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23 February 2011, 09:14

Rudimentary open source driver for Intel's GMA500/Poulsbo

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On the Linux Kernel Mailing List (LKML), long-standing Intel employee and kernel developer Alan Cox has presented a rudimentary KMS graphics driver for the GMA500 graphics core. The GMA500 is incorporated in the US15W chip set, also known as Poulsbo, that was developed by Intel for the embedded world. However, the US15W was also used in various older notebooks and has a bad reputation in Linux circles due to its rather tricky driver situation.

The reason for the driver complications is the Poulsbo's and its successors' use of a PowerVR graphics core, which Intel bought as an IP core from Imagination Technologies. As a consequence it therefore has not much in common with the graphics cores used in the Intel notebook and desktop chip sets that are well-supported by open source drivers. Linux drivers for PowerVR have been available for a while, but they are partially proprietary. Furthermore, Intel didn't offer the drivers as free downloads and only made them available with individual distributions or after completing a registration form. As the drivers often failed to work with modern kernels and X Servers, they were abandoned by some of the distribution developers – which is why some US15W devices shipped with Dell's Ubuntu don't work particularly well with current Ubuntu releases.

The newly introduced driver could be a first step towards resolving this dilemma, but it still has a long way to go. Intel employee Cox writes that he simply threw together various bits of PowerVR driver code to create the driver and readily lists some areas that will require tidying up. The driver is still unaccelerated but is already said to be "pretty snappy" when combined with a frame buffer driver for X. The developer has suggested integrating the driver in the kernel's staging area for maturing code.

At the end of January, the Free Software Foundation made developing free PowerVR drivers a high priority project, alongside other high priority projects to develop free replacements for Skype, Google Earth, Adobe's Flash and Matlab.


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