Free NVIDIA Fermi Cards To Open-Source Developers
Written by Michael Larabel in NVIDIA on 26 April 2010 at 01:50 PM EDT. 25 Comments
Prior to launching their next-generation graphics processors, NVIDIA dropped their obfuscated open-source driver and have said they will not provide any open-source support at all for their GeForce GTX 400 "Fermi" series as they just recommended their customers use the X.Org VESA driver until they can install the official binary Linux driver. However, the community developers working on the Nouveau driver project still plan to support the GeForce GTX 470/480 graphics cards via clean-room reverse engineering. Today their efforts might be helped thanks to a hardware sponsorship.

Many of the Nouveau developers are unpaid for their open-source graphics driver work and as such they are often limited to supporting the hardware they have access to or reverse-engineered dumps. They have called out for donations and hardware in the past, but now PathScale is approaching them with Fermi graphics cards in hand.

PathScale's Christopher Bergström has written to the Nouveau mailing list a message titled "Free Fermi cards to interested developers and researchers." In there he mentions that his employer, which works on high-performance compilers, is offering up free graphics cards of NVIDIA's finest to those in the open-source community for those wanting to work on Nouveau/DRM drivers, OpenCL, shader compilers, and similar GPGPU technologies. PathScale's motives behind this are that the open-source Fermi work will help their GPU compiler and the HPC market.

This is very good news seeing as the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 470/480 graphics cards launched just last month and are still priced around $500 USD, which puts the new ASICs out of reach from most of the open-source developers. Hopefully PathScale's generosity will be able to jump-start efforts on reverse-engineering and then supporting the Fermi hardware in the open-source Nouveau stack.

The GeForce GTX 400 series is also NVIDIA's first graphics processors to support OpenGL 4.0, but it will still likely be sometime before we find any open-source support as the Mesa/Gallium3D stack is still trying to catch-up to the OpenGL 3.0/3.1/3.2 specifications.
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Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 10,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter or contacted via MichaelLarabel.com.

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