New NVIDIA Open-Source Linux Kernel Graphics Driver Appears
Written by Michael Larabel in NVIDIA on 8 April 2022 at 09:35 AM EDT. 52 Comments
NVIDIA --
Appearing with NVIDIA's latest Linux4Tegra code drop is a new open-source kernel graphics driver not previously published. This driver isn't based on the existing Nouveau driver but rather appears to be derived from their internal driver code-base with some copyright references going back to 90's.

Yesterday NVIDIA published a new Jetson L4T release providing the latest sample root file-system based on Ubuntu 20.04 LTS and using the Linux 5.10 kernel. Along with that is their public sources used for generating the build.


New to this code drop is a "nvidia_kernel_display_driver_source" and "NVIDIA-kernel-module-source-TempVersion" that wasn't found in their prior L4T sources for the board support package. This is also a different codebase from their existing "nvgpu" driver sources for prior Tegra driver integration work.


This NVIDIA kernel graphics/display driver is licensed under the MIT license. Notable is it is not based on the Nouveau existing open-source DRM/KMS driver sources with the only "Nouveau" hit in the code being around in reference to an error message.


When looking at the code copyrights, the NVIDIA code on some of the files have copyrights noted going back as far as 1993. There are some files with copyrights going back to the late 90's and early 20's as more common. It does appear that this open-source kernel driver is derived in part at least from their long-standing proprietary kernel driver.

This open-source NVIDIA kernel driver in its current form amounts to around 270k lines of code and another 93.1k lines of comments and 60.5k blank lines spanning some 1,125 source files.


Before getting too excited, at least for now this kernel driver appears to be limited to their Tegra graphics hardware support. Trying to load this module for desktop NVIDIA graphics currently results in errors. But when looking at the driver sources, there are references to many desktop GPUs and others outside of the Tegra context...

For now no formal announcement has been made or communication from NVIDIA around their plans for this new open-source kernel driver. Going back to 2019 were signs of NVIDIA working on a new open-source GPU kernel driver so this might finally be it coming to pass.

It will be great though if they are indeed working towards having an open-source NVIDIA kernel driver that will work across their range of supported hardware, similar to even the Radeon Software for Linux packaged driver with its proprietary "PRO" OpenGL/Vulkan driver options still using the open-source AMDGPU DRM/KMS driver. This would likely be the case on the NVIDIA side too that even if having a fully open-source Linux kernel driver they would likely stick to proprietary user-space OpenGL/Vulkan/CUDA components but with the option of possibly working with the Nouveau Mesa driver too. The new NVIDIA Jetson Linux release can be downloaded from developer.nvidia.com. We'll see what happens... Thanks to "Longhorn" for mentioning the new L4T update/driver.
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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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