How to Boot a Headless Linux Image on Amlogic S802 TV Boxes (Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite)

As some of you already know, I’ve been playing around with Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite, an Android TV Box powered by Amlogic S802 quad-core ARM Cortex A9r4 processor at 2 GHz. Today, I’ll show how to boot a headless Linux image on any Amlogic-based S802 TV Box from the network. The instructions can mainly be used as a starting point for developers, as it requires access to a serial terminal via  UART, but if you’ve never done it before, the instructions should be easy enough to follow. Everything is loaded from the network, the kernel (via boot.img) is loaded via TFTP, and the rootfs (Linaro ALIP image) is mounted via NFS, so it’s nearly impossible to brick your device using the method provided. Linaro ALIP rootfs comes with LXDE, but at this stage, the desktop environment is not showing, even though my HDMI TV is properly detected by the drivers. However, Ethernet, USB mass storage, and the micro SD seem to be working just fine.


If you want to skip the kernel compilation part, ramdisk modification, and just boot your Vega S89 Elite from network you can download vegas89eboot.img (compressed with bzip2), and skip steps 4 to 9 included. Please don’t just flash this image or use it without reading the post, as even if it should not brick your device, Android won’t boot at all if you don’t follow the right instructions.

Let’s get started

  1. Make sure you’ve connected a USB to serial board to your S802-based device.
  2. If not done already, you’ll need to install TFTP and NFS servers, and then get basic development tools installed on a Linux computer. All instructions here have been performed on a PC running Ubuntu 14.04 64-bit.
    • For the TFTP server, I installed and ran aftfpd as follows:
    • Instructions to install an NFS server on Ubuntu/Debian.
    • You’ll need to install the build-essentials and other tools to successfully build Linux, something like:
  3. Download a rootfs, and extract it to your NFS directory. For example:
  4. Get the device tree file (DTD) for your device from its firmware image or, if not available, directly from the NAND flash.
  5. Follow the instructions to get S802 kernel source and setup the source tree until after the step where you do
  6. Run “make ARCH=arm menuconfig” to enable NFS client support as shown below.
    Linux_3.10_NFSThen exit and save
  7. You’ll need to edit script for your device using the correct DTD file, which you need to copy to ./arch/arm/boot/dts/amlogic/ directory.  I’ve renamed the script to, and edited it as follows:
  8. We also need to create an init to switch the root to NFS. Normally, we should be able to do this in the bootloader with “bootargs” but this did not work for me, probably because I missed some steps.
    1. Extract the ramdisk provided with the source code
    2. Delete sbin/init symlink to busybox, and create a new init file. Be very careful at this stage as if you inadvertently add a leading slash, you’ll mess up with your PC system.
    3. Here’s the content of sbin/init. Replace by the IP address of your PC / NFS server, and /srv/nfs/alip by the path where you extracted your rootfs in the NFS directory.
    4. Recreate the ramdisk
  9. Now we can finally build the kernel, and boot.img:
  10. It should take between a minute to a few minutes depending on your machine, and if everything works as planned you could get your boot.img, in my case vegas89eboot.img. Copy it to your tftp server directory
  11. Now start minicom connected to ttyUSB0 (115200 8N1), and power the TV box. Press the space bar, or any other key, during boot up to access U-boot command line. Let’s define IP addresses for the board, the TFTP server, and gateway (router), and save these to the U-boot environment:
  12. Setup the boot arguments for NFS. I know I should really have used fixed IP instead of dhcp, for consistency, and to shave off two or three seconds to boot time, but…

    You could also use saveenv to save these, but then Android won’t boot any more next time you start the board. Alternatively, you could create a bootargs2 and copy this to bootargs before running Linux.
  13. Load boot.img from the TFTP server
  14. Start the system

    Once you make sure boot.img loads properly from TFTP server, you could also combine both commands with “bootp; bootm
  15. You should now have access to the command line as root, no password required. An sshd daemon is already running so you can access it via ssh if you want. The board temperature will be outputted every second or so. There must be a way to disable that in the code, but in the meantime you can do:

Let’s have a look at free memory, storage devices and more.

There’s about 1.5GB ram free, I’ve got a lot of storage in the root as it is the 1TB hardware in my PC, and my 4GB USB flash drive was almost mounted automatically.

I’ll also through the CPU information for reference:

You should easily be able to adapt these instructions to boot from flash, by inserting boot.img into one of the available firmware update packages, and switching root to a USB flash or hard drive with the rootfs. I’m not sure how to access the flash partitions right now, as only the bootloader shows up in the MTD partition, but it;s the same thing in Android.

I’m not sure I’ll go much further myself, but hopefully, some people will pick up on this, and we’ll get a fully working easily installable Linux server and desktop images for Amlogic S802-based platforms.

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34 Replies to “How to Boot a Headless Linux Image on Amlogic S802 TV Boxes (Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite)”

  1. XBMC build on pure buildroot use this to init video output

    fbset -g 1280 720 1280 1440 32
    At least it works for me on MX board
    But in most case init and configure framebuffer correctly without fbset

    This it for hw accelerated compositing and and opengl support in applications.
    How to on mali from arm mali directly 🙂

    But you will need
    mali drivers for

  2. Hey, I ‘m here again 🙂 Thanks for maintaining such a awesome site! It always gives me surprise.

    So it ‘s *completely* possible to build a usable linux kernel on s802? By “completely” I mean USB support, cardreader support, gpu, and so on. I read your last post, device tree for s802 is available!

    If it ‘s possible to build a perfect kernel, then I ‘m going to give up the aml8726mx hack, and turn to s802 happily.

  3. @Riaqn
    USB support, card reader yes.
    GPU is more complicated. Having a desktop on the framebuffer should be feasible, but 2D/3D hardware acceleration is more tricky. Links provided by @m][sko should help.

    If these “pesky” RK3288 and AllWinner A80 were not hitting the market soon :), I’d be more confident a community could gather around S802. We’ll see.

  4. @m][sko
    Hi, thanks for the link, a group of awesome person. 🙂
    I ‘m quite new to linux on arm. Does it have to take so much effort to make it boot? I cannot run linux on my aml8726-mx now, I think just because there is no dtd file matching my device. Will my device be supported if these cool guys work things out?
    BTW, does it take special steps to boot a kernel consisting a dtb? I just load the boot.img and “bootm” as usual. Just to make sure 🙂

  5. @cnxsoft
    Oh god, I just saw my device is listed on their README!

    STVMX (G02REF) (mx_linux_stvmx_defconfig)
    JYNXM6 (G02REF) (mx_linux_jynxm6_defconfig)

    This is from my android firmware kernel log:
    [0.000000@0] Machine: Amlogic Meson6 g02 customer platform

    Though I don ‘t know which one to use…does it mean something special to me? I mean, Do they have dtd file or something?

  6. @Riaqn
    They use kernel 3.0 but no public kernel source 🙁
    But As I said.
    I still hope that you will solve kernel 3.10 for aml8726-mx 🙂

  7. @m][sko
    Well without the dtd file it’s too hard for me to make it…I probably have to wait till the official android firmware go to 3.10…then I can get the dtd file. But it will never happen(a tvbox ‘s kernel needn’t to be up-to-date, haha).

  8. @Riaqn
    I’ll just clarify again:
    With Linux 3.0.5 – The hardware is defined with the board file (C language) + .config
    With linux 3.5 and greater – The hardware is defined via device tree files (DTS/DTB). Before I checked Amlogic source code, I never heard about DTD by the way.

    So since they are using 3.0.5 device tree file are not usable… as it’s not supported by the kernel.

    I really thought the source code was available. But after re-reading things like, the code appears to be incomplete so it’s not really usable, except maybe on some specific hardware. Am I correct?

  9. @cnxsoft

    If it possible please post a full kernel boot log and if there’s any debug output when running “ip” command or “ip addr” then please also post it.
    I’ve been trying getting ethernet working with kernel 3.10 on meson6 (Arch Linux, systemd) without luck ATM.

  10. My stupid USB uart is broken, crappy deal, i will buy a new one asap, and give this a go. (m8 Square S802)

  11. @dhead
    Full boot log –

    root@genericarmv7a:~# ip addr
    1: lo: mtu 65536 qdisc noqueue
    link/loopback 00:00:00:00:00:00 brd 00:00:00:00:00:00
    inet scope host lo
    valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever
    inet6 ::1/128 scope host
    valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever
    2: eth0: mtu 1500 qdisc pfifo_fast qlen 1000
    link/ether 6e:36:3d:06:44:bb brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff
    inet brd scope global eth0
    valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever
    inet6 fe80::6c36:3dff:fe06:44bb/64 scope link
    valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever
    3: sit0: mtu 1480 qdisc noop
    link/sit brd
    4: ip6tnl0: mtu 1452 qdisc noop
    link/tunnel6 00:00:00:00:00:00:00:00:00:00:00:00:00:00:00:00 brd 00:00:00:00

    I’m not sure it’s relevant to your case, but when I used meson8_k200 dtd file from source, I had:
    compatible = “amlogic,meson-eth”;
    dev_name = “meson-eth”;
    status = “okay”;
    ethbaseaddr = <0xfe0c0000>;
    interruptnum = <40>;

    But in Vega S89 Elite DTD, it’s actually:
    meson-eth {
    compatible = “amlogic,meson-eth”;
    dev_name = “meson-eth”;
    status = “okay”;
    ethbaseaddr = <0xfe0c0000>;
    interruptnum = <0x28>;

    So I guess the inteerupnum is the number you may have to change here.

  12. Hi, I have one more question 🙂
    Now I gave up on the attempt to 3.10.10, and turn back to 3.0. I get the source from here
    I compiled the kernel, all things is perfect. But when I type ‘uptime’ to check the system load:

    Riaqn-MBox ~ # uptime
    18:25:19 up 1:14, 1 user, load average: 4.00, 4.01, 3.95

    It’s always greater than 4. But there isn ‘t any heavy program running:

    2343 root 20 0 3188 1316 960 R 0.7 0.2 0:00.03 top
    4 root 20 0 0 0 0 S 0.3 0.0 0:18.62 kworker/0:0
    1 root 20 0 1664 620 548 S 0.0 0.1 0:04.37 init
    2 root 20 0 0 0 0 S 0.0 0.0 0:00.00 kthreadd

    Is this a bug or something?

  13. @cnxsoft

    Thanks, I’m not sure why would this make any difference, it’s just the same value in hex instead of dec.
    From a brief look at the 3.0.50 source I think the intterupt num is the same for the meson6 (40 or 0x38) so I’ll give it a try (ethbaseaddr is not the same).
    Probably next week I’ll play a bit with the uboot sources and try get a FTD enabled uboot on my device to see if it would help.

  14. dhead :
    Thanks, I’m not sure why would this make any difference, it’s just the same value in hex instead of dec.
    From a brief look at the 3.0.50 source I think the intterupt num is the same for the meson6 (40 or 0×38) so I’ll give it a try (ethbaseaddr is not the same).
    Probably next week I’ll play a bit with the uboot sources and try get a FTD enabled uboot on my device to see if it would help.
    I meant 0x28 of course.

  15. @Riaqn
    It must be a bug. I think I’ve some people talk about the same type of issues with Linux on the Wandboard (Freescale i.MX6)

    Oops that’s embarrassing… I thought both values were written in hex. So it’s definitely something else.

  16. @cnxsoft
    Thanks for your link, there ‘s a discussion here too,
    I check my system with the command in the thread, it turns out to be 3 process related to hdmi and 1 process related to cardreader. I ‘ve reconfigure the kernel and disable the hdmi. Now the load go down to 1. Since the bug doesn’t affect the performance actually, so I just stop here.
    By the way, the kernel-3.0 Stane1983 maintained is perfect. 🙂 Though with only experimental nfsv4 support, but ‘unstable’ is better than ‘cannot boot’.

  17. @gizmomelb

    Kernel 3.10.33, missing mali and ump kernel modules (probably we can use Amlogic’s gpu 20140306 public release).

    I decided to create my own monstrous linux-meson repo just for kicks (I’m not much of developer and surely not kernel developer) and I pulled in also this kernel tree, will have fun next week with the sources.

    I also created a Github organization dubbed “not-aml” to mirror Amlogic OpenLinux GPL releases (still missing the filesystem releases with Amlogic misc libraries like amlplayer).

  18. @m][sko
    and sometimes the “dtd files”, too, as amlogic doesn ‘t release dtd files of their customers’ board, some of which don’t have a firmware later than 3.5, from which we cannot get a dtd file.

  19. just curious if you’ve had a look at the source I linked… it’s the (leaked) same source and tools used to build the official 102K4 firmware for the Tronsmart S89 and Beelink M8 S802 Amlogic media players.

  20. @dhead
    what about internal usb wifi on meson6_g18?
    I now try running Ubuntu precise with 3.10.33 amlogic kernel,
    there is no wifi device on usb device list (lsusb -t), only usb hosts…(on 3.0.101 kernel all ok)

  21. I follow instruction above to make my tronsmart vega s89 boot to linux headless from nfs but i not success when I use commnad bootp, please help me to solve this problems. Another hand, I want to flash nflash with image linux headless, how can I do? Thanks.

    My Ip:
    setenv ipaddr
    setenv serverip
    setenv gatewayip
    setenv bootargs ‘root=/dev/nfs rootfstype=nfs nfsroot=,rw,nolock ip=dhcp rootwait init=/sbin/init no_console_suspend storage=4 logo=osd1,loaded,0x15100000,576cvbs,full hdmimode=720p cvbsmode=576cvbs androidboot.firstboot=0 hdmitx=cec0 console=ttyS0,115200n8’

    My error:
    Amlogic Ethernet Init
    Success: reset mac OK!(0)
    ETH PHY hardware reset OK
    find net phy id=0x2430c54, phyad=0
    final_addr[rx-tx]: 0x7ffee000-0x7ffee600
    Ethernet reset OK
    MAC address is 00:15:18:01:81:31
    BOOTP broadcast 1
    *** Unhandled DHCP Option in OFFER/ACK: 28
    *** Unhandled DHCP Option in OFFER/ACK: 28
    DHCP client bound to address
    Using Meson_Ethernet device
    TFTP from server; our IP address is
    Filename ‘boot.img’.
    Load address: 0x12000000
    Loading: T T T T T T T T T T
    Retry count exceeded; starting again

  22. @lionnet
    Looks like your TFTP daemon is not running, or you firewall blocks it.

    I haven’t checked how to flash to NAND in details, but I’d imagine you can use one of the Android firmware update package, and modify it for Linux.

  23. @cnxsoft
    Thanks for your reply! I run Tftp daemon on the same machine that I use UART. So I think not problems from firewall or TFTP, the problems in the parameter bootargs. So please let me know how to set IP static not DHCP like you show me.

    Another hands, I follow the to put linux but this is not linux, I cannot install any package on it. So you can show me how to put debian or ubuntu through Android firmware update. Thanks

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