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Understanding Memory Technology Devices in Embedded Linux

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When you push the power switch on your handheld, it's more than likely that it boots from flash memory. When you click some buttons to save data on your cell phone, in all probability, your data starts life in flash memory. Today, Linux has penetrated the embedded space and is no longer confined to desktops and servers. Linux avatars manifest in PDAs, music players, set-top boxes, and even medical-grade devices. The Memory Technology Devices (MTD) subsystem of the kernel is responsible for interfacing your system with various flavors of flash memory found in these devices. This chapter uses the example of a Linux handheld to learn about MTD.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

In This Chapter

  • What's Flash Memory?


  • Linux-MTD Subsystem


  • Map Drivers


  • NOR Chip Drivers


  • NAND Chip Drivers


  • User Modules


  • MTD-Utils


  • Configuring MTD


  • eXecute In Place


  • The Firmware Hub


  • Debugging


  • Looking at the Sources


What's Flash Memory?

Flash memory is rewritable storage that does not need power supply to hold information. Flash memory banks are usually organized into sectors. Unlike conventional storage, writes to flash addresses have to be preceded by an erase of the corresponding locations. Moreover, erases of portions of flash can be performed only at the granularity of individual sectors. Because of these constraints, flash memory is best used with device drivers and filesystems that are tailored to suit them. On Linux, such specially designed drivers and filesystems are provided by the MTD subsystem.

Flash memory chips generally come in two flavors: NOR and NAND. NOR is the variety used to store firmware images on embedded devices, whereas NAND is used for large, dense, cheap, but imperfect1 storage as required by solid-state mass storage media such as USB pen drives and Disk-On-Modules (DOMs). NOR flash chips are connected to the processor via address and data lines like normal RAM, but NAND flash chips are interfaced using I/O and control lines. So, code resident on NOR flash can be executed in place, but that stored on NAND flash has to be copied to RAM before execution.

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