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Any modern ARM platform with open graphics? (Cortex-A8, A9, Snapdragon, Tegra 2...)

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  • Any modern ARM platform with open graphics? (Cortex-A8, A9, Snapdragon, Tegra 2...)

    There is some renewed interest in ARM-based tablets and "smartbooks" besides the growing Android smartphone market.

    At the CES 2010 a large number of ARM A8 and A9-based tablets and smartbooks was demoed, but with none of them yet shipping there has been no information about the operating systems apart from a few screenshots or videoclips featuring Android or some other camouflaged Linux systems.

    The ARM architecture itself is well supported by the Linux kernel and the essential GPL'ed ecosystem around it, but as the recent Poulsbo disaster has shown, lack of proper graphics support can render an otherwise fine platform into an unmaintainable mess.

    So, what is the status of graphics subsystem support of the various modern ARM platforms from Freescale, Qualcomm, NVidia and others?

    Any open or open-enough options there or will users still be at the mercy of manufacturers for proprietary blobs (suddenly making the otherwise attractive ARM proposition very unattractive for Linux users)?

  • #2
    I've been wondering the same thing recently.

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    • #3
      An ARM-based tablet would be seriously cool if it's graphics capabilities would be on par with my current GM965 - I don't mean just the performance, but the overall great state of recent intel drivers for this chip.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by misGnomer View Post
        So, what is the status of graphics subsystem support of the various modern ARM platforms from Freescale, Qualcomm, NVidia and others?
        I'm in touch with some people at CES2010 and I can say that best "free" Linux support so far has Marvell with its ARMADA processors and Freescale with its i.MX51 processors. Both manufacturers are working close with Canonical so you can see basically fully working devices on CES running Ubuntu 9.04 and 9.10 with atleast 720p support, there were also Marvell devices like Quanta EBOX (smartop) showed running Quake 3 and 1080p HD content. Quallcomm with its Snapdragon seems to be aiming more for supporting Android and Commercial Custom build Linux distributions. Dunno how open is support of these ARM devices but at Marvell you can register with the Extranet and see some docs. Nvidia Tegra is basically Freescale's chip combined with nVidia made accelerator.
        Last edited by Riotta; 01-10-2010, 02:39 PM.

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        • #5
          As an observation, there's currently really only 3 credible mobile GPU providers supplying GPU cores for the current crop of ARM11/Cortex-A8/Cortex-A9 SoC's.

          Qualcomm (bought AMD's mobile group...)
          NVidia
          Imagination Technologies.

          Now, TI uses ImgTec.

          Since Freescale's used MBX accelerators in the past, the odds are good that they're using the SGX series for their i.MX515 that's been getting used.

          Obviously NVidia's going to be largely only on the Tegra right now.

          I don't know who all licensed stuff from AMD before they sold to Qualcomm, but there's going to only be a few platforms using to my knowledge anyhow.

          As an aside, the Poulsbo uses an SGX-535, which is relabeled as a GMA500 in that platform. The main reason the driver situation is much messier than the ARM platforms using the SGX-5xx cores is that the drivers for the ARM platforms are coming from ImgTec instead of the vendor rolling their own (as with Intel's story on Poulsbo...and why they can't open this GMA's info is because they don't own that core, unlike all the others. What they were thinking when they labeled it a "GMA" for marketing reasons is rather a mystery...). The ARM driver story's still a bit rough around the edges, though I suspect they're close to having resolved the edge cases (they didn't anticipate doing ES rendering while having X11 going, etc...) by the time the big push on things happens with the smartbooks.

          None of the known driver story is open right at the moment for any of the ARM SoC's. I won't know more about the Armada SoC story (For all I know, they are one of the first players to use ARM's Mali...which would make them the fourth credible play at that point. I can hope because the odds are good that'll be the most "open" of the bunch. ) until I get some of Marvell's Extranet access, but the odds are very good they just went with an SGX on it.
          Last edited by Svartalf; 01-10-2010, 03:31 PM. Reason: amended to mention ARM Mali in at least passing...

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          • #6
            Thanks Svartalf.

            It doesn't look like there are any non-proprietary options at all Linux/ARM users, at least not yet.

            Nvidia? From what I hear their Linux drivers perform well but are completely closed, meaning the user is at the mercy of the manufacturer for driver support. Fine for gadget freaks who dump "un-latest" devices for breakfast, but for long-term support or even from ecological point of view (landfills) not so great.

            Imagination Technologies are likewise a closed shop, although it appears that they've agreed to release some kind of open drivers for the Nokia N800/N810 series (older ARM 11 platform).

            With otherwise competitive ARM-based devices bound to become more widely available throughout 2010 it would be important to establish which chipmakers' solution might be most open and maintainable.

            Intel isn't really competitive in the low-power (and thin) end of the market, but at least their N-series Atoms have good open driver support, integrated graphics included. It would be a shame if the ARM licensees used Linux but hung onto their old proprietary mobile phone habits.

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            • #7
              At the moment you can't really tell which ARM chip maker is most open source friendly cause all what we can get is third party information with lacks specific technical informations. So basically we will don't know anything till the actual devices hit the mass market hopefully this year. I personally think that Freescale will have best open support and on second place Marvell. Nvidia and Quallcomm will probably stay at closed party. But this is my opinion based upon information taken from the web.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by misGnomer View Post
                Thanks Svartalf.
                You're welcome. I've been watching this space because I'm on the hook for a bit of fun coming from it.

                It doesn't look like there are any non-proprietary options at all Linux/ARM users, at least not yet.
                Nope.

                Imagination Technologies are likewise a closed shop, although it appears that they've agreed to release some kind of open drivers for the Nokia N800/N810 series (older ARM 11 platform).
                That's some news to me...links? As for the chip in question, if they DID allow that info out, this would be for the older 1.1-only MBX series as that's what's in the OMAP2 lineup from TI. Nice. But not anywhere near as useful as having something for the SGX lineup.

                Now there was hints of TI leaning a bit on ImgTec to get something useful for FOSS purposes on the SGX side of things (which WOULD be VERY useful, indeed...) but it was just rumor mill sort of stuff in varying places.

                As an interesting aside, there are some hackers in the OpenPandora crowd that got their hands on a BeagleBoard and are RE-ing the driver framework for the SGX- so there's something of a Nouveau going on at a slow, but sustainable pace for it. No assurances

                With otherwise competitive ARM-based devices bound to become more widely available throughout 2010 it would be important to establish which chipmakers' solution might be most open and maintainable.
                There've been several outspoken people in the Mali dev forums asking for FOSS support from ARM directly, indicating that if they're going to be closed, it's the devil they know (ImgTec, really...) which has "issues" with their stuff within the varying Linux based phone/mobile device environments but everybody knows the problems and can at least get workarounds/kludges as they're showing to be possible. If ARM were to give us Mali info or give us FOSS Mali drivers, it'd cinch the deal for everyone for the next gen of SoC's- there's quite a few players avoiding WinMo altogether with the next gen and eyeing Linux variants very, very seriously.

                Intel isn't really competitive in the low-power (and thin) end of the market, but at least their N-series Atoms have good open driver support, integrated graphics included. It would be a shame if the ARM licensees used Linux but hung onto their old proprietary mobile phone habits.
                No kidding. Atom's only really, really a good low-power proposition if you're "needing" X86 and can't do MIPS or ARM. Same with the VIA Nano. And the bulk of the 3D plays in that space are 'entertaining' at best (Currently Intel's GMA940 and the ION stuff's the only real plays right now that work...and ION adds quite a bit of cost to the system ($150 versus $80 retail for the comparison there...))- though it does seem that if you're talking Caster, Soul Ride, or a few others the GMA940 will do well enough to be playable.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Riotta View Post
                  At the moment you can't really tell which ARM chip maker is most open source friendly cause all what we can get is third party information with lacks specific technical informations. So basically we will don't know anything till the actual devices hit the mass market hopefully this year. I personally think that Freescale will have best open support and on second place Marvell. Nvidia and Quallcomm will probably stay at closed party. But this is my opinion based upon information taken from the web.
                  Heh... All you can get is 3rd party stuff.

                  Freescale used MBX devices (known...), and the indications are that they're using an SGX. It's the easy play for people right at the moment because ImgTec has been a bit further ahead for a while now in that space.

                  Marvell's still up in the air- I'll be NDA'ed to get the info, so it won't be something I could even disclose to you guys at this time. However, they've used MBX stuff in some of the previous Feroceon stuff, the odds are good they're an SGX based SoC as well.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Svartalf View Post
                    That's some news to me...links? As for the chip in question, if they DID allow that info out, this would be for the older 1.1-only MBX series as that's what's in the OMAP2 lineup from TI. Nice. But not anywhere near as useful as having something for the SGX lineup.
                    You're right, it was TI releasing code for the older OMAP2. Otherwise we'd all be out celebrating, right?

                    http://talk.maemo.org/showthread.php?p=451957 ("The N800 has a 3D accelerator, right?")


                    Regarding Atom-side graphics, you forgot the mini PCIe accelerator thingies by Broadcom which are said to get a very proprietary Linux driver blob some day.

                    http://www.linuxfordevices.com/c/a/N...dcom-BCM70015/

                    As for open and supportable code, Broadcom isn't known to be keen on that. [edit: According to the Crystal HD thread only the firmware will be proprietary, but it looks very Intel-specific and only accelerates specific functions]

                    Apart from the clean-room type efforts (Nouveau, Gallium...) by brave hackers, it would be welcome if even one of these OMAP3 graphics companies would decide to get a leg up on the competition and share some documentation on their current offerings.
                    Last edited by misGnomer; 01-12-2010, 11:09 AM. Reason: misinformation

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