR1: Warning: 0x00692000-0x01ffffff is read-only.

And this is after resuming from S3:

PR0: Warning: 0x00000000-0x00000fff is read-only.
PR1: Warning: 0x00190000-0x0066ffff is read-only.
PR2: Warning: 0x00692000-0x01ffffff is read-only.

So, after cold boot flash descriptor is protected neither by PRx registers nor by access permission bits on the flash descriptor itself. Under certain circumstances, writable flash descriptor allows flashing whole SPI flash by using a couple of neat tricks, and that is what mmga script does.

Writable me region gives us around 1.5 MiB of writable space. The idea is that we can shrink ME firmware image with me_cleaner to about ~128 KiB and use the freed space for a small temporary coreboot image. Writable fd gives us ability to change flash layout and move reset vector. We combine all this, flash modified regions, then power off (new flash descriptor becomes active on cold boot, so reboot won't work). Then boot our small temporary coreboot and flash the whole SPI chip, as there will be no more PRx protections set. So this is a two-stage process.

Let's write a new layout:

00000000:00000fff fd
00001000:00020fff me
00021000:000fffff bios
00100000:007fffff pd

In this layout, we allocate 128 KiB for me and 892 KiB for bios. To fit the original 1.5 MiB ME image into the 128 KiB region, it has to be truncated with me_cleaner with -t and -r arguments, the size of resulting image is ~92 KiB. We also have to allocate the remaining 0x100000-0x7fffff region for something, to be able to address and flash it in future. So we just mark it as pd, which is commonly used for "Platform Data".

After the new layout is ready, we build small coreboot ROM that fits into the allocated 892 KiB bios region. Then we flash fd (0x0000-0x0fff), me (0x1000-0x20fff) and bios (0x21000-0xfffff) according to the new layout. On the next cold boot, coreboot will be loaded from the 0x21000-0xfffff region, and the old firmware, which still resides in 0x190000-0x7fffff, will be ignored. This is stage1.

After we boot with small temporary coreboot ROM, we're able to flash the whole 8 MiB chip, because there are no more PRx protections set. We repartition the chip again, and the new layout looks like this:

00000000:00000fff fd
00001000:00020fff me
00021000:007fffff bios

It's almost the same, except that bios fills all the remaining space. Then we build coreboot again, flash fd, me and bios and power off again. On the next cold boot we will have completely corebooted MacBook. This is stage2.

Usage instructions

The mmga script automates steps described above and does all the dirty work.

Usage:

./mmga <options> ACTION
Options:
-h, --help: show help
stage1 actions:
          dump: dump flash contents
         fetch: fetch board tree from Gerrit (if needed)
prepare-stage1: patch IFD, neutralize and truncate ME
 config-stage1: make coreboot config (for manual use)
  build-stage1: make config and build ROM (for auto use)
  flash-stage1: flash ROM ($COREBOOT_PATH/build/coreboot.rom)
stage2 actions:
prepare-stage2: patch IFD (if needed)
 config-stage2: make coreboot config (for manual use)
  build-stage2: make config and build ROM (for auto use)
  flash-stage2: flash ROM ($COREBOOT_PATH/build/coreboot.rom)
other actions:
     flash-oem: flash OEM firmware back

Warning

You should have external means of flashing for a backup, just in case. The procedure described above is quite delicate and error-prone and any mistake may lead to a brick. In that case, you should have a copy of your original ROM on external drive. Please make a backup of work/oem/dump.bin after running mmga dump, or just copy the whole mmga directory.

These posts may be a little helpful if you ever need to flash externally:

Choosing the payload

Currently, SeaBIOS and GRUB are supported by mmga. SeaBIOS supports legacy boot, it will most probably boot from an old school MBR partition. On the other hand, it may not boot from GPT (I'm not sure about it, correct me if you know more) and certainly it will not boot an EFI installation.

Sometimes GRUB is a better choice, but it all depends on your system. If you are not sure, do some research before flashing or seek for help.

It may be a good idea to prepare a USB drive with some live system. I can imagine a situation where you have chosen the wrong payload and cannot boot into your system after power off/on cycle to complete the second stage, because, for instance, SeaBIOS doesn't recognize your partition. In that case, you could try to boot from live USB to fix your system (if possible) or to complete second stage and change the payload.

Of course, in order to do that, you should backup the whole mmga directory after the completion of the first stage but before the reboot.

Attention! Recent SeaBIOS versions break internal keyboard and touchpad on MacBooks, for now it's recommended to use GRUB until it's fixed.

Configuration

Before you start, you have to update variables the config.inc file:

  • PAYLOAD: which payload to use, supported values are grub and seabios
  • MODEL: put your macbook model here, example: macbookair5_2
  • GRUB_CFG_PATH: only if you use grub payload; if empty, default grub.cfg will be used
  • COREBOOT_PATH: path to cloned coreboot repository (see below)
  • FLASHROM: path to flashrom binary
  • FLASHROM_ARGS: in case if flashrom detects multiple flash chips, put "-c CHIP_MODEL" here
  • STAGE2_USE_FULL_ME: if you want to use original Intel ME image in the final ROM for some reason, set to 1

stage1

Get coreboot:

$ git clone --recurse-submodules https://review.coreboot.org/coreboot.git && cd coreboot

Build coreboot toolchain. You must have gnat compiler installed, it is required for graphics initialization (libgfxinit is written in Ada):

$ make crossgcc-i386 CPUS=$(nproc)
$ make iasl

Dump the flash chip contents:

# ./mmga dump

Create a backup of the stock ROM dump on external drive!

Create patched FD and neutralize ME:

$ ./mmga prepare-stage1

If your board's port hasn't been merged to coreboot master yet or you don't know, run:

$ ./mmga fetch

Create coreboot config and build the ROM:

$ ./mmga build-stage1

(If you're experienced coreboot user or developer, you may want to configure and build coreboot yourself. In that case, run config-stage1 instead of build-stage1. It will create config that you can then copy to $COREBOOT_PATH, make your changes and build.)

Flash it:

# ./mmga flash-stage1

If it's done and there were no errors, you have to shutdown the laptop. Do not reboot, the new flash descriptor is only active after cold boot, so it won't work and may lead to weird stuff as you've just messed with firmware. Wait a few seconds and power it back on.

stage2

Make patched flash descriptor for the next flash:

$ ./mmga prepare-stage2

Create new coreboot config and build the ROM (for experienced users, config-stage2 is also available):

$ ./mmga build-stage2

Flash it:

# ./mmga flash-stage2

This may take a while, don't interrupt it and let it finish.

Again, if there were no errors, power off the machine again, wait a few seconds, and power on.

FAQ

My device is not listed, will it work?

No, but it might be possible to support it.

Will macOS continue to work with coreboot?

No. It's theoretically possible to turn a corebooted MacBook into a hackintosh by using TianoCore and Clover or OpenCore. Basically, if you want to use macOS, don't install coreboot.

Switching between iGPU and dGPU on MacBook Pro 10,1

Last time I checked, hacks were needed to use Linux with integrated GPU on this model. It seems that Apple EFI forces dGPU when OS is not macOS. I've integrated hybrid graphics driver into coreboot, it automatically switches to the configured GPU and you don't need to care about it anymore. By default, integrated GPU is used. The setting is stored in CMOS and you can change it with nvramtool.

Note that to use discrete GPU you need to extract VGA ROM from the stock firmware dump and add it to CBFS, and configure coreboot to run VGA Option ROMs.

TODO

  • Support custom FMAP for larger first-stage bios partition
  • Support multiple payloads at once
  • Support TianoCore as a payload

Misc

The script was tested on MacBook Air 5,2, MacBook Pro 8,1 and MacBook Pro 10,1. If you have successfully corebooted your macbook with it and it worked, please let me know.

If you have any problems, contact me via GitHub issues or by email (see the copyright header in the script).

License

GPLv2

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Script for flashing coreboot on MacBooks without using external SPI programmer

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