Intel's Poulsbo Driver A Bloody Mess?
Written by Michael Larabel in Intel on 31 January 2009 at 08:16 AM EST. 34 Comments
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. The driver for the Intel GMA 500 "Poulsbo" Chipset was created by Intel and Tungsten Graphics. Unfortunately, this driver is very ill maintained.

The xf86-video-psb driver was the one written for the Poulsbo chipset and it hasn't seen any new development activity since last March. This driver isn't even hosted at with the rest of the X.Org packages but instead is over at The kernel module for this driver also hasn't been worked on since last March (Git viewer) and isn't upstream.

With the X.Org Poulsbo driver not being actively maintained, it doesn't even build with the latest Linux packages. If things couldn't get worse, the Intel Poulsbo driver depends upon a binary blob. The blob found in this file is called msvdx_fw.bin and if not installed will prevent you from utilizing 3D or video acceleration. Not only is there that headache, but there is also another dependent blob called Xpsb that is required.

The X.Org driver situation for the Intel Poulsbo (GMA 500) certainly seems like a bloody mess. Adam Williamson of Red Hat (previously known for his Mandriva work) has shared some of his Poulsbo experiences. We will only be seeing more Intel Poulsbo devices enter the marketplace, so hopefully Tungsten or Intel will be able to correct this situation. Right now, one of the only good things about this driver is that it supports VA-API for video acceleration.

Share your thoughts on this situation in the Phoronix Forums.

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Michael Larabel is the principal author of and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 10,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter or contacted via

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