Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror

The SLI Godfather 86

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the insightful-or-just-bitterly-dissapointed dept.
CaptCanuk writes "Phoronix has an insightful article about the motivation behind Nvidia's alternative operating system support. From the article: 'When it comes time for a user to upgrade their computer hardware, and decide to go with a choice from a leading manufacturer of graphics solutions, software support is a given, correct? Wrong.' Read on to find out what truly funds their development and why some think they treat Linux as a second hand citizen."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The SLI Godfather

Comments Filter:
  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Sunday March 26, 2006 @06:40AM (#14997332)
    This sort of thing should be common knowledge to every single person interested in computers. This is how everything works in the "real world" or software development. It boils down to following the money and who needs something the most.

    If Microsoft didn't have such a significant segment of the PC market, they would also have to make deals with hardware manufacturers to get drivers written. NVIDIA needs to support Microsoft, so NVIDIA foots the bill with tons of help from MS. HP needed NVIDIA support, so HP was the one who ended up paying for the development.

    It's not about conspiracies, it's about money and the need to have a hand in a market segment. If Linux owned a significant percentage of PCs, you'd see NVIDIA tripping over themselves to get a driver written (if it weren't a trade secret risk).
    • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Sunday March 26, 2006 @12:40PM (#14998453)
      What I learned from TFA is that even mediocre graphics driver support for Linux is hanging by a thread. There are the occasional fortunate (and according to TFA, tenuous) corporate allignments, like HP's funding of NVidia's Linux driver development. Thank you HP! But NVidia themselves come off looking rather indifferent about the Linux drivers issue.

      They're in it for the money, and their real customer base consists of Windows gamers. Now, these customers are rather picky about stable and optimized drivers. They read articles about benchmarks, and a driver that squeezes out an extra 5pfs will in many cases make the difference between $300 of revenue or similar money in the pockets of the competitor. That's why NVidia work hard on Windows. It's their lifeline.

      We're living in an age when Microsoft doesn't fear Linux on the desktop. They just don't; they think it's a joke. Suppose something happens to change their mind, and they really start competing in their ham-fisted, machiavellian way. They really only need to do one thing to destroy desktop Linux: Make a phone call to NVidia. Ballmer: "Hey, you know all that work you do on Linux drivers that makes you almost no revenue? Well, stop it. Stop it or you will find some rather unfriendly code in Vista sp1. End communication."

      That's all it would take. Remember that starting next year, if you don't have a 3D-accelerated desktop, your machine will look like a dinosaur. So never mind Linux games. Just the regular desktop will look and work like crap without the proper GPU acceleration. And proper GPU acceleration on Linux is impossible without the mercy of GPU manufacturers. This is really the greatest Achilles' heel of OSS. Just one phone call by Ballmer (maybe involving a thrown chair) is enough to cut off the air supply of OSS on the desktop. There is no remedy. Linus was writing code for a chip (386) with documented internals. He did a great job. GPU manufacturers won't document the internals, they keep changing anyway, and trying to reverse-engineer something is probably banned by the DMCA.

      This is the grim lesson I leaned from TFA.

      • Just the regular desktop will look like crap without the proper GPU acceleration.

        A non-accelerated desktop may not have the flash of these flashy new 3D setups, but I am dubious as to the functional improvement gained with 3D acceleration.
        • I'd say that mostly depends on the implementation. The Apple/Microsoft approach with flashy desktops isn't necessarily the best approach, but it is an easy way to make it look new. It's also important to note, that GPU acceleration doesn't have to be used on displaying the desktop, other uses could include encoding/decoding video for example.
      • There is no remedy.
        It's called heavy handed regulation.
        • It's called heavy handed regulation.

          I have another one: it's called an educated consumer base. If we don't educate consumers, then they (being the majority) won't give a rip about whether or not MS is screwing Linux over. In which case, such regulation could not be acheived through popular consensus.

          A lot of people out there get sold on the "corporations are evil, hence we need lots of regulation" mantra, and to me it's just silly. Consumers can fight evil just as effectively as the government which

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Ballmer: "Hey, you know all that work you do on Linux drivers that makes you almost no revenue? Well, stop it. Stop it or you will find some rather unfriendly code in Vista sp1. End communication."

        And it takes just one nVidia employee to spill the beans, and Microsoft finds itself in some rather hot water. I'm not saying that MS wouldn't do such a thing, but they would want to think very long and hard about the approach they take; something that ham fisted would be prima facie evidence of monopoly abuse.

        All

      • That's actually a violation of antitrust laws here in America. If Microsoft really did that and nVidia had proof of it, nVidia could submit that proof to the Attorney General's office and Microsoft would be facing one fat lawsuit. There would be no escaping this one either, as recording a threat like that is proof that Microsoft is engaging in anti-competitive business practices. So I'm thinking that nVidia has little to worry about. Just forward a threatening email to some powerful people and Microsoft is
        • Your response assumes that NVidia want a war with Microsoft... over the issue of Linux drivers. You must be living in dreamland. If you read the article, you'd see that NVidia are really not very enthusiastic about writing Linux drivers in the first place. They don't seem to need much of an excuse to bow out.

          I mean, come on, use your immagination: I was being blunt for the sake of humor. The real email from Ballmer would look like "MS and NV would both profit from a closer software collaboration to optimi

      • There will still be solutions with OSS drivers...yeah, not many of them (out of currently sold: only Intel AFAIK, and somehow Matrox if you count, still sold, G550...but lets be serious), but still something...
  • Driver support (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ubersonic (943362) on Sunday March 26, 2006 @07:01AM (#14997392) Homepage Journal
    Most people I know choose hardware based on the fact that they MIGHT at some point run Linux on them.
    Even if they are never going to use Linux, they still get an NVIDIA instead of an ATI card, just because NVIDIA provides the better drivers.

    None of them provider good OS drivers tho :(
  • by otis wildflower (4889) on Sunday March 26, 2006 @07:04AM (#14997399) Homepage
    .... Is 'cuz of folks doing workstation graphics (like CGI, visualization, modeling, etc). The more folks move to Linux from SGI, Solaris, etc, the more attention Linux drivers will get. The fact that the chipsets are similar enough for consumer-grade graphics boards to be supported is a nice plus, but I very much doubt the Linux gaming community plays much more of a role than that of testers and bugreporters.
  • by bernywork (57298) * <bstapleton@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Sunday March 26, 2006 @07:15AM (#14997432) Journal
    I ask you, it's a complete opinion piece, there is no fact in there whatsoever from what I have seen. The only thing that is based in fact is that HP have a certain workstation line, and that they install RHEL on them and that HP is short for Hewlett Packard. I think the people that have these workstations would probably be reformatting them with a standard build anyway.

    I don't doubt that some of it might be true, but at the same time, I don't see anything in here that really makes me turn around and go "Wow, HP paid xxxxxxxx for NVidia to write Linux drivers"

    From what I have seen previously, the reason that NVidia make the driver available is because it's an easy port. That's why their IP is worth so much. Admittedly this isn't backed up with fact (Or at least a link to a website) either, but a quick google should see you good, right?

    *sigh*
    • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Sunday March 26, 2006 @07:23AM (#14997448)
      The article itself isn't very insightful, and FWIW, it's pretty badly written. "abecedarian"? How about learning to walk before trying to fly?

      Anyway, I disagree. While the authors do not prove any of the points they are making, it is very much standard industry practice for one company to pay another to develop software. If HP needs Linux drivers for their latest CGI-oriented workstations, then they will need to pay NVidia to develop them. If NVidia really needed those Linux drivers, it would have been their first priority to develop and ship them with the release of the HW.

      There really isn't a conspiracy to keep drivers out of FreeBSD or Linux or whatever niche OS you're running. The only question is who is going to pay for those drivers. If you need it the most, you will pay for it. NVidia *needs* Windows drivers, so they pay for it themselves. Try getting NVidia to release drivers for Symbian. It's never going to happen without a wad of cash.
      • There really isn't a conspiracy to keep drivers out of FreeBSD or Linux or whatever niche OS you're running. The only question is who is going to pay for those drivers. If you need it the most, you will pay for it. NVidia *needs* Windows drivers, so they pay for it themselves. Try getting NVidia to release drivers for Symbian. It's never going to happen without a wad of cash.

        NVidia does not even release any hardware documentation for any of their many chipsets. So any open source driver for NVidia hardw

        • That's a red herring. Just because the Linux culture encourages the release of hardware specs, it does not follow that any hardware maker must release those specs. Maybe if they were required by law, but otherwise beggars can't be choosers.

          NVidia will provide drivers for the right price. Maybe a lot more for source code too. Maybe never if the requirement is that the drivers be licensed under a so-called Free license. But there is no reason to expect that every hardware manufacturer is going to bend ov
          • That's a red herring. Just because the Linux culture encourages the release of hardware specs, it does not follow that any hardware maker must release those specs.

            So why does not Linux developers support OpenBSD efforts to get hardware docs? The Linux culture, sadly, seems to be to accept documentation under NDA (for instance, UltraSparc III support) and write obfuscated "open source" drivers, or think the binary blobs are fine.

            NVidia will provide drivers for the right price. Maybe a lot more for so

            • And you won't get them until the technology is out of date or NVidia decides to go whole hog on the FOSS thing. Some companies just won't release this stuff without very restrictive licenses. I have a desk strewn with hardware documentation that is watermarked with CONFIDENTIAL. Want to know how I get them? We partnered with those companies (or gained access as subcontractor to partners of those companies) and agreed to not share the information with other people.

              That's the agreement we had to come to i
      • it is very much standard industry practice for one company to pay another to develop software. If HP needs Linux drivers for their latest CGI-oriented workstations, then they will need to pay NVidia to develop them

        That it may be, and there is a theory there as well that NVidia could have developed the drivers for Linux knowing that the CGI market exists. Does anyone have any numbers on how many machines are used for the purpose of CGI?

        I don't know, but it could quite well be that one of the studios asked NV
      • It's never going to happen without a wad of cash.
        To paraphrase a well-known line with applies here...
        "Your lack of faith in regulation is disturbing."

        It might be enough to get one by paying them off, but putting regulation back in applies it to all. Just save your wad of cash for the politician and get it done that way.
      • > The article itself isn't very insightful, and FWIW, it's pretty badly written. "abecedarian"? How about learning to walk before trying to fly?

        Amen. That has got to be one of the most pretentious yet utterly incoherent articles I've ever read. About half the time I came to the end of a sentence, I had to back up, read it over again, then read it backwards, and then guess at the intended meaning. The author writes as if he thinks he's being clever with the language, but in reality he's just totall

    • Meh, this is slashdot, where it seems most of the stories that get accepted aren't really "tech" at all so much as they are ideological drivel with some conspiracy theories thrown in. You want insightful news go somewhere else, that is what I am going to do. I'm sick of this site and all its fanboys....
  • Windows drivers! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Frozen Void (831218)
    We need a something that allows Linux to run windows drivers,like wine runs a layer of binary compatibility.
    Before you critique this approach,look
    and count the windows drivers.
    • Why not just write drivers for Linux as well?

      Look, the bulk of your driver SHOULD be portable, e.g. "set port to value X, read port, wait X, etc". What changes is the interface to the kernel. Nvidia seems to be doing alright with their approach.

      What...? You think your PCI or PCI-E device operates differently because you're running Linux? Hell it wouild work the same way if you were running an Z-80 8-bit processor behind the scenes!!!

      Device manufacturers usually don't write Linux drivers because they lac
      • You fail to understand what i propose is different.
        I think of that "interface to kernel" being implemented(changed to be windows-compatible). And not to rewrite device drivers(i never proposed new drivers).
      • Good drivers are NOT portable. Portability makes a driver unreadable and slow. Each OS will have its own set of abstractions and coding style.

        I worked for a hardware manufacturer that made a portable driver. This driver ran in Windows NT 4, Windows 2000, SunOS (pre-Solaris), Solaris, IRIX, VxWorks, and a few other things. The driver was well over a megabyte and had to include a C library. That's disgusting. At the time, a whole kernel was a few megabytes at most.

    • An kernel API emulator layer for graphics drivers? Yeah, that's going to be efficient and easy to code.

      It is probably not necessarily stable either.
      • Not a local emulation,i mean a Binary compatibility on the level of wine( no wrapping or rewriting).
        The "interface to linux kernel" at the basic level.Making the drivers execute as kernel modules. Instead of making drivers portable,making a "portable kernel" which runs all of them.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Except for the fact that a lot (most 3rd party) of Windows drivers *suck* and are one of the biggest causes of instability. Now, I realize it would be a step up compatibility-wise, but it would be a giant step down quality wise. If you just set up something like that, people are just going to use that instead of writing actual Linux drivers, like the Cedega situation, except a *LOT* worse. And then, when everyone's using the shitty Windows drivers on their Linux boxes, Linux is going to get a bad name in
      • Ok,then you have to write your own stable drivers(And alot of them).Or just change the kernel?

        I hope ReactOS
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ReactOS [wikipedia.org]
        or other OS,will be a better alternative.
        last day for Microsoft is when an OS runs every DLL VXD EXE OCX and stuff independently of windows.WINE is just rewriting the DLLs(mostly wrapper development),
        the big step will be making them executable as in windows. Windows API
        is the reason microsoft retains a monopoly.With alternative API
        which runs all of drivers (i.e. lik
    • This was done somewhat in FreeBSD in Project Evil.

      See link here [freebsd.org].

      Quote from the linked page:

      > What in the world is Project Evil?

      Project Evil (aka the NDISulator) is a special binary compatibility layer for the FreeBSD kernel that lets you use Windows NDIS drivers for network adapters with FreeBSD/ia32.

      The announcement is the previous article in the thread.

  • by Tinfoil (109794) on Sunday March 26, 2006 @09:44AM (#14997833) Homepage Journal
    I recently purchased a new laptop from Acer, an Aspire 5672. It's a Core Duo running @ 1.67Ghz, 2GB RAM and an ATi X1400 w/ 128MB dedicated. I'll admit right from the start, I didn't do my research very well. I knew the wireless would be touchy but the ipw3945 project may support it. I didn't think I would have a problem with the video. Nor did I think I would have a problem with the Broadcom BCM5789 gigabit lan, but that's another story.

    Was I ever wrong.

    The binary ATi drivers do not support any of the X1000 series cards. Hell, even the latest & greatest windows drivers do not support my X1400 chipset officially.

    The beta ATi drivers apparently support my chipset, but ATi supports 24bit graphics and nothing else. Alas, the display panel in the laptop is 16 or 32 bit. Running at 24 bit yields a display that looks like something one would expect to see after dropping a couple hits of acid.

    Even worse, when trying to use the vesa xorg drivers, I am not able to use the native 1280x800 resolution as when the vesa drivers poll the graphics chipset for the available modes, 1280x800 isn't listed! No amount of fussing with the xorg.conf file has yielded a working solution. The final straw is that I am unable to tell the laptop not to scale lower resolutions up to 1280x800, so 1024x768 (4:3 ratio) is scaled to fit the panel, which is 16:10, which just makes things ugly.

    So, until I can get native resolution, Linux is useless on this laptop. The display is too fuzzy and stretched to be usefull. Thankfully I still have my old laptop, as it has an nvidia chipset in it. Sure, the laptop is slow compared to the Core Duo, but atleast the display works properly.
    • Alas, the display panel in the laptop is 16 or 32 bit.

      I really doubt it. 16-bit, maybe (with 32 intensities of red and blue and 64 of green), but most likely the panel itself is 24-bit, supporting 256 intensities of each red, blue and green. 32-bit color is just the same as 24-bit color, with the addition of an alpha channel to support transparency, which doesn't actually exist at the display level.

      Most likely, what's going on is that the beta driver really doesn't properly support your chipset, or e

      • You may be right on that, swillden. However, I know that in windows the only options I have for colour depth are 16 or 32 bit. When I try 24 bit under Linux, the cursor is displayed properly but the desktop itself is just... well, it's crazy.
    • Usually you can turn off the display scaling in the bios.

      Also, you may get lucky... My widescreen laptop with intel 852/855 graphics was underutilized until some geek on the internet released some code to patch the video bios. I run a command before X to add 1280x768 to the list. Messy, but it works.

      I wish the code would make it into the official driver.
    • Running at 24 bit yields a display that looks like something one would expect to see after dropping a couple hits of acid.

      Well, that's at least a huge cost savings for you.

      As for reasearch, unless you find someone with the exact same model, even accounts of chipset compatibility in laptop land are not all that reliable. For example, in your case, it sounds like there may be a BIOS problem that's screwing up your VESA support; may not have anything to do with the GPU chip itself, could be a shoddy integrat
    • 1. ATI has NEVER provided ANY support for laptop chipsets. That is up to your laptop provider. You can get "inf fix" drivers which are the newest drivers + the device IDs to allow you to install them, but if you check out ATI's site that is spelled out very clearly.

      Yes it sucks.

      2. This is a known problem with almost all ATI embedded chips. If you google around, there's a utility that "forces" a new modeline into the bios temporarily. What you do is choose a modeline to replace with youre 1200x800 and it
      • Re: #2. Yes, there is a util that will overwrite the video bios in ram to support a new modeline, but the only one I've found thus far is for intel graphics.

        And yes, I've tried it for the heck of it.
    • Your first mistake was that you didn't buy an Apple.

      Your second mistake was that you didn't realize if you hadn't made your first mistake you could right now have *nix and a fully working, beautiful GUI as well as fully supported hardware drivers.
    • I had the same problem with my laptop.
      I've modified the official driver (8.23.7) to recognise the X1400 card, but that's just a workaround. At least I can use the native resolution now (1280x800).
      Visit http://toni.to/ati.html [toni.to] for details.

      Toni
  • One thing worth pointing out is NVidia has been pretty good producing Linux drivers for most of the stuff they put out. It started with the video cards, but as they moved to chipsets they kept it up for all the bits on the chipset/mainboard as well. The place that people find fault is they release the drivers as binary rather than source form, and make it exceptionally difficult to roll your own as they don't release any under the cover info. They say it is partly due to licensing on their side, partly to keep the competition in the dark.

    Now for me, I use the OS as a development platform. I don't expect source for any Win32 driver I use nor do I care if I have source for Linux or Solaris for that matter. As long as it works and does the job, I'm happy. I suspect I'm a pretty typical Linux user. The Linux developers would have problems with this - having to poke around a black box is a pain in the ass. My pain point comes with having to deal with them at install/update time. I also keep a small stack of Matrox Millennium (4M PCI) cards around because they do 'just work' without binary drivers. If they made them source based it would be more convenient for me, but NVidia has been pretty good keeping up with the multiple kernels and major distros. I'd call them pro Linux, but not open source.
  • by unr_stuart (883885) on Sunday March 26, 2006 @10:53AM (#14998052)
    Yes, of course, nVidia isn't going to spend time developing drivers for 0.01% of their customer base. The reason why Linux has any support at all is because nVidia sees it as a growing market, and because the drivers for Windows and Linux share 98% of their code. This isn't true of other platforms. Look at the Mac for example, their driver interface is completely different than that of Windows or Linux, which is why it takes longer (even though they have a somewhat full team of engineers for the Mac).

    For the Linux drivers, the engineers simply say "what do we need more urgently, these bug fixes, or these features?" If they need the features, they borrow the code from Windows and put it in, with possibly some minor glue code. With other platforms, some poor engineer has to learn enough about that one particular OS to get a driver working. Again, how does diverting this portion of time equate to revenue for ATI without a guaranteed contract from the hardware vendor? It doesn't.

    nVidia has a steady stream of revenue from Windows users (gamers and casual users) and Linux users (research and education), but the same is not always true of other manufacturers like HP, Sun, etc. And again, why would a business invest their time and money if they don't have a reasonable assurance of profit?

    • why would a business invest their time and money if they don't have a reasonable assurance of profit?

      I don't know, but some businesses do. I know id has no such guarenteed contract, yet they not only release all their games natively on Linux, but release the source code of all but their latest generation.
      • I don't know, but some businesses do. I know id has no such guarenteed contract, yet they not only release all their games natively on Linux, but release the source code of all but their latest generation.

        True, but I would argue that id does have a reasonable assurance of profit from their Linux efforts. First off, id still uses OpenGL, so the graphics engine is pretty much cross-platform, with possibly some small exceptions in the world of extensions. The windowing system used is typically just plain Win

    • The reason why Linux has any support at all is because
      ...back in the day, when they still had the money to do it, VA Linux and SGI paid them to do the grunt work of a port. It's been in maintenance mode ever since.
  • IMHO, the concept of making the useful working of a GPU only obtainable through NDA is about as sensible as having the same restriction on the instruction set of a CPU: not at all. The fact that Microsoft is willing to pay -- to my mind -- is a clear indication of their collusion with both NVidia and ATI to keep useful technology out of the hands of those who would benefit the most: we, the users. People, please vote with your wallets, and make it known *why* you refuse to use these products.
    • People, please vote with your wallets, and make it known *why* you refuse to use these products.

      That'd be really nice, if it was really a choice.

      I do vote with my wallet against Sony. I vote with my wallet against all major record labels. I refuse to buy games that I would have to no-CD crack. These are things I can live without. There are plenty of substitutes -- I already own most of the games I want, and I buy the ones I can download, which don't have horrendous copy protection. There's tons of musi
  • I don't understand why the folks who have the money don't pay to get better drivers for linux. It is pretty sad that things like the ndis wrapper have to exist. I am pretty sure Apple pays to get its drivers.
    The problem isn't nvidia here. I don't have an issue with them not releasing open source drivers. In my opinion, they spent a lot of time and money to just get a few frames ahead of the competition and I don't have problem with them not giving it out. I am not anti-open source, I just don't think i
  • I've no idea what that is unless you mean a pre-owned watch? [ebay.com]

Stinginess with privileges is kindness in disguise. -- Guide to VAX/VMS Security, Sep. 1984

Working...