November 2, 2009, 9:17 am
CNetAsia's Crave blog reports that Martin Mohring, from the Linux Foundation, demo'd an MSI Wind netbook showing an HD video clip, and running Quake III at 35fps. The secret? It's a Menlow netbook, with Moblin technology and "optimized" drivers, says Crave.
Of course, the vast majority of netbooks are not based on the HD-capable Menlow platform. Instead, they use Intel's Diamondville platform. Diamondville was created specifically for netbooks and nettops, whereas the higher-end Menlow platform targets embedded applications, like set-top boxes, digital signage, and so on.
Still, several vendors have used the Menlow platform to build netbooks. Crave describes this one as an "MSI U115 with an Atom Z530 1.6GHz/Intel GMA 500 combo." The U115 is an older model netbook unique for supporting both SSDs and HDDs, simultaneously.
The GMA500 graphics core is Intel's implementation of Imagination Technologies' PowerVR intellectual property. As such, it's the second cousin of the graphics processors used in most of today's high-end smartphone processors. Apple and Intel are both ImgTec investors.
The trouble with netbooks based on Menlow is that no open source graphics drivers have been available for the GMA 500 core. That makes it inconvenient to use Linux on them.
Of course, device companies could always get a driver source license from ImgTec. Those interested in tapping the full hardware potential could license ImgTec's OpenGL ES SDK or maybe even an implementation/SDK from another provider.
The Crave story says that the netbook Mohring demo'd was running "Moblin Linux which has optimized drivers to push the graphics performance to another level."
That's actually not quite right. The Moblin project does not distribute drivers for the GMA500, at all. It's an open source project, and doesn't traffic in binary modules.
What it does have are a middleware layer that implements OpenGL, a superset (more or less) of OpenGL ES 1.0, and a bunch of apps that are aware of the middleware, and are thus capable of talking directly to OpenGL-compliant hardware. We'd assume that Mohring's netbook was using Moblin technology in combination with a GMA 500 driver sourced from elsewhere.
All the same, we agree that the Menlow hardware is pretty cool, and we hope that fully capable open drivers for GMA 500 will arrive someday.