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An Open-Source, Reverse-Engineered Mali GPU Driver

Michael Larabel

Published on 21 January 2012
Written by Michael Larabel
Page 1 of 3 - 5 Comments

There is some exciting news to break today on Phoronix... Coming up at FOSDEM (the Free Open-Source Developers' European Meeting in Brussels) will be the formal announcement of an open-source, reverse-engineered graphics driver for the ARM Mali graphics processor. OpenGL ES triangles are in action on open-source code. Will this be the start of fully open-source ARM graphics drivers for Android and Linux?

Mali is ARM's current family of GPUs that they pair with the ARM Cortex processors for some hardware. The Mali-400 was ARM's first OpenGL ES 2.0 conformant multi-core GPU with 2D and 3D hardware acceleration. Up to this point the Mali graphics hardware has been supported by ARM with a closed-source driver stack -- and no open-source DRM/KMS driver in the mainline kernel tree like what's been done at Samsung with Exynos and Texas Instruments with omapdrm; albeit neither of those provide hardware acceleration, just mode-setting and basic support.

The Mali-200 is another supported graphics processor by this project, which can handle OpenGL ES 1.1/2.0 and OpenVG 1.1, which up to now has only been backed by a binary blob. Assuming the driver is still developed until mainline-maturity, this Mali driver will be the first ARM graphics hardware with a full open-source 3D-capable stack. Embedded GPUs have been a great big mess for Linux, even for Intel SoCs. The ARM Mali design comes out of ARM Norway.


This is where the ARM Mali was designed... The wonderful city of Trondheim. (Yes, that also happened to be the Phoronix Test Suite 1.0 codename a few years prior.)

This open-source stack is coming by reverse-engineering ARM's official Mali GPU driver, which they thought was an impossible feat. The reverse-engineering has been sponsored by Codethink for the past several months by Luc Verhaegen, the often controversial X.Org developer (for his radical ambitions) and former SuSE developer. Verhaegen is the one responsible for the VIA "Unichrome" X.Org driver stack, was one of the SUSE developers responsible for much of the efforts on the RadeonHD driver, a Flashrom contributor, then a Nokia contractor, and for the past few months has been doing Mali reverse-engineering as his latest project at Codethink.


Luc Verhaegen, the developer behind this work, at XDC2011 Chicago pouring Phoronix beer for Egbert Eich, his former SUSE/RadeonHD colleague...When not busy sampling American beers, Luc's been secretly working away at reverse-engineering the Mali Linux driver.

With the FOSDEM speaker schedule being due today, his talk abstract is becoming public, and thus I am now permitted to share what the "open-source announcement at FOSDEM" is that I've been hinting at for weeks on Twitter. The goal of this work is "a free software project aimed at providing an open source graphics driver for ARM's excellent and increasingly popular Mali GPUs."

However, if you are hoping the code-drop, which will immediately follow FOSDEM, is going to contain a full open-source DRM and Gallium3D driver, that is sadly not the case. The code is not up to the point of a full driver stack ready for mainline integration.

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