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Open Source Driver Debuts for AMD Fusion Chip

Chip maker AMD on Monday reportedly released an open source driver for the first chip in its new Fusion line, giving Linux users a new, open source-friendly hardware choice in the cutting-edge family of processors.

The dual-core chip in question, called Ontario, is a low-powered offering in AMD's Fusion line and is designed primarily for use in netbooks and similar devices. Complete with integrated Radeon HD 6250 graphics, the Ontario is the first chip in that line to get Linux support, including 3D.

The Fusion family of chips, known as Accelerated Processing Units (APUs), combine high-performance serial computing and parallel graphics processing cores onto a single die to improve visual and data-intensive tasks. In essence, they blend CPU, GPU, video processing and other accelerator capabilities.

Based on the low-power Bobcat CPU core, the Ontario chip draws 9 watts of power.

The new Fusion support is not expected to be added to the Linux kernel until version 2.6.38 is released, so it won't be until next year that Linux distributions such as Ubuntu will include it as a matter of course.

Speedy Delivery

Currently, this initial open-source support is apparently comparable to that already seen in the Radeon HD 5000 "Evergreen," including user-space mode-setting, kernel mode-setting, 2D EXA, X-Video, and 3D/OpenGL support, Phoronix reported.

"The graphics portion of Ontario is very similar to the entry-level Evergreen GPU, at least for the portions used by the open drivers," AMD's John Bridgman told the publication. "There are a few enhancements, but we haven't looked at those yet. We want to get Northern Islands supported next."

AMD instituted an open source strategy about two years ago, but yesterday's move is its quickest delivery of Linux support to date, Phoronix noted. The first Fusion chips only began shipping a few weeks ago, so hardware using the processors is still hard to come by.

Devices based on the Ontario chip as well as the laptop-targeting Zacate processor in the Fusion line are expected to debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. Both chips integrate graphics processors capable of playing 1080p video and are compatible with DirectX 11.

An Increasingly Open World

All in all, AMD seems to be increasingly recognizing the importance of Linux support.

Just a few days ago the company announced that it has joined the MeeGo project, and now there's the speedy release of this open source support in a family of processors that's just barely out of the starting gates.

Back in September, Broadcom made a similar move by releasing a fully open wireless driver that's compatible with Linux.

At this rate, it won't be long before drivers and compatibility issues become a thing of the past for Linux users.

Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk.

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