Update – Debian on Agestar Firmware

Warning/Note: This is not an update to the existing firmware. This is for installing Debian. If you don’t know anything about Linux, this is not for you. This firmware DOES NOT contain web interface.

I haven’t looked again on Debian installer for Agestar, but I have built a new firmware for Debian on Agestar using the latest kernel patch (faster network). If you have installed Debian using the instruction in here, you can download zImage-20092008 to Agestar, and then do:

dd if=zImage-20092008 of=/dev/mtdblock1

If you haven’t installed Debian, then when following the instruction, but instead of using star.bin use star-20092008.bin. To make it clear, use zImage-20092008 to update existing installation, and star-20092008.bin for new installation (starting from the original Agestar firmware). If you made a mistake, then you need a serial port to unbrick your Agestar. NOTE: the web update method only works on agestar, other models can work by using serial port and latest patch for kernel source (2.6.29 or later).

If you are interested to make your own firmware, this is what you should do:

  1. Download armboot.bin and put it to a directory
  2. Download mergefile.c to the same directory as armboot.bin
  3. Compile mergefile.c (just do cc mergefile.c -o mergefile)
  4. Compile your kernel according to the instruction at http://tinyhack.com/2008/09/08/how-to-compile-kernel-for-agestar/ to create zImage, copy/move it to the same directory as armboot.bin
  5. Type ./mergefile to merge armboot.bin and zImage to star.bin.

You can use star.bin to flash (replace) original firmware. If you already installed Debian, and you want to update your kernel, you only need to build zImage and do dd if=newzImage of=/dev/mtdblock1.

EEE PC 900

One of our friend bought an EEE PC 900, it has 4 GB + 16 GB SSD. The seller didn’t told us that the 16 GB SSD was very slow (I should have read this). I found out about his when she tried to install many programs in the 4 gb SSD, and is was full. Using some steps that i found on the Internet, I tried moving her Windows installation to the 16 GB SSD. And the result is: the Windows is very slow.

I found some other guides to speed up Windows on the 16 GB partition. I didn’t try all of the suggestions (too many steps), so I finally gave up because the speed improvement is not so much in my case. Finally I just moved the Windows back to the 4 GB SSD, and then reinstalling some seldom used software to the 16 GB partition.

How to compile kernel for Agestar

Here is a guide how to compile a kernel for your Agestar. In this latest patch from me, I have included the network driver with scatter/gather support. For FTP transfer, HTTP, or other transfers that uses sendfile syscall, the speed is about 50% faster than before, for ordinary transfer, it almost doesn’t change.

  1. Download vanilla kernel from kernel.org (use version linux-
  2. Extract kernel , and apply this patch file (patchfile-20080907.gz)
  3. Download initramfs.cpio.gz put it in the kernel directory and extract it
  4. Download my configuration file config-20080907 put it into kernel directory, rename it as .config
  5. Install an arm compiler, your distribution may have them (for instance in Debian you can use aptitude with emdebian.org repository), or download from codesourcery.com.
  6. Edit Makefile, find CROSS_COMPILE and change the value to the location and prefix of your compiler. For example, of your compiler is /opt/arm/920t_le/bin/arm_920t_le-gcc, fill in /opt/arm/920t_le/bin/arm_920t_le- (without the gcc part)
  7. To configure the kernel, type “make menuconfig”
  8. Type make to build zImage

NOTE: the zImage is NOT a FIRMWARE. You can write zImage to /dev/mtdblock1 on the agestar to update your kernel but not through the web interface. I will write another tutorial on how to make zImage into a firmware that can be flashed using the web interface.

If you want a newer kernel, start from the current kernel, and keep on patching with the next incremental patch until you reach the kernel number that you want. This is not always easy, because sometimes a patch will conflict with the changes that i have made.

Tips For Debian on Agestar

Chris (Whites11) and several others have pointed that the source code for a device similar to Agestar have been released by a German company (http://www.multicase.de/en/products/76/ns348s.html). I have not looked carefully at the source code of this one, but none of the people on the mailing list have got it working with networking enabled.

Kari Ahtiala who owned several NAS devices (SLUG, NCB3AST, NCH3AHT), said that you can just move your disk from NSLU (SLUG) to Agestar just fine:

Continue reading “Tips For Debian on Agestar”

Installing Debian on Agestar without serial port

I have prepared a firmware and tutorial to Install Debian here, this time without the need for serial port. I have tested this, and it seems that everything works. But of course I will not be responsible if anything happens. If you think there are some missing, unclear or inaccurate steps, or if you doubt about something, then don’t install it. If you have anything to ask just email to yohanes [at] gmail.com, or just post your questions as comments.

NOTE: the web update method only works on agestar ncb3ast, other models can work by using serial port and latest patch for kernel source (2.6.29 or later).

New Firmware Progress

My wife agrees that I can buy another Agestar to hack and use the other one for our network storage. With this new Agestar I can continue my hacks. Currently I am working on building a firmware that can be used to install Debian without serial port. On the first stage, I will build a generic firmware without automatic installer, so the user still needs to do some manual steps to install Debian. So it is something like the manual Debian install on NSLU2 (http://www.cyrius.com/debian/nslu2/unpack.html).  Actually because this is generic command line, you would be able to install Gentoo or something else. The next step would be to make an automatic installer like in NSLU2(http://www.cyrius.com/debian/nslu2/install.html).

The main reason why I started with manual installer is because I am not yet familiar with the Debian installer. Currently the manual installer is almost complete, I just need to test it thoroughly to make sure that this will really works without serial port. I hope I can release this in the next few days (or this weekend at the latest).

Fixing Space key on EEE PC

CIMG4171 I bought the  Eee PC 4G last week, but I haven’t used it optimally. Today when trying to write a new blog post using Eee PC, I felt that the space key is very difficult to press. After searching around, I found out that many people experience the same problem. Surprisingly it is very easy to take of the Eee PC keyboard. Just press on the three dots on top of the keyboard using screw driver, and it will pop out.

Fixing it quite easy, I used a tape to make the space key thicker and easier to press, and I put a tape also in the keyboard to keep the rubber part from moving.

You can see more pictures on my photo gallery.

Reverse Engineering Linux Kernel Image and Modules

I have switched my mind from doing the kernel porting to some other activities, which is reverse engineering ARM binaries for Symbian platform. When just starting, I thought to my self: why don’t I try to reverse engineer the original Agestar firmware, and may be I can complete some drivers for STAR STR9100. So I did, and I can get the watchdog function to work (at least I think it works).

zImage and bootpImage are compressed kernel image, this is compressed by using GZip method 8. The easiest way to decompress it is to give it to gunzip. I just searched the kernel image for the sequence 1f 8b 08, and cut it using khexedit. You don’t have to find where the compressed data ends, gunzip will ignore trailing garbage.

Continue reading “Reverse Engineering Linux Kernel Image and Modules”

How many of you are using STAR 9100 based NAS?

As listed on one of my previous posting, STAR 9100 (to be precise STAR 9104) is being used in these devices:

Coolmax CN-570 http://www.smallnetbuilder.com/content/view/29899/75/1/3/
NS-348S http://www.multicase.de/en/products/76/ns348s.html http://www.enclosureservice.com/
Emprex NSD-100 http://www.emprex.com/02_products_02.php?id=205
Agestar NCB3AHT http://www.agestar.com/english/products/ncb3aht.asp
revoltec rs049

We can see from the boot log that says the machine is STAR_STR9100. Lately I have worked less and less on this device, because it has been running smoothly enough for me (I have run it continuously for a week). The last few parts is not so important for me. These four parts are RTC (turns out to be a very limited RTC), LED (only one LED inside the box, which is not very useful), and button (I have never used the button anyway), and Watch dog (this one might be useful, but I don’t have any documentation about this).

I am planning to stop further development. I was planning to build a custom firmware, but I think a full Debian distro is much better for me. But, if there are quite many people that uses this devices and are expecting something like NSLU2 (easy installer, etc), then I might continue the development. So, If you are using Agestar or agestar like devices, please leave a comment, and let me know what you expect.

If I am going to continue the development, I will need to buy another box, because I am currently using this one extensively for my daily activities. Irina (that is the name I gave to my NAS box) is now serving MP3, serving web page, and act as a download station.

RTC on STR9100

I have spent many hours to work on the RTC part, and I decided to give up for now. I have been able to activate the clock, set the clock, and make it run. But the RTC is not useful. First, it is not battery backed, so when you turn off your device, it will not keep the time. Second, it can store only the seconds, minutes, hours, and day of the month. The problem of not having a documentation is sometimes you get stuck, and don’t know what to try next.

There is one feature that is supposed to be useful if I can make it work: the alarm capability. With alarm, some cron-like applications can set to be notified when a particular time comes (it will ease the CPU burden). As far as I know, the cron daemon doesn’t use this feature, so it is not a great loss.

There is one thing that still puzzles me. The original firmware uses X1205 through an I2C bus. From my understanding, the X1205 have different abilities compared to the STR9100 RTC. So I don’t know whether there is actually another RTC on the board.

Since the RTC is not very useful. I will let go hacking this part until I find other clues.

Here is the output of the original firmware.

X1205: I2C based RTC driver.
i2c-core.o: driver X1205 registered.
X1205: found X1205 on STR9100 I2C Adapter
ccr_write_enable: verify SR failed
i2c-core.o: client [X1205] registered to adapter [STR9100 I2C Adapter](pos. 0).
X1205: i2c_add_driver RTC driver.
X1205: misc_register RTC driver.