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Intel Z6xx Moorestown Graphics Still Disappoint

Intel

Published on 05 May 2010 11:33 AM EDT
Written by Michael Larabel in Intel
32 Comments

Last night Intel finally announced the Intel Atom Processor Z6xx Series Family, which has been known under the Moorestown codename for quite a while and is something we first reported on back in 2007. With the new Atom Z6xx processors Intel is hoping it will propel their Atom brand within more smart-phones, tablets, and other mobile Internet devices, but these low-power processors will likely end up in some netbooks too. Unfortunately, the graphics for the Moorestown / Atom Z7xx platform is still looking to be a major disappointment to Linux users.

The Intel Intel Atom Processor Z6xx "Moorestown" hardware is a major step over existing Atom CPUs with it being much faster, consuming even less power, and sporting other new features. In regards to this 45nm Intel SoC with 3D graphics, video encoding/decoding, memory and display controllers all integrated, the press release for the Intel Atom Z6xx mentions, "Collectively these new chips deliver significantly lower power including >50x reduction in idle power, >20x reduction in audio power, and 2-3x reductions across browsing and video scenarios – all at the platform level when compared to Intel's previous-generation product."

In terms of the graphics capabilities for Moorestown, newly published documents state the following:
Intel GMA 600 Graphics – Integrated power-optimized 2-D/3-D graphics with up to 400MHz graphics core frequency, support for OpenGL ES2.0, Open GL 2.1, and OpenVG 1.1, and hardware-accelerated7 HD video7 decode (MPEG4 part 2, H.264, WMV & VC1) and encode
(MPEG4 part2, H.264). Supports internal display up to 1366 x 768 LVDS or 1024 x 600 MIPI.

While this is a modest set of features and the graphics core is clocked up to twice as fast as the current-generation Poulsbo / GMA 500, the GMA 600 carries the same set of problems as Poulsbo: Intel's licensing this graphics intellectual property from Imagination Technologies.

Because Intel hasn't developed all of this technology in-house and Imagination Technologies isn't an open-source friendly firm, Intel has had to release the Poulsbo graphics driver as a binary-only driver. The Intel GMA 600 is based on the PowerVR SGX 535 from Imagination Technologies, and its Linux support is expected to come in the same open-source manner as Poulsbo.

While a binary driver is bad enough for many users, the Intel GMA 500 "Poulsbo" driver is ill-maintained and can be a challenging experience to even get working on some newer desktop Linux distributions. The Linux experience for Intel's GMA 500 graphics have been a bloody mess and the open-source DRM portion was even rejected from the mainline kernel.

We haven't been able to spot any Intel GMA 600 driver yet for Linux, but we wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't roll out until MeeGo is ready to go, similar to how the Poulsbo driver was largely catered around Intel's Moblin distribution (that's now being folded into MeeGo). Meanwhile, Intel's Open-Source Technology Center developers have already been working on open-source Sandy Bridge support -- their next-generation on-CPU graphics processor -- and that isn't even launching for months, but that's because they don't need to worry about any external IP / the wrath of Imagination Technologies thanks to its in-house design.

Once we get our hands on any Intel Z6xx "Moorestown" devices we'll be able to see how its Linux performance and features stacks up.

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