ARM-based chips are all the rage these days in tablets, smartphones, set-top-boxes, and other low power computing devices. But while many of the latest chips can support HD video, 3D graphics, and other high-performance graphics, you generally need to use supported software to get all the benefits — because chip makers don’t offer open source graphics drivers.
But there are at least two projects underway to develop open source drivers for popular ARM-based graphics processors. A group of developers has been working on reverse engineering a driver for ARM Mali 200 and Mali 400 graphics. And now there’s an early build of an open source driver for Qualcomm Adreno graphics as well.
The new driver is called “freedreno,” and it could give independent developers much more control over software designed to run on Qualcomm Snapdragon processors. Right now most Snapdragon devices run Google Android or Microsoft Windows Phone software. But with a good open source driver it should be possible to port most Linux-based operating systems, complete with support for hardware accelerated graphics.
It’s also possible that members of the developer community could continue to provide support and software updates for devices with Snapdragon chips long after Qualcomm ends official support and moves on to new chips. That could today’s phones and tablets a much longer life than they would otherwise have.
Phoronixe reports that the freedreno project was founded by Rob Clark, a developer at Texas Instruments. If you’re wondering why he’s working on a driver for one of his competitors’ chips in his free time, it’s because it would be a conflict of interest to work on an open source TI OMAP drive without the support of his employers. He doesn’t believe it’s a conflict to work on drivers for a competitor’s chip as long as he does it in his free time.
At this point the open source driver is still in its early stages. There’s basic support for 2D graphics acceleration, but 3D graphics support is still on the horizon.