Optimus graphic chip support coming to Linux

Torvalds' harsh words may have spurred NVIDIA support for Linux

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Want to use a laptop with NVIDIA's Optimus graphics chip? If you're a Linux user, that desire has left you at least unsatisfied and at most, well, pretty angry.

But there are signs this week that NVIDIA is coming around to the Linux side of the street, as news of a working proof-of-concept driver for Optimus trickled through the Linux blogosphere.

The revelation on the driver project was made by NVIDIA's Aaron Plattner, maintainer of the open source Nouveau project, which is working towards getting free software drivers for NVIDIA hardware. In an email to the comp.video.dir.devel newsgroup, Plattner opened with the news.

"So I've been experimenting with support for Dave Airlie's new RandR 1.4 provider object interface, so that Optimus-based laptops can use our driver to drive the discrete GPU and display on the integrated GPU. The good news is that I've got a proof of concept working."

Good news, indeed. NVIDIA's lack of Linux support has been a simmering point within the Linux community for a long time, culminating to a boil in June when Linux creator Linus Torvalds fired off the oft-cited "NVIDIA, fuck you96s)." diatribe. More telling: the specific hardware the audience member was referring to in her question to Torvalds was the Optimus chip.

NVIDIA's work in this area is still on going. Plattner's message to the newsgroup was a series of implementation questions that indicate that this is very much a pre-alpha version right now.

NVIDIA has a long history of driving the Linux community slightly nuts. It does provide Linux drivers, but they are not the smoothest running bits on the block. Worse, because of their intellectual property and contractual fears, Nvidia has always released just the binary executable versions of these drivers, so fixing the drivers' problems is much harder to do.

It's not entirely clear whether Torvalds' well-publicized comments in June had anything to do with the work being done on the Optimus driver, but they probably helped spur things along.

Whatever the reason, running Linux on Optimus-equipped laptops will be welcome news to Linux users who have been waiting for this solution to present itself.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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