AMD Releases Open Source Driver For New ATI Graphics Processors

September 7, 2007

by Emerging Technologies Team

The decision by AMD to provide Open Source 2D and 3D drivers for R5xx/R6xx and future GPUs graphics hardware is a great development for the open source community, for AMD and for customers. Here are some of the details of this exciting news.

Highlights:

  • AMD will provide and support open source 2D and 3D drivers for their R5xx/R6xx and future GPUs.
  • AMD will provide technical documentation for the R5xx/R6xx and future GPUs and work with the open source community to maintain and enhance these drivers.
  • This should allow Red Hat to deliver a full-featured, robust, native graphics driver for R5xx/R6xx and future GPUs graphics that function “out of the box.”
  • The new drivers will greatly enhance the user experience with R5xx/R6xx and future GPUs graphics.
  • AMD will continue to provide binary drivers for R5xx/R6xx and future GPUs graphics. The binary drivers will provide greater 3D performance and additional features.

Graphics drivers have been a major issue for Linux for years. While we have made excellent progress in encouraging open source drivers in other areas, there has been limited support for open source drivers in the graphics space. This situation is dramatically improved with the new AMD announcement.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this announcement is the recognition that Linux clients represent a significant market opportunity. This decision would not have been made without a business case to support it. It’s a bold decision for AMD. And they deserve full credit.

Graphics drivers are important because they are a critical part of the user experience. The goal of Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux is for all hardware to “just work” out of the box. Since binary drivers can’t be included in these distributions, support for graphics hardware requires open source graphics drivers. Further, it is a significant effort for vendors who supply binary drivers to keep them synchronized with the Linux kernel. A new driver must be provided for each kernel update and downloaded and installed by the user separately from other software. But with open source drivers, this happens automatically.

Graphics hardware that does not have a chip-specific open source driver is supported by the VESA graphics driver. This driver is quite primitive – it doesn’t provide hardware acceleration, advanced features or 3D support. Since an optimal user experience takes advantage of advanced graphics hardware, a more advanced graphics driver is needed. AMD has been providing binary drivers with these capabilities – however, since these binary drivers are not part of the Red Hat distribution, customers have not been able to take advantage of their features by default.

Thus, the new open source 2D and 3D driver for R5xx/R6xx and future GPUs graphics hardware is an important step forward - one that significantly enhances the user experience. This occurs at a vital time for Linux. We are well into a transition from 2D to 3D graphics for Linux clients. The technical foundation is in place. OpenGL is now in the Linux mainstream, and new environments like Compiz are taking full advantage of 3D hardware and rendering techniques to deliver 2D as well as 3D graphics. To move to the next level, we need open source drivers for modern high performance graphics hardware.

After working closely with Red Hat and other members of the open source community, AMD has generously open sourced the vital infrastructure – covering basic hardware enablement, X-windows and OpenGL. With this, we have the ability to support the new Linux desktop interfaces as well as a broad range of 3D applications. Meanwhile, for users who need the absolute greatest 3D performance or who need advanced features beyond what is supported in normal OpenGL, AMD will continue to supply a binary driver.

This is a win for both AMD and the open source community. We would like to thank AMD for deciding to provide open source drivers, and to recognize the effort that they had to go through to reach this point. It’s now up to the Linux community to support, enhance and innovate with them.

We now have the chance to show the power and creativity of the community – to develop and deliver the most innovative and productive client software anywhere.

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