The Raspberry Pi is a single-board computer that sells for as little as $25 and which can be used for everything from learning to code to surfing the web to operating as a cheap home media center.

Since launching 2 years ago, the Raspberry Pi has been popular with open source software enthusiasts, since the tiny, cheap and low power computer is designed to run Linux-based software. But unfortunately independent developers haven’t had access to all of the source code.

Now Broadcom has released open source graphics drivers for the chip used in the Raspberry Pi, which should make it easier to enable hardware-accelerated graphics for Linux, Android, and other operating systems.

Raspberry Pi

Broadcom released some basic drivers for the VideoCore IV graphics core in its BCM2835 chip in 2012, but there was still a proprietary, closed-source binary blob. 

Now Broadcom is releasing the OpenGL ES 1.1 and ES 2.0 3D graphics stack under a BSD license.

To encourage people to put the newly released documentation to good use, the Raspberry Pi Foundation is promising a $10,000 reward for the first person to get Quake III to run at a decent framerate on a Raspberry Pi.

Even with the latest source code release, there are still some multimedia features of the BCM2835 chip that require using a proprietary blob. But the tools for developing software for the Raspberry Pi are a little more open today than they were yesterday.

Since the Raspberry Pi was launched in 2012 many other low-cost, low-power single-board computers, developer boards, and Android TV boxes have hit the market with significantly more powerful hardware. But this aging device with its ARM11 processor is still one of the most popular devices of its type — the Raspberry Pi Foundation says it’s sold about 2.5 million units so far.

It’ll probably be at least another year or two before the group launches updated hardware, since there’s still an awful lot that educators, hobbyists, and others can do with the existing Raspberry Pi device.

videocore graphics



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15 replies on “Raspberry Pi gets true open-source graphics drivers”

  1. Err…… Can somebody tell where can i find one costing only 25$. As far as i’ve been looking for i could only find it costing 35€.

  2. I have to cringe when I see anyone suggesting these are used in education settings. Perusing forum sites where users of this product hang out shows some incredibly poor code snippets being passed around, just as for Arduino and other low-end SBCs. The communities around these products are hardly examples to be held up.

    It all gives me the creeps, reminiscent of Steve Martin’s old “talk *wrong* in front of young children” comedy bit. “Mambo dogface to the banana patch?” anyone?

    1. I’d like to think the people who use these for official teaching purposes are good computer science professors/teachers. I wouldn’t compare a formal class with a lesson plan to a bunch of people tinkering with some cheap board who may or may not have any real engineering background. The board is just another tool.

  3. Can someone explain why you cant just use the closed source GPU drivers to get HW acceleration happening in Linux. ie why do you need open source GPU drivers for Linux HW acceleration?

    1. Fairly often, the Linux kernel changes enough so that the drivers don’t work. Kind of like using Windows XP drivers on Windows 8. It might work but more likely it won’t. Then there’s the common problem with just about every ARM vendor out there where they don’t update their closed drivers in a timely manner or at all. Usually, they just don’t update them so you’re stuck on an old kernel. For example, Android phones can’t reliably be upgraded to newer Android versions because some closed non-updated drivers don’t work with the newer kernel.

      With open source drivers, it’ll likely get more testing by the mainline kernel devs and the parts that break can either be fixed by the hardware vendor or, often times, by kernel devs not even employed by the hardware vendor.

      Also, the hardware vendor may not even implement all the features the hardware is capable of in their drivers. In this case, it has happened where kernel devs have added features to the open drivers that the vendor didn’t bother implementing. This could be the issue with the RPi.

      Since the RPi is fairly popular, I’m sure there are plenty of devs who would work on the open drivers if they’re given enough proper documentation.

  4. I’m still hoping to see some $100 Bay Trail T Pico-ITX boards. Open source everything thanks to Intel.

    1. I’m hoping for this. I don’t to want to use some old outdated SoC that’s just now might maybe have an open source driver some time in the short or distant future.

      Th RPi may still be good enough for teaching kids how to program and all that but as someone who only wants to tinker up to a point and cares more about actual useability and upgradeability, I’m hoping for some micro-boards using Intel Bay Trail Atoms come out. They can cost 2x or more than the RPi. It doesn’t matter to me. They’ll still be more bang for your buck.

    2. I fail to understand how you got to associate low cost, open source, new form factor with intel. Thanks for the smile though

      1. Low cost is subjective. A ~$30 RPi is a waste of money while a $250 Intel Atom SBC has more bang per dollar for my intended use for a pico-ITX board.

        As for open source, yes, Intel is excellent with mainlining open source Linux drivers for in-house developed chips. Much better than most/all ARM vendors like Broadcom.

        Pico-ITX is not a new form factor. Pico-ITX and nano-ITX Intel boards have existed for years but mainly designed for industrial use. If consumer targeted versions are made then that $250+ price tag will definitely come down.

        1. You’re right I got carried away looking for intel chipsets datasheets (NDAd). Pico and Nano aren’t new but AFAIK intel never released reference designs of these FF. I only saw [thin] mini itx, and now NUC. Same for price point, I can’t recall intel products getting even close to 100$. ps: I’m wrong here too, Intel galileo is below 100$. Ahh memory.

        2. Within the Linux community, there would be a lot more people giving ARM vendors the middle finger and an F you than to Intel.

    3. keep dreaming….. meanwhile … in real word….. Intel still Closed

  5. They haven’t actually released source code for the GPU in the BCM2835, it’s for the BCM21553. Eben Upton says that “it should be reasonably straightforward” to port this to the BCM2835, but the fact that there’s a $10,000 prize to get Quake III running at a playable framerate with these drivers seems to suggests otherwise.

    1. Better to spend 10k on someone else’s time than $25k on Eben and friends.

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