Attack of the zombie PowerVR GPUs


Like rotted silicon corpses, several new recent GPU cards based on Imagination Technologies' old school PowerVR IP have emerged in the Chinese market, including the Innosilicon Fantasy One series and most recently the Moore Threads MUSA family. Don't kid yourself either about these being particularly more open than AMD and Nvidia offerings, though support for the Rogue GPUs is landing in kernel and in Mesa3D; while there is fairly good documentation on the GPU's ISA the firmware is still likely to be binary blobs (though this is no worse than the alternatives). Moreover, their performance even from the OEM specs just isn't competitive with current cards. That said, any GPU at all beats the flat framebuffer of the ASTs in our systems, and these chips may move more slowly enough to be more stable in the kernel compared to the occasional churn with amdgpu and friends. Assuming it can be flexible on page size, another alternative GPU architecture, even a basic one, would be welcome (at least until the Microwatt-based Libre-SoC is a viable option). We'll be watching that space.

Comments

  1. I'd buy one just out of curiosity. I've already made the choice to eschew 100% blob-free by buying an RX 570 for my build, so why not? Could be fun. Plus, it's more hardware I know I can directly support if I get into 3D graphics, which I want to, I've had a project going in that space since May 2017. It's unabashedly Chinese, but then so is AMD, and I was going to shove a Yeston 560 in mine for the VGA port when they were still cheap. Not much way to avoid that at the moment.
    I kinda wonder how a Radeon 9800 Pro or X1950 XT would perform on an AGP to PCIe bridge, just for fun. Is there any support at all for e.g. a Voodoo3?
    An additional question is if these cards are a. bi-endian and b. more powerful than a Radeon HD 6970. Won't compete with an RX 6900 XT, but may be the best option for those who like big ends and, well, you know.

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    1. I doubt they'd be bi-endian, but they're old enough there could be some residual support. The X1950XT is available as PCIe. I know of people running them in G5s under Mac OS X, so I don't think there'd be any endian problem there (my Quad has a Quadro 4500FX, though).

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    2. Muscle memory, excuse me -- I meant X850 XT. But I suppose that's PCIe as well!

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  2. Here's a question: is it a zombie GPU family, or have PowerVR and these licensees sought to market something that could soldier along well enough in a general role at a point when multiple aspiring competitors to AMD/Nvidia are making themselves known? It doesn't look like they're barnburners - the quoted use cases in those links include 3D visualization, GIS, and esports titles around 1080p - but as someone who could genuinely get by with the 3D capabilities of an RX 580-class card for the foreseeable future, these could genuinely be nice enough for a ton of people. And if they're big-endian-friendly as Generic POWER User says, that'd be all the more useful.

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    1. Well, it's zombie in the sense that Imagination is around still pimping the IP even though the tech is long past its prime. But anything is better than a flat 2D framebuffer, because that's all we get with AST graphics.

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    2. Do we actually know that Imagination have given these cards their blessing?

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  3. I like having alternatives so I hope to be able to purchase one to give it a try, my needs are humble

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  4. Am curious if Intel ever releases their DG2 GPU ...

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    1. From what I have heard it too will require firmware though the driver will be open.

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    2. I hope it will better work than AMDGPU, if ever released ;-)

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    3. The release date for DG2 parts has been pushed back to late Q2/early Q3 of this year - looks like driver and software issues are the big holdups, but things are starting to look up. I'd expect the Linux driver situation to improve faster than on Windows. Maybe we'll get lucky.

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