NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460 On Linux
Written by Michael Larabel in Graphics Cards on 23 August 2010. Page 4 of 11. 122 Comments

Besides the lack of overclocking capabilities for now, the only other major Linux support gripe we have with the GeForce GTX 460 on our favorite operating system is the open-source support or there the lack of. NVIDIA's corporate policy is still not to provide any serious open-source support for their consumer/workstation graphics cards whether it is documentation on their graphics processor or providing a fully open-source driver stack. In fact, with the GeForce GTX 470/480 launch they dropped their open-source X.Org/2D driver without any Fermi support or features like DisplayPort for their other hardware. This open-source driver (xf86-video-nv) was rather basic and almost useless anyways as it just provided basic mode-setting and 2D support (thus no OpenGL, PureVideo, power management, KMS, or the various other features of what's expected of a modern graphics driver) for previous generation ASICs and the code while it was open-source it was obfuscated. NVIDIA now just recommends new users take advantage of the X.Org VESA driver until they are able to navigate to NVIDIA's web-site to download their proprietary driver or acquire it otherwise through their distribution's package management system.

Of course, just because NVIDIA does not provide open-source support does not mean that it does not exist. Thanks to interested individuals and free software enthusiasts there exists the Nouveau project that aims to provide a completely open-source driver stack -- with Gallium3D, kernel mode-setting, etc -- for all of NVIDIA's graphics products. Without NVIDIA's cooperation, however, this open-source driver development is done by clean-room reverse-engineering of NVIDIA's proprietary driver. For NVIDIA's older product generations the Nouveau driver stack supports most features like 2D EXA / X Render acceleration, kernel mode-setting, X-Video acceleration, RandR 1.2./1.3 support (something that still has long been neglected within the proprietary driver), and suspend-and-resume support. For all but the oldest NVIDIA graphics cards (in which case there is a classic Mesa DRI driver for the vintage, fixed-function, pre-shader-happy graphics cards) there is the Nouveau driver built on the Gallium3D architecture to provide OpenGL acceleration via the Mesa state tracker and there is work towards better GPU video decoding too with XvMC / VDPAU. There are also other Gallium3D state trackers that the Nouveau driver will be able to take advantage of like for OpenGL ES 1.1/2.0 and OpenVG hardware-acceleration, among others.

While the Nouveau developers have done an amazing job with their limited resources, there still are various features missing from their reverse-engineered open-source software like proper power management support, SLI rendering, HDMI audio, OpenCL, and support for various other NVIDIA technologies found within their proprietary driver. The Nouveau Gallium3D driver is also not nearly as fast as the proprietary driver. With the few-month-old Fermi architecture, the Nouveau support is still very premature. About as far as the Nouveau project has officially got to date in supporting the GeForce GTX 400 series is kernel mode-setting support. The Fermi KMS support is set to appear in the Linux 2.6.36 kernel, which will be officially released later this year and then work its way into the desktop Linux distributions mostly by Q2'2011.

The kernel mode-setting support for NVIDIA's newest hardware as found in the Linux 2.6.36 kernel is also just mode-setting support with no 2D/EXA acceleration or other features besides nicely setting up the display better than the VESA driver can do. It will likely be a number of months still until the Nouveau Gallium3D driver is in a usable state for this hardware. At the same time though, the ATI Radeon HD 5000 "Evergreen" graphics cards that launched late last year have kernel mode-setting support, but only days ago did they gain an open-source 3D Evergreen driver. AMD's official open-source driver work still takes months to complete due to limited development resources and then all code/documentation needing to clear legal review. Stay tuned to Phoronix for the latest on the open-source state of drivers for the newest NVIDIA and ATI GPUs.


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