Simon Hall Awarded $10K Raspberry Pi Quake III Bounty With His Open Source Graphics Driver Work

Subject: General Tech | April 3, 2014 - 11:23 PM |
Tagged: videocore iv, Raspberry Pi, open source, graphics drivers, bcm2835

The Raspberry Pi recently passed its second anniversary, but until now the open source software friendly hardware has had to rely on closed source drivers for graphics processing on the SoC's VideoCore IV GPU.This has now changed thanks to work by Raspberry Pi hacker Simon Hall who has ported over the open source graphics stack from Broadcom's recently open sourced BCM21553 SoC for cell phones to the BCM2835 SoC that powers the Raspberry Pi. In doing so, Mr. Hall has claimed the Raspberry Pi Foundation's $10,000 bounty by using the newly ported open source graphics driver to run Quake III Arena at 1080p (minimum of 20 FPS according to contest rules).

Quake III Arena.png

The ported open source driver is not quite as optimized as the closed source version that the Pi currently uses (which allegedly runs Quake III twice as fast), but it is an encouraging start and the base from which the community can flesh out and optimize. The open source graphics driver is likely to be rolled into future OS releases, but for adventurous users that want the open source driver now, Simon Hall has provided step-by-step instructions for getting the driver and using it to run Quake III on the Raspberry Pi blog. Be warned, it is an involved and time consuming process at the moment.

I would like to say congratulations to Simon Hall for the bounty award and thank him for his work in porting the driver to the Raspberry Pi's SoC!

Hopefully this graphics stack breathes new life into the Raspberry Pi and the community takes up the development mantle to improve upon the codebase and pursue new opportunities that the open source nature enables such as a port of Android running on the Pi.

Read more about the Raspberry Pi at PC Perspective.

SBSA reaches an ARM into the server room

Subject: General Tech | February 5, 2014 - 01:35 PM |
Tagged: arm, OCP, open source, Intel, amd, seattle, opteron

The Inquirer had a chance to talk to Lakshmi Mandyam, the director of Server Systems and Ecosystems at ARM, about their plans for the server room.  ARM and their SBSA team have joined forces with Microsoft's Open Technology initiative which is key to AMD's adoption of ARM architecture in their new Opteron series.  These projects will offer several key benefits to customers, the open source nature will allow customization in the server room for those customers with specific needs and the know how to implement them and the nature of ARM processors can bring energy bills down.  This could also be great news for smaller businesses that require a proper server, they will be able to build that server out of a number of inexpensive ARM based processors instead of having to spend the price of the currently available x86/64 CPUs from Intel and AMD.

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"CHIP DESIGNER ARM announced at the Open Compute Project (OCP) Summit last week that servers based on its architecture have taken a step forward with the arrival of ARM v8-A based 64bit servers, known as the Server Base System Architecture (SBSA) specification."

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Source: The Inquirer

AMD adds open source to their hardware-based video encoder

Subject: General Tech | February 4, 2014 - 01:08 PM |
Tagged: amd, encoder, open source, VCE

You may have missed this news about AMD in amongst the Mantle announcements, support has been added for the VCE2 hardware encoding engine on newer AMD GCN based GPUs.  The open-source Radeon driver now supports GStreamer OpenMAX which can speed H.264 encoding in general but is truly optimized for encoding for mobile devices.  The current release is still a work in progress, the official release will come soon and you can track the progress by signing up to the mailing lists mentioned by Phoronix.  This is good news as previously the only open source hardware accelerated encoding was through Intel's GPU and VA-API.

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"AMD is doing another large and important open-source graphics driver code drop this morning. This morning AMD is publishing their VCE code that allows for hardware-based video encoding. "

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Source: Phoronix

Intel's HD4600 versus AMD's 4600 on Linux ... with special guests

Subject: General Tech | November 20, 2013 - 05:00 PM |
Tagged: gaming, linux, mesa, open source

Phoronix is continuing to test the performance of open source Linux drivers on Source Engine games with this installation focusing on the performance of the Haswell i7-4770K.  They compare it to a number of RV770 based AMD GPUs as well as the newer HD 6450.  As you can see in the result the performance of the HD 6450 and HD 4550 are almost exactly the same and are the only two Radeons that do not leave the Intel's GPU in the dust.  If you have experience with the HD 4650 you have a very good idea as to how Intel's 4600 performs as the results are very similar.  Check out the full review here.

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"Earlier this week I delivered some 13-way AMD open-source Linux GPU benchmarks when tested against Valve's Source Engine powered Team Fortress 2 and Counter-Strike: Source games. Now up for testing from the Steam Linux client on Ubuntu is the Intel open-source Mesa graphics driver performance with Core i7 "Haswell" graphics."

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Source: Phoronix

Linux support for Broadwell is looking good

Subject: General Tech | November 4, 2013 - 01:28 PM |
Tagged: Intel, linux, open source, Broadwell

Over the weekend 62 patches to the Linux kernel were released, enabling Broadwell GPU support well ahead of the processors scheduled release date.  Not only is this great news for open source enthusiasts who appreciate it when large companies like Intel release detailed driver code but also means that Broadwell should function well with Linux on its release date.  Phoronix also reports that more code is scheduled to arrive this week to enable other features which are unique to Broadwell, keep your eyes peeled for any specifications we can infer from the code as it becomes available

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"While Intel's Broadwell processors won't be launching until 2014 as the successor to Haswell, this weekend the initial open-source Linux GPU kernel driver was published ahead of the Linux 3.13 kernel merge window. The changes are massive and it's looking like the Broadwell graphics improvements will be astonishing and provide significant improvements over Haswell and earlier generations of Intel graphics."

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Source: Phoronix

C'mon man! Do you really think your technically inclined customers aren't going to catch on?

Subject: General Tech | October 8, 2013 - 07:59 PM |
Tagged: amd, dirty pool, linux, open source

Rebranding existing hardware with fancy new model numbers is nothing new to either AMD or NVIDA.  Review sites catch on immediately and while we like to see optimizations applied to mature chips we much prefer brand new hardware.  When you release the Q-1200000 as the X-2200000 the best you will get from review sites is a recommendation to go with the model that has the lower price, not the higher model number. Most enthusiasts have caught on to the fact that they are the same product; we do not like it but we have come to accept it as common business practice.  Certain unintentional consequences from designs we can forgive as long as you admit the issue and work to rectify it, only the intentional limitations are being mentioned in this post.

This is where the problem comes in as it seems that this intentional misleading of customers has created a mindset where it is believed that it is OK to intentionally impose performance limitations on products.  Somehow companies have convinced themselves that a customer base who routinely tears apart hardware, uses scanners to see inside actual components and who write their own OSes from scratch (or at least update the kernel) will somehow not be able to discover these limitations.  Thus we have yesterday's revelation that NVIDIA has artificially limited the number of screens usable in Linux to three; not because of performance or stability issues but simply because it might provide Linux users with a better experience that Windows users.

Apparently AMD is not to be outdone when it comes to this kind of dirty pool, in their case it is audio that is limited as opposed to video.  If you are so uncouth as to use a DVI to HDMI adapter which did not come with your shiny new Radeon then you are not allowed to have audio signals transferred over that HDMI cable on either Windows or Linux.  There is a ... shall we say Apple-like hardware check, that Phoronix reported on which will disable the audio output unless a specific EEPROM on your adapter is detected.   NVIDIA doesn't sell monitors nor is AMD really in the dongle business but apparently they are willing to police the components you choose to use, though the causes of AMD's decision are not as clear as NVIDIA's for as far as we know Monster Cable does not have the magic EEPROM in their adapters.

If your customers are as talented as your engineers you might not want to listen to your salespeople who tell you that partnerships with other companies are more important than antagonizing your customers by trying to pull a fast one on them.  We will find out and it will come back to haunt you.  Unless the payoffs you get from your partnerships are more than you make selling to customers in which case you might as well just ignore us.

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"For some AMD Radeon graphics cards when using the Catalyst driver, the HDMI audio support isn't enabled unless using the simple DVI to HDMI adapter included with the graphics card itself... If you use another DVI-to-HDMI adapter, it won't work with Catalyst. AMD intentionally implemented checks within their closed-source driver to prevent other adapters from being used, even though they will work just fine."

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Source: Phoronix

Things that make you go hmmmm, NVIDIA edition

Subject: General Tech | October 7, 2013 - 01:46 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, linux, microsoft, open source

If you haven't heard the accusations flying over the possible scenarios that lead up to Origin PC dropping AMD cards from all their machines you can catch up at The Tech Report.  They keep any speculation to a minimum unlike other sites but the key point is the claims of overheating and stability issues, something that apparently only Origin has encountered.  If they had stuck with mentioning the frame pacing in Crossfire and 4K/mulitmonitor issue it would be understandable that they not sell AMD cards in systems designed for that usage but dropping them altogether is enough to start rumours and conspiracy theories across the interwebs.  Winning a place in the Steam Machine was great for NVIDIA but at no time did they imply that AMD was unworthy, they merely didn't win the contract.

Today some oil was tossed on the fire with the revelation that NVIDIA is specifically limiting the functionality of its hardware on Linux.  Just after we praised their release of documentation for Nouveau, their open sourced driver, we find out from a post at The Inquirer that NVIDIA limits the number of monitors used in Linux to three so as not to outdo their functionality in Windows.  For a brief moment it seemed that NVIDIA was willing to cooperate with the open source and Linux communities but apparently that moment is all we will have and once again NVIDIA proves that it is willing bow to pressure from Microsoft.

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"According to a forum poster at the Nvidia Developer Zone, the v310 version of the drivers for Basemosaic has reduced the number of monitors a user can connect simultaneously to three."

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Source: The Inquirer

Intel Launches Open Source SFF MinnowBoard Platform For Embedded Systems

Subject: General Tech, Systems | August 3, 2013 - 04:13 AM |
Tagged: SFF, open source hardware, open source, minnowboard, Intel, embedded system, atom

The Intel Open Source Technology Group along with CircuitCo recently launched a new small form factor bare-bones system based on open source hardware and running open source software. The Minnowboard includes a 4.2” x 4.2” motherboard, passively-cooled processor, rich IO, UEFI BIOS, and the Angstrom Linux operating system.

Intel MinnowBoard SFF x86 PC With Angstrom Linux.jpg

The Minnowboard is powered by a single core Intel Atom E640 processor clocked at 1GHz. It is a 32-bit CPU with HyperThreading and VT-x virtualization support. Other hardware includes an integrated Intel GMA 600 GPU, 1GB of DDR2 memory, and 4MB of flash memory used for motherboard firmware. Storage can be added by plugging a SSD or HDD into the single SATA II 3Gbps port.

The Minnowboard has following IO options:

  • 1 x micro SD
  • 1 x SATA II 3Gbps
  • 2 x USB 2.0 ports
  • 1 x micro USB
  • 1 x mini USB (serial connection)
  • 1 x RJ45 jack (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 2 x 3.5mm audio jacks (line in and line out)
  • 1 x HDMI

The Minnowboard also has a GPIO header with 8 buffered GPIO pins, 2 GPIO LEDs, and 4 GPIO switches. As such, the system can be expanded by adding extra open source modules called “Lures.” The board is aimed at developers and embedded system manufacturers. The Minnowboard can be used as the bare system or can be integrated into a case or larger device.

Intel MinnowBoard SFF x86 PC With Angstrom Linux_top.jpg

The Minnowboard costs $199 and is available for purchase now from Digi-Key, Farnell (UK), Mouser, and Newark.

Obviously, the Minnowboard is nowhere near as cheap as the $35 Raspberry Pi, but it is running x86 hardware which may make it worth it to some users.

If you are interested, you can learn more about the hardware and get involved with the Minnowboard project over at Minnowboard.org.

AMD Open 3.0 Server Hardware Now Available To Reduce TCO In A Data Center Near Your

Subject: Motherboards | May 15, 2013 - 03:56 AM |
Tagged: server, open source hardware, open source, open compute project, open 3.0, amd

Throughout last year, AMD worked with the Open Compute Foundation to develop open source hardware for servers. The goal of the project was to bring lower-cost, efficient motherboards (compatible with AMD processors) to the server market. Even better, the AMD-compatible hardware is open source which gives companies and OEM/system integrators free reign to modify and build the hardware themselves. The latest iteration of the project is called Open 3.0 and motherboards based on the design(s) are available now from a number of AMD partners.

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An AMD Open 3.0 motherboard.

According to a recent AMD press release, Open 3.0 motherboards will be available from AVnet.inc, Hyve, Penguin Computing, and Zt Systems beginning this week. The new motherboards strip out unnecessary and "over-provisioned" hardware to cut down on upfront hardware costs and electrical usage. Open 3.0 uses a base open source motherboard design that can then be further customized to work with a variety of workloads and in various rack/server configurations. Servers based on OPen 3.0 will range from 1U to 3U in size and can slot into standard 19" racks or Open Rack environments. The boards with their dual Opteron 6300-series processors will reportedly be suitable for High Performance Computing (HPC), Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), Cloud applications, and storage servers. AMD claims that its Open 3.0 motherboards can reduce the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of servers by up to 57% in data centers. AMD claims that a server based on Open 3.0 has a TCO of $4,589 while one based on a traditional OEM motherboard costs up to 57% more at $10,669. The AMD-provided example sound nice. Despite the example likely being the best-case-scenario, the idea behind the Open Compute Project and the AMD-specific Open 3.0 hardware does make sense. Customers should see more competition with motherboards that are cheaper to produce and run thanks to the open source nature. Further details on the status of Open 3.0 and the available hardware is being discussed at an invitation-only industry round-table this week between partners, interested enterprise customers, and a number of companies (including AMD, Broadcom, and Quanta).

For the uninitiated, the Open 3.0 hardware features a motherboard that measures 16" x 16.7" and is intended for 1U, 1.5U, 2U, and 3U servers. Each Open 3.0 board includes two AMD Opteron 6300 series processors, 24 DDR3 DIMM slots (12 per CPU, 4 channels with 3 DIMMs each), six SATA ports, 1 managed dual-channel Gigabit Ethernet NIC, up to four PCI-E slots, and a single Mezzanine connector for custom modules (eg. the Mellanox IO or Broadcom Management card). Board IO will include a single serial port and two USB ports.

I'm glad to see AMD's side of the Open Compute Project come to fruition with the company's Open 3.0 hardware. Anything to reduce power usage and hardware cost is welcome in the data center world, and it will be interesting to see what kind of impact the open source hardware will have, especially when it comes to custom designs from system integrators. Intel is also working towards open source server hardware along with Facebook and the Open Compute Project. It is refreshing to see open source gaining traction in this market segment, to say the least.

You can read more about the hardware availability announcement as well as an overview of the Open 3.0 specification (PDF) on the AMD website

Source: AMD

An Open Source and encrypted Skype alternative called Jitsi

Subject: General Tech | March 6, 2013 - 01:03 PM |
Tagged: zrtp, sip, xmpp, voip, skype, open source, Jitsi, encryption

Jitsi seems to be a lot of things, from an IM Client agglomerator such as Pidgin or Digsby, a combined XMPP and SIP VoIP client to a videoconferencing hub with all traffic encrypted using ZRTP.  This Open Source software also claims integration with Microsoft Outlook and Apple Address Book, putting it in competition with Skype on more than one front.  Unfortunately it will not connect to all online SIP or XMPP provider but Jitsi does offer an open XMPP bridge to host video calls and as it is open source there is no reason you could not construct your own.  With the release of version 2.0 a host of new features and improvements have been added which you can read about by following the links at Slashdot.  They have also partnered with the FMJ Project to allow recording of sessions as well as other possible customization thanks to the developers Wiki.

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"Among the most prominent new features people will find quality multi-party video conferences for XMPP, audio device hot-plugging, support for Outlook presence and calls, an overhauled user interface and support for the Opus and VP8 audio/video codec. Jitsi has lately shaped into one of the more viable open Skype Alternatives with features such as end-to-end ZRTP encryption for audio and video calls. The 2.0 version has been in the works for almost a year now, so this is an important step for the project."

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Source: Slashdot