Synopsys DesignWare High-Speed USB 2.0 On-The-Go Controller

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The Synopsys DesignWare High-Speed USB 2.0 On-The-Go Controller is the USB controller used on the Raspberry Pi. This hardware is notorious for having no official documentation available to end users[1] and for having an extremely complicated, poorly written Linux driver. According to Greg Kroah-Hartman, the maintainer of Linux's USB subsystem[2]:

" ... it's just a really bad USB controller chip, combined with a sad way to hook it up to the processor, combined with with a truly horrible driver make for the fact that USB works at all on this board a total miracle."[3]

This page attempts to explain this hardware in the context of the USB Host Controller Driver we wrote for it as part of the project to port Embedded Xinu to the Raspberry Pi. Unfortunately, it is not intended to fully document the hardware, since Embedded Xinu's driver is a relatively simple, stripped-down driver that does not support many features of the Linux driver.

Overview of Embedded Xinu's driver

As mentioned, there is no documentation available for this USB Controller; therefore, it obviously was difficult to implement a driver for it. Since there was no other option, we had to gleam the relevant hardware details from other drivers, mainly the Linux driver[4], but also other drivers written for the controller, such as the CSUD driver[5] and the Plan 9 driver[6]. Our code, however, is a new implementation that is intended to be simple and well-documented, and appropriate (to the extent possible for USB and for this hardware) to include in a simple educational operating system.

Embedded Xinu's driver supports control, interrupt, and bulk transfers. As a Host Controller Driver, it implements the interface declared in include/usb_hcdi.h. For simplicity, Embedded Xinu's driver does not support some features of the Linux driver, including but not limited to the following:

  • Device mode. The "On-The-Go" portion of the hardware's name means it supports the On-The-Go protocol, which is an extension to the main USB specification that allows the USB hardware to operate in either "host" or "device" mode. However, in our driver we are only concerned with host mode.
  • Isochronous transfers
  • Support for instantiations of the silicon other than the one used on the Raspberry Pi
  • Advanced transaction scheduling that takes into account special properties of periodic transfers
  • Various module parameters to configure the driver
  • Power management, including suspend and hibernation
  • Slave or Descriptor DMA modes

More details

More details about the device and the registers may eventually be added here. For now, see the source code (system/platforms/arm-rpi/usb_dwc_hcd.c and system/platforms/arm-rpi/usb_dwc_regs.h), which is intended to be easy to read and well documented. There is obviously a limit to how "easy to read" it can be, though, since USB itself is very complicated.


  4. See drivers/usb/host/dwc_otg/ in Raspberry Pi ports of Linux.
  6. See 9/bcm/usbdwc.c in the Plan 9 sources
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