The state of open source GPU drivers on Arm in 2019

I first blogged about the state of open source drivers for Arm GPUs 7 years ago, in January 2012, and then again in September 2017. I’ve had a few requests since then to provide an update but I’ve not bothered because there’s really been no real change in the last few years, that is until now!

The good news

So the big positive change is that there’s two new open drivers om the scene with the panfrost and lima drivers. Panfrost is a reverse engineered driver for the newer Midguard and Bitfrost series of Mali GPUs designed/licensed by Arm, whereas Lima is aimed at the older Utguard series Mali 4xx series of devices. Panfrost, started by Alyssa Rosenzweig, and now has quite a large contributor base, has over the last few months has been coming along leaps and bounds and by the time Mesa 19.2 is out I suspect it should be able to run gnome-shell on an initial set of devices. I’m less certain the state of Lima. The drivers landed in the kernel in the 5.2 development cycle, which Linus just released. On the userspace side they landed in the mesa 19.1 development cycle, but they’ve greatly improving in mesa 19.2 cycle. Of course they’re all enabled in Fedora rawhide, although I don’t expect them to be really testable until later in the 19.2 cycle, but it makes it easy for early adopters who know they’re doing to be able to start to play.

A decent open source driver for the MALI GPUs from Arm had been the last biggest hold out from the Arm ecosystem we’ve been waiting for and it covers a lot of the cheaper end of the SBC market with a lot of AllWinner and some Rockchip SoCs having the MALI 4xx series of hardware, which will use the Lima driver and other lower to midrange hardware shipping with the newer Mali midguard GPUs like in the Rockchip 3399 SoC.

Other general updates

Since I last wrote the freedreno (QCom Ardreno) and etnaviv (Vivante GCxxx series) have continued to improve and add support for newer hardware. The vc4 open drivers for the Raspberry Pi 0-3 generations have seen gradual improvement over time, and there’s a new open v3d driver for the Raspberry Pi 4 which they use from the outset.

The last driver is one that seems to have transitioned to be in limbo is the driver for the Nvidia Tegra Arm platform. While it has an open driver for the display controller, and the GPU mostly works with the nouveau driver, at least on the 32 bit TegraK1 (the upstream state of the Tegra X-series is definitely for another post) they appear to have yet another driver, not their closer x86 driver, but another one (not the latest rev, which is 4.9 based, but the only linkable version I could find) which is needed to do anything fun from an CUDA/AI/ML point of view, I wonder how it will fit with their commitment to support Arm64 for their HPC stack or will that only be interesting to them for PCIe/fabric attached discrete cards for HPC super computer deals?

That brings me to OpenCL and Vulkan for all the drivers above, for the vast majority of the open drivers support for either is basically non existent or in the very early stages of development so for the time being I’m going to leave that for another follow up in this long winded series, probably when there’s something of note to report. The other thing that is looking quite good, but one for another post, is video acceleration offload, there’s been quite a bit of recent movement there too.

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