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First open-source graphics card available

First open-source graphics card available

The ODG1 open-source graphics card might be a bare development platform now, but holds promise for the future.

If you're a Linux nut who'll only be happy when your entire computer is fully open-source, you'll be pleased to hear that you can take a step closer to your goal thanks to the Open Graphics Project.

The project, which began touting for expert engineers to help build a graphics card free from any proprietary limitations four years ago, has announced the availability of its OGD1 graphics card according to hacker news site Hack a Day.

The specs of the OGD1 aren't likely to have AMD or Nvidia sweating just yet, but it does provide the basics of what you might need in a desktop graphics card: 256MB of DDR400 graphics memory, a pair of programmable FPGA processors to do the donkey work, a pair of DVI dual-link outputs as well as an analogue RGB output and an S-Video link for hooking up to older TVs, and a 330MHz 10-bit DAC – all hooked up to a PCI or PCI-X bus.

It's not quite ready for mainstream usage, however – the group is keen to point out to prospective purchasers that the cards are sold “blank” with no internal logic aside from a basic system of diagnostic checks. If you actually want to use your new open-source graphics card, you'll have to program the FPGAs yourself. In other words, it's a hacker's toy – not a serious contender to a retail card.

That shouldn't dishearten you, however: this method of development is, after all, how Linux started – first you get a barely-working shell to the engineers so they can tweak it and make it work better, then you provide an installable version to the enthusiasts who do the same, and eventually you end up with something the end-users can install and use with no technical knowledge required. Well, that's the theory, anyway.

As well as the requirement to own your own FPGA programming equipment – and to know how to use it in anger – you'll need pretty deep pockets: getting a card from the initial run, which lacks the economies of scale present in commercial graphics card production, is going to cost you £750 – although you do get a £50 pre-order discount. Timothy Normand Miller, of the Open Graphics Project, is quite open that the price is a “fund raiser” and doesn't represent actual development costs so far, saying that “in order for the OGP to be able to design and build more open hardware in the future, we need to raise money.

Despite the high price – and even higher barrier to entry on the technical side – the project does present a possible vision of the future of computing, split into two camps: the mass-produced closed-source world, which has the fastest hardware; and the bespoke open-source world, which is free from restrictions. It'll be interesting to see where this one goes.

Any HDL programmers fancy getting their hands on a graphics development platform, or does the price need to come down and the specification need to go up before you consider it? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

9 Comments

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Firehed 23rd May 2008, 16:03 Quote
PCI-X... WHY?

I'm loving the idea, but stuff like this just reinforces the idea that open-source products are half-arsed junk the moment it has any vague degree of functionality (at least commercial stuff ticks a few feature boxes first).
Bluephoenix 23rd May 2008, 16:33 Quote
well, since the card just has programable FPGAs, then I think this is far more than a graphics card.

really it can be anything you want it to be an interface card for.

can't wait to get my hands on one and see what it can do, though I'll have to pick up some DVI ends to make device interfaces
Icy EyeG 23rd May 2008, 22:36 Quote
When I first saw this news, the first thing that came to mind was Mininig. Maybe this card will be able to help projects like this (but I may be wrong).
Quote:
Originally Posted by Firehed
PCI-X... WHY?

Maybe because it's more difficult to implement Pcie communication....
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bluephoenix
well, since the card just has programmable FPGAs, then I think this is far more than a graphics card.

really it can be anything you want it to be an interface card for.

That's something I'm curious about: what possibilities does this card bring?
woodshop 24th May 2008, 01:04 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Icy EyeG

That's something I'm curious about: what possibilities does this card bring?

I'm hoping for H.264 encoding offloading.. maybe even h.264 encoding from the DVI/RBG ports in real time.. no one said they were output only after all.
talladega 24th May 2008, 01:09 Quote
if it could be made to record video input through hdmi or dvi at 720p and 1080p resolutions id get one.
Bluephoenix 24th May 2008, 05:21 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by talladega
if it could be made to record video input through hdmi or dvi at 720p and 1080p resolutions id get one.

if you could increase the buffer size I don't see why not.
Icy EyeG 26th May 2008, 00:50 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bluephoenix
Quote:
Originally Posted by talladega
if it could be made to record video input through hdmi or dvi at 720p and 1080p resolutions id get one.

if you could increase the buffer size I don't see why not.

Well the Matrox RT.X2 Video Editing card does use a Xilinx FPGA chip......
Bluephoenix 26th May 2008, 04:18 Quote
I say increase the buffer size because the chip certainly would have difficulty processing at real time, but could certainly do it given time and a large enough buffer.
Icy EyeG 26th May 2008, 10:07 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bluephoenix
I say increase the buffer size because the chip certainly would have difficulty processing at real time, but could certainly do it given time and a large enough buffer.

You're right, the Matrox card uses the Xilinx Virtex-II Pro, which seems to be much more powerful that the Spartan series (used on the OGD1). Besides, the Xilinx Virtex-II Pro has embedded PowerPC processors.
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