Punting GPU Drivers From The Initramfs Due To Ever Increasing Firmware Bloat

Written by Michael Larabel in Hardware on 1 May 2024 at 06:33 AM EDT. 80 Comments
For now Fedora / Red Hat is not making any immediate changes, but the ever increasing sizes of required GPU firmware files is causing Linux distribution vendors to re-think including GPU kernel graphics drivers as part of the initramfs.

With most modern GPUs now requiring firmware blobs for support even by open-source drivers, including all the possible GPU firmware files in the initramfs is necessary. Even for graphics hardware you aren't using this still needs to be bundled, especially with Linux distributions moving more toward building and signing blessed initramfs images rather than the possibility of spinning an initramfs just for the needs of your particular system.

Red Hat's Hans de Goede has been exploring the possibility of moving GPU drivers out of the initramfs in order to reduce the size. Especially with NVIDIA GPU System Processor (GSP) firmware files coming to more Linux systems with the Nouveau/Nova driver efforts and more AMDGPU firmware files coming about, the space savings can be significant. Having GPU drivers not part of the initramfs can also lead to quicker boot times.

Broken graphics card
Moving GPU drivers/firmware out of the initramfs can break the graphics experience initially at Linux boot time.

But as part of debloating the GPU drivers from initramfs, those using full disk encryption would have a harder time submitting their pass phrase and the like. Some systems might not also be able to be properly mode-set during the initial boot experience without the proper hardware drivers. So Hans de Goede has been exploring whether SimpleDRM or EFIFB can work out well enough for the initial boot experience while initramfs is bringing up the complete root file-system.

For now no distribution-level changes are being made by Fedora / Red Hat but the matter of GPU firmware files bloating the initramfs is a problem that will need to be eventually addressed. Hans has written a blog post with more details on this issue as well as how Fedora Linux users can experiment building an initramfs without the GPU drivers/firmware.
Related News
About The Author
Michael Larabel

Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 20,000 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 OpenBenchmarking.org automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter, LinkedIn, or contacted via MichaelLarabel.com.

Popular News This Week