Will Intel's Sandy Bridge & P67 Play Well With Linux?
Written by Michael Larabel in Processors on 28 December 2010. Page 2 of 2. Add A Comment

With Intel's Sandy Bridge, like their current Arrandale and Clarkdale offerings, there is also an integrated graphics core. This is where your mileage may vary right now under Linux. Going back to February of this year, Intel's X.Org developers have been publicly working on open-source Sandy Bridge GPU support with their DRM/KMS and xf86-video-intel DDX drivers and classic Mesa 3D component. There are traces of Sandy Bridge KMS support going back to the Linux 2.6.34 kernel and within the X.Org driver within the xf86-video-intel 2.11 and later user-space drivers. However, going back that far is all very primitive support. It has not been until this quarter when the support for the graphics on these next-generation Intel CPUs under Linux has really been worked into shape.

In October, it was stated by one of Intel's open-source developers that the Sandy Bridge 3D support would be done in Q4'2010. This has ended up meaning the Linux 2.6.37 kernel for the latest DRM (Direct Rendering Manager) bits and Mesa 7.10 for the user-space 3D support on the classic architecture (Intel still isn't jumping on the Gallium3D bandwagon). Mesa 7.10 is coming in January and is where the Sandy Bridge support should become official, but the latest Git code right now should be good. Around the same time will also be the xf86-video-intel 2.14.0 DDX. This is where the X.Org driver should have Sandy Bridge support prepared and the latest Git code is ready.

While the first bits of Sandy Bridge support have been upstream in the different components for months, Ubuntu 10.10 is not working well for Intel's Sandy Bridge graphics due to its last quarter's code. If you are going to be going with Sandy Bridge hardware and intend to use the Intel graphics, you will need to be pulling the latest upstream components until the releases of Ubuntu 11.04, Fedora 15, and other Linux distributions updating in H1'2011. Again, for proper support you are looking for the Linux 2.6.37 kernel, Mesa 7.10, and xf86-video-intel 2.14 as the key components. Anything short of that and you will probably be unsatisfied with the Intel graphics experience.

Though even running all of the latest upstream code, you still may not be completely satisfied. There may be some initial bugs to work out and there is some features lacking, like H.264 VA-API video encoding not yet being there for Sandy Bridge. We haven't yet seen this video acceleration playback code for Sandy Bridge arrive, which would need to land within the next few weeks if targeting the Linux 2.6.38 kernel, otherwise it will be pushed out until Linux 2.6.39 or even later. Intel's Linux 3D driver is also in the form of a classic DRI driver rather than a Gallium3D driver and generally is slower than the Intel Windows driver for OpenGL performance. Mesa also does not yet fully support OpenGL 3.0 or later.

So if you find yourself with a new Intel P67 motherboard and the latest Core i3/i5/7 processor in January, you should be able to get the system up and running on other late Q3'2010 or Q4'2010 Linux distributions such as Ubuntu 10.10. However, if you expect to use the Intel graphics, you will need to build the latest DDX / Linux kernel / libdrm / Mesa from source (or be using a third-party package repository) in order to have proper Linux graphics support. The Intel Sandy Bridge support though should be all ironed out with a pleasant "out of the box" experience by the time of Ubuntu 11.04, Fedora 15, and other Q2'2011 Linux distributions are released. At least though Intel has been proactively working on the open-source Linux support for this newest micro-architecture going back for nearly a year.

More information next month.

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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 or contacted via MichaelLarabel.com.

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