Arm Is Now Backing Panfrost Gallium3D As Open-Source Mali Graphics Driver

Written by Michael Larabel in X.Org on 16 September 2020 at 05:05 PM EDT. 17 Comments
Most information presented during the annual X.Org Developers' Conference doesn't tend to be very surprising or ushering in breaking news, but during today's XDC2020 it was subtly dropped that Arm Holdings appears to now be backing the open-source Panfrost Gallium3D driver.

Panfrost has been developed over the past several years as what began as a reverse-engineered effort by Alyssa Rosenzweig to support Arm Mali Bifrost and Midgard hardware. This driver had a slow start but Rosenzweig has been employed by Collabora for a while now and they've been making steady progress on supporting newer Mali hardware and advancing the supported OpenGL / GLES capabilities of the driver.

Funny timing given the announcement this week of NVIDIA to acquire Arm, but Arm now appears to be supporting the Panfrost Gallium3D driver effort developed in cooperation with consulting firm Collabora.

During Alyssa's talk at XDC2020 it was about working the code from its reverse-engineered, hackish origins to working on automated tooling and more to help make the driver more production-ready and on a stable base. It goes along with this merge request opened today for rewriting the disassembler and instruction packing to be canonical. That merge request adds nearly ten thousand lines of new code while removing just over three thousand lines -- a big driver change by any metric.

Alyssa added that they are working this open-source driver into a more solid foundation with a stable and very clean platform. This open-source driver work is being done "in partnership with Arm." They are looking to Panfrost maturing and supporting more platforms over the years to come.

A comment on that merge request following the talk today further confirmed the happenings. Daniel Stone of Collabora commented, "To reiterate the answer from earlier - based on information & support from Arm, it now more accurately describes the actual ISA and matches the actual forms & nomenclature used."

So now Panfrost is less about reverse engineering and now appears to have the official support of Arm. Hopefully this will mean more punctual support for new hardware platforms and the potential of an open-source Vulkan driver as well. This story is similar to that of the Freedreno/MSM saga that also began as an open-source, reverse-engineered driver for Qualcomm Adreno hardware. In time Qualcomm / Code Aurora began contributing to the driver as well as several Google engineers and continues to be another good open-source driver success story that started out as a community initiative.
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