I understand that ARM Cortex-A and their graphics processing is a highly problematic section in GNU/Linux world I have heard due to the fact that Open-GL is not so much developed to the extent it is required to and for other reasons I haven’t heard of. Due to all of this reasons I believe video processing on a Cortex-A chip is always not so much easy and is troublesome. But, we must appreciate the Open-GL community and the people who are developing the stripped down version of open-gl for Cortex-A devices a lot, as it is because of such generous people we do have the tools to process video in embedded ARM devices that run GNU/Linux.

Question 0:

I head that Texas Instruments (TI) released a new ARM Cortex-A device series recently that claims to have PowerVR graphics. I believe it is newly released through AM437X series after ARM Cortex-A AM335X series.

Question 1: Is this proprietary hardware inside the SOC just like nVidia?

As a newbie, I do not understand how this is different to the previously introduced AM335X series graphics processing (used in the beagle-bone black,etc). I think the previous chip series too had HDMI graphics. So what caused this upgrade in the SOC? What is new with this new hardware attached toe the SOC?

Did TI completely ditch the previously used SOC part used for the graphics processing or is this only an addition?

Question 2:

How about the open source software support for this newly inteduced part of the TI SOC?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Short answer: Closed-source graphics drivers. \$\endgroup\$
    – Damien
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 5:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ What do you mean? Does that mean, there is no way we can implement a free & open source implementation of software using this SOC? I cant believe that. This company who made this hardware must have open source support for to drive their graphics hardware. If not, its going to be an utter failure! \$\endgroup\$
    – Denis
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 6:31

1 Answer 1


The state of drivers for embedded graphics is, to say the least, poor.

The major embedded graphics vendors are:

  • Imagination Technology: PowerVR - TI OMAP and Sitara, Early Intel Atoms
  • ARM: Mali - Samsung Exynos??
  • Vivante - Frescale i.mx6
  • NVIDIA - Tegra
  • Qualcomm Adreno (Formerly AMD) - Freescale i.mx53
  • Intel HD4000 derivatives - Bay Trail and later

Only the Intel graphics driver is fully open source and thus it was the natural choice for our next industrial screen project.

All the other range from being a fully closed kernel binary blob (PowerVR) through to having a open source kernel shim and closed userspace library (Vivante and Mali).

Often, you'll have a "free" (as in beer) drivers supplied with a board support package, often tied to a specific kernel version and of dubious quality (been there, done that).

Without naming names, the silicon vendor will sometimes ask you to purchase a premium support package and only then will they supply something that you can compile with your own kernel (been there, done that). Or, they will ask for a royalty for the driver which is roughly the same price as the chip itself (been there, done that too!).

Now, this generally applies to 3D acceleration only. 2D acceleration (or at least a frame buffer) is usually open source and will happily talk HDMI/DVI/VGA or whatever interface you require.

There are open source efforts to reverse engineer and/or write FOSS drivers for the above. However, these are not yet production quality, unless there has been a major recent advance I am not aware of.

So yes, the drivers are closed source and the SoC graphics hardware specification is proprietary. Fun and games for all concerned :(

  • \$\begingroup\$ you know, I just imagined, what if Intel and Texas Instruments worked together to build one SOC. TI has cool embedded processing through Sitara Series and even the Keystone Multicore. And that combined with Intel Graphics:) Hats off to your very explanatory reply. Wouldnt that be the best open source graphics solution? Thanks you. Now I have a point to start off. I posted the same question on e2e TI forum and I got a somewhat other response. e2e.ti.com/support/arm/sitara_arm/f/791/p/380178/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Denis
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 3:07

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