Intel open sources Linux driver for latest graphics chipset

Santa Clara (CA) - Intel continues to quietly but consistently expand its open source Linux driver initiative. The company recently added support for the just released 965 version, which is currently shipping as a new-generation chipset for Core 2 Duo computers.

According to Intel, the drivers made available for download are a "first release," which still needs "significant testing, tuning and bug fixing before they'll be ready for production use." For now, the Linux drivers may not be suited for general use, but demonstration of Intel's "ongoing commitment to providing free software drivers for Intel hardware."

That commitment has been in place for some time now and includes most of Intel's graphics chipset line-up, beginning with the 810 series, covering Intel's first generation of PCI Express chipsets (915 and 945) and now up to the latest Q963/965 and G965 versions. It is a substantial upgrade of the driver, as the 965 family is based on Intel's new 90nm ICH8 southbridge, which integrates several changes from the preceding ICH7 generation.

Most significantly, ICH8 comes without support for some aging technologies such as PATA in favor of SATA. While the current ICH7 integrates 4 SATA ports, ICH8 will come with 6 on the desktop platform. PATA support will be completely removed from the desktop chipset version and only be available in the mobile version of ICH8.

Intel also increases the number of USB connects from 8 to 10 and integrates an additional EHCI controller to improve USB bandwidth on the desktop version. AC'97, which was touted in ICH7 as enabler for 7.1 channel audio will be gone in ICH8. Instead, the new Southbridge will bring real-time HD audio processing with support for the High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) via an additional SDI link.

While the graphics driver update could be seen as a playground for developers, they already play an important part in Intel's hardware strategy. Intel already dominates the worldwide graphics market with a share of 40.3% in Q2 of this year, according to Jon Peddie Research. The firm's chipsets were built into 54.9% of all notebooks and 34.8% of desktop PCs shipped during the quarter. With Linux continuing to be a growing market, it's a very conclusive decision for Intel to create more incentive for system builders to use its chipsets - and for users to specifically ask for Intel chipsets.