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Imagination Technologies Releases Open Source Drivers for PowerVR Series 1

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If you owned an Apocalypse 3d/3dx or Matrox m3D, you would've been one of many gamers that had bought a PowerVR Series 1 based 3D graphics accelerator and was both excited and underwhelmed at the same time. Released originally in 1996 and the PCX1 manufactured a 500 nm and a core clock speed of whopping 60 MHz, it was the only direct competitor of 3dfx's original Voodoo graphics card, which was technically slower at 50 MHz, but delivered a lot better in terms of 3D quality. Here we are in 2022 and Imagination Technologies, the company behind the PCX1 and the die shrunk PCX2 that was launched a year later, is releasing the drivers for both 3D accelerators as open source. Outside of a big nostalgia trip for those that might still have their card knocking around, there's questionable value in these drivers.

The second generation of PowerVR GPU's ended up powering the Sega Dreamcast with the third generation ending up in PC GPUs that were competitive with the NVIDIA GeForce 256, at least until NVIDIA changed from SDR to DDR memory. The most unique part of the PowerVR Series 1 was that the 3D accelerator could use the main 2D display cards memory as a framebuffer over the PCI bus. Sadly most games didn't support the PowerSGL API at the time and weren't able to take full advantage of the hardware when DirectX 3.0 was used. The open source drivers are provided as is and it seems like some libraries are missing for the Tomb Raider port for the PoverVR Series 1 3D accelerators, but beyond that, there should be no limitations.



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And yes, I bought a Matrox m3D on the cheap and was very much disappointed by what it delivered in terms of 3D.
That said, the Kyro and Kyro II were pretty decent for their time.
 
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This release was probably a test run for all the lawyery stuff required in order to open more recent devices as well. It is itself an interesting historical addition, especially the obscure PowerSGL stuff.
This is not the only thing Imagination open-sourced. They also added an open-source Vulkan driver for PowerVR Rogue GPUs with a promise of opening more parts for this modern line of GPUs.
 
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This release was probably a test run for all the lawyery stuff required in order to open more recent devices as well. It is itself an interesting historical addition, especially the obscure PowerSGL stuff.
This is not the only thing Imagination open-sourced. They also added an open-source Vulkan driver for PowerVR Rogue GPUs with a promise of opening more parts for this modern line of GPUs.
It's about time, it would make their GPU designs a lot more attractive if they opened up the drivers.
 
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It's about time, it would make their GPU designs a lot more attractive if they opened up the drivers.
Yup, I'm hoping they will get to at least opening the display parts of older generations as well. There is a lot of ARM hardware that contains their GPUs, but without upstream support they are locked to ancient kernel versions and/or Android-only support.
 
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And yes, I bought a Matrox m3D on the cheap and was very much disappointed by what it delivered in terms of 3D.
That said, the Kyro and Kyro II were pretty decent for their time.

Application specific hardware, honestly. PCX is legitimately good tech, it just had the same 3D wild west issues as every other card. It also wasn't the ONLY competition for 3DFX, by 1997 nVidia, ATi, 3DLabs, Trident and even Cirrus Logic were vying for that pie. Important to note that Apocalypse 3D was PCX1, but m3D was PCX2.

Notes for the curious: S3's ViRGE(/VX) launched the same month as Voodoo 1. Other direct competition includes Rendition's Verite 1000, Creative's 3D Blaster, 3DLabs' Permedia 1, ATi's 3D Rage, and Matrox's Millennium and Mystique.
 
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Application specific hardware, honestly. PCX is legitimately good tech, it just had the same 3D wild west issues as every other card. It also wasn't the ONLY competition for 3DFX, by 1997 nVidia, ATi, 3DLabs, Trident and even Cirrus Logic were vying for that pie. Important to note that Apocalypse 3D was PCX1, but m3D was PCX2.

Notes for the curious: S3's ViRGE(/VX) launched the same month as Voodoo 1. Other direct competition includes Rendition's Verite 1000, Creative's 3D Blaster, 3DLabs' Permedia 1, ATi's 3D Rage, and Matrox's Millennium and Mystique.
Yeah, I remember well.
It was the only competition at the time, the other companies weren't doing 3D until a bit later, if you check the dates.
It was also the only other 3D accelerator, everyone else ended up doing 2D and 3D chips.

The S3 Virge wasn't really what I'd call a 3D card in the early days, at least not by any useful means, nor would I call the Rage II from ATI a 3D card. Yes, they did accelerate a couple of things, but they couldn't keep up with the Voodoo or the PowerVR Series 1. The same goes for the Matrox cards, that were excellent at 2D output, but not so much when it comes to 3D.

You're correct about the Rendition Vérité V1000, I thought that launched later. Permedia wasn't for consumers, sorry.

Pretty much all the first gen hardware from everyone was not great and 3dfx really stood out compared to the competition.

Personally I was really disappointed with my m3D, as it didn't work in half of the games I was playing at the time.
 
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Permedia wasn't for consumers, sorry.
Wasn't it? 3DLabs had other cards that were for the professional markets, but obviously they were way too expensive for the mainstream. Most didn't even support texturing since it was a concept not needed for 3D CAD work ;)
Even in reviews it's being called a "consumer" chip.

There is a terrific YouTube series about all those early 3D cards, it's very entertaining looking at how bad some of them were :)
 
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It was the only competition at the time, the other companies weren't doing 3D until a bit later, if you check the dates.

No? 3DLabs (300SX), VLSI/DEC (ZLXp-L1), and Matrox (Impression) were doing 3D before Voodoo 1. The DIRECT competitors in performance did come later, but that's why Voodoo was special. Not that it was first, but that it brought performance up very high for the money.1996 was also a HUGE year for 3D, not just because of 3Dfx. Something like 20 different companies produced or announced a 3D capable chip that year.

It was also the only other 3D accelerator, everyone else ended up doing 2D and 3D chips.

Matrox Impression was a prior example of addon 3D card. Not comparable at all to later texture capable cards, but the point stands.

The S3 Virge wasn't really what I'd call a 3D card in the early days, at least not by any useful means, nor would I call the Rage II from ATI a 3D card.

I don't think it cares what you'd call it, ViRGE was a 2D/3D pipeline through and through, and sold directly against Voodoo (doing quite well for itself, too). Same for Rage 3D, though the first iteration failed spectacularly, the card was still a contemporary late-1995 3D offering.

Permedia wasn't for consumers, sorry.

Huh? Permedia was DIRECTLY for consumers. It was 3DLabs attempt to offer a cost-reduced retail variant of GLiNT after the failure of Game GLiNT.

Pretty much all the first gen hardware from everyone was not great and 3dfx really stood out compared to the competition.

Sure, that's a fair assessment. Again, Voodoo was a standout for being high performance, but it absolutely DID NOT exist in a vacuum. In fact, the existence of other 3D solutions is WHY Voodoo received so much acclaim.
 
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Yeah, I remember well.
It was the only competition at the time, the other companies weren't doing 3D until a bit later, if you check the dates.
It was also the only other 3D accelerator, everyone else ended up doing 2D and 3D chips.

The S3 Virge wasn't really what I'd call a 3D card in the early days, at least not by any useful means, nor would I call the Rage II from ATI a 3D card. Yes, they did accelerate a couple of things, but they couldn't keep up with the Voodoo or the PowerVR Series 1. The same goes for the Matrox cards, that were excellent at 2D output, but not so much when it comes to 3D.

You're correct about the Rendition Vérité V1000, I thought that launched later. Permedia wasn't for consumers, sorry.

Pretty much all the first gen hardware from everyone was not great and 3dfx really stood out compared to the competition.

Personally I was really disappointed with my m3D, as it didn't work in half of the games I was playing at the time.
Lol, I remember reading about all this in Nextgen magazine as kid. Really interesting times for hardware but I never got to use any of it aside from saving up enough to get a Rage II for our Pentium PC. I remembering it definitely doing 3D stuff I hadn't seen before but it was very slow.

I remember Rendition having really the only good hardware that could be compared to what 3DFX was doing. Don't really remember what happened to them though as they seemed like they just kinda disappeared.

3Dlabs never had a consumer card. I think to the extent they were consumer facing they had cards that were powerful enough and sort of affordable to lower the price of entry into 3D development on PCs which previously need completely purpose built 3D workstations?

Kinda too bad PowerVR didn't stick around in the PC space, it always seemed like their technology was good enough they just never had the backing they needed.
 
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I bet this has inflated the prices on eBay.
I remember a couple games that used Power VR. I recall they always seemed that they looked 'better' and had a nice sharp rendering style.
 
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I remember Rendition having really the only good hardware that could be compared to what 3DFX was doing. Don't really remember what happened to them though as they seemed like they just kinda disappeared.

They were bought by Micron in 1998.

3Dlabs never had a consumer card. I think to the extent they were consumer facing they had cards that were powerful enough and sort of affordable to lower the price of entry into 3D development on PCs which previously need completely purpose built 3D workstations?

Permedia and Permedia2/2v were unconditionally consumer focused cards. Permedia3 got a very short life on the shelf as the "Permedia3 Create!" after a major delay to release caused them to change tune from gaming to web and content development. The only high volume variant of Permedia3 isn't Permedia, it's the identically configured Oxygen VX1 which wasn't nearly impressive enough to garner much attention, however the geometry equipped GVX1 was used heavily by Microsoft to finish development of DirectX 7.0.
 
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Brings back memories of UT/gaming on my Kyro 64MB & Kyro II 64MB cards. Would be interesting to have their drivers opensourced, but I guess that would reveal too much of their tile marchitecture.
 

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And yes, I bought a Matrox m3D on the cheap and was very much disappointed by what it delivered in terms of 3D.
That said, the Kyro and Kyro II were pretty decent for their time.
Same, fitted in a olliviette envision P75 good times, it was shit but it was awesome.
 
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pretty interesting
 

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How compatible are the drivers with today's hardware and software? These drivers are from the windows 95 platform And I don't see an overall effort to make windows 95. Great again.
 
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Brings back memories of UT/gaming on my Kyro 64MB & Kyro II 64MB cards. Would be interesting to have their drivers opensourced, but I guess that would reveal too much of their tile marchitecture.
They were at least decent cards at their time, especially considering how "weak" the hardware was in comparison to Nvidia, who had already started its brute force approach to performance. Tile based rendering was really a breakthrough back then.
 
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They were at least decent cards at their time, especially considering how "weak" the hardware was in comparison to Nvidia, who had already started its brute force approach to performance. Tile based rendering was really a breakthrough back then.
It was and it is now too. Even back then I was saying - why do they waste resources and bandwidth when Hidden Surface Removal before any rendering is the only sensible approach. That's why I bought Kyro back then instead of GeForce or even Radeon - it was so refreshing to see a good architecture being mass produced. And everything just worked on Kyro, well I did do some registry tweaks here and there (I still have those settings in my archive) but they were really good cards for their size and number of units.
 
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Having a look at this, early 3D was really quite terrible, regardless of the hardware.


 
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Better late than never?
re
The open source drivers are provided as is and it seems like some libraries are missing for the Tomb Raider port for the PoverVR Series 1 3D accelerators, but beyond that, there should be no limitations.
I'd say it's somewhat irrelevant anyway. The DOS version of the SGL library was done purely for Tomb Raider (as it was a DOS game) and it was the only game (to my knowledge) that used that version of the library. (I was part of the team in PVR did the port and it seemed much easier to us to convert SGL to run under DOS than the redo all the OS/Sound/CD etc code in Tomb Raider to work in Windows)

Further, unlike the windows libraries/dirvers, there wasn't any concept of DLLs on DOS so unless you also have the source code for Tomb Raider, you couldn't make use of them anyway.**


**unless you were planning on writing your own PowerVR accelerated DOS games!

Having a look at this, early 3D was really quite terrible, regardless of the hardware.
But did you look at SW 3D rendering at the time!? You'd be lucky to get 320x200 at reasonable speed and forget about texture filtering!

At least with PCX1/2 you had games running at 800x600 or 1024x768 in 24bit colour.
 
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But did you look at SW 3D rendering at the time!? You'd be lucky to get 320x200 at reasonable speed and forget about texture filtering!

At least with PCX1/2 you had games running at 800x600 or 1024x768 in 24bit colour.
Sure, it's all pretty terrible, but in all fairness, I remember being both impressed and disappointed by the m3D card at the same time.
I have no animosity against the product as such, it was just something of an anticlimax once I got the card.
I guess it could also have been because my PC wasn't high-end enough to drive the card at its best, but I remember several games being kind of glitchy when it came to textures at times.
I only had an AMD 5k86-P75 at the time, which I guess was technically a souped up 486...
Still, the Series 1 cards were a one of kind product and the later products were much better.
I had the current CMO at Imagination come over and hand deliver the Kyro and Kyro II cards to the lab for testing when I was working for PCW around the time they launched. Still keeping in touch with him. Those were a huge step in the right direction, it's just a shame it stopped there.

On the topic of Imagination, it does seem like we might get to see a return to the PC market, albeit through some efforts in china, which may never make it to the rest of the world. We could do with more competition in the graphics card market.
 
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Oh my. They should do the same with the PowerVR2, there has been always a hombebrew Dreamcast scene and this would be terrific to have.
 
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