Intel has provided RFC patches for its Linux kernel graphics driver, allowing third-party discrete GPU drivers for non-x86 architectures to be developed. This could allow interested parties to create drivers for Intel’s forthcoming discrete graphics processors that run on Arm, RISC-V, POWER, and other Linux architectures.
“Quicky and dirty hack based on some old ideas,” is how Tvrtko Ursuline, an Intel engineer, described the patch series discovered by Phoronix. “Thought maybe the approach might interest the Arm port guys. But with IS_GEN_RANGE removed easy gains are not so big so meh. Maybe some easier wins with IS_DISPLAY_VER but I have not looked into that side.”
For well over a decade, Intel has been the main supplier of integrated GPUs. Intel did not need to offer non-x86 functionality for its drivers because its GPUs are incorporated inside its x86 CPUs. As a result, Intel’s current integrated GPU graphics drivers are compiled and optimized for x86. For Intel’s future independent Xe-HPG GPUs for desktops and notebooks, however, decoupling them from this architecture makes sense. Similarly, Xe-HPC GPUs for data centers and supercomputers do not have to be x86-based (even though they will be exclusively used with x86 processors, at least initially).
The series of patches that propose to decouple the Intel Linux kernel graphics driver from the x86 architecture is now in RFC status, and it’s uncertain whether any developers will take the bait. Furthermore, we have no idea whether enthusiasts would create Intel Linux kernel graphics drivers for Arm or RISC-V system-on-chips because there may be numerous software and hardware challenges to solve.
Making a hardware platform compatible with a wide range of software platforms and allowing users to play with it is one method to draw the attention of enthusiasts and developers. Because the Linux community is one of Intel’s target markets for its future Arc Alchemist graphics cards and Xe-HPC compute accelerators, being more friendly to them is necessary.
Intel appears to be borrowing a page from AMD’s book when it comes to enabling non-x86 functionality under Linux. AMD makes some of its drivers’ source code available to the Linux community, allowing them to be changed and developed for different CPU architectures. Last year, for instance, an enthusiast was able to get AMD’s Radeon RX 6700 XT to run on SiFive’s HiFive Unmatched RISC-V desktop motherboard for developers.