Open Source Linux Drivers for PowerVR GPUs Might Be in the Works

When I write about a new processor with a PowerVR GPU, I can be sure there will be one or two comments saying something like “It has a PowerVR GPU, it’s a non-starter”, mostly because of the status of graphics drivers in Linux. Luc Verhaegen (libv) also made a presentation at FOSDEM 2013 listing various open source projects for GPUs found in ARM processors and PowerVR was the only one without any community project. Bear in mind that apart from Nvidia, and to some extend Broadcom for the VideoCore IV GPU found in  BCM2835 / BCM2836 processors used in Raspberry Pi boards, no other companies have released user space drivers for their GPUs, and all work is done by volunteers for other open source GPU drivers, and I’m not sure any of them work 100% yet.

Imagination has already provided working GPU drivers for their MIPS Creator-CI20 board, these are closed source binaries, but at least they should be usable in Linux. Now Alexandru Voica, Senior Marketing Specialist at Imagination Technologies, and who seems to handle press releases and many of the posts in the company’s blog, has hinted that Imagination is currently working on open source drivers for their GPU in reddit.

Q: Is there plans to make/help/fund open PowerVR driver for Linux?

A: Yes, there is a plan and it is one of the things I’ve been working on for the past few months. Hopefully I’ll have something more to share soon(-ish?).

Sadly, there aren’t any details right now, so we’ll have to be patient and see what comes out of this.

Via Phoronix and Harley.

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9 Replies to “Open Source Linux Drivers for PowerVR GPUs Might Be in the Works”

  1. Here are the reddit posts by Alex Voica (ImgTec, PR),

    Other recent comments of interest:

    21h ago: “There are several ongoing discussions at the moment and I hope we’ll reach a conclusion soon. I can’t disclose any internal developments, but there are multiple factors to consider beyond purely technical reasons.”

    21h ago: “Quick reminder: Vulkan is mainly designed for OpenGL ES 3.x-class hardware and above.” Could it be an open Vulkan driver?

    17d ago: “Now that Imagination is in charge [of MIPS], we can grow MIPS beyond its traditional strongholds and expand into new markets, like mobile or IoT.” They are in need of positive developer attention, so if they can deliver something open, it will help them in their plans.

  2. On x86 both Intel and AMD have released lots of documentation and code for their GPUs. I believe both companies are working towards eliminating their proprietary drivers.

    One thing that slows this process is when the GPU vendors have bought code from third parties. Sometimes this code is essential for the driver to function. Now they are stuck – third party is never going to open source, it is their business to sell source code. To get around this, deals like this have to stop. The GPU vendors could then group together to pay these companies to open up or they could acquire/hire the employees.

  3. @Jon Smirl
    I think there’s also the path AMD chose which is to just write a new driver from scratch while taking advantage of all the open source software out there to make it easier.

    This AMD approach has gone pretty well so far and while the open source AMD driver is still slower it’s performing decently, supports Wayland and is stable, having less bug then the propriatary one.

    I think AMD will continue to invest and develop their open source driver and at a certain point just drop the close source one.

    Anyway congratulations to Alex and the PowerVR team for at least considering this … it’s much more than what has happened so far.

    Also there is on ARM fully working open source driver, Freedreno and well … you can say Nouveau is another because it runs on the latest Tegra ARM SOCs

  4. With x86 systems, I only buy systems with Intel GPU as those GPU’s are fully supported by open source; no reverse engineering, but specs (and even the open source drivers themselves?) provided by the GPU manufacter Intel.

    Is there such a GPU chipset with ARM? Looking at the FOSDEM article, it felt like it was reverse engineering?

  5. @Sander
    Freedreno and Nouveau are both the results of reverse engineering but both Nvidia and Qualcomm sometimes help a littly.
    The only truly manufacturer supported open source GPU is the one found in the Raspberry Pi 1&2 but that driver is not yey fully functional.

  6. I’ll believe when I see this, I don’t like to perpetuate it but PowerVR have never had good Linux support for any SoC. This will be a big development and if it ever materialise ( I Doubt) then devs like me will flock to use stuff with PwoerVR, thus driving the ecosystem.

  7. I need open source drivers if I am going to develop stuff for long term support. If not, I’ll go with the cheapest vendor or just refuse to develop for it. Companies should realize that releasing the drivers they don’t have to expend a lot of money supporting it later and they can be competitive. I can not spend 3 months reversing closed source stuff to fix a stupid bug (and I did it before). It just pisses me off.

    Developers for ARM are cheap and everywhere now, cheaper than x86 assembly programmers.
    Developers for mips are old (and usually more expensive and scarce).
    Of course I prefer senior developers but they’re difficult to find, expensive (if you need more than a couple) and simply, the amount of choice when hiring is less so a normal project cannot depend on senior developers, they’re ok to make projects go fast/smooth but they can not depend on them. If they want mips, they should release material in order to have a monkey programmer coding and debugging it fast.

    If Imagination technologies wants projects to be done with their stuff they need to release code and documentation. Freescale tried to catch Texas who was leading before and I think so far they’re doing it great (I also miss the open graphic stuff).

  8. Imagination is trying to hiring a Linux Graphics Driver SW Engineer to develop open source drivers: “As part of the Linux team you’ll be focusing on developing Linux and Open Source specific portions of our driver – the display controllers, kernel interfaces and hardware-specific portions of X, Mesa and Wayland.”

    They are however just looking for a graduate to do that, not an experienced developer…

  9. I’m still waiting for video drivers on my Atom N270 GMA3600… It’s all lies. Just a trick to make you buy something closed source so they can forget about you when they develop a new IP. Prove me wrong and give me a Linux driver for a laptop that came with Ubuntu preinstalled without it. PowerVR should rename to AppleVR and stay only there no more markets for them.

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