This laptop is open source from the hardware up

Subject: General Tech | October 29, 2015 - 02:16 PM |
Tagged: open source, arm, Cortex A9, debian, Novena

A pair of engineers in Singapore, Andrew "Bunny" Huang and Sean Cross, have developed a working laptop which was designed to be completely open sourced, with no proprietary drivers or software of any kind.  The Novena laptop is powered by a Cortex A9 and an FPGA and runs Debian, even communications are handled by a software-defined radio board.  This is more of a proof of concept than a marketable machine but the links at The Register will take you to the details on how you could build one yourself.  Even the bezel is open source and modifiable, it is a laptop with an upgradable screen!


"This week, the pair developing the Novena open laptop have provided an update on their work. The idea is to develop a usable system that is completely open to customization and scrutiny – from the electronics to the firmware to the operating system to the applications."

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Source: The Register

Linux turns 24 in time for the party in Dublin

Subject: General Tech | October 5, 2015 - 01:14 PM |
Tagged: LinuxCon Europe, linux, open source

LinuxCon Europe has just kicked off and there are some interesting projects being discussed at the event.  ARM, Cisco, NexB, Qualcomm, SanDisk and Wind River have formed the Openchain workgroup to bring some standardization to Linux software development, such as exists in Debian, to ensure that multiple companies are not attempting design their own wheels simultaneously.  The Real-Time Linux Collaborative Project is developing software for application in robotics, telecom, and aviation and includes members such as Google, Texas Instruments, Intel, ARM and Altera.  They will be working towards developing Linux applications for those industries where shaving a few milliseconds off of transaction times can be worth millions of dollars.  The last major project announced at the convention will be FOSSology 3.0 which will enable you quickly and easily run licence and copyright scans, something near and dear to the heart of the Free and Open Source Software community.  Check out more at The Inquirer.


"Tim Zemlin, chief executive of the Foundation, said in his opening remarks that this year's opening day falls on the 24th anniversary of Linux itself and the 30th of the Free Software Foundation, giving credit to delegates for their part in the success of both."

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Source: The Inquirer

Overclock any NVIDIA GPU on Desktop and Mobile with a New Utility

Subject: Graphics Cards | August 10, 2015 - 06:14 PM |
Tagged: overclocking, overclock, open source, nvidia, MSI Afterburner, API

An author called "2PKAQWTUQM2Q7DJG" (likely not a real name) has published a fascinating little article today on his/her Wordpress blog entitled, "Overclocking Tools for NVIDIA GPUs Suck. I Made My Own". What it contains is a full account of the process of creating an overclocking tool beyond the constraints of common utilities such as MSI Afterburner.

By probing MSI's OC utility using Ollydbg (an x86 "assembler level analysing debugger") the author was able to track down how Afterburner was working.


“nvapi.dll” definitely gets loaded here using LoadLibrary/GetModuleHandle. We’re on the right track. Now where exactly is that lib used? ... That’s simple, with the program running and the realtime graph disabled (it polls NvAPI constantly adding noise to the mass of API calls). we place a memory breakpoint on the .Text memory segment of the NVapi.dll inside MSI Afterburner’s process... Then we set the sliders in the MSI tool to get some negligible GPU underclock and hit the “apply” button. It breaks inside NvAPI… magic!

After further explaining the process and his/her source code for an overclocking utility, the user goes on to show the finished product in the form of a command line utility.


There is a link to the finished version of this utility at the end of the article, as well as the entire process with all source code. It makes for an interesting read (even for the painfully inept at programming, such as myself), and the provided link to download this mysterious overclocking utility (disguised as a JPG image file, no less) makes it both tempting and a little dubious. Does this really allow overclocking any NVIDIA GPU, including mobile? What could be the harm in trying?? In all seriousness however since some of what was seemingly uncovered in the article is no doubt proprietary, how long will this information be available?

It would probably be wise to follow the link to the Wordpress page ASAP!

Source: Wordpress

NVIDIA gives Nouveau the boot again

Subject: General Tech | April 16, 2015 - 01:47 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, maxwell, Nouveau, open source

The initial benchmarks that Phoronix and other Linux tech sites ran on the new Maxwell cards from NVIDIA were using the proprietary binary drivers, the same as with all AMD cards.  Unlike AMD who have always released signed binary-only firmware blobs which could not be reverse engineered and modified for use, previous generations of NVIDIA cards did not require signed firmware images, only a lot of dev work.  Maxwell is locked down and the current open sourced Nouveau driver can now only be used to set up display outputs, it has no ability to use the card for hardware accelerated graphics.

NVIDIA states that the new requirement is to prevent shady characters from modifying slower cards to look like new Maxwell GPUs but Phoronix feels that they have gone overboard.  It is sad to see NVIDIA taking a step backwards in supporting the open source community, mimicking AMD's procedure of only offering binary-only firmware blobs though AMD is at least updating the blobs and open source driver relatively frequently.  That said, the new Maxwell cards do perform very well with the proprietary Linux driver so users should not feel they have to avoid NVIDA; unfortunately for developers the same is not true.


"While NVIDIA's new GeForce GTX 900 series is dominating for Linux gamers with excellent performance with their $1000+ GPU as well as great Linux OpenGL/OpenCL performance out of their lower-cost GPUs with excellent power efficiency, that's only when using the proprietary driver... NVIDIA's newer GTX 900 / Maxwell hardware is less open-source friendly than their previous generations of hardware. "

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Source: Phoronix

Another slice of Pi, this time it is saucier

Subject: General Tech | February 11, 2015 - 01:03 PM |
Tagged: Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, open source

We have seen the improved specs of the new Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, with a quad-core Cortex-A7 based Broadcom SoC running at 900MHz, 1GB RAM, a 40 pin I/O connector block and four USB 2.0 ports, with the rest of the inputs remaining the same as the previous models.  It will still charge at 2A but you will need an SD card of at least 4GB to fit on the OS, which you can buy preloaded or configure yourself if you so desire.  The Inquirer used the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark to test the speed of the new Raspberry and the results matched the advertised gains, 4452.1ms to completion on the new model as compared to 23692.7ms on the Raspberry Pi Model B+.  If you are working this devices predecessors on a project that would benefit from more power, or Windows 10 support, this will be a great investment for you.


"SWELLING THE RANKS of fruity-themed computers, the Raspberry Pi 2 is an upgraded version of the popular single-board computer, sporting a new processor and double the memory of previous models."

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Source: The Inquirer

Epic Games Donates $13,500 to Blender Development Fund

Subject: General Tech | July 17, 2014 - 05:16 PM |
Tagged: open-source, open source, fbx, epic games, Blender

Blender, probably the most popular, open source 3D creation suite (sorry Wings!), was given a healthy donation of $13,500 USD by Epic Games. According to the tweet from Ton Roosendaal, Chairman of the Blender Foundation, this is intended to support FBX development, which is becoming the industry standard method of importing and exporting 3D models, skeletons, animations, and so forth. It is also for "epic-game-style navigation controls" (not sure what this is -- Unreal Editor-style controls maybe??)

FBX support would definitely be a welcome area of development. It exists, but not at the level of other 3D applications, because those could link directly to Autodesk's library. The format is owned by Autodesk after they acquired Kaydara in 2006. Its closed-source SDK was put under a license that was incompatible with Blender and its public documentation was non-existent. Since then, the Blender community has been working on reverse-engineered support. They have come a long way, the exporting from Blender and importing into Unreal Engine 4 is apparently reasonable, today. Of course, with Epic's focus on the indie developer, $13,500 seems like a good investment to help it continue.

Beyond its status as the default import format into Unreal Engine 4.x, FBX is also standard in many different modeling applications. While it is fairly easy to move around most base, polygonal geometry (and UVs to properly apply materials to them) from suite to suite, the same cannot be said for animation data, and so forth. FBX was designed to be a single pipeline for all of that.

Hopefully, Blender can become a first-class citizen.

HSA on Linux

Subject: General Tech | July 11, 2014 - 02:36 PM |
Tagged: linux, hsa, amd, open source

Open source HSA has arrived for the Linux kernel with a newly released set of patches which will allow Sea Islands and newer GPUs to share hardware resources.   These patches are both for a sample driver for any HSA-compatible hardware and the river for Radeon GPUs.  As the debut of the Linux 3.16 kernel is so close you shouldn't expect to see these patches included until 3.17 which should be released in the not too distant future.  Phoronix and Linux users everywhere give a big shout of thanks to AMD's John Bridgman for his work on this project.


"AMD has just published a massive patch-set for the Linux kernel that finally implements a HSA (Heterogeneous System Architecture) in open-source. The set of 83 patches implement a Linux HSA driver for Radeon family GPUs and serves too as a sample driver for other HSA-compatible devices. This big driver in part is what well known Phoronix contributor John Bridgman has been working on at AMD."

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Source: Phoronix

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.


"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.


"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