Intel Patches To Make It Easier To Run Their Discrete Graphics On Arm, Other Architectures

Written by Michael Larabel in Intel on 1 February 2022 at 09:27 AM EST. 17 Comments
A change currently being evaluated for Intel's "i915" Linux kernel graphics driver would make it easier for building driver support for their forthcoming discrete graphics products for targeting other non-x86 CPU architectures like Arm

Sent out today as a "request for comments" were patches that change the Intel Linux kernel graphics driver to allow it to optionally build without support for integrated graphics -- leaving the driver just capable of discrete graphics support. While Intel graphics have traditionally been about their integrated graphics on their processors, Intel is moving hard and fast on bringing up their discrete graphics support under Linux with DG2/Alchemist for Intel Arc graphics cards coming together as well as their Xe HPC accelerator.

Because of the integrated graphics being part of Intel's x86 CPUs, their driver really hasn't had to care about other CPU architectures since such combinations haven't been possible. But now with discrete graphics cards and their HPC accelerators, it will be possible to have Intel graphics on say an Arm, POWER, or RISC-V platform. The change being proposed by this RFC patch series would allow building the Linux kernel graphics driver with just that discrete graphics support included.

The integrated graphics support would be compiled-out of the driver if disabling the proposed DRM_I915_INTEGRATED_GPU_SUPPORT switch. In turn this would make the driver smaller by foregoing the massive amounts of code in this kernel driver for supporting i915 through Gen12 era integrated graphics. Additionally, any x86-isms in the integrated graphics code path over time would be ignored and thus easier for building the Intel graphics driver for other CPU architectures.

The ability to build a dGPU-only Intel kernel driver / stripping out iGPU support is just over one hundred lines of changed code but given the code comments would likely be further revised before mainlining. The early, RFC patch series for this option can be found on the mailing list.

The patch series does acknowledge the interest in having Intel discrete graphics cards potentially appearing on Arm systems, "[Quick] and dirty hack based on some old ideas. Thought maybe the approach might interest the Arm port guys." It's not known at this time if the "Arm port guys" is a team within Intel working on their graphics support for Arm or a reference to the Arm Linux community at large.

Radeon graphics on SiFive HiFive Unmatched RISC-V board with open-source drivers.

This is part of the benefit of open-source drivers is that the code can be adapted and built for other CPU architectures compared to only if the driver was made public as a binary. AMD Radeon GPUs have enjoyed popularity as a result with their open-source drivers on POWER, MIPS, and RISC-V and other platforms. Though as shown by running Radeon graphics on RISC-V there can be obstacles around the some GPUs not working right due to firmware and other coding issues, various endianess issues have come up in the past for Radeon graphics on libre POWER9 systems, etc. With time we'll likely see Intel Arc graphics cards running on Arm SBCs and RISC-V development boards or even Ponte Vecchio on beefy Arm servers thanks to open-source drivers and Linux.

Open-source Radeon drivers/support have also made it possible to enjoy fully open-source POWER9 systems with Raptor Computing Systems. Though like recent AMD graphics cards, there is firmware binaries necessary for modern Intel graphics hardware with the open-source driver. Intel in any case looks to be joining the party for enabling their discrete GPUs to work on other CPU architectures under Linux.

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