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Displays AMD Hardware

AMD Releases Register Specs For R5xx And R6xx 121

ianare writes "AMD has recently released register specifications for the ATI Radeon R5xx and R6xx graphic devices. This will (theoretically) allow the OSS community to develop drivers, given time. In fact, engineers from Novell have released a first alpha quality Open Source driver which currently supports initial mode settings. Although current work is focused on 2D, rather than 3D acceleration, this type of information sharing could conceivably lead to an OSS 3D driver."
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AMD Releases Register Specs For R5xx And R6xx

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  • How about the R250 you jerks!!! My Mobility Radeon 9000 is slower than it ever has been under the open source driver! :(
    • by burni ( 930725 )
      Well the Radeon9k kernel-DRI-driver, which is open source of course, I use for my R9000 card does very well on my System even through nearly all Q3-TD´s 5 fps faster than running under win2k, I´d just like to have an OS driver for my newly and very cheap aquired Radeon9800pro ;)
    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
      Not cost effective.
      It takes time and money to release specs. They are not making money from those chips so it is illogical to put any effort in to releasing the specs.
      • Too short term and narrow a thought. Putting a little bit of effort towards supporting older, no longer manufactured hardware can help profitability. How? Sure, no direct profit is made off of someone buying a used video card from a third party, or just using an old card. But if old equipment is still usable, it still has value. One thing some people look for when deciding whether to buy a company's latest offerings all new and shiny, is longevity. If old equipment can still be used, then that makes i

        • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
          For cars yes for computers no.
          A new computer has a life of around 3 years. In 3 years you can pay the same price for four times the performance. People that buy new computers know this. They buy hardware that has support NOW. Support for an old out of production video card just doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. I didn't say it was nice or good but just the way it is. ATI has been around long enough that it has no fear of being labeled a flash in the pan so no need to spend any money or effort
          • by jack455 ( 748443 )
            That flies in the face of my own experiences.

            ATI could win be back from nVidia, in fact I'm holding off replacing my 6600GT to see how quickly these OSS drivers take to be somewhat stable and 3d.

            But with 4 nVidia cards (one as old as the mx400) and only one ATI it's obvious that nVidia has my business right now. One brother has had a nv card for ~1year and the other just bought one. At least 2 friends of mine purchased nv cards within the last 2 years based almost exclusively on my opinions.

            In the 3 year pe
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
              Actually your statement proves my point. You will fall in love with ATI if they get out FOSS drivers for the new GPUs.
              Even then you top video card is only a 6600GT. Not even a 7 series. You are not a high profit demographic but even then they will win you over if they get a good FOSS driver out for the current cards.
              • by jack455 ( 748443 )
                You misunderstood, the ATI drivers are better for current cards I hear, but I like nVidia due to their legacy support. I influenced purchases that were pricier than my 6600, and I purchased the 6600 quite a while ago for $180. I have gone longer than usual replacing it, but I wouldn't have so many cards if I didn't keep buying them. Every card was purchased for my current (at the time) PC.

                And you refer to the 6600 as an older card and then say I want them to work on current drivers!
        • by stdarg ( 456557 )
          A rational actor buying a new card doesn't care if the R250 is still supported because he knows that the new card will be supported, regardless of reputation, due to the release of these specs.
  • by siDDis ( 961791 ) on Monday September 24, 2007 @04:24AM (#20725977)
    With shader 4.0 benchmarking!
  • Hurrah! I just bought a Radeon X1650 Pro this weekend trusting that AMD would honour their commitment to open up the specs for their ATI cards, and I'm glad to hear about this. I'm currently running the ATI binary driver, but the sooner I can move off that, and onto something nice and open, the better.
    • Re:Hurrah (Score:5, Funny)

      by whichpaul ( 733708 ) on Monday September 24, 2007 @04:29AM (#20726001) Journal
      OSS 3D driver, great! Now we just need some games play.
      • Re:Hurrah (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TeknoHog ( 164938 ) on Monday September 24, 2007 @04:45AM (#20726077) Homepage Journal
        Games, schmames. If we have complete specs of the hardware, there are plenty of things [] besides graphics we can do with it.
      • []

        See that "Port Windows-based games to the Linux platform" thing?
        • by nuzak ( 959558 )
          Required Qualifications
          • Bachelor in Systems Engineering (or equivalent).
          • Requires two years of experience in systems engineering designing and developing communications software and hardware solutions including resolving problems surrounding real-time and non real time PC- based systems using C++ and network programming algorithms and their interaction with physical devices.

          Note the emphasis on networking and lack of mention of anything like OpenGL or graphics. This is to maintain their existing dedicated se

          • They don't mention OpenGL because they've already got people who are good at that; the PS3 port of the Source engine proves this. What they're after here is somebody who can dive into the hairy backend code, and do the massive amount of work needed to decouple the game code from the Win32 platform.
      • You could at least start practicing on the Enemy Territory:Quake Wars demo on Wine [] in prep for the full Linux version when it comes out.
    • you should have bought an Intel motherboard.

      Obviously your priority for open source is below your other priorities.
  • Old files? (Score:5, Informative)

    by caluml ( 551744 ) <> on Monday September 24, 2007 @04:33AM (#20726023) Homepage
    These files are 12 days old. Aren't these the same files that were released sometime last week?
  • Sorry, I RTFA (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    And it appears that the real news is the alpha-quality, open-source driver. There doesn't appear to be any release of specs other than those done around the time of the previous announcement.

    Oh, it's a "Zonk" story ... *shakes head*.
  • by renoX ( 11677 ) on Monday September 24, 2007 @04:49AM (#20726099)
    Note that the reason why Novell's engineer were able to deliver an alpha driver this week is because they had access to the ATI's specification under NDA since two month.

    So the driver isn't the result of only one week of work, even if it's still in an alpha state.
  • Let's hope this will encourage manufacturers to "systematically" develop linux drivers !
    • Re:drivers (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ettlz ( 639203 ) on Monday September 24, 2007 @05:14AM (#20726207) Journal
      No, let's hope not. Just release the specs for the benefit of the entire free software community, and let people who know what they're doing write the drivers.
      • Re:drivers (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ameoba ( 173803 ) on Monday September 24, 2007 @05:30AM (#20726273)
        It's entirely possible that they don't -have- specs written in a way that's suitable for public consumption.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by evanbd ( 210358 )
          Very true. There are lots of projects out there where the best (or only) way to find out is to wander down the hall and ask someone.
      • You say that... (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Spasmodeus ( 940657 ) if there are legions of qualified 3D device driver writers just waiting around with nothing better to do.

        Writing drivers for 3D cards is difficult work. "Release the specs and we'll write the drivers" has been the mantra of the open source community for years, but I think we're all in for a disappointment if we're expecting feature-complete, high-performance open-source drivers for these cards any time soon.

        I think some kind of sponsorship to dedicated, full-time devolopers is going to be necessary if
        • by thegnu ( 557446 )

          "Release the specs and we'll write the drivers" has been the mantra of the open source community for years, but I think we're all in for a disappointment if we're expecting feature-complete, high-performance open-source drivers for these cards any time soon.

          I think that if you have a community making a decent driver, there will be enough 3D driver writers available who know the hardware well enough to delegate simple responsibilities, make good decisions, and code the hard stuff themselves. Probably. I ho

        • by Movi ( 1005625 )
          So i guess we'll see that on Google Summer of Code
      • also get a time machine and send the code to Soviet Russia where driver write you!
  • About time! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Monday September 24, 2007 @04:59AM (#20726155)
    Given the quality of their *nix drivers...

    But I think ATI made a smart move. Outsourcing driver development to the OSS community certainly cuts costs.
    • I can't comment on the quality of ATI's *nix drivers, but FWIW I've never had any trouble with their win32 drivers. My x800xt has served me well the last three years and it still ticks on nicely.

      However, much to my regret the ATI of today seems to be a mere shadow of its former self. Given ATI's failure to meet expected release dates with the last two generations, the somewhat disappointing performance [] of both families when finally released, and the latest string of stories of senior employees signing of []

  • So, if you want to run OS software on your OS operating system then now you will have to use OS drivers. Doesn't this just encourgage the hardware developers to leave it to "the community"? How many other companies will do this now?
    • Re:Bad move? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ettlz ( 639203 ) on Monday September 24, 2007 @05:16AM (#20726223) Journal

      Doesn't this just encourgage the hardware developers to leave it to "the community"?
      This is precisely what we want. Leave driver development to those who know best how the operating system works.
      • I would have though that detailed knowledge of the actual hardware would be more useful than knowledge of the operating system and that's precisely what the hardware developers have.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by cheater512 ( 783349 )
          Which is why releasing the specs is a great thing.

          Hardware makers do their thing and then they should pass the necessary info to the community so we can write the drivers.
    • Re:Bad move? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Ihlosi ( 895663 ) on Monday September 24, 2007 @05:17AM (#20726225)
      Doesn't this just encourgage the hardware developers to leave it to "the community"?

      Professional customers might still want a HW-developer-written driver.

      Regardless of that, it's a better move than keeping the specs secret. Because in the latter case, you're totally at the mercy of the HW developer as far as driver availability and quality goes.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        In the long run, I think you'll find that the kind of customer who won't trust a community-written open source driver to be very high quality won't be using Linux (or BSD or any other Unix) at all.
        • Customers don't care if it works. I prefer open-source drivers - they don't get unsupported because some company wants me to buy their new products and doesn't release drivers for old hardware to work with new specs (see legacy nvidia drivers and 7.3).
        • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
          I use Linux but I have little faith that we will every see FOSS 3d drivers that are written for free by the "community"
          So far there are zero modern 3D drivers that do not have a lot of manufacture support.
          I will bet that the FOSS ATI drivers with still have a lot of code from ATI.
          • 3D hardware acceleration still works for my Voodoo 3 card years after 3dfx went bankrupt and got absorbed into NVidia. It has even gained some features since 3dfx disappeared. The specs are open, so the community keeps the code working.

            In general, drivers that are open-source and included in the main distribution (be it the kernel, X, or whatever) don't bitrot, even if the manufacturer stops maintaining them. So what does it matter whether it was written by the community or started as a binary blob and got
            • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
              "So what does it matter whether it was written by the community or started as a binary blob and got open-sourced by the manufacturer?"
              To the end user none at all. What it does mean is that the heavy lifting was all done buy the hardware company. No really big money savings from going FOSS are just bug fixes and maybe some small improvements to drivers for hardware that you don't sell anymore.
              I am all for FOSS drivers. What I am sick of is the "all they need to do is give us the specs" driver fantasy. Heck
              • Re:Bad move? (Score:4, Insightful)

                by 644bd346996 ( 1012333 ) on Monday September 24, 2007 @12:54PM (#20730753)
                So, you think the "give us the specs and we'll do the rest" bit is a fantasy? Has it occured to you that all those reverse-engineered drivers would have been done 100 times faster with specs, resulting in working drivers while the products were still fairly new?

                Look at the resources the r300 and nouveau projects have. If the manufacturers simply dumped the specs on them, they would be able to produce high quality drivers quickly. Even without the specs, they've proven their abilities to make decent drivers the hard way. Or do you have some reason to believe that they wouldn't be significantly more productive with specs? Is there something magic about ATI's programmers that makes them vastly more productive with the same specs to work from?
              • by h4rm0ny ( 722443 )

                There's also a motivation for the graphics card companies to assist and help the community to develop the drivers. After all, good drivers are a selling to the card and a lack of support is a turn off. I see the future of this being not just opening of specs, but some work being done by the companies themselves under a free software license. It would help sell the cards, after all.

                And for reference, I'm due to upgrade my system in a few months and I'll be getting an ATI card on principle.
    • ATI(AMD) and NVidia by themselves are able to create drivers for most of the probable market. However, the community is not totally content with their drivers.
            Other companies that produce well used hardware does not have drivers for Linux, and when access to their documentation will be available, the quality of the open source drivers will hopefully improve.
    • by babbling ( 952366 ) on Monday September 24, 2007 @07:01AM (#20726705)
      Cheaper for the companies. Better for the community.

      The only losers are the companies (eg. nvidia) that compete with companies clever enough to do this, and companies (eg. microsoft) who have a vested interest in there not being any Free Software drivers.
      • Presumably is an advantage if they release the documentation AND distribute some hardware to develop/test against. Otherwise you have to wait for someone "in the community" to buy the card and start working on the driver. That could mean real delays. Alright, a delay is better than what you have at the moment, ie nothing. To me it just sounds like ATI shirking all responsibility, not making any tactical moves.
        • by baadger ( 764884 )
          Exactly, one of the things that held (or is still holding?) back the Nouveau project (an open source reverse engineered driver for nVidia cards) is the lack of developers with hardware to test their work against.

          Talking of Nouveau, the 2D performance of their driver at one point exceeded that of the nVidia sponsored "nv" driver, but I think since they moved to the new EXA framework (some X acceleration API) they have negated these advantages.
      • companies (eg. microsoft) who have a vested interest in there not being any Free Software drivers.

        Note that, with the availability of Mesa3D's source, it's not that much difficult to provide open source drivers for Windows, at least for openGL.

        The 3DFX source community has been doing it since a long time. Because the source of the Glide API (the low level talking to 3DFx hardware) has been available, since the demise of 3DFx and because windows XP didn't provide any support for openGL on Voodoo boards, a st

    • Doesn't this just encourgage the hardware developers to leave it to "the community"?
      Well, we left it to the hardware developer (ATI) for how many years and look where it got us! Information in the customers hands is always better because it gives more choices/options.

  • by Tom Womack ( 8005 ) <> on Monday September 24, 2007 @05:14AM (#20726209) Homepage
    That the words 'texture', 'instruction pointer' or 'blitter' appear nowhere in either PDF file is a bit of a giveaway.

    Whilst the registers are essential for getting any kind of driver to work, the documents don't describe the exciting features of the graphics processor. They give you enough control over the memory-controller timings to convert any Radeon card into a smoking brick with a small kernel-mode driver, but they don't give instructions which actually make the graphics silicon do things. There's no indication of what the machine-code for the vector processors looks like.

    If you compare this to the documentation that Intel has for its (obsolete) 845 graphics controller, you notice that the whole block of registers for controlling even something as basic as the blitter, let alone the 'set instruction pointer for processing unit N' registers which actually let you set the high-performance processing units in the card to work, are missing.

    These documents let you use an R500 or R600 card as a frame buffer. Not worth making a song and dance about that one.

    Myself, I'd be fascinated to see documentation for the Intel G965 like the documentation for the G845; it clearly exists, there's a paper in the most recent Intel Technical Journal about low-level programming on the 965, it's just not available to mortals unless by attempting to reverse-engineer the 965 driver.
    • by AntiDragon ( 930097 ) on Monday September 24, 2007 @06:04AM (#20726403)
      If I remember correctly, AMD have stated that there is more to come - the specs and documentation covering the 3D functions has been promised for the "near future". The reason for the delay is due to patents and third party code in those areas and have had to take greater care to make sure the specs and docs aren't encumbered. I hope they follow through on this.
      • by richlv ( 778496 )
        i doubt specs would include 3rd party code.
        patents seem to be a better excuse this time.
      • Matrox promised full specifications including 3D capability for the G200 series cards back in 1998. Being an idealistic sucker, I bought a G200 based on those promises.

        Those specifications, promised nearly ten years ago, never arrived to my knowledge. If they ever did, it happened long after the G200 was obsolete.

        About six months after wasting money on that G200, I bought a Riva TNT2 and have been an NVidia customer since then. They don't make empty promises that we MIGHT be able to write a decent workin
        • Whoa, there. The 8.41 driver provides "working 3D support" for at least the R600 cards (I think that was all AMD said was officially supported for the moment). Nvidia is no longer the only option.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Ford Prefect ( 8777 )

          Those specifications, promised nearly ten years ago, never arrived to my knowledge. If they ever did, it happened long after the G200 was obsolete.

          They did arrive, and for the G400 as well. The first driver to make use of this information was the Utah-GLX [] module thingy for XFree86 3 - that John Carmack helped with their development. I think the specifications for some particular, programmable section of the cards (WARP setup engine?) weren't released, but microcode blobs for the necessary functionality were

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Andy Dodd ( 701 )
            I sort of recall hearing sometime down the line that some of the 3D specs were released, but critical stuff needed for acceptable performance or modern effects was missing.
            • I sort of recall hearing sometime down the line that some of the 3D specs were released, but critical stuff needed for acceptable performance or modern effects was missing.

              That would be the WARP triangle setup thingy - something like two custom RISC processors which would munch through data. Matrox did supply microcode to make 'em do all the necessary stuff, but I don't think specs were ever released, nor did anyone figure out how they worked.

              Performance and features were about the same as with Windows, but

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )
      Well, if they said "that's all folks" then it'd not be much. But they've said 3D specs are coming, and you have to walk (2D) before you can run (3D) so it's better they release 2D when it's ready and 3D soon than nothing now and then all at once. Let's just hope that they'll actually give complete specs and not some half-accelerated stuff.
    • Welcome to the nice world of 2007, where graphic cards have more in common with supercomputers than with hardware blitter and rasteriser of early Amigas and 3DFx'.

      More seriously, once the 3D specs gets released, due to the highe programmability of latest generation of hardware, the 3D specs are probably going to contain much more information about building and uploading fragments, and setting up input and output streams, than occurence of the words "blitter" and "texture". In fact, I don't actually know if
    • Absolutley _Spot On_ (Score:5, Informative)

      by burnttoy ( 754394 ) on Monday September 24, 2007 @08:46AM (#20727449) Homepage Journal
      I develop drivers for a living (actually for the last year I haven't). I went through the docs a few weeks ago - I spent about 2 hours having a "good" read.

      These docs will let one do the following

      1 - Setup you own video mode
      2 - Setup up a video overlay (not video acceleration)
      3 - Setup a full colour mouse cursor

      That's all. These do not explain how to blit, alpha blend, scale, ROP2, ROP3 or ROP4 or perform any other transform.

      This is useful, but not _that_ useful!

      Hopefully there will be more to come specifically more on the memory/cache controller (essential to get performance up), more on the PCI/AGP bus control, more on the 2D source/dest blit registers, pitch, loop counters and I'd like to know how much of the 2D guts is programmable. TBH I thought we'd have moved on to the point of (somewhat) programmable shaders for 2D these days with loops etc built into the HW (0 clock loops and addressing etc).
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by amigabill ( 146897 )
        I'd also love to see some documentation for the terms and concepts you've mentioned. What are ROP2/3/4, why do we want them around, etc. Not just the registers for them, because not all of us know what those are for or why we care. How does one go from knowing little if anything about graphics to knowing what to do with registers defined in these and other Radeon documents?
  • Hopefully Nvidia will release their specs...
  • Wish they would focus more on video acceleration. Linux HTPC's need to be able to decode 1080p without using a powerful CPU.
    • They do - on Avivo powered cards (R500 or later). I am able to to watch digital TV in 1080i with less than 20% CPU utilization (on an Athlon 64 3200+).
  • Eating my words (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MrNemesis ( 587188 ) on Monday September 24, 2007 @07:58AM (#20727061) Homepage Journal
    When ATI were making their first murmurings of releasing specs a few weeks ago, I have to say I wasn't convinced - I've been burned by ATI's shoddy Linux support in the past, and it was going to take alot of convincing that AMD (traditionally very friendly to FOSS) was trying to steer the ship in a different direction.

    And now they've released scads of docs - kudos. This was probably the only way to make a FOSS driver a reality without violating reams of licensed IP. On top of that, I believe their latest set of Linux drivers fix a number of long standing issues, as well as vastly increasing 3D performance (although obviously there are still are QA problems).

    Granted, it's almost all 2D stuff at the moment, but being able to ship a functional, fast and non-crash-prone driver for ATI cards with every modern distro will be another win for Linux in general.

    I'm quite interested to hear about advanced features though - will implementing things like iDCT in XvMC for MPEG2, MPEG4 ASP and H.264 be a reality? Can these things be implemented with 2D registers or do these things need to be run through the 3D shaders nowadays? The low end ATI cards, including the IGP's, would be ideal for HTPC boxes, espcially with Intel dragging their feet on similar support/documentation for their (admittedly otherwise excellent) GMA X3xxx series.
    • by Andy Dodd ( 701 )
      "When ATI were making their first murmurings of releasing specs a few weeks ago, I have to say I wasn't convinced - I've been burned by ATI's shoddy Linux support in the past, and it was going to take alot of convincing that AMD (traditionally very friendly to FOSS) was trying to steer the ship in a different direction."

      Just like I was burned by Matrox's promises to release 3D specs shortly after they released 2D specs for the G200 nearly a decade ago. They never delivered the documentation that was promis
      • Yeah, after lowerin gmy threshold and reading some more of the techy replies I'm inclined to agree with you - it does seem that these docs are only equivalent to using the card as a dumb framebuffer at the moment - admittedly, probably a better framebuffer than is currently implemented, but not much better than raw VESA for a desktop.

        I just hope to hell ATI *do* release more useful docs, and that this supposed "alpha quality" driver marks a considerable performance/reliability improvement from the current F
  • Of course, this news comes just after I've replaced my ATI and AMD with a screamin' fast Intel and NVidia rig.

    I agree that releasing specs is a step in the right direction, but all of their products are kinda bland right now, and they lost their price advantage over the summer when Intel went apeshit with deep price cuts, and that's before even considering that current Intel chips can be overclocked to ridiculous heights with little effort.

    The Linux distros have always been good to low-end hardware, but the
  • 1.Which features of the cards ATI will never document (will we see documentation for the TV out functionality in these cards for example?)
    and 2.Which features are going to take the longest to document (because of patents/3rd party code)
  • I no longer HATi you!

  • I've taken a quick look at one of the manuals.

    The register descriptions are one thing. A little wording around that to explain what is what and how it works is another thing that changes things from very tedious to workable.

    In a processor manual you see that the 0xaa opcode has the "ADD" mnemonic, and does a = a + , and sets the flags. This AMD manual has the level: "0xaa is called ADD", and nothing more. With a bit of imagination and some previous knowledge how things normally work you can probably figure

... though his invention worked superbly -- his theory was a crock of sewage from beginning to end. -- Vernor Vinge, "The Peace War"