AMD Moves Forward With Unified Linux Driver Strategy, New Kernel Driver

Written by Michael Larabel in Display Drivers on 8 October 2014. Page 1 of 3. 57 Comments

Alex Deucher of AMD has taken the floor at XDC2014, which got underway today in France to provide an update on the company's new unified open-source driver strategy. Compared to what I originally reported earlier in the year when breaking the news, there's some notable changes but overall this is an exciting endeavor for AMD Linux customers with the open and closed source AMD GPU drivers going to share the same (open-source) Linux kernel driver.

Back in March I exclusively wrote about AMD exploring a very interesting and more open Linux driver strategy. That information came during a meeting with AMD representatives during the 2014 Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco. The overall state of affairs where things are moving forward today is largely the same as outlined in that article, but there are some differences.

Alex Deucher of AMD's open-source team.

The unified driver strategy back then was basically converging the open-source Radeon Linux graphics driver and closed-source AMD Catalyst driver to run off the same kernel driver... A slightly modified version of the existing Radeon DRM (Direct Rendering Manager) driver. Both drivers would ride off the same kernel driver while the Linux Catalyst driver would essentially become a closed-source, user-space blob. For open-source fans they could still use their open-source Gallium3D drivers with this open kernel driver while those needing the best OpenGL support and performance would use the Catalyst OpenGL blob in user-space.

For those not up to speed on the current state of AMD's open-source vs. closed-source Linux affairs, check out my recent RadeonSI Gallium3D vs. Catalyst 4K Ultra HD comparison.

The good news today is that AMD's still moving forward with this overall process, but it's going to be a transition that will really only affect future generations of hardware. Perhaps the biggest change with AMD's unified driver strategy now compared to the information I had back in March is that it's actually going to result in a new kernel driver. AMD's two Linux drivers aren't going to be running off just a slightly modified version of the existing Radeon DRM driver as anticipated before but it's spawning a new kernel driver. This new open-source AMD Radeon kernel driver is partially based on the existing Radeon DRM driver, but with various changes that have yet to be outlined.

Our recent 35-way closed-source Linux GPU comparison and 60+ open-source GPU comparison are likely of interest if you're new to Linux graphics.

All new open-source GPU support will be on this new driver with no new GPU support being planned for AMD's existing Radeon Linux driver -- the open-source driver as we know it today. This new kernel driver is based on the current Radeon DRM code and Alex explained they used Sea Islands graphics processors for prototyping and testing the new kernel driver, but when merged and in production this driver will be used for post Radeon R9 290 graphics cards. "There are no current plans to enable support for any ASICs which are already supported in Radeon."

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