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GNU is Not Unix Graphics Software Hardware IT

Basic Linux Boot On Open Graphics Card 177

David Vuorio writes "The Open Graphics Project aims to develop a fully open-source graphics card; all specs, designs, and source code are released under Free licenses. Right now, FPGAs (large-scale reprogrammable chips) are used to build a development platform called OGD1. They've just completed an alpha version of legacy VGA emulation, apparently not an easy feat. This YouTube clip shows Gentoo booting up in text mode, with OGD1 acting as the primary display. The Linux Fund is receiving donations, so that ten OGD1 boards can be bought (at cost) for developers. Also, the FSF shows their interest by asking volunteers to help with the OGP wiki."
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Basic Linux Boot On Open Graphics Card

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  • A milestone? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Brian Gordon ( 987471 ) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @04:45PM (#27800749)
    Isn't VGA a very thoroughly documented and widely implemented standard?

    Also, they can't possibly approach competing with NVidia or ATI and I doubt anyone's going to shell out a billion dollars to build a plant to make their cards. If they're just playing around with FGPAs then this isn't really a serious "Open Graphics Card" ... performance will be terrible .
  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @04:48PM (#27800763) Homepage Journal

    Do you want to be tied to a vendor?

    If the answer is no, then you understand. if you don't mind being tied to a vendor and at their mercy, then i guess the answer for you is that there is no benefit.

    Open hardware has the same value as open software.

  • by cduffy ( 652 ) <> on Saturday May 02, 2009 @04:58PM (#27800841)

    When a piece of music, or a play, enters the public domain, there are effects beneficial to the public:

    • Direct embodiments (sheet music, CDs, etc) become cheaper, and thus accessible to more of the public.
    • Derived works are easier (no licensing hassle) to create.

    These have analogs here. Having a Free video card design means that low-end video cards can become that much cheaper (and that there's more room for new entrants into the very-low-end market), and that there's a common, available base on which new and innovative work can be done.

  • by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 ) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @05:14PM (#27800953) Homepage Journal

    Well obviously it's of academic interest. American consumers have sunk billions into video card research and for the most part the implementations are shrouded in mystery locked up in labs.

    The problem with this line is that the American consumers may have sunk billions into buying video cards, they were never promised any or all the knowledge required to build one. In other words, you bought a product, not the product design process process, and your line seems to suggest confusion on that part.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @05:22PM (#27800993) Homepage

    There's not that much mystery about the things. Making a VGA emulator in an FPGA is no big deal. If all you implemented was text mode and mode 13H, it would probably boot Linux. Getting to a card that runs OpenGL is a big job, but not out of reach. The pipeline is well understood, and there are software implementations to look at. As you get to later versions of Direct-X, it gets tougher, because Microsoft controls the documentation.

    But the real problem is that you'll never get anything like the performance of current generation 3D boards with an FPGA. There aren't anywhere near enough gates. You need custom silicon.

  • Re:A milestone? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by morcego ( 260031 ) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @05:32PM (#27801045)

    The best answer I've read so far regarding the "why" for this was simply: because we can.

    There is a reason people pay so much for other people to make computers (sw and hw). It is so they don't need to worry about it.

    I'm all for the Open Whatever project. Simply "because we can". It is like climbing a mountain.

    And hey, who knows what we will see on the other side once we reach the summit.

  • Re:Hey (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 02, 2009 @05:44PM (#27801113)

    Cool, yes. Useful - hardly.

    why would you bother with VGA emulation?

    So you can put it in a standard x86 PC and see the BIOS?

  • Re:Hey (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DaleGlass ( 1068434 ) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @05:44PM (#27801117) Homepage

    Unfortunately the BIOS and boot loader will still need VGA. Maybe Linux BIOS could remove that requirement, but you can't count on that.

    They seem to have implemented it in a very cool way too. Quote from a linked OSNews article:

    Aside from the logic reduction, this has other advantages. The screen resolution as seen by the host is decoupled from the physical display resolution. So while VGA thinks it's 640x400, the monitor could be at 2560x1600, without the need for a scaler. It's easily programmable, and we have complete control over how the text is processed into pixels; for instance, we could have HQ do some scaling or use a higher-res font different from what the host thinks we're using.

  • Re:Hey (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MBCook ( 132727 ) <> on Saturday May 02, 2009 @05:54PM (#27801167) Homepage

    Slashdot, RTFA, blah blah blah.

    If you go to the Wiki, and read the link in the top article, there is a link to OS News. If you follow that and read down in the comments, you'll find this post [] by the architect of the VGA emulation.

    Apparently it really is emulation. Their MCU that they use as a PCI interface has a mode that generates the raw pixels when given VGA commands. It handles the VGA interface. The graphics processor just receives (from it's perspective) pixmaps that are constantly generated by the MCU in VGA mode.

    The guy says that VGA on their card is actually resolution independent (since the MCU generates what is needed) and could actually be up-sampled to show clearer fonts without the OS having any idea it was going on.

    He says it's not the cleanest way of doing things (from a methodology standpoint), but it has the least impact on the design of the hardware (compared to a "real" VGA interface).

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @05:57PM (#27801187) Homepage

    Implementing OpenGL efficiently isn't just a "big job" it's essentially the entire field of computer graphics hardware.

    It's understood, though. And you can do it in sections. Start with an OpenGL implementation that does tessellation, geometry transforms, and fill in software. Build something that just does the fill part. (That's 1995 technology in PC graphics.) Then add the 4x4 multiplier and do the geometry on the board (that's 1998 technology on the PC, 1985 technology for SGI.). Once all that's working correctly and the read-back of the frame buffer matches the OpenGL spec for the tests, you can start to work on parallelism. (That's 2000 technology). Then comes programmable shaders and arbitrary computation on the graphics board, which gets hard.

    It's a lot like Linux; a decade behind, but still useful.

  • If the answer is no, then you understand. if you don't mind being tied to a vendor and at their mercy, then i guess the answer for you is that there is no benefit

    Yeah, but open vendors are vendors too. That's the thing. Basically, what you are trying to do is suppress innovation for the sake of commoditization, and that's not a proposition that people want to make.

  • by Lorien_the_first_one ( 1178397 ) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @06:28PM (#27801349)
    Agreed. I'm not a gamer, but I like the idea of having an open implementation of a graphics card for my use. Lower the barriers to entry to the market, and things get really interesting.

    I hope this group of engineers can succeed in producing an open board that eventually provides high-end graphics capabilities.
  • Re:Hey (Score:3, Insightful)

    by raddan ( 519638 ) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @10:51PM (#27802907)
    Having just finished a semester project writing a bootloader for an ARM processor, I can say without a doubt that there's no way you can get around BIOS. Linux most certainly needs BIOS. But not only does it need BIOS, it needs a bootloader. Linux is all kinds of cool things, but ain't magic, you know.
  • Re:Hey (Score:4, Insightful)

    by amn108 ( 1231606 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @05:49AM (#27804733)

    You fail to take into account how fast things can change on the desktop arena. I say we have had enough of either BIOS, VGA and the text mode as such. For all it is worth, do it like Macs do - startup the minimalistic OFI/EFI with the video card in graphics mode, and boot up the OS from the disk blocks as fast as you can. If anybody wants to mess with their system before the OS loads up, they should press that Alt+Option+O+F or whatever that was, and type firmware commands into console. BIOS accomplishes neither task well - it gives experts stipid interfaces, while they could be using command line instead, and novices do not even know what they are doing in BIOS.

    And no stupid 4-bit color Dell/Lenovo/HP/Asus/Acer logos with stupid BIOS text and even more stupid BIOS itself.

    There is no need for two operating systems on one computer for the majority of us, BIOS being one. And it will save us 10 seconds of idle time at startup. Degrade the common subset of hardware interfaces so that the only thing the bootstrap procedure needs to do is get to the boot block of whatever device that contains the further loading code. No VGA BIOS and BIOS interface is needed for that in their entirety. Just a way to read the boot sector from a device. That does not need a vendor logo on the screen or the multitude of settings BIOS provides, before these are superceded with OS drivers anyway.

...there can be no public or private virtue unless the foundation of action is the practice of truth. - George Jacob Holyoake