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Intel's Poulsbo Driver A Bloody Mess?

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  • Intel's Poulsbo Driver A Bloody Mess?

    Phoronix: Intel's Poulsbo Driver A Bloody Mess?

    Most of the Intel Atom netbooks currently on the market (like the Lenovo IdeaPad S10, Samsung NC10, and ASUS Eee PC) use the GMA 950 Chipset for their integrated graphics, but some of the newer models are using the Intel GMA 500. The GMA 500 doesn't share many traits with other mobile Intel IGPs since much of the technology was licensed from PowerVR, which means a different X.Org display driver is required. Rather than using the xf86-video-intel driver that receives active development from Intel and is often leading the other open-source X.Org drivers when it comes to features like the Graphics Execution Manager, kernel mode-setting, and DRI2, a new driver had to be created for the GMA 500...

  • #2
    Finally someone speaks up about this mess!

    First of all, I think very highly of intel's open source efforts, but the way this GMA 500 business was dealt with sucks.

    If "we" have to restart the whole "no blob, please publish documentation" stuff every time some new hardware comes around, things will never get anywhere... Intel could have handled this better, instead there already are devices out there, and as usual, microsoft has the leg up.

    When I first heard about the Dell Mini 12 I thought it was pretty cool, especially the relation between the screen size and the weight; but then I heard about the "GMA 500"-not-really-intel, and all poulsbo devices were off my possible purchase list instantly.

    At least I think it's interesting to see the first driver implementing VA-API that I know of.


    • #3
      Hopefully the intel guys come together and fix the damn thing and also make it completely open source. Did not know about this, yet.


      • #4
        Note that the PowerVR SGX stuff is used in much more then just the Dell Mini-12.

        It's used in other architectures. For example the OMAP3 being used in the OpenPandora Handheld and the developer oriented BeagleBoard has the PowerVR SGX chipset.

        It's what is going to be showing up in handhelds all over the place. Any powerful ARM 'smartphone' or any stripped down Intel MID or PDA or smartphone device is going to be utilizing the PowerVR technology.

        So it's not just a question of the Atom platform.. this bad boy is going to be showing up all over the place in all sorts of different devices.

        So it's especially bad because the proprietary x86 driver won't work in x86-64, nor will it work in the ARM platform. People shipping PowerVR-based graphics in ARM will need their own, seperate, proprietary Linux driver.

        It's a clusterf*k alright. With a open source driver you'd be able to update your code as well as created a unified driver that will be easily made to work across lots of different devices irregardless of the actual architecture.


        • #5
          Phoronix, Thanks SO much for shining a light on this mess!

          Intel, are you listening? Anyone?

          I spent $2800 Cdn on a Poulsbo based Panasonic CF-U1 MID ( my story here: ) with no idea what I was getting myself into.

          Intel has been doing such a great job maintaining the desktop stuff (i810 driver, etc), that I saw their name and just jumped in trustingly. I keep hoping someone on that team will come to my rescue and help clean this stuff up? I don't know who else would possibly have the time or knowledge to keep this stuff updated.


          • #6
            I think the problem here is more Imagination Technologies than Intel, and Intel is far from being their only customer. Without convincing them, the options for proper support are going to be limited. The PowerVR variant in Dreamcast has been pretty well reverse-engineered, but I don't know how similar it is to the current stuff.


            • #7
              I still have unfond memories of the PowerVR Kyro. After lots of requests from the community, a proprietary Linux driver was released by Imagination Technologies (the company behind PowerVR). But after some time, they stopped updating it for newer kernels and so the driver and the cards became next to useless for Linux.

              It would not surprise me if the reason for the blobs lies with the IP policy at ImgTec. I hope that Intel can sort this out soon, after all they have a good reputation with the open source community to lose.

              EDIT: Heh, Ex-Cyber beat me to it. Anyway, here is the bug stating that they have no interest in open source PowerVR drivers
              Last edited by chithanh; 01-31-2009, 02:52 PM.


              • #8
                I don't think it was a good idea to use a 3rd party chip under the Intel brand. Intel devs don't know it and the current Linux code does not look ready for prime time...


                • #9
                  Well this isn't the first time that Intel has used PowerVR stuff. I don't know for sure, but I beleive that the old Pre-GMA Intel IGP (extreme blaster 3d stuff found on 8xx series chipset) is derived from PowerVR's cores. I think.

                  But anyways... it was probably a time-to-market and cost effectiveness issues why Intel decided to move away from their own IGP designs for the Atom MID stuff.

                  It would be nice to get the thing more open, of course. Your going to see PowerVR stuff cropping up more and more now. Especially in Android-style devices and other netbooks.

                  This is because most netbooks are using the GMA 950 stuff which is designed for desktops and 'value' laptops. Bettery life and features are just not there... the chipsets in those Atom netbooks are going to be using much more power then the actual CPU does and is probably the only reason why most those devices ship with fans and have reduced battery life compared to other Atom-based devices.

                  It's to bad that AMD sold off their mobile graphics to Quallcom.

                  The only way to convince a company like 'Imagination Technologies' to open up is through competition. That's it, really. So unless there is a compelling open source graphics platform for embedded 3D graphics then convincing them to open up is going to be very difficult.


                  with Embedded Linux this sort of thing is very difficult.

                  Typically everything they do is one-off. You sell a product and it ships with whatever firmware you ship. Barring that then there is no reason to upgrade that firmware. If customers want more features or fixes then they simply can purchase a newer version.

                  So Linux OS is now the 'firmware'. Embedded developers are still going to be in the same mindset and they are not going to understand what is the point to openning up drivers so that people can install a 2.6.24 or newer kernel.

                  Until those guys understand the importance of being open and sending changes back to upstream then there is going to be very little force acting on "Imagination Technologies" to convince them to open up.


                  • #10
                    SGX reverse engineering

                    I believe there are ongoing efforts to reverse engineer the PowerVR SGX 530 (Intel's GMA500 integrates the SGX 535 but they should be similar) core, according to this OpenPandora development forum thread. Unfortunately, there haven't been any status updates in over a month...
                    One thing is for sure, my acquisition of an MSI Wind U115 netbook depends on the availability of a free and open source GMA500 Xorg driver.


                    • #11
                      Ex-Cyber: that's the technical issue here, but it doesn't change the fact that it's Intel's responsibility. PowerVR don't have any commitment to being a good Linux citizen, they're a hardware company, they make chips and that's more or less it.

                      However, Intel does have a very public commitment (which, to their credit, they mostly keep) about being a good citizen for Linux and open source in general. Which they've completely stuffed up in this case. Yes, the actual problem is that the hardware is something completely new, but it was Intel's decision to sub-license this hardware and release it - under the 'GMA' product line, no less - without, apparently, giving any thought to the ramifications for Linux and open source support.

                      From what I know, it seems there was basically a lack of communication within Intel between the side responsible for hardware decisions like this and the 'open source' folks. The open source side was not in a position to provide feedback to the hardware side about the problems this chip would present, and so it just went ahead regardless, and now the Intel open source folks are stuck playing catch-up. Bad organization.


                      • #12
                        Couple things here. I don't recall Intel using PowerVR in any previous graphics chipsets, but I think they were used for an earlier server system. I may be wrong. Intel's graphics chipsets have always been based on the technology they received when they bought Chips and Technologies, Inc. back in the mid 90's, their first product being the I740 graphics card. And, yes, it sucked bad.

                        As to the GMA500, the group that designed that were looking for small scale, low power and low cost. Intel's graphics team are more focused on the desktop and laptop markets, which has a higher budget for all three factors. By using the PowerVR IP, they were able to take some of the best technologies available and combine then into a single chip that is roughly the size of a dime. This single chip has USB, PATA IDE (SATA actually would have increased the footprint), SSD, PCIe, a scaled down HD Audio bus (only supports two codec streams as opposed to 4 on the ICH), and a few other bells and whistles. The low power consumption is phenominal compared to the GMA 900 series chipset.

                        As to the driver, Intel's driver development team had their hands full rewriting the 900 series driver, so it was outsourced to Tungsten Graphics, the people that did the initial 900 series driver that everyone loved (remember the i915bios program to modify the video shadow bios for non-standard graphics modes like 1280x800?). Only problem was Tungsten had either let go or reassigned their Linux developers, so they had to pull two engineers form the Vista development team to support the Linux driver (yes, they did Vista support for Poulsbo - imagine the pain). This new team based their work off of the kernel that shipped with Fedora Core 6, even though FC9 was available, and the official development platforms were Ubuntu Gutsy and Every release had to be updated with minor patches just to build for Gutsy. And all patches had to be approved by PowerVR before being released. The latest driver is so far off from the new DRM kernel module core that it will take a top-down rewrite to make it work, let alone see any improvement. Plus with the licensing, I'm not sure that Intel's developers have access to the hardware documentation (pure speculation). Makes for a development nightmare all around.

                        I did get a chance to see one system in action. It was playing HD quality video (1080i samples downloaded from Microsoft) with very remarkable quality. And the cpu performance was minimal according to top running through ssh on another system. CPU utilization was on average below 10% while the video was playing. And there was virtually no heat coming off either the Atom or the Poulsbo (neither of which had a heatsink during this demonstration).

                        My personal feeling is that if Intel plans to go forward with their push into extreme mobile (MIDs, cell phones, etc), they either need to find another source of video IP, or buy out PowerVR. But with today's economy, I don't think they're ready to spend any $$$.


                        • #13
                          lost business

                          I had bought a Dell Mini 12 with Ubuntu. After receiving it, it turns out it didn't run standard Ubuntu and Ubuntu wouldn't even manage to display its graphical isntaller. I returned the thing for a refund, and my company will not be buying any of those devices; we'll be looking for other 12" netbooks, maybe based on Via or AMD.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by drag View Post
                            The only way to convince a company like 'Imagination Technologies' to open up is through competition.
                            I disagree. Look at VIA. They were pretty much behind the competition for years, and didn't move. The only way to convince them was OEM pressure.

                            And given the secretive environment where ImgTec operates (mobile handsets and embedded devices), this is not going to happen soon. Unless maybe, OpenMoko sells 500 million handsets this year


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by HyperDrive View Post
                              I believe there are ongoing efforts to reverse engineer the PowerVR SGX 530 (Intel's GMA500 integrates the SGX 535 but they should be similar) core, [...]
                              Ow... that just completely crushed my enthusiasm for getting a Pandora. My eee may be technically inferior, but at least I know it's supported...