Well, There's No Radeon HD 6000 Open-Source Surprise
Earlier this week AMD launched the Radeon HD 6850 and Radeon HD 6870 graphics cards as their first next-generation offerings that belong to the "Northern Islands" family. A day later there was the Catalyst 10.10 Linux driver release from AMD that added support for these new "Barts" GPUs to their proprietary driver, but no open-source support has yet to be found.
We said there won't be Radeon HD 6000 support ready for the Linux 2.6.37 kernel (the kernel release that's beginning its development cycle right now) and that we're unlikely to see any kernel mode-setting support ready before the Linux 2.6.38 kernel even if things go well. A Gallium3D driver is likely to come (not a classic Mesa driver) at some point after the DRM code has landed. Basically, if we're lucky by the time major Linux distributions start rolling out in 2011 (i.e. Ubuntu 11.04, Fedora 15) we may see some form of open-source support for these new AMD Radeon graphics processors. However, at least a few users we're wondering if AMD had some magical or surprise open-source drop to do for the Radeon HD 6800 series. Unfortunately, they do not. While there is no code or documentation to provide, in the days since the Radeon HD 6850/6870 launch we have learned at least a few more details about the forthcoming support.
AMD's John Bridgman, who heads the their open-source work, is a member of our forums (along with AMD's Alex Deucher and many other developers). He's not only a member, but a very active member, and in fact the most active member in our entire community with more than 5,200 posts (that's even beating out our news posting bot and your's truly!) over the past three years. As a result of this though, there's comments in recent days to share of Bridgman's concerning the Radeon HD 6800 series support under Linux.
When asked whether the UVD3 (Unified Video Decoder 3) engine found with the new Radeon HD 6000 graphics cards for accelerated video playback will likely be any easier to support in an open-source stack or to provide documentation on, Bridgman had this to say: "Quick answer is that I am not sure. At minimum it should have the helpful changes that came with UVD 2, but AFAIK it does not substantially change the risk picture." As talked about often, the video decoder built into the Radeon GPUs isn't supported by the open-source drivers nor publicly documented as it could potentially compromise the DRM (Digital Rights Management) support under other platforms and thus pose a legal risk to AMD.
In that same posting, Bridgman also commented on the state of the Northern Islands (HD 6000) open-source support and whether it's a big architectural change from Evergreen (the Radeon HD 5000 series, now supported via open-source drivers for 2D/3D under Linux as of just a few months ago). "We'll know more in another week or two. I was expecting the first Fusion parts to launch a bit earlier and the first Northern Island parts to launch a bit later, so I guess you could say we are in better shape for Ontario and worse shape for Barts than we would be in a perfect world. Initial feedback is that there are some non-trivial changes in the display portion, so stay tuned."
If there are non-trivial changes to the display portion of the Northern Islands architecture, it could be longer before we see any UMS (user-space mode-setting) or KMS (kernel mode-setting) support, but hopefully the 3D engine isn't too vastly changed that would result in a major rework. In an ideal world the R600g Gallium3D driver could be extended to support the Radeon HD 6000 series, but no one knows yet if that will be possible or worthwhile.
At least we know AMD should be in better shape for open-source support with Ontario. AMD's Ontario is their netbook APU chip while Zacate is their desktop APU counterpart. It's expected that these Fusion APUs will launch in early January at the Consumer Electronics Show, so it's good to know that open-source support for the long-awaited Fusion is already being looked at in advance.
The Ontario chip will also be sporting UVD3 for accelerated VC1/H.264/MPEG-4 video decoding, but again it's unknown whether we'll see any open-source support for this portion of the hardware. We should see UVD3 support here through the binary Catalyst driver, but that's via VA-API to XvBA and so far that has been a real mess.
There's also various other Bridman comments, but these are the highlights for now as it pertains to the open-source support for the AMD Radeon HD 6000 series.
While it would be nice to see same-day open-source Linux support like what Intel does with their in-house hardware where there is mainline support before the hardware is even out there, at least they are unlike NVIDIA and their lack of any open-source support.
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