AMD Makes An Evolutionary Leap In Linux Support
Written by Michael Larabel in Display Drivers on 19 June 2008. Page 3 of 3. 96 Comments

If CrossFire isn't enough to satisfy you, well, AMD is working on other exciting Linux features too. We'll have to tell you about those on another day, but feel free to share your hopes and speculations in the Phoronix Forums. These Linux announcements today of same-day Radeon HD 4800 support, Tux being part of their licensed box design, forthcoming CrossFire support, and other major features coming are major wins for the Linux community. For those concerned that AMD is attempting to build back up its binary blockade, don't worry as their open-source strategy will continue with the RV770. AMD engineers are in the process of sanitizing the programming documentation for this brand new GPU for public release in the coming weeks. We suspect the xf86-video-ati and xf86-video-radeonhd developers will have the documentation even sooner under NDA. In addition, the open-sourcing of KGrids and TCore will be relevant and helpful for the 2D and 3D RV770 open-source support.

Previously we shared that open-source UVD support may be unlikely for the Radeon R600 series due to trouble sharing UVD documentation without exposing the DRM (Digital Rights Management) coupled within this block. Future product generations may be of a more modular design, but there's potentially good news surrounding the open-source UVD on the RV770. Its UVD2 design isn't modular, but AMD's John Bridgman believes there may be a way to open up UVD2 without comprising their DRM obligations. Open-source CrossFire/CrossFireX is also possible, but we'll save talking about that until the open-source developers have got more 3D work tackled.

In addition to the documentation and source-code to some of their pre-silicon test suites, parts of the RV770 microcode should be pushed into the open-source world within Mesa shortly. The RV770 microcode is split into five pieces: CP, PFP, RFC, UVD, and SMC. For reference, the R500 series and early only had the CP (Command Processor) microcode while the R600 had appended the PFP (Pre-Fetch Parser), RLC (Run List Controller), and UVD (Unified Video Decoder) sets. The Run-List Controller microcode may be opened up in the near future for the R600/RV770 while UVD and SMC will be initially left out. The SMC microcode is responsible for the new micro-controller on the RV770 that handles load monitoring, power management, fan speed monitoring, and related tasks.

In the January issue of Linux+DVD magazine I had shared my views with how AMD has went from being viewed as a company to hate within the Linux ecosystem to one that Linux users adore. Just two years ago the level of their Linux support wasn't very bright and many considered them to be in a laughable state with hordes of problems -- just go back to the ATI Redblog for some views from that point in ATI's history. AMD has kept to their word on improving their Linux support and this holds even more true with today's announcements.

While AMD won't simply eliminate their proprietary driver or provide it under a free software license due to reasons we've mentioned before, they are setting an example for other companies to follow with how to nurture Linux and provide first-rate support for all of their customers: those wanting a pure open-source solution that's easy to setup/use and then an option for those wanting a high-performance feature-rich driver.

Going forward, AMD representatives have expressed confidence that these same-day efforts should continue from now on. What have been their motivations behind their growing love within Linux? AMD representatives have shared that it just "made sense" and they have been valuing the feedback of their Linux customers (cheers!). AMD has now established itself as one of the premiere hardware vendors supporting the Linux operating system and one with an even brighter future ahead.

Once again, apologies that the Linux benchmarks of the new Radeon HD 4850 "RV770" aren't available today, but we will have a full write-up with these results (from the Phoronix Test Suite) completed within a few days. If you have any immediate questions about these new graphics cards and Linux, head on over the Phoronix Forums for the answers. You can tell us in the forums what other features you think (or hope) AMD will be bringing to Linux as well.

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Michael Larabel is the principal author of 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 automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter or contacted via

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