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Open Source Graphic Card Project Seeks Experts 370

Posted by timothy
from the will-more-cooks-help dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Could this dream of many open source developers and users finally happen? A 100% open sourced graphic card with 3D support? Proper 3D card support for OpenBSD, NetBSD and other minority operating systems? A company named Tech Source will try to make it happen. You can download the preliminary specs for the card here (pdf). The project, though a commercial one, wants to become a true community project and encourages experts and everyone who have good ideas to add to the development process to join the mailing list. You can also sign a petition and tell how much you would be willing to pay for the final product."
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Open Source Graphic Card Project Seeks Experts

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  • Great!! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 28, 2004 @12:13AM (#10935189)
    I've kind of waited for this for years.

    In theory other companies might steal the design and build and sell the card on their own, but if the design is community-owned, then that actually works to lower prices...

    Anonymous Cow
    • Re:Great!! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by shufler (262955) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @01:40AM (#10935525) Homepage
      It's not stealing if the design is open and available to all.

      In fact, this is the very point of such a project. If a company comes along and wants to use it for a product they want to develop, then they can!
    • Re:Great!! (Score:4, Informative)

      by Bender_ (179208) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @07:51AM (#10936495) Journal
      Looking at the products of the company tech source I think that they are mostly looking into using the design byself. They are selling special high resolution displays and graphics cards for aviation and other critical applications. These markets have extremely stringent safety protocols, of which many can not be met by the highly complex GPUs of today. In addition the exotic resolutions may pose a problem.

      Having a straight forward design suitable for an FPGA would enable them add additional fail safe mechanisms and to qualify more easily for these applications. Oh yes, and they get others to work on their products for free. They could use rad hardened FPGAs for the final implementation.
  • Waste of time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jarich (733129) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @12:16AM (#10935199) Homepage Journal
    This has come up before.

    Building a good open 2D card? Mabye... I doubt it's really feasible, but have at it. Chase that dream.

    But a 3D card? You are going to make a card to run the latest Quake and Doom? Or even release back of the games? Do you realize how much time, how many thousands of man hours go into these cards? The dollar amount for the simulators, the fabs to make the prototypes, etc

    This could however, make a great teaching tool.

    I take it back... if the card can target elementary 3D and stellar 2D, it could (in a few years) be THE card to own for a commodity Linux box. Target your audience carefully and don't get caught up in the IdSoftware upgrade cycle! :)

    • Re:Waste of time (Score:5, Insightful)

      by eofpi (743493) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @12:26AM (#10935249) Homepage
      It seems to me that 2D quality and clarity is much more important than 3D performance in their target market.

      A harder problem is getting enough of the target audience to accept that they're in the target audience, because people (or at least americans; i can't speak for other cultures) like to have the possibility of doing something, even if they'll never do it (hence the ubiquity of SUVs on our roads, but i digress). This should be easier with people that use open-source software though; 3D-intensive software for those isn't nearly as common as on windows.

      That said, if they can convince someone to slap it on a PCB, i'll keep an eye out for these things next time i need a video card.
      • Re:Waste of time (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Slack3r78 (596506) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @01:32AM (#10935497) Homepage
        The problem is, 2D compositing is in the process of shifting to being 3D accelerated right now. OS X has been for a couple of years now, Longhorn will be, and X.org is in the process of doing so.

        You end up with much smoother window rendering, and it allows you to add in things like desktop transparency and shadowing without much of a performance hit. A 2D only card may be "good enough" for some, but the desktop environments are quickly moving in a direction where that may no longer be the case by time this card would come to market. Going for at least rudimentary OpenGL support from the start would be a good idea.
        • OpenGL isn't exclusively 3D. And Apple's Quartz Extreme, which OS X uses, uses hardware-accelerated 2D, not 3D, for Aqua, although applications can of course use 3D.
          • Re:Waste of time (Score:5, Informative)

            by Slack3r78 (596506) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @02:32AM (#10935679) Homepage
            No, OpenGL isn't exclusively 3D, but the parts of it being used by Apple are.

            Also, Quartz Extreme is most definitely using 3D hardware acceleration. Regular "old" Quartz used before 10.2 was purely 2D based, but Quartz Extreme leverages your 3D accelerator to render the desktop on screen - acting like "Everything is a textured polygon." [udnimweb.de]
            • Re:Waste of time (Score:4, Interesting)

              by ArbitraryConstant (763964) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @04:14AM (#10936010) Homepage
              Well, because they use an FPGA the card can potentially be reprogrammed to support just enough of OpenGL to do what Quartz Extreme does.

              When you think about it, Quartz Extreme only needs to handle a relatively small number of parallel polygons at basically a constant distance away. That's a much simpler job than millions of triangles at arbitrary angles to each other at varying distances and whatnot.

              The job the video card does can potentially be as simple as figuring out which window is exposed in a given area and grabbing pixels from the appropriate frame buffer. OpenGL is a good deal more complicated than that, but since both the driver and the FPGA are under our control, I would think it would be possible.
        • Re:Waste of time (Score:4, Informative)

          by jeif1k (809151) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @02:47AM (#10935717)
          Transparency and shadowing are not 3D features. In fact, there is little in OS X that requires 3D support, and OS X uses only a small part of OpenGL. So, a card with good 2D support, antialiasing, and transparency would be just great for desktop use. (Incidentally, while people keep talking about these features as OS X features, OS X wasn't the first to have them.)
          • Re:Waste of time (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Matthias Wiesmann (221411) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @05:33AM (#10936213) Homepage Journal
            In fact, there is little in OS X that requires 3D support, and OS X uses only a small part of OpenGL. So, a card with good 2D support, antialiasing, and transparency would be just great for desktop use.
            I fear that Apple already uses more than what you describe: the screen transitions are full 3D effects and the minimisation effects are done using shaders. I recently went to a talk by Jordan Hubbard and he explained that Apple is planning on offloading more and more processing to the GPU - basically because the processing power was available. If you have a look core image [apple.com] you will see that the features of the graphic card that will be leveraged by Mac OS X 10.4 are well beyond 2D, antialiasing and transparency.
        • Re:Waste of time (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Sentry21 (8183) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @09:09AM (#10936683) Journal
          The issue I see is that these interfaces don't need to be 3D accelerated - because they're not 3D. Why couldn't 2D acceleration accomplish the same thing? Store the windows in memory as textures and move them around in hardware. This doesn't require 3D itself, it just requires hardware compositing and alpha-blending, hardware accelerated windowing, offscreen rendering, z-buffering, scaling & rotation, and so on.

          That being said, 3D provides a lot more possibilities - you could make windows be actual objects that could be moved forward or backwards, stacked up, leaned against each other, and so on. Implement HAVOC physics so I can grab an icon and smash it into my other icons and watch them scatter all over my desktop, or throw it and watch it bounce off the edge of the screen and land in my network drive.

          Eventually, all we'll need to do to solve the spyware problem is to use a wallhack and noclip and go bounce that crap to the curb. Sure, we'll have to endure the cries of spyware makers shouting 'lamer!' or 'wallhack' or 'aimbot', but we can just kick them off the network if it comes to that, or /ignore them.
    • False logic (Score:5, Insightful)

      by melted (227442) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @12:26AM (#10935256) Homepage
      It's like saying:

      "No, it's impossible to build a replacement for Microsoft Office. Do you realize how much time, how many thousands of man hours went into this software?"

      But there you go, Open Office is doing pretty well.

      If anything, development of a good "open-source" 3D card could be hampered by patents.
      • Re:False logic (Score:5, Insightful)

        by pyite (140350) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @12:42AM (#10935322)
        Your logic is the fallacy. While I can't play Half Life 2 on a Voodoo 3 (or at least I wouldn't want to try), the majority of people could use WordPerfect 5.1 (a great product by the way) for most of their word processing needs. They don't need the close to $1000 price of Microsoft Office. Let's face it, there hasn't been much innovation in Office for years. MS Office is a "moving target" for OpenOffice developers as much as a tortoise is for a hunter. Graphics cards are another story, however.
        • Re:False logic (Score:3, Insightful)

          by kormoc (122955)
          How about Doom 3 on a voodoo 2?
          Linkie:
          http://www.firingsquad.com/media/gal l ery_index.asp ?media_id=244

          The thing is, to make a card that runs say quake 3 wouldn't be nearly as hard as hl2. Quake 3 is opengl, and opengl is a wonderfully open standard. I wouldn't see why they couldn't throw in opengl support rather easly. The process is rather well known now and welp, there's enough info out there to do it, but with say hl2, it's all directx and new and rather unknown. I could see a simple 3d opengl renderin
          • Re:False logic (Score:5, Informative)

            by videodriverguy (602232) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @04:20AM (#10936036) Homepage
            I hate to say it, but your logic is completely wrong. Although OpenGL is an open standard, current cards all have vendor specific extensions for handling such things as multiple texture blending and vertex/pixel shaders. Also, the effort required to write an OpenGL driver is significantly greater than writing a DirectX driver.

            The Windows driver for a DirectX card is not that complex - and there are several available reference sources (3Dlabs, ATI). The highly complex drivers out there at the moment are very heavily optimized for a given card - speed sells. But the central core of the driver is simple, with almost all work handled by one entry point that takes command batches.

            I ought to know - I'm the guy that designed the Windows kernel interface to the driver back in '97, and it's basically unchanged to this day.
            • OpenGL Drivers (Score:3, Insightful)

              by gr8_phk (621180)
              "Also, the effort required to write an OpenGL driver is significantly greater than writing a DirectX driver."

              No one has to write an OpenGL driver from scratch. You just start with MESA and start offloading stuff to hardware as much as you can. It's not a great route to a great system, but it's a straigh forward route to something that works and is feature complete.

        • >the majority of people could use WordPerfect 5.1

          I see you drive a DeLorean. Dude, maybe this was the case back in 1996, but these days, Word owns the market.

          Sad but true. Hell, I haven't even SEEN a WP5.1 installation in years. Maybe it's still big in some small business sectors but overall it's history.

          Kind of sad, too. It was the last great word processor for DOS.

          -Z
          • by ZorinLynx (31751)
            Whoah, nevermind. It's kinda late and I haven't gotten much sleep, I read that originally as "The majority of people still use WordPerfect 5.1".

            Silly me, I'll read more carefully next time.. }:)

            -Z
      • Re:False logic (Score:2, Interesting)

        by niteice (793961)
        If anything, development of a good "open-source" 3D card could be hampered by patents. What about Mesa? A custom version could be written for this card to provide at least basic 3D...actually, it'll be like running Quake 3 on an S3 Trio64V+, but you get my point.
      • Re:False logic (Score:2, Offtopic)

        by Reducer2001 (197985)
        OpenOffice was not built from scratch. It's based on Sun' Star Office. This driver will have no such base.
        • A tiny software company who put it together "on their lap" literally, without any billion dollar investments a-la Microsoft. Never underestimate the power of a small group of highly educated, passionate individuals. I bet most of the work that goes into cutting-edge graphics chips is done by a team of 5-10 people. Can such a team be put together outside NVidia/ATI? You bet!
      • A New Hope. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        ""No, it's impossible to build a replacement for Microsoft Office. Do you realize how much time, how many thousands of man hours went into this software?""

        Repeat after me. Hardware is not software. Software is not hardware

        Overestimating is not any better than underestimating.

        "If anything, development of a good "open-source" 3D card could be hampered by patents."

        I've said as much elsewere. The vorbis people have shown that patents can be dealt with. However graphics is considerably more complex.
        • by melted (227442)
          Because what you said is stupid. Five to ten people who know what they're doing is enough to put something like this together in two years time, tops. Granted, their product won't give you GeForce 6800 performance in its first incarnation, but these days it has become a lot easier to design custom logic. Besides, they're essentially "standing on the shoulders of the giants", so they already know what _not_ to do.
      • While open source software has been more successful than many people's wildest dreams, open source hardware has been a much tougher nut to crack, I think partly because to exploit it requires access to manufacturing capacity to make what is effectively a custom design, whereas open source software works on nearly any computer. FPGAs do help - and they are basically software. Having an FPGA perform (computationally) nearly as well as say a 5000 series nV or 9000 series ATI is probably going to be expensive
      • Re:False logic (Score:5, Informative)

        by justins (80659) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @01:12AM (#10935427) Homepage Journal
        It's like saying:


        "No, it's impossible to build a replacement for Microsoft Office. Do you realize how much time, how many thousands of man hours went into this software?"

        But there you go, Open Office is doing pretty well.

        Talk about "false logic." Open Office is doing pretty well because it has had a huge amount of time and money put into it over the years. By the way, it existed for many years as closed source before it became open source, even before Sun bought it.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/StarOffice

        And it's not anywhere near being ready to replace Microsoft Office, but I guess they've only had 10 years...
        • by Anonymous Coward
          And it's not anywhere near being ready to replace Microsoft Office, but I guess they've only had 10 years...

          Yeah I'm still waiting for Open Office to support macro viruses.
        • Re:False logic (Score:3, Insightful)

          by adrianbaugh (696007)
          It may not be quite ready to replace MS Office, in the sense of a large organisation with lots of Word, Excel etc. files that would need converting (though I can't recall ever having had a problem, even with some fairly macro-heavy documents), but it's certainly ready to take the place of MS Office for a new company without the legacy of old documents. There may be the odd thing that MSO does that OOo doesn't, but you can still probably do it another (better!) way in OOo.
    • Re:Waste of time (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Coryoth (254751) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @12:28AM (#10935264) Homepage Journal
      But a 3D card? You are going to make a card to run the latest Quake and Doom? Or even release back of the games? Do you realize how much time, how many thousands of man hours go into these cards? The dollar amount for the simulators, the fabs to make the prototypes, etc

      I don't think there's any requirement for it to be cutting edge. They just said "3D support", not "runs Doom3 at fast as the latest nVidia or ATI card". For a lot of people a card that was capable of running say Quake3 at reasonable (but not necessarily blindingly fast) frame rates would be quite sufficient. Not everyone gets 3D support on a card for gaming purposes, and for those people an open card that provides credible 3D support may be an attractive option.

      Sure, you won't compete with ATI and nVidia, but then guaranteed open source drivers that will get the maximum performance out of the card are quite a benefit in themselves. Especially given the quality of ATIs Linux drivers.

      There is a market for this card. No it isn't a huge market, but then Apple doesn't have a huge chunk of the desktop market, but they seem to be rolling along fine. As long as there is a big enough niche to support to company, that's all they need. More power to them.

      Jedidiah.
      • Re:Waste of time (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DarthWiggle (537589)
        But wait! Assuming that the 3D support from this card will be dog slow assumes that a community project must be dog slow. Ok, OpenOffice doesn't launch as blindingly quickly as MS Word and Firefox (disclaimer: my browser of choice, so this is tempered criticism) doesn't appear instantly like IE, but I think the "market" goals of these two communities was to get something developed that was competitive and then work on optimization down the road.

        I'm off-track though: my point is that if the "market" of co
      • Re:Waste of time (Score:3, Informative)

        by CaptnMArk (9003)
        The problem that I see is that ATI Radeon = 9200 cards run Quake3 reasonably well and they already have open source drivers.

        I already have one of them and probably wouldn't buy a worse card.
    • Re:Waste of time (Score:5, Informative)

      by wrecked (681366) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @12:28AM (#10935266)
      Remember, Tech Source is a boutique graphics card company, and the guy proposing this (Timothy Miller?) is a graphics card engineer.

      If you read the mailing list archive, you'll see that what they are proposing is a card with simple, OpenGL compatible 3D. The interface will be PCI at first. My impression is that they have mini-ITX boards in mind. The last paragraph of your post is correct: they will probably target commodity Linux (and significantly, BSD) boxes.

      I think that this is a great idea. Right now, if you want open source 3D, the only good hardware available is the Matrox G400/450/550 line, and that's over 5 years old. I bought my G450 in 1999 and am still using it quite happily, but I would certainly buy an open hardware card from Tech Source if this project comes to fruition.

      As someone on OSNews posted, this project could be profitable for a small company even if it would be considered a flop by ATI or Nvidia.

      • Re:Waste of time (Score:3, Interesting)

        by skids (119237)
        Not to stomp on TechSource, but the proposed feature set is over 5 years old. So why would they have any market advantage over 5-year-old Matrox cards (especially given Matrix has quad-monitor cards)?

        I'm all for open-source hardware products, but lets make them something that isn't already readily available in a form opensource folks find to be generally acceptible. They should at least give the thing *one* major feature advantage (how about quad DVI? noone is doing THAT yet... at least not in any reaso
        • Re:Waste of time (Score:2, Interesting)

          by wrecked (681366)
          Well, the difference is that the proposed Tech Source card would be open source, and therefore would (hopefully) evolve, slowly but surely, in the same manner of other open source projects like Linux, Mozilla, OpenOffice.org, etc.

          While I love my Matrox G450, the fact is, Matrox will never release another card like it, nor will they improve on it. If the Tech Source project works, then one day, it will release a card that is superior to the G450.

      • Agreed.. I still use a G450 because it works with nearly anything, can do limited 3D, and doesn't have a fan (quiet).
      • Re:Waste of time (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Paul Jakma (2677) <paul+slashdot@jakma.org> on Sunday November 28, 2004 @02:35AM (#10935686) Homepage Journal
        Right now, if you want open source 3D, the only good hardware available is the Matrox G400/450/550 line, and that's over 5 years old.

        Strange, my ATi Radeon 9200 RV280's disagree with you.

        All of the R100 and R200 family Radeons are supported by the open DRI 3D drivers - type 'man radeon' for further information (including product names), the R300's are not supported though (but are supported for 2D by X). The fastest open-driver supported 3D card is the R200 based FireGL (careful - there's a newer R3xx based FireGL which wont work). There is work underway to reverse engineer the R3xx family and support the 3D features in the open drivers, see r300.sf.net [sf.net]. Also, there is an experimental R2xx Xorg kdrive Xserver featuring accelleration of XRender, and its probably where the work to move the Xserver over to 3D primitives will occur.

        Anyway, go stock up on ATi Radeon 9200's. I have two, one AGP and one PCI, running happily on AMD64 and Alpha.
    • Re:Waste of time (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 28, 2004 @12:32AM (#10935282)
      if the card can target elementary 3D and stellar 2D, it could (in a few years) be THE card to own for a commodity Linux box.

      Commodity Linux boxes already have elementary 3D and stellar 2D. It's called Intel Extreme Graphics, has open source drivers, and it costs like $10.

      Just want to repeat that $10 figure again. You are a going to have to do better than Fanboyism to beat that.
      • Finally (Score:3, Interesting)

        by poptones (653660)
        I was scouring this thread looking for someone else to say this because I knew couldn't be the only one to realize it.

        I have never understood this project. If they want to start with something at least equivalent to a five year old SGI graphics pipeline abd build from there, then I'd say go for it. But the specs on this card don't look any better than the stuff you get right OOTB with an intel chipset (which, after sufferng with this goddamned nvidia system for too long now, is the reason I'll not be buyi
    • Oh I don't know.

      Hardware is fairly straightforward to build 80 percent of the speed ups in hardware come from process and fabrication technology. The other 20% is clever hardware and gate arrangements.

      I mean if I remember right, such things as latches, memory cells...etc are just the same circuit pattern repeated for th emost part.

      I am not so sure the community wants THE fastest card.

      I would be happy with three cards:

      1) Super High End using PCI Xpress with complete Support for 3D..particularly OpenGL
      • 3) 2D SDRAM PCI card with contracts with board makers for such thing as blade servers and servers who need minmal video support.

        $50-100 dollars.


        Er, only problem is this market is already served by generic $20 cards.
        Personally, I've never paid more than $50 for a video card and I doubt I ever will. This goes for everyone I know both personally and professionally because, as unlikely as it might seem here on /., a substantial portion of the rest of the world could care less about games.
        In the busi
    • Not For Quake (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Sunday November 28, 2004 @12:47AM (#10935338) Homepage
      Sure, this thing probably won't compete with a GeForce 6600 AGP in Doom 3 or HL 2 (that's a $200-$250 card), but do we really NEED that?

      For 99% of users, this could be a great card. If it does great 2D, and can do good 3D (especially features like those used in Apple's Quartz, or Project Looking Glass) it would work more than well enough. Lets face it, for a large number of applications, a GeForce (origional) quality 3D would be MORE than enough for most anything many people would do. And if the graphics are localized into a small area (say a little 200x200 area of a window), then even such a card would be able to render very nice looking graphics (just like a "slow" card could run Doom 3 looking great at such a low resolution).

      I'm with you. For a quality, commodity card this could be great. Plus, with the FPGA, not only could be hack the DRIVERS, you could hack the FIRMWARE! Think! You could buy the card, and write software to take the burden off the CPU for decoding MPEG2 or 4. You could even (with a little kernel help) swap firmware on the fly so you could have that video decoding, and then enter a command (or press a button on your desktop) to have the 3D firmware put in. When you're done, go back to video decoding acceleration.

      Hell, make it run SETI in the background at super fast speed when just using 2D (like using nVidia cards to do scientific calculations on the GPU).

      These things could be a LOT of fun to mess around with. I think I just sold myself on one ;)

    • You're gonna make a full Unix-like operating system and desktop environment? Maybe you could make a little toy system. Do you know how many MILLIONS of man hours would go into that?

      You could try and target that old 386 box in the basement, but don't even bother with SMPs, clusters and large high end machines!
    • But a 3D card? You are going to make a card to run the latest Quake and Doom? Or even release back of the games? Do you realize how much time, how many thousands of man hours go into these cards? The dollar amount for the simulators, the fabs to make the prototypes, etc

      I'm sure they do realise this. However I'm their target audience; the 99% of people who don't spend $500 on a video card. I don't need nor want an ATI RadForce 9630 Plus Zero Alpha (+++++) video card. I just want something that runs a

  • Great Idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mhaisley (410683) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @12:17AM (#10935204)
    This is a really great idea, but it will probably never work, a mailing list will bring way to many points of view.

    Really what a project like this needs is the developer to shut out the open source community, until the project is done. If linus had made a large project out of the original kernel, I seriously doubt if it would have ever been completed. This should be kept simple, and then open sourced, only once there is a good code base to build from.
  • by Goalie_Ca (584234) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @12:18AM (#10935214)
    I can understand that this card will never compete with ATI and nvidia which raises the question, is there any reason why ATI can't open source their old graphic cards, such as their 7000 series. Surely that technology is no longer critical to their lead. Sure many of those cards aren't being sold any more, but there are still plenty around and this may open up a niche market so they can produce some as a low-cost device.
    • by DaHat (247651) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @12:25AM (#10935246) Homepage
      I'd wager that even the older cards still bare some similarity to the newer ones, enough so that such designs could give a competitor a major head start in designing future cards. Opening up their plans is nice in theory, but in practice... would almost certainly come back to bite them in the rear.
    • Its kind of like Chuck E Cheese.... rather then sell, give away, or donate their old and broken down machines, it is strict policy to have the games destroyed to hinder and kind of, sort of, maybe even a million years from now, competition.
      • Geez... Cynical, aren't we? Anyway, this topic has showed up in Slashdot in the past, so you might want to search on it.

        If I remember right, though, most video card companies can't open source their drivers even if they wanted to. Parts of them contain licensed copyrighted code from companies like sgi, which will not permit their stuff to be released to be public.
    • there are still a lot of low spec embeded cards chipsets. And if nasa need a chipset they'll pick one that's old and tested
    • by haggar (72771) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @03:52AM (#10935934) Homepage Journal
      the hardware industry is based on obsolescence. A company like Nvidia wants to have their -current- and -in production- card to be as fast as possible. Once it's not in production anymore, they don't care. If they released the drivers and (expecially) the specs to the card, someone(s) could improve the driver, and thus make the card perform better, or add a useful property, thus making it more attractive and thus hurting sales of the current card. An opensource driver and specs would also mean that obscure/niche OSs (BeOS, neutrino, skyOS etc.) could be supported by the older card, thus making it moore attractive and....

      This, in addition to the very god point made by the poster above.
    • is there any reason why ATI can't open source their old graphic cards, such as their 7000 series. Surely that technology is no longer critical to their lead.

      ATI already supposed specs for their R2xx cards. So everything up to a ATI 9200 has accelerated 3d support under X.org using the standard radeon driver. You won't get speeds as fast as the ATI drivers and some things like texture compression aren't supported due to patents but it gives good performance for something like chromium b.s.u and tux racer.

  • by imadork (226897) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @12:25AM (#10935248) Homepage
    I'll bet that most of the actual hardware for this project would actually be rather easy to design, just using some reference diagrams of the interfaces involved (AGP and DVI). Using that big-ass FPGA in there makes all the difference -- now, most of the complexity of the design looks more like software than hardware. Open-Source Hardware doesn't make sense without a part like an FPGA, which blurs the line between software and hardware. Except instead of C++ or java, you're programming in God's Own Language, VHDL. (except for the fallen who use Verilog...)

    I think the company would make a ton of money just making these as a reference platform and selling them to University students looking for a way to program their own GPU on the cheap for research purposes. Heck, Xilinx should do it themselves, and give all these students exposure to Xilinx parts (and their crappy design software) before they even find out who Altera is.

    This project looks interesting. I'd sign on to help out, but this gets dangerously close to what my Day Job is, and I don't think my management would smile on my participation...

    • Well, it seems that Xilinx and other big FPGA vendors have already thought of making cards on which you may try to create your own GPU.

      Boards such as the Multimedia Board http://www.xilinx.com/products/boards/multimedia/ [xilinx.com] contain everything you would need. Not cheap though...

      They have not put the whole thing on a PCI card, probably because it's even more fun to integrate a CPU core and build the whole system-on-chip on the FPGA while at it.

      Cheers!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 28, 2004 @12:27AM (#10935257)
    tech source makes graphics cards for sun microsystems computers, i've got a raptor in one of my ultrasparc10's. I'm sure they have some fabrication experience, just visit their website, they've got quite a few products.
  • by frovingslosh (582462) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @12:29AM (#10935273)
    You can also sign a petition and tell how much you would be willing to pay for the final product.

    Wgat sense does this make. There are some people (not me) that might pay up to $500 for the newest ATI or Nvidia cards. But they do that with the knowledge that the hottest 3D applications will take advantage of them. More importantly, that is the price they might pay for those cards today. It's well known that in six months those cards might be worth half that, in a year perhaps around $100. How can anyone say how much you would be willing to pay for the final product when by that time it might not even compete with the $100 cards?

    • There's a certain amount of money people are willing to pay for basic functionality, and then on top of that you add the amount you'd be willing to pay for a fully open-sourced card.

      Add the two up, there you go.

      As there is no competitor for the open-source aspect of the card, that's pretty much the only factor.

    • Wgat sense does this make. There are some people (not me) that might pay up to $500 for the newest ATI or Nvidia cards. But they do that with the knowledge that the hottest 3D applications will take advantage of them. More importantly, that is the price they might pay for those cards today. It's well known that in six months those cards might be worth half that, in a year perhaps around $100. How can anyone say how much you would be willing to pay for the final product when by that time it might not even co
    • Well, it will at least cost the price of the FPGA (xc3s1500) which is quoted at Avnet at 70$US for the 320 pins version and 115$US for the 676 pins version (in qty of 25-99)...

      I suppose they'll have to either buy a lot of FPGA to get price reductions or wait until the price of those programmable chips come down. Add to this the price of DRAM, 250 MHz 3-channel DAC (which would not be on the FPGA), power converter, serial Flash for FPGA configuration and extra discretes. My guess on the final price... Ea

  • by Anita Coney (648748) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @12:40AM (#10935317) Homepage
    Yeah, it COULD happen. But it will also be crap. Does anyone really think a company could simply start competing with nVidia or ATI on features and power?! Heck, 3dfx couldn't do it. Matrox essentially gave up. And what about Virge?! Dare I even mention bitboys?!

    Come one folks, let's get real.

  • by multiplexo (27356) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @12:47AM (#10935336) Journal
    Sure, it might be impossible for them to build a card that is the equal of the Radeon x800 or nVidia GT chipsets but on the other hand these guys are trying to broaden the frontiers of open source software by building some open source hardware. People should be encouraged to do this kind of thing.

  • by Sensible Clod (771142) <dc-7@Nospam.charter.net> on Sunday November 28, 2004 @12:50AM (#10935351) Homepage
    while not exactly a GF6800, it does use a FPGA, which may lend itself to some interesting modifications.

    I can see it now: custom logic patches to change the core for extra performance on your favorite game...
  • What if a large company got behind this. They would say, we will release the specs and let you open source them, everything chip design, reference board. But, we are the only manufacturer that is allowed to produce these boards that run this open source. Would you work on it? Do you think other people would How long would it take to get to production? What kind of premium would you pay for it?
  • I'll leave the speculations about the price/performance vis-a-vis ATI's and Nvidia's cards to others. There is something else that worries me. The management behind this engineer gives the go-ahead based on positive techie feedback. They actually go ahead and build the things and techies actually buy it and improve the drivers. The likely subpar performance is overlooked because it is still the fastest video they've ever had on their Powerpc and Sparc boxes.
    Now that a little bit of money is rolling in,
  • by jeif1k (809151) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @01:15AM (#10935439)
    Some advice:
    • Get the hardware out quickly; if you wait too long, it will be obsolete before you ship.
    • Create a basic development platform (gcc, loader, etc.) and a basic framework with at least a little bit of useful functionality (2D acceleration, minimal 3D); it can be quite incomplete, but it should make it easy for contributors to add functionality one small piece at a time.
    • You can charge a little more than a comparable regular graphics card, but not a lot more. If this becomes a premium custom hardware product, it's dead on arrival.

    • by Pulzar (81031) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @01:30AM (#10935488)
      Get the hardware out quickly; if you wait too long, it will be obsolete before you ship.

      It's already obsolete. It's on par with cards from about 6-7 years ago, if they achieve everything in their spec. It's only good enough as a teaching tool.

      You can charge a little more than a comparable regular graphics card, but not a lot more. If this becomes a premium custom hardware product, it's dead on arrival.

      A comparable graphics card costs $10 if you can even find it these days.

      I don't see how this is worth the effort when you can buy the cheapest ATI card, and use the generic open-source VGA driver and achieve better 2D performance. This is somewhat like somebody trying to get people to work on an open-source version of DOS. Sure, you get your freedom of the free software, but who would want to use DOS? I'm all for open-source, but it has it be at least remotely competitive to get somebody to look at it.

  • by sllim (95682) <`ten.knilhtrae' `ta' `ecnahca'> on Sunday November 28, 2004 @01:19AM (#10935454)
    I am glancing at the specs and I have a couple thoughts.
    The first is that these are respectable specs - providing you don't want to to any gaming.
    I think that is a really important caveat. I know that every once in a while people get all excited because the usual suspects port there games to Linux - you know ID and Blizzard come to mind.
    It is a good thing that these two companies do this, but it is a bad thing that there are really only two companies that do this with anything approaching reliability.
    Thing is... a card with these specs, especially considering that it is a year if not more away from reality will never cut it for any sort of gaming. You are going to produce a card with 3D support that doesn't have the muscle to handle any 3d games that are produced.
    If you are fine with that then there is nothing wrong with those specs. This card will be able to handle email, porn and movies as well as anything ATI produces.

    My 2nd thought is a bit more practicle.
    Actually there may not be anything practicle about it. Might just be wishful thinking really.
    What about 3DFX? What about OPENGL?
    Between the two things isn't half the work already done?
    I know it might seem insane - nuts even, but back in the day 3dFX had some very respectible hardware. They didn't fail cause there stuff was poop, they failed cause they underestimated nVidia (which in turn underestimated ATI). The hardware is still out there, the code is still out there. It just isn't being utilized.
    Would there be anything wrong with utilizing these old resources to achieve this goal?
    • the usual suspects port there games to Linux - you know ID and Blizzard come to mind

      Blizzard doesn't port their games to Linux - only to Mac, unfortunately. (I would buy a Linux version of WC3/TFT, if anyone from Blizzard is reading this...) Perhaps you are thinking of Epic?

      What about 3DFX? [...] Would there be anything wrong with utilizing these old resources to achieve this goal?

      NVidia bought 3Dfx and assimilated its intellectual property. I don't think you could make a clone of a 3Dfx card withou
  • Sweet! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @01:21AM (#10935462) Homepage
    I can't wait for these to come out so I can put one in my Indrema... Imagine how many FPS I'll get in Duke Nukem Forever!
  • by ReeprFlame (745959) <kc2lto@SOMETHINGgmail.com> on Sunday November 28, 2004 @01:26AM (#10935479) Homepage
    The proposal itself does not look like it is going over well. Look at the comments on the Tech's proposal site and you will see flames about the card not holding up to the standards of gaming such that ATI and nVidia do. If they are able to find programmers and developers that are superb at their jobs, maybe even ex-ATI or ex-nVidians, the card has a great chance at surviving among its rivals. Furthermore, ATI never had good software to begin with [drivers, etc] compared to their hardware. Opensource has also always seemed to prevail in one aspect or another in comparison to closed source. the development is a great idea, and even if it does not take off right away, it is a step in the right direction...
  • a big mistake (Score:3, Insightful)

    by osho_gg (652984) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @01:41AM (#10935527)
    Whoever is doing this isn't in their right state of mind. Open source concepts and advantages simply do not apply to hardware. The reason is very simple: To make a copy of software so that one more user can use it - you just have to download it. To make a copy of hardware so that one more user can use it - you have to actually manufacture a piece of hardware. This fundamental difference just makes it impossible to realistically have a really open source/open specifications hardware. There is a reason why none of the open source hardwares at opencores.org have never been as successful as open-source software.

    Osho

  • A few comments (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tftp (111690) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @01:46AM (#10935542) Homepage
    People mentioned that the FPGA will be used. Very well, this will take care of experimenting. However FPGAs are very expensive. The cheapest (and a fairly small) one can be had for maybe $30; medium sized one, better suited for this task, will cost you about $500. The largest ones cost $10,000 per chip and you can safely forget about even their existence :-)

    FPGAs are also slower than ASICs. This, and the cost, are the reasons why commercial manufacturers use ASICs. You may have a great design, but if it is limited by the performance of your FPGA you lose.

    FPGAs are designed to be universal, and to do that they feature programmable interconnects. But the number of those interconnects is limited, and many FPGA designs are thus constrained. You may have plenty of gates left and no way to get to them... With ASICs this is not a problem because if you need a wider bus you build it there, on your own silicon. In FPGAs the busses are already there, and you can't add more.

    Yet another concern is tools. Xilinx, for example, offers a free download of some bare minimum tools. They work OK if you are making a door lock with RS-232 control. But they fail miserably, to the point of being unusable, on a complex design - which this one is. Better tools, such as Synplify, will cost you your yearly salary. How many developers have access to that kind of tools? And once you switch to some specific tool you are committed.

    Finally, there is a problem with skills of developers. There are many s/w developers who are very good with C/C++. But not that many are good with Verilog (and its wickedly evil predecessor, VHDL :-) Hardware design is very, very different from software design. And you can't debug it, you only can simulate it. Simulation tools, such as ModelSim, are absolutely not free on the level that you need for this design.

    To summarize, this project can be done, but not by a bazaarful of people but a small, dedicated band of wizards who locked themselves up in a small cathedral. Even if these wizards release their works, none of mere mortals will be even able to open their files, since the tools to do that are not free.

    And besides, why would any sane person, who is not burdened with FOSS thoughts, want to buy such a card even for $100? This cash buys you a decent entry-level Quadro, and if anyone suggests that this design can beat Quadro I won't believe that...

    And if anyone wants a real entry-level card, then it can be had (Vanta TNT2, for example) for $10 in any bargain bin, at many places. Beat that first.

    • Re:A few comments (Score:5, Informative)

      by iso (87585) <slash@warpzero. i n fo> on Sunday November 28, 2004 @03:09AM (#10935783) Homepage
      Much of what you're saying is true about reprogrammable (Xilinx, Altera) FPGAs, but this "open source video card" would be an excellent application for one-time-programmable (antifuse) FPGAs, like the chips made by Actel [actel.com] or QuickLogic [quicklogic.com]. Once the FPGA code has been written, there shouldn't be any need for reprogrammability, and antifuse FPGAs are cheaper, faster, and have much better routing potential than reprogrammable FPGAs. In fact antifuse FPGAs can come very close to the speed of an ASIC.

      I'm actually quite surprised that they're opting for a Xilinx FPGA here; I must be missing something. Is there any particular reason that reprogrammability is more important than cost and speed for this?
  • In a second. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by aquabat (724032)
    I'd buy one of these in a heartbeat, just on principle. I'd be willing to spend maybe up to three hundred bucks for the first few iterations.

    The way I see it, most of the cost of the latest ATi or nVidia cards is to cover R+D expenses. The fact that the price drops drastically in a year or two is evidence of this.

    The advantage of an open source hardware project isn't just that you have documentation for the hardware and can therefore write drivers for it. The real advantage is the same advantage that

  • by macmurph (622189) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @02:52AM (#10935736)
    I've heard that 3D cards of today are exponentially increasing in number of transistors. It's been said that the problem of displaying 3D is "embarrassingly parallel". Hence, the performance of these cards far outstrip the CPU for parallel processing.

    Some of the thoughts expressed by experts are that 3D cards may become general purpose parallel computing cards.

    If it weren't for bottlenecks in the AGP bus, it would be possible to use 3D cards of today for more general purpose computing (I'm fuzzy on what the actual hold ups are here...timing issues?).

    There have been Slashdot discussions about using the graphics card for audio processing, because audio is usually less than a 32 bit stream. The problem is that audio and often general purpose computing have "real time" requirements.

    Also, make sure your open source card supports ARB_fragment!
  • contact HP & IBM (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Goeland86 (741690) <goeland_86@yaho o . fr> on Sunday November 28, 2004 @04:37AM (#10936086)
    You know, with HP and IBM saying they're backing Linux, and HP selling linux laptops, I'd say they should try get help from there. If they're going to succeed, they need a vendor anyway, and what better way than HP's linux laptops? Adapt the chips to both desktop and laptop formats, get a high rate sales like HP and everyone will be happy: the linux community because it'll finally happen, the company because they're making money, and the customers because they've got 100% Linux support on their hardware, which to me is the best price/value to find right now!
  • by Sporkinum (655143) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @05:42AM (#10936232)
    Tech Source is the company that supplies cards for our Solaris workstations. The driver quality is pretty decent, but we are only doing 2d. I would guess that they are fully capable of doing a good 3d card though. My only qustion would be price, as I think we paid $300 for our last Tech Source card, and it was a 64meg card.
  • by mattr (78516) <mattr@@@telebody...com> on Sunday November 28, 2004 @08:30AM (#10936569) Homepage Journal
    First I think this sounds like a wonderful project. The remainder of this post is dedicated to crazy ideas an dmaybe one interesting one. I want one or three.

    Might want to consider setting up a site for people to register their interest and potential orders, not just how much you would pay for but actually get the orders.

    I don't remember if it was successful, but Sony has done this in the past. I know it failed once due to (I believe) a weblogic crash due to too many orders or weak system.

    If the website is mentioned every time a story appears on slashdot or some other site, you can continue to accumulate and update information. If you make transparent the financials behind it, people may rush in to get you over the threshold of a precalculated breakeven point (including reasonable profit of course).

    Personally I am in the market for a graphics card in the next 6 months. I am planning on getting the best I can afford at the time, and am curious what this project might offer to sway me. Sure performance is not likely to beat the top of the line of the other competitors at the same price point.. at least that is what one would guess. Maybe not true? Well, the FPGA looks really cool.

    Consider that the fastest supercomputer in the world is the GRAPE-6 (GRAvity PipE) built on FPGAs for simulation of gravitational interactions (of globular clusters, etc.).

    I was thinking it might be closer to something insanely great if you go for the multiple channels now for example. Maybe if you ask about that on your site you'll get people to agree. (How much more would it cost? etc.).

    Also I don't know what the FPGA would promise, presumably quick firmware updates from the net of course. Could part of it be used for another purpose, or is that too difficult? Could an additional FPGA be turned into a chip that runs linux (use it on a PC) or perhaps be flashed with the results of another project (I'd love to have a Perl chip.. make it and they will come?) Could another chip or expanded memory provide say a video wall controller with edge blending for multiple screens in realtime? This kind of thing alone might sell enough to make it useful. What do commercial image processors have that this couldn't?

    I just saw a sexy video switching fabric thingy here [jupiter.com]

    I am curious about what exact "X.org eye candy" this would enable. I am guessing some of: "Direct Link for this comment Brilliant, and about time By Bryan Kagnime (IP: ---.polarnet.ca) - Posted on 2004-11-28 08:23:43 I don't really care so much for the 3d gaming aspect, distribute with the card an opensource operating system like Slackware with some 2d desktop eyecandy (translucency/transparency/openGL) and I'll buy a card for everyone I know with a comp. This'll show users *what* linux is all about, distrobuting a superior product and opening the market share for innovators." ?

    One post on osnews mentioned realtime encoding/decoding of video streams, and though I am not sure this would not still impact the rest of the machine considering the design, that sounds neat!

    128MB is enough to hold a couple frames of 20 times the resolution of a 1024x768 screen and still have over 30 MB left over. What if it included support for edge/corner blending and warping for a video wall? Is it conceivable that this could take the output from a fast consumer card and provide 2D warping and other effects for displays using multiple projected patches? Consider what it is good at. How about talking over the network or other bus to other oss graphics cards for multiple projector support.

    If some nonvolatile memory was included, the card could remember a video wall wallpaper and open window/document information, or keep some megapixel images or something else always available. Would this be useful, say for quick startup or as a backup for important memories?

    How about selling with an external patchbay that can take many video sources and provi

  • Priorities (Score:3, Interesting)

    by evilviper (135110) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @10:43AM (#10936965) Journal
    Even though this is scheduled for a year in the future, I don't think standard TVs will be gone away by then, and good TV-out support is something absent in ATI/NVidia video cards. S-Video is missing from the PDF spec.

    The absolute #1 focus for this card (if they hope to get people to pay more than $30 for it) needs to be fully reprogramable by mere mortals. It would be absolutely wonderful to get a general-purpose FGPA in a computer. People pay more than $100 for crypto cards, video capture cards, etc because hardware is so much better at those tasks. This would wipe the floor with them, because you could program in a new codec or cipher.

    Even if it didn't have any video-output at all, I'd still pay $100+ for a PCI card version. Once video encoding apps are optimized to send the processing that's hardest on the CPU to the FGPA instead, I expect we'll see huge increases in encoding speed. That, BTW, also leads to much more complex codecs (MPEG-6 anyone?) that reduce filesize/bitrate significantly.

    Besides that, I would also like to see a bit of effort in making sure it works on non-x86 hardware. Since this company makes video cards for SPARC systems, I that surely would not be difficult for them to handle.

    If this thing actually sees the light of day, it will completely change what a videocard is. This also strikes me as a potentially piviotal moment in computer hardware. Perhaps, a few years from now, the biggest graphics card maker will have a museum wing dedicated to remember how it all started back in 2004. Yeah, I know it's a stretch, but this really does have that potential.
  • What about this??? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by g_braad (105535) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @12:30PM (#10937408) Homepage
    http://www.icculus.org/manticore/

    Manticore already exists for some time and it is also what they call Open Hardware. If they could work together, this could result into a good implementation for a Linux/Un*x hardware design.

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