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AMD Brings 3D GPU Documentation Up To Date

Unknown Lamer posted 1 year,19 days | from the go-forth-and-hack dept.

X 64

jones_supa writes "Things are starting to look even better for the status of open specifications for AMD Radeon HD hardware. AMD's Alex Deucher announced via his personal blog that programming guides and register specifications on the 3D engines for the Evergreen, Northern Islands, Southern Islands, and Sea Islands GPUs are now in the NDA-free public domain. These parts represent the 3D engines on the Radeon HD 5000 through Radeon HD 8000 series graphics processors."

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Steam (4, Interesting)

Nerdfest (867930) | 1 year,19 days | (#45014419)

Valve seems to have stirred things up a bit. I know some of this was in the works before, but the timing is nice.

Re:Steam (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45014623)

NDA-free public domain

Don't you love the reciprocally auto-referencing redundant self pleonasm?

Re:Steam (1)

Dega704 (1454673) | 1 year,19 days | (#45015317)

Indeed. Are Nvidia and AMD now trying to 1up each other with their Linux drivers? That would be great news for us users.

Re:Steam (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45016325)

No, just AMD.

Nvidia has marginally better hardware, but AMD's is far better than "just good enough" anyway, so the real issue with AMD is their piece of crap (which IS getting better, but it is still shit) Catalyst driver. However, AMD is working at getting rid of Catalyst in a way that is not going to hurt their bottom line any.

We shall see. It is better for everybody if AMD has a huge success now, we need it strong to counter both Intel and nVidia.

That the complete set? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45014441)

Better late than never, eh. This really needs to be standard practice across the industry.

Re:That the complete set? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45014757)

I don't think Hawaii was included in this documentation. Of course, it hasn't technically been released yet.

Re:That the complete set? (1)

unixisc (2429386) | 1 year,19 days | (#45018311)

Northern Islands & Southern Islands would refer to New Zealand, not Hawaii.

Re:That the complete set? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,18 days | (#45023309)


We only have one Northern Island, called North Island "Te Ika-a-Mui" (literally: the fish of Maui), and one south island, called South Island " Te Wai Pounamu" (literally: the water's of greenstone) . Each has many smaller islands off of it, but neither is called Northern Islands nor Southern Islands. Mythology has it that Te Wai Pounamu is Maui's canoe, and he fished Te Ika a Maui from the depths of the ocean with a hook made from his grandmother's jawbone, which he stole from her while she was still alive, that Maui was always a trickster.

X logo? (1)

sanosuke001 (640243) | 1 year,19 days | (#45014499)

Why is the X logo by the story? This has nothing (directly) to do with X. Just because they opened their documentation doesn't mean X is the main focus...

Re:X logo? (1)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | 1 year,19 days | (#45014641)

No one cares about an open video driver on Windows

Re:X logo? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45014845)

A video card driver is the one thing I don't trust to open source development. Knowing how half-assed, finicky, slow and unstable most open source software is, I'd hate to think what they'd do to something this low level.

Re:X logo? (4, Insightful)

UnknowingFool (672806) | 1 year,19 days | (#45015091)

Then you haven't been paying attention. There are three majors players: Intel, NVidia, and AMD.

NVidia has great proprietary Linux drivers but their documentation has been lacking. Open source developers do what they can with nouveau but without the full documentation, they are guessing in places. NVidia is working to make more documentation available.

AMD has better documentation but their Linux drivers have not been as good as NVidia.

Then there is Intel who has good documentation and drivers. The problem is their video cards are not as good as NVidia or AMD. If you need a basic video card with average multimedia capabilities like h264 support, Intel is good. If you want to play games with Steam, the experience might be lacking.

Re:X logo? (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45015191)

Non-sequitur much? What does any of that have to do with trusting open source development for low level drivers?

Re:X logo? (2)

UnknowingFool (672806) | 1 year,19 days | (#45016971)

You don't trust open source. So who do you trust? Proprietary? Pffft. Take for example NVidia. Every time NVidia updates their drivers it might break something in Linux or the a kernel update might break the driver. Nouveau generally is stable but it doesn't do everything the proprietary driver does. Rock and hard place. Like I said, you haven't been laying attention.

Re:X logo? (2)

hobarrera (2008506) | 1 year,19 days | (#45017561)

Times are changing fast. Intel's GPUs are catching up with nvidia's. Last-gen games run great on an Intel HD 5000, and the gap between Intel and nvidia/amd is shinking fast!

Re:X logo? (1)

aztracker1 (702135) | 1 year,19 days | (#45018419)

The latest are okay for general desktop use, but still not great with the high-density displays starting to trickle in, or for multi-monitor use in games.

Re:X logo? (1)

hobarrera (2008506) | 1 year,18 days | (#45023411)

As I said, I've had no issues gaming with Intel HD 5000. Multi-monitor gaming is something I've yet to come across, so I can't vouch for that. There's no issue using Hi-DPI with Intel video at all, an HD 5000 support 3200x2000. Dunno about gaming no those resolutions though.

Re:X logo? (1)

ifiwereasculptor (1870574) | 1 year,19 days | (#45018657)

NV hasn't had "great proprietary Linux drivers" for a while. Performance is good, yes, but Optimus supportd has been denied, older cards are given the shaft (not keeping up with newer Xorg APIs in a timely manner can be excused - marking severe rendering issues on Gnome Shell, Unity and Cinnamon as a wontfix on three generations of their cards cannot) and you can get funny stories such as these: []

So, while NV has the edge in performance still, for owners of particular cards/features the experience can be incredibly frustrating, which is why I would never say their proprietary drivers for Linux are "great". I"d save that for a driver that works as well as NV's on Windows.

Re:X logo? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45015575)

> A video card driver is the one thing I don't trust to open source development. Knowing how half-assed, finicky, slow and unstable most open source software is, I'd hate to think what they'd do to something this low level.


So you trust the windows kernel more than Linux or BSD?

You trust the IE rendering engine more than that or Chrome, Safari or Firefox?

Re:X logo? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45015691)

I wasn't aware that those were video card drivers.

Re:X logo? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45015881)

Where were you when most of the problems of windows gaming was driver related?
It just took them a fucking decade to get stable drivers.

Re:X logo? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45016151)

Yeah Totally!

That's why linux / freebsd / openbsd / etc. are soooo unstable as operating systems!
They crash all the time because of all of those 'half-assed, finicky, slow and unstable' drivers! ... Just because the crappy PHP web software you're not afraid looking at is written by a bunch of n00bs, doesn't mean that the 'real' software isn't written well.

In fact, I'd say as a gross generalization, that the lower level you get in an open source platform, generally speaking, the better the code.

Re:X logo? (3, Informative)

Just Brew It! (636086) | 1 year,19 days | (#45016813)

The main reason Open Source video drivers for newer nVidia and AMD GPUs have had such a checkered history is precisely the lack of public hardware specs. The driver teams have been forced to reverse-engineer some of the hardware features to develop the drivers, which is far from ideal.

Open Source drivers for Intel GPUs have historically been pretty good (well, at least until they started using the PowerVR-based junk...); the issue there has been slow hardware, not buggy drivers.

Re:X logo? (1)

unixisc (2429386) | 1 year,19 days | (#45018345)

No one cares about an open video driver on Windows

Doesn't matter. An open driver is more relevant to the different kernels that would be needing GPU drivers and providing KMS based on those - it's little to do w/ X11. Once Wayland/Mir & others come aboard, X will be even more irrelevant.

Re:X logo? (1)

LoRdTAW (99712) | 1 year,19 days | (#45014739)

Yea! There should be a Mir or Wayland logo up there instead.

Though I do agree with your sentiment, X drivers for Linux and BSD are the primary audience. Sure it could help ReactOS, Illumos and Haiku developers but Linux is the main focus and BSD probably second. Windows and MacOS don't need open drivers, they are closed systems (okay OSX is somewhat open) using closed drivers.

Re:X logo? (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | 1 year,19 days | (#45014885)

Windows and MacOS don't need open drivers, they are closed systems (okay OSX is somewhat open) using closed drivers.

And a lot of linux users run the binary blob drivers from AMD and nVidia too.

I wonder ... since X has insecure keyhandling anyway, could the binary video drivers be Bull-Run'ed? The timing is awfully coincidental.

Re:X logo? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45018505)

Not ReactOS, surely, since they aim for driver compatibility with Windows XP.

Re:X logo? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,18 days | (#45023373)

Bitch please. I use plan9, and I write my own drivers (and I'm not joking).

Bring it on NVidia (2)

dutchwhizzman (817898) | 1 year,19 days | (#45014637)

Try and compete with this and open up all your specs too.

Re:Bring it on NVidia (1)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | 1 year,19 days | (#45014707)

It isn't that easy. There is a bunch of code they contracted out or licensed that they have no legal right to release.

Re:Bring it on NVidia (4, Insightful)

Ultra64 (318705) | 1 year,19 days | (#45014769)

Sure, it will take time to sort out the legal issues.

But if AMD can do it, so can nVidia.

Re:Bring it on NVidia (0)

armanox (826486) | 1 year,19 days | (#45014997)

nVidia's drivers work great for me. I really don't care if they release it in the open as long as the binary driver keeps working (which has always been a better track record than fglrx, even if it has improved). Plus, nVidia releases a BSD and Solaris driver.

Re:Bring it on NVidia (2)

marcosdumay (620877) | 1 year,19 days | (#45016877)

Well, that's you. I, on the other hand, do care a lot if I can use my GPUs with unmodified kernels or not, and once one good enough choice has a free driver, I'll certainly stop buying ones that lack it.

Re:Bring it on NVidia (1)

armanox (826486) | 1 year,19 days | (#45017291)

So I take it you don't use VMware or Virtualbox either?

Re:Bring it on NVidia (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | 1 year,19 days | (#45019697)

I use them, the same way that I use the proprietary drivers of my GPUs. If there were a virtualization software that run with the main kernel and satisfied my needs, I would use it.

Re:Bring it on NVidia (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45019979)

Re:Bring it on NVidia (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | 1 year,18 days | (#45021667)

Last time I tried it, I couldn't make it work the way I wanted. But you just made me try it again, so thanks.

Re:Bring it on NVidia (2)

Just Brew It! (636086) | 1 year,19 days | (#45016957)

The problem with being solely dependent on binary drivers is that hardware vendors eventually stop supporting older hardware on newer OSes. With a viable Open Source driver, it is (almost) guaranteed that you will still be able to use your device in the next version of Windows, Linux, etc., even if the hardware vendor declines to port the driver or goes out of business.

Re:Bring it on NVidia (1)

armanox (826486) | 1 year,19 days | (#45017281)

Except that it's not. I can install binary/'legacy' drivers for older cards in Windows (and nvidia-legacy in Linux) to get old cards to work that the open source drivers have dropped. I'll give you two examples - the Intel i8xx chipset and the nVidia Geforce 2 in my old laptop. I can install drivers in Windows for them (got the i8xx working in Windows 7), and the nvidia-legacy driver (last I checked) still covers the Geforce 2 in Linux.

Re:Bring it on NVidia (1)

Just Brew It! (636086) | 1 year,19 days | (#45016881)

I don't see what's so hard to sort out. They make a decision to publish the register-level hardware specs, and they post them. All the Open Source devs need is access to the same hardware documentation that nVidia's own driver developers use; they're not looking for the source code to the existing proprietary drivers (though nVidia releasing their own drivers under an Open Source license would be great too).

Re:Bring it on NVidia (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45014827)

They aren't releasing their driver code. It's just documentation. nVidia can do that just as easily.

You have no clue whether this is correct. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45016013)

And last time something was attributed by nVidia, the putative owner said explicitly: there is nothing that nVidia has from us that we refuse disclosure on on the subject.

Ever since then, only nVidia fanbois have repeated this lie.

Re:You have no clue whether this is correct. (1)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | 1 year,19 days | (#45018049)

grep the binaries for © and tell me what you see. Quite a few hits from non-Nvidia entities. It is no surprise you posted as an anonymous coward

Re:licensed code (3, Informative)

Foresto (127767) | 1 year,19 days | (#45016073)

Irrelevant. We're not asking for their driver code, we're asking for documentation on the hardware that we buy from them, so that we can write our own driver code.

Specs vs. Code (1)

Rob Y. (110975) | 1 year,19 days | (#45016293)

Specs and code are two different things, no? Do you think they have no legal right to release API's that talk to code running on their cards? Nobody's talking about writing open source firmware for the cards - that's not OS-specific. Or am I missing something?

Re:Bring it on NVidia (1)

hobarrera (2008506) | 1 year,19 days | (#45017575)

That's been the excuse for YEARS now! If they haven't addressed this issue in all this time, it's because they don't WANT to release documentation, not because they can't.

Re:Bring it on NVidia (1)

Belial6 (794905) | 1 year,19 days | (#45018213)

The specs are not code. They do not need to release any code to release open specs.

Finally (2)

jbernardo (1014507) | 1 year,19 days | (#45014775)

Now, with 3D to add to video acceleration and fully documented power management, ADM APUs are even more the chipset of choice for netbooks and light laptops. In terms of value for money they were already hard to beat.

Re:Finally (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45014891)

Well, they will be as soon as somebody actually implements support for those features based on the new documentation...

Re:Finally (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45016399)

That's going to take a while, and so we really ougthn't need wait for the release of the documentation in the first place.

Now for an APU-powered 4:3-screened laptop with a trackpoint and a decent keyboard. *sigh*

Re:Finally (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45018121)

Not now but finally. Only Sea Islands architecture is of any relevance, the other two are already obsolete although all the AMD punters will finally, when their hardware has become obsolete, be able to have their wobly windows.

Re:Finally (1)

LordWabbit2 (2440804) | 1 year,18 days | (#45024243)

If you like having your crotch bursting into flames.

AMD tipping point (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45015517)

AMD and ATI have had three or four significant 'glory days' in the past, but have been famous for never being able to capitalise on their success long in the face of Intel and Nvidia. However, since the merger of AMD and ATI, AMD has been slowly but surely moving towards a position of hardware perfection in the mains-powered x86 marketplace.

The Xbox One has a superior 2012 PC design, and the PS4 has a stunning late 2014 PC design (Sony paid AMD for access to its Kaveri II architecture, and AMD hasn't even launched the Kaveri I in the market yet).

AMD is the ONLY company that can provide complete, state-of-the-art solutions in the PC space at all price points. AMD's GCN graphics architecture is in the next-gen consoles (which will be a massive base of programming for the next EIGHT years), and all future x86 APU and SoC parts for se in standard PC designs. GCN is gaining a low-level driver/API (Mantle) that makes it the next x86 ISA/C/C++ like programming environment for high performance computing tasks. (PS I know Mantle is programmed via C++. The point of the comparison is to describe where programmers 'go' when they need high performance. Mantle isn't a programming language as such, but you will go to Mantle for the same reason programmers once went to assembler or C.)

AMD is even going to produce ARM parts with GCN, conquering the emerging mains-powered ARM market from 2014 onwards.

My point is that AMD now feels the future so confidently, it no longer has a problem with making open its hardware documentation. The Intel tax, and Intel's lack of acceptable GPU hardware makes Intel a non-player outside prehistoric PC designs. Nvidia's lack of x86 CPU cores, and their complete failure to get even close to having the most important GPU in the current ARM space makes Nvidia a non-player as well.

We are now in the age of single chip computing (which, of course, does NOT mean only one IC in your computer). This especially impacts desktop Linux/Android computers, which traditionally have been built from a mess of discounted PC parts, making them far more complicated to maintain than is logical or sensible. Linux computing needs a "it just works" paradigm for the hardware so it can properly take off for the first time. Linux 'wars' over hardware drivers, and whether they are open-source, is a cancer to the success of Linux. Computers should be about the use of the computer, not moronic 'politics' over issues 99.999% of users have no reason to care about.

Now AMD can bring the same SoC thinking to desktop PCs that has revolutionised the tablet market (via ARM SoC parts), we can move on to the next phase of computing, and make Intel and Microsoft a distant memory. AMD's GCN ISA is a beautiful 'start-over' moment, much like when IBM adopted the (then god-awful) x86 ISA for its PCs. If the market is sensible, it will pressure AMD to allow Nvidia to become a second source for GCN compatible GPU designs (and it looks increasing likely this will happen when Intel uses Nvidia to design its integrated graphics in their 2015+ parts, probably leading to a merger of the two companies).

Traditional PC hardware companies are in a race against time. If they don't get their act together, the 'race to the bottom' seen in the ARM market will lead to traditional PCs being replaced with ultra-cheap 'good enough' ARM based ones (using hardware from anyone BUT Intel/Nvidia/AMD). If this happens, AAA gaming will become the domain of the consoles only, and AMD/Nvidia would be left with the GPGPU markets alone (and how did that work out for Sun, SGI et al).

AMD is the last great hope for the evolution of the traditional PC. Intel has purposely created the stagnation of the PC architecture for more than a decade now, so it can sell people insanely expensive CPU chips with fractional improvements generation-by-generation. If AMD's x86/GCN APU chips don't sell (in the Linux/Windows space), then ARM will win here as well.

Re:AMD tipping point (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45015761)

I have a broadcom wireless in my laptop, and so did my previous laptop, back before the driver was opensourced it had a known bug (for literally years) where it would crash if you heavily used wireless with encryption (it worked fine with encryption and low network load, and it worked fine withouth encryption and high network load)

then they opensourced the driver, by the time I heard about the opensourced driver someone had already fixed that very annoying bug.
that's why you want opensourced drivers.

you're right that most of the time I don't give a fuck about the drivers, from my perspective things tend to just magically work...
but, every once in a blue moon, something doesn't and at those times the drivers beeing opensourced is critical:
I have _never_ had any feedback about any bugs I reported for proprietary software, and that's assuming there even is a way to report the bug in the first place, quite often there isn't.
I've had quite the opposite experience with free software, where given a clear description of the issue you usually some discussion and a fix.

Re:AMD tipping point (1)

sexconker (1179573) | 1 year,19 days | (#45015861)

The Xbox One has a superior 2012 PC design, and the PS4 has a stunning late 2014 PC design

More like 2010 and 2011.

Re:AMD tipping point (1)

Just Brew It! (636086) | 1 year,19 days | (#45016995)

Maybe that was meant to be in dog years. Or something.

Mantle (1)

Tim12s (209786) | 1 year,19 days | (#45016883)

Late last-night a flash of insight grew out of the understanding of Mantle. Ultimately, long term, x86 and GPU instruction sets will merge. The problem is that once the instruction set has merged, the architecture is locked preventing subsequent drastic innovation. With mantle, there is a software "driver" that decouples the specific instruction/chip architecture from the software that utilizes it allowing massive subsequent innovation without disrupting the applications that depend upon specific instructions.


congrats are in order (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45016889)

thank you Alex Deucher. you do amd and the community a great service. hopefully amd will continue to scrub the sleep from it's eyes regarding linux and it's own future. keep up the good work.

The prophesy of St. Ignucius must be fulfilled. (2)

VortexCortex (1117377) | 1 year,19 days | (#45017047)

Gee, so you mean, hardware companies can just focus on making better hardware and actually give us the information we need to make the most out of the hardware they sell us rather than holding the documentation for ransom? RMS can finally stop rolling in his grave!

Seriously, stop. If you're "not dead yet", that's just weird, man.

Re:The prophesy of St. Ignucius must be fulfilled. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,18 days | (#45022965)

I sleep in a grave, you insensitive clod!

But.. will we actually get a free driver now? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,19 days | (#45017057)

The drivers from AMD and NVIDIA are both dependent on non-free code so if your goal is a perfect video driver it is far from it and this clashes with the free software development models Linux/GNU are based on. It's preventing the OS from thriving amongst the masses. Even if you as a technical user can figure out how to and have no problem with manually upgrading the driver on every release and dealing with the headaches it presents most users don't want to deal with it. And specifically it is a headache to install and maintain the non-free drivers. But it goes beyond that in there is no indefinite support. It ends when these companies no longer feel like supporting it. That is unacceptable. I'm a technical user and still on Ubuntu 12.04. It's not because I dislike 13.04, it's purely because my time is more valuable and I just don't have the time to deal with this upgrade non-sense, let alone add additional proprietary drivers (and figure out other related issues afterward), and I do support for a living (sort of, higher up on the food chain, but a techy, none-the-less).

Re:But.. will we actually get a free driver now? (1)

jonwil (467024) | 1 year,19 days | (#45021027)

You clearly have never used the open source ATI driver otherwise you would know that its more than adequate for many people and that you dont need the closed-source flgrx driver 99% of the time.

Same with nvidia and their blob, Noveau is getting better all the time (and will only continue to improve now that nvidia have decided to stare info)

I personally run Noveau on my Gentoo box (which has a fairly old card in it)

Re:But.. will we actually get a free driver now? (1)

ShoulderOfOrion (646118) | 1 year,18 days | (#45021981)

I've been running the open source radeon driver on my Gentoo box for over a year now. No problems with desktop compositing, no problems with 3D graphic applications such as Blender, no problems running a 3-monitor setup. The binary driver is only necessary if gaming is your thing.

I went for AMD over nVidia solely because of the better open-source support from AMD. I'm happy to see that support is getting better all the time.

A W E S O M E. (1)

hackus (159037) | 1 year,19 days | (#45017557)

Just made my Day.

With open access to GPU's, nothing can stop the Linux Desktop from taking over Microsoft's dominance.

After all, it is the largest installed application base/use of Microsoft Windows.

When Microsoft goes the way of the DoDo, infrastructure will have NO CHOICE but to open up.

Open Standards, Security and Reliability I predict will go through a renaissance, as infrastructure guys like me are required to vette software all the way down to the source code level.

We can't do that today, and it is causing all sorts of problems trying to protect the security and reliability of the systems we design for delivery to customers.


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