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Virtualization on Renesas R-Car Platforms

Virtualization with Xen hypervisor

Xen supports R-Car chips out of the box. Example instructions on how to run Xen on R-Car H3/H2 can be found @ XenProject Wiki:

Virtualization with QEMU

QEMU is a generic and open source machine emulator and virtualizer. It emulates CPUs and provides a set of emulated devices to support running unmodified guest operating systems. When running on Linux hosts, it can use the host's hardware virtualization extensions (if supported) through the KVM API to run guests at near-native speed.


  • Install QEMU (e.g. "apt-get install qemu-system-arm")
  • Download a guest image (e.g. "openwrt-arm64-qemu-virt.Image" from OpenWRT)
  • Start QEMU with

    $ qemu-system-aarch64 -m 1024 -cpu cortex-a57 -M virt -nographic -kernel openwrt-arm64-qemu-virt.Image

    and press <ENTER> to enjoy your new ARM64 system!

Installing QEMU

When not using a binary distribution that provides a QEMU package, QEMU can be cross-compiled from sources, manually or with the help of a cross-compilation build system such as BuildRoot or OpenEmbedded.

Manual cross-compilation

QEMU supports a wide variety of options, in particular related to emulation of architectures or various classes of devices. The instructions given here only enable a minimal set of options to reduce the required dependencies. We only enable the aarch64-softmmu target architecture, FDT for ARM Linux guest support, KVM for hardware virtualization acceleration and SDL for display acceleration.

The following packages are needed on the host to cross-compile QEMU.

  • pkg-config
  • Python 2.x

The following packages are needed in the host build environment to cross-compile and on the target to run QEMU.

  • DTC (Device Tree Compiler)
  • GLib 2.x
  • Pixman
  • SDL (1.x or 2.x)
  • zlib

Other options can be enabled as needed and may require extra dependencies.

After obtaining the QEMU sources, the build must be setup. The following environment variables must be set.

Cross-compilation toolchain prefix (e.g. aarch64-linux-gnu-).
Path to the pkg-config script for the cross-compilation environment (typically ${HOST_DIR}/bin/pkg-config).
The script must set the PKG_CONFIG_LIBDIR environment variable and execute the pkg-config binary.
Path to the sdl-config script (typically ${STAGING_DIR}/usr/bin/sdl-config).

Additionally, if not using the host system Python, the following environment variables must be set.

Path to the host build environment Python 2 binary.
Search file for Python module files for the Python interpreter referenced by $PYTHON.

You can then run the configure script.

$ ./configure                                                  \
    --prefix=/usr --cross-prefix=${CROSS_COMPILE}              \
    --target-list=aarch64-softmmu                              \
    --enable-attr       --enable-fdt       --enable-kvm        \
    --enable-sdl        --enable-system    --enable-tools      \
    --audio-drv-list=                                          \
    --disable-bluez     --disable-brlapi   --disable-bsd-user  \
    --disable-cap-ng    --disable-curl     --disable-curses    \
    --disable-docs      --disable-libiscsi --disable-linux-aio \
    --disable-rbd       --disable-seccomp  --disable-slirp     \
    --disable-sparse    --disable-spice    --disable-strip     \
    --disable-usb-redir --disable-vde      --disable-virtfs    \
    --disable-vnc       --disable-werror   --disable-xen

QEMU can then be compiled and installed and installed to the destination directory $DESTDIR.

$ make
$ make DESTDIR=${DESTDIR} install

Cross-compilation with BuildRoot

BuildRoot provides a QEMU package (v2.10.1 in BuildRoot 2017.11). To compile it, the following configuration options are needed.


Additionally, if you want to enable the KMSDRM backend in SDL2, the following configuration options are needed.

BR2_PACKAGE_LIBDRM=y                    # for libdrm
BR2_PACKAGE_MESA3D=y                    # for libgbm

Running QEMU

The bare minimum command line to start a virtualized Linux guest in QEMU without any emulated device other than a serial console is as follows.

$ qemu-system-aarch64 -m 1G -cpu cortex-a57 -M virt --nographic -kernel qemu/Image
-m 1G
Sets the initial memory for the guest to 1GB.
-cpu cortex-a57
Sets the CPU model to Cortex A57, same as the host's big CPUs. Having an identical CPU type on the guest and host allows accelerating execution of the guest by running instructions natively instead of emulating them (note that such acceleration requires using KVM).
-M virt
Sets the emulated machine type that will be exposed to the guest. The virt machine type is a generic ARM virtual machine that is a good starting point. Many other machine types are available and can be listed with '-M list'.
Completely disables the graphical output from QEMU and redirects the guest emulated serial port to the console, muxed with the QEMU monitor. The QEMU man page gives more information about how to switch between the console and monitor.
-kernel qemu/Image
Selects the kernel image to boot on the guest. The image can contain a RAM disk for the root file system.

In addition to this minimal configuration various classes of virtual devices can be exposed to the guest. QEMU supports emulating a wide range of standard devices (such as PCI network adapters, disk controllers or graphics cards). It also implements support for para-virtualized devices collectively referred to as 'virtio' that usually offer improved performances over the emulated devices by enabling direct communication between the guests and host. The following sections explain how to instantiate virtio devices for disks, serial ports and graphic cards.

Disk virtualization

The guest can boot from a root file system stored in a disk image. To do so a disk drive need to be setup and a corresponding option passed to the Linux kernel. The corresponding virtio device is called virtio-blk and requires the guest kernel to be compiled with the CONFIG_VIRTIO_BLK=y option.

    -drive if=none,file=qemu/rootfs.ext2,format=raw,id=root-disk \
    -device virtio-blk-device,drive=root-disk \
    -append "root=/dev/vda"
-drive if=none,file=qemu/rootfs.ext2,format=raw,id=root-disk
Declare a disk drive backed by a raw disk image stored in the qemu/rootfs.ext2 file. The drive is given the name 'root-disk'.
-device virtio-blk-device,drive=root-disk
Instantiate a virtio block device backed by the disk drive 'root-disk' and expose it to the guest.
-append "root=/dev/vda"
Set the guest Linux kernel root device to /dev/vda, corresponding to the first virtio-blk disk.

Note that the shorthand version '-drive if=virtio' assumes PCI virtio (using virtio-blk which is an alias for virtio-blk-pci) and thus can't be used fort virtio-mmio. The device has to be explicitly set to the mmio-based virtio-blk-device, requiring both the '-drive' and '-device' options.

Console virtualization

The default QEMU configuration creates a serial port for the console only when the -nographic option is set. If graphic emulation is desired but with the guest still using a serial port for its console, the console serial port has to be instantiated explicitly. The corresponding virtio device is called virtio-serial and requires the guest kernel to be compiled with the CONFIG_VIRTIO_CONSOLE=y option.

    -device virtio-serial-device \
    -device virtconsole,chardev=virtiocon0 \
    -chardev stdio,signal=off,id=virtiocon0 \
    -append "console=hvc0"
-device virtio-serial-device
Instantiate a virtio serial device (note that as for block devices virtio-serial is an alias for virtio-serial-pci, we need to specify virtio-serial-device for the mmio-based version), creating a serial bus. The serial bus is used as transport for the virtio console.
-device virtconsole,chardev=virtiocon0
Instantiate a virtual console that connects to the previously instantiated serial bus and binds to the 'virtiocon0' character device.
-chardev stdio,signal=off,id=virtiocon0
Create a character device named 'virtiocon0' using the stdio backend. Character devices are QEMU frameworks that implement data exchange between QEMU and the host. The stdio backend is a bidirectional pipe between QEMU and its standard input and output on the console in which it runs. The 'signal=off' option keeps signals within the guest, to avoid for instance ctrl-C to be propagated to the QEMU process and killing it.
-append "console=hvc0"
Set the guest Linux kernel console device to hvc0, corresponding to the first virtconsole device.

Network virtualization

QEMU can expose one or more network interfaces to the guest, and route traffic from those interfaces to the host network in various ways (from simply bridging the two networks to implementing private networks connecting multiple virtual machines). The corresponding virtio device is called virtio-net and requires the guest kernel to be compiled with the CONFIG_VIRTIO_NET=y option.

    -device virtio-net-device
-device virtio-net-device
Instantiate a virtio network interface and expose it to the guest. The interface will be named etho0.

As for other devices, the shorthand option '-net nic,model=virtio' creates a virtio PCI device, so we need to use long options.

Common issues

Recent kernels may access ARM64 registers that require a recent version of QEMU. If your kernel crashes with

Code: ........ ........ ........ ........ (d5380740)
Internal error: undefined instruction: 0 [#1] SMP
pc : __cpuinfo_store_cpu+0x68/0x1b0

you have to upgrade QEMU, or comment out the following two lines in arch/arm64/kernel/cpuinfo.c:__cpuinfo_store_cpu():

info->reg_id_aa64mmfr2 = read_cpuid(ID_AA64MMFR2_EL1);
info->reg_id_aa64zfr0 = read_cpuid(ID_AA64ZFR0_EL1);

Using KVM

When using an arm64 platform as the host system, guest performance can be improved drastically by making use of the Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM).

Host Kernel Configuration

Make sure your host kernel has the following options enabled:


"renesas_defconfig" should be fine.

Firmware Support

To use KVM, the firmware on your board must start Linux in hypervisor (EL2 / HYP) mode.

If your host kernel prints:

CPU: All CPU(s) started at EL2
kvm [1]: Hyp mode initialized successfully

during boot up, everything is fine, and you can skip the next section.

If your host kernel prints:

CPU: All CPU(s) started at EL1
kvm [1]: HYP mode not available

during bootup, HYP mode is not available, and KVM cannot be used, unless you first replace the firmware of your board with a version that supports HYP mode.

Enabling HYP Support

To build your own ARM Trusted Firmware with hypervisor mode support:

$ git clone https://github.com/renesas-rcar/arm-trusted-firmware.git
$ cd arm-trusted-firmware
$ make CROSS_COMPILE=aarch64-linux-gnu- PLAT=rcar RCAR_DRAM_SPLIT=3 RCAR_BL33_EXECUTION_EL=1 LSI=H3 # or LSI=M3 

Replace the BL2 and BL31 binaries in your firmware package by the generated "build/rcar/release/bl2.srec" and "build/rcar/release/bl31.srec", and follow your normal firmware upgrade procedure.

Running QEMU with KVM

$ qemu-system-aarch64 -enable-kvm -m 1024 -cpu cortex-a57 -M virt -nographic -kernel openwrt-arm64-qemu-virt.Image

and press <ENTER> to enjoy a faster new ARM64 system!

Note that the above command requires running on a Cortex-A57 CPU core. When running on a Cortex-A53 CPU core in a big.LITTLE configuration, the command will fail with:

kvm_init_vcpu failed: Invalid argument

Just retry, or force your luck by offlining all Cortex-A53 cores first:

for i in $(grep -lr arm,cortex-a53 /sys/bus/cpu/devices/cpu*/of_node/compatible); do
	echo 0 > $(dirname $(dirname $i))/online

Note: The same is true for running with '-cpu cortex-a53', with a53 and a57 exchanged.

Device Pass-Through


Managing virtual machines with libvirt

See Libvirt.

Building your own guest kernel

Kernel Config

The kernel config file used for the OpenWRT guest image is a good starting point. You can extract it from '/proc/config.gz' on the running system.

RAM Disk

You can extract the initramfs from an OpenWRT guest image using 'binwalk'. Make sure to truncate the initramfs file after the first 256-byte boundary after "TRAILER!!!", else the kernel will crash with

Kernel panic - not syncing: broken padding