Intel May Enable Discrete GPU Driver Development for Arm, RISC-V

(Image credit: Intel)

Intel has released request for comments (RFC) patches for its Linux kernel graphics driver enabling the development of third-party discrete GPU drivers for non-x86 architectures. This will potentially enable interested parties to build drivers for Intel's upcoming discrete graphics processors and make them work on Arm, RISC-V, POWER and other architectures under Linux. 

"Quicky and dirty hack based on some old ideas," is how Tvrtko Ursulin, 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 more easy wins with IS_DISPLAY_VER but I have not looked into that side." 

Intel has been the leading supplier of integrated GPUs for well over a decade. However, since its GPUs are embedded inside its x86 CPUs, Intel did not need to enable non-x86 support for its drivers. Therefore, Intel's current graphics drivers for integrated GPUs are compiled and tuned for x86. However, uncoupling them from this architecture makes sense for Intel's upcoming standalone Xe-HPG GPUs for desktops and notebooks. Likewise, Xe-HPC GPUs for datacenters and supercomputers do not need to be tied to x86 architecture (even though they will be exclusively used with x86 processors, at least initially). 

For now, the series of patches that propose to untie the Intel Linux kernel graphics driver from x86 architecture are in RFC status, and it is unclear whether any developers will bite. Furthermore, we have no idea whether enthusiasts will build Intel Linux kernel graphics drivers for Arm or RISC-V system-on-chips, as there could be many software and hardware obstacles to overcome. 

One of the ways to attract the attention of enthusiasts and developers to a hardware platform is to make it compatible with a broad range of software platforms and allow people to experiment with it. For obvious reasons, the Linux community is one of Intel's target markets for its upcoming Arc Alchemist graphics cards and Xe-HPC compute accelerators, so being a little friendlier to the Linux crowd is a must. 

Enabling non-x86 support under Linux is a page that Intel is apparently taking from AMD's book. AMD makes the source code of some of its drivers available to the Linux community and therefore be adapted and built for various CPU architectures. For example, an enthusiast managed to make AMD's Radeon RX 6700 XT work on SiFive's HiFive Unmatched RISC-V desktop motherboard for developers last year.

Anton Shilov
Contributing Writer

Anton Shilov is a contributing writer at Tom’s Hardware. Over the past couple of decades, he has covered everything from CPUs and GPUs to supercomputers and from modern process technologies and latest fab tools to high-tech industry trends.