Intel is brewing a makeover of their graphics driver stack through a large restructuring and consolidating initiative that will be formally announced in the coming weeks.
Up to now Intel’s Windows and Linux graphics drivers have been isolated from one another with being developed by different teams at the company. The Intel Windows OpenGL driver has long exposed OpenGL 4.x support where as the Intel Linux driver is still at OpenGL 3.3 (but the next Mesa release in one month should place it at OpenGL 4.2) and there have been various other feature and performance differences between these drivers for the competing operating systems. Of course, understandably given the much greater marketshare, the Intel Windows driver has received more benefits. And any routine Phoronix reader should know how last year’s Skylake launch was a bit of a rocky road with the Linux graphics driver support at launch time… The latest restructuring target at Intel is for a consolidated graphics driver stack to hopefully yield better and more efficient support for both platforms.
I’ve been enlightened by multiple parties that at the end of May or in early June is when Intel will be publicly announcing their new driver restructuring (sounds like it will hopefully be here in time for Phoronix’s 12th birthday !) that is expected to share more code between Windows and Linux (and thereby also the Intel graphics support under Chrome OS). From the information I’ve received, their DRM kernel driver will largely be unaffected but this is a shake-up particularly around their Mesa/user-space driver code.
It doesn’t sound like they will be simply trying to wire in their Windows driver on Linux but rather be focusing on writing more OS-agnostic driver code moving forward. Details are limited ahead of the public announcement, but prepare for more driver abstractions. As of yet I don’t have a clear picture what this new driver will look like once evolved besides hearing "boxes, many fucking boxes mate", when being told about the increased abstractions of the multi-OS-focused driver design. It will be interesting to learn the precise technical details especially as Intel’s new Vulkan driver is wired into Mesa and considering how much they have been investing in NIR and other improvements to their existing i965 DRI driver over the past few years.
The idea of consolidating the Windows and Linux driver teams certainly is not unorthodox: NVIDIA’s great (albeit proprietary) Linux driver can be attributed to using a largely shared code-base with their Windows driver, which is also shared with their FreeBSD and Solaris drivers. AMD’s Catalyst driver has long been shared in part between Windows and Linux while under their new AMDGPU-PRO "hybrid" driver stack they will be sharing more code and resources between their Windows and Linux driver developers.
With already having Pascal and Polaris to look forward to in the weeks ahead, Intel graphics driver restructuring makes for even more fun in the month ahead for us Linux driver junkies; stay tuned!
What do you hope to see out of Intel’s forthcoming Linux graphics driver move? What do you hope they’ll fix or improve upon specifically with their new efforts? Let us know your thoughts by commenting on this article in the forums or via Twitter or Facebook . So far I’m optimistic with what I’ve heard about these upcoming changes and will hopefully yield better support for Linux enthusiasts/gamers.