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The Open-Source Graphics Card Is Dead

Hardware

Published on 23 May 2012 02:26 AM EDT
Written by Michael Larabel in Hardware
22 Comments

The effort to create an open-source graphics card suffered a premature and quiet death some time ago.

Prior to LinuxTag Berlin later in the week, I have been visiting with Egbert Eich, the SUSE engineer, long-time X.Org developer, and former RadeonHD driver developer. Among the many Linux graphics topics being discussed in Frankfurt-Darmstadt, Egbert and I realized "that project to come up with an open-source graphics card" hadn't been heard of in years. Hell neither of us could recall the name of the main project even though it was presented just four years ago at FOSDEM.

The project in question was Project VGA. Project VGA hoped to ship in 2008 (just one month after FOSDEM) as what was slated to be a low-budget, open-source, VGA-compatible graphics card. The initial Project VGA hardware was said to be PCI-based (i.e. the standard PCI bus, not PCI Express), run on a 100MHz FPGA, and to have 16MB of SDRAM. Even for back then the hardware specifications were quite bad, but they were basically limited to using a slow Xilinx FPGA as their graphics processor, there was very limited funds, and also very limited contributors / experienced hardware engineers.

The Open-Source Graphics Card Is Dead The Open-Source Graphics Card Is Dead
Beers are needed, of course, when talking about the former RadeonHD days...


All of the Project VGA software and hardware was to be made available under the GPLv3 license. The first-run Project VGA graphics cards were expected to retail for some $200 USD but without any warranty -- or that the PCI graphics card with a 100MHz FPGA would even work in the first place. Well, since FOSDEM of 2008, it was never really hard from again. After Egbert and I recalled this project, we attempted to track it down to no avail.

The project's web-site (ProjectVGA.org) no longer resolves and there's no signs of it transforming into anything else, it was just another open-source project that died. This isn't a terrible surprise considering the slow hardware making it really not viable for anything but enthusiasts/developers wishing to tinker with an open-source GPU, die-hard open-source zealots wishing for an open-source GPU, etc. Unfortunately most community-based open-source hardware projects for complex components such as GPUs are poised for failure due to the cost of design and manufacturing / large orders being mandated. As well, the increasing complexity, experience, patent access, and other abilities of the leading IHVs with proprietary designs makes it out of reach to have a product that would be competitive with consumers and attract real attention/interest/sales. (Yes though there are "open hardware" possibilities in other less-complex forms such as with the VGA switch or ColorHug.)

The Open-Source Graphics Card Is Dead
Another dead topic to reminisce over was the initatives for bringing audio to the X Server.

Aside from Project VGA, there is also the Open Graphics Project (OGP), but there's not much hope there either. The project appears to be dead or at least terminally dormant. The Open Graphics Project originally began around 2004 but only in late 2010 was the first (slow) hardware shipping. The OGD1 (their first graphics card) was PCI-based with an FPGA chip while having 256MB of video memory and two dual-link DVI connections. The OGD1 was in limited quantities and sold at a price of $750 USD -- I know of no one that has one or ever used one. On the Open Graphics Project web-site the last announcement/news was from September 2010 when the $750 USD was first available for order. The Wiki page hasn't been updated since November of 2010 and the project's mailing list now is not available (404).

This effort is basically kaput.

About The Author
Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the web-site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience and being the largest web-site devoted to Linux hardware reviews, particularly for products relevant to Linux gamers and enthusiasts but also commonly reviewing servers/workstations and embedded Linux devices. Michael has written more than 10,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics hardware drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated testing software. He can be followed via and or contacted via .
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