New AMDGPU Details & Looking Forward To Major Radeon Linux Improvements In 2016
Written by Michael Larabel in Display Drivers on 9 January 2016. Page 1 of 2. 114 Comments

Friday afternoon I had a call with a few AMD representatives talking about their Linux driver plans for 2016. Here are the details for those wondering about AMDGPU, Vulkan, GPUOpen, and more.

Excited to finally hear some new AMD/Radeon Linux details, I'll jump straight to the Linux highlights with most already being familiar with AMD's general announcements last month about GPUOpen, Radeon Software Crimson, etc.

- Certainly the question most AMD Linux users have been wondering: When will they release the new Catalyst (or now dubbed Radeon Software) driver that makes use of the new AMDGPU kernel DRM driver? This looks like it will happen in H1'2016, but the commitment didn't sound too firm as it appears tied to some product announcements. (This part wasn't mentioned, but I'd have to guess based upon that they are trying to time the new driver around the Radeon Polaris launch.)

- As expected, once this new driver model rolls out, the current "Catalyst driver" will be put in effectively maintenance mode as they'll be focusing upon the one-kernel-driver model. The new AMDGPU-based driver will support all new Radeon GPU designs from 2015 and newer.

- But what does this mean for users of GPUs not supported by AMDGPU looking for the best OpenGL support/performance? A.k.a. the pre Volcanic Islands hardware, before Tonga, Carrizo, and Fiji? It's not entirely clear yet. There is the experimental AMDGPU config option for pre-GCN1.2 support, but that's not currently enabled by default. When bringing up this whole issue then of what Radeon hardware would actively be supported, it sounds like it will largely depend upon the community feedback and other matters. Otherwise this would just mean that those without the very latest hardware would be bound to using the fully-open Radeon DRM + R600g/RadeonSI driver stack if the current Catalyst driver is not to be maintained for compatibility with new Linux kernel and X.Org Server release. There's obviously nothing happen to the current open-source code, it's just a matter of their new Catalyst model focus going forward. Hopefully by the time of the new driver transition that the fully-open code will be better equipped with more OpenGL 4 extensions and greater performance for handling all the latest Steam Linux games.

- The new Catalyst driver with its user-space blob running atop the AMDGPU kernel driver is already to the point of performing the same -- and in some cases better -- than the current Catalyst driver with its binary kernel driver.

- The Radeon Vulkan Linux support is ready to launch as soon as Khronos rolls out the specification... A lot of developers have already been testing their Vulkan driver and things appear good on that front. But as previously reported, their Vulkan driver will be closed-source at launch and open-sourced later. They may also provide the code to distribution partners early for integration (prior to a fully-blown open-source project).

- They will be focusing in 2016 on syncing their Catalyst Linux releases to those on Windows. While years ago they were timed the same, in 2015 that didn't always happen and there were just a few updates issued all year. Fortunately, that looks to be changing this year and they will try to be more timely about releases for fixes to support the latest high-profile Linux games.

- Soon or around Q2 they should have out a driver with more fixes for popular OpenGL Linux games.

- With the Radeon Software Crimson release for Windows there was a brand new Qt-based control panel. When asked about it coming to Linux to replace the old and limited AMDCCCLE, there isn't any plans to talk publicly about at this time.

- The new packaged driver releases that make use of AMDGPU DRM will also -- as previously mentioned -- will support a DKMS version of the AMDGPU kernel driver for those installing it on an older Linux distribution with an out-of-date kernel. However, their exact system requirements have yet to be determined.

The R9 285 "Tonga" is the first GPU officially supported by the AMDGPU kernel driver.

More details on the next page.