RISC-V With Linux 5.16 Enabling Open-Source NVIDIA Driver As Part Of Default Kernel

Written by Michael Larabel in RISC-V on 13 November 2021 at 06:17 AM EST. 7 Comments
The RISC-V architecture updates were sent out on Friday for targeting the nearly-over Linux 5.16 merge window.

The RISC-V updates for Linux 5.16 include support for RISC-V 32-bit "rv32" randconfig kernel builds for random configurations to stress the build system / different code paths, supporting the time namespace in the VDSO, improving the XIP port, DeviceTree clean-ups, and more.

The default configuration "deconfig" for the RISC-V Linux kernel build has also been updated with the open-source NVIDIA "Nouveau" driver now included as part of the default modules being built. From the Nouveau driver side, there are no changes this cycle benefiting RISC-V but basically the defconfig acknowledgement that the driver should work there when built.

NVIDIA hasn't made any public RISC-V Linux driver available but it turns out the Nouveau driver should now work fine for this open-source processor ISA. With the likes of SiFive's HiFive Unmatched great developer board they recommend the likes of older AMD Radeon graphics cards using its stellar open-source stack with the older generations particularly working out well on RISC-V but it turns out Nouveau for NVIDIA cards should play fine too, assuming the kernel module is being built/included.

Though RISC-V users are still likely best off using Radeon graphics over NVIDIA with Nouveau... Nouveau for the GTX 900 series and newer remains in rough shape, including the lack of re-clocking support that leads to being bound to the rather low boot frequencies of the graphics processor / video memory. That re-clocking limitation has made Nouveau a disappointment for recent generations of NVIDIA GPUs wanting to run on an open-source driver. The best Nouveau driver support right now remains with the old GeForce GTX 600 / 700 "Kepler" graphics cards or GTX 750 "Maxwell1" graphics cards... So if you happen to have those aging graphics cards around, it should work fine with RISC-V otherwise you are likely better off using a recommended Radeon graphics card for your RISC-V encounters.

For those interested in RISC-V for being open-source, the GTX 600 / 700 series with Nouveau is also a sweet spot there for being the last generation before NVIDIA mandated signed firmware blobs. With GTX 600 / 700 series, no firmware binaries are necessary but with newer GPUs is where those blobs are required and what has also obstructed the whole power management / re-clocking situation.

See this pull request for the complete listing of RISC-V changes for Linux 5.16.
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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.

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