How To Kick Your Friends in the Face: GMA500

Over the past few years, any Linux developer you ask would quickly recommend buying computer hardware with an Intel chipset. When it comes to Linux support, especially in the mobile realm, Intel had the best support hands down. In fact, even my first generation Asus EeePC with the tiny 7” screen supported Compiz acceleration out of the box! It was all thanks to Intel and their close relationship with the Linux community.

Then Intel cemented their relationship in the Linux world with Moblin. It was pretty clear Intel took Linux seriously, and those of us that care about such things gave Intel even more praise. In fact, when Acer came out with the 11.6 inch netbook, when I saw it had an Intel chipset I didn’t even bother checking for compatibility.

That’s when Intel kicked me in the face.

You see, the Acer Aspire One 751h, although perfect in almost every way, has an Intel GMA500 video chipset. This hardware, codenamed “Poulsbo” isn’t actually developed by Intel, but rather uses a PowerVR chip. If you’re a Linux video hacker, the term “PowerVR” probably makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and for good reason. The PowerVR company isn’t known for working well with open source ideas. The folks in charge of kernel developing, developing, and major distribution packaging all have the same thing to say about the GMA500 chipset -- and I’m not allowed to publish those sort of words on a company blog. :)

So Intel, I have to ask -- what were you thinking? Don’t you realize if you want to remain a powerhouse in the small form and embedded market you have to have a good relationship with Linux developers? Do you know current versions of Moblin, your very own baby, don’t work with your GMA500 chipset?!?! Oh sure, there was a window of kernel revisions that half-supported the Poulsbo device, but that ship has sailed and any modern kernel doesn’t even work halfway.

Dear Intel,

Please do something. I don’t want Windows on my Acer, and I’m sure there are a lot of folks with the Dell Mini 12 that would rather not keep their old version of Ubuntu in order to use their netbook. We’re still friends, let’s make up, OK? Make it right, and we’ll chalk this up to a bad oversight.

Shawn Powers
Linux User, Linux Journal Associate Editor, and Intel fan with a bone to pick.

UPDATE: There's a response over on the Moblinzone blog that is worth a read. The author (whose identity I can't find on the page unfortunately) makes some good points, but I still hold to my argument.

UPDATE 2: I couldn't help myself. I followed up on this article over here...


Shawn Powers is a Linux Journal Associate Editor. You might find him on IRC, Twitter, or training IT pros at CBT Nuggets.


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GMA 500 is stench - stinks on XP and well stinks EVERYWHERE

Anonymous's picture

GMA 500 is stench - stinks on XP and well stinks EVERYWHERE

They sold MILLIONS of laptops with this UNSUPPORTED hardware that EVERYONE hates. MY god ... Whether you are in Linux, XP or Whatever YOu are hating this GMA-500 junk. The Drivers just stink. The finger to EVERYONE connected with the GMA-500. Lets get the word out to people when this just hits the market. I get much better performance and software support from a Data General DG1 (circa 1980s) than a laptop with a GMA-500 graphics.

Hey Shawn, are you still trying to put Linux on your AO751h?

danstoner's picture

I had success with CrunchBox Linux 9.04 and a few tweaks from the Ubuntu Community wiki.

Short blog post about it here:


used computers's picture

I guess the result is a computer that can be used to watch high-definition video and handle some 3D games.


Anonymous's picture

I have found a couple of people who have tried the Mandriva solution and found that it does not work at all. Go to the Dell Mini forum and you can get a first hand report. While I have a working 9.04 ubuntu and of course XP which works great with GMA 500 the Mandriva solution does not.
Fedora 11 runs great on my 1010; but only in vesa (800X576) mode; too bad it runs circles around Ubuntu. But try to get the GMa 500 drivers for it and its a futle effort. fdalbor

"Linux Capable"

tktim's picture

I was checking out various netbooks. I assumed that Linux would work on all Atom netbooks. Then I read some reviews in those glossy Europe Linux magazines (LinuxFormat etc.). They reported that some netbooks can't fully run Linux - sound etc. I was thinking if they came with Windows or Ubuntu I could change it to Fedora, not true. Now things are on hold for me.

My wish is that some group would put out a real time "Designed for Linux" , "Linux Capable", "Linux Upgradable ***** (1* to 5*) lists. I'd like to even see stickers on the pc's. I know you can go to some sites and see lists of what users have determined. I'm thinking of a more formal and official list. Seems to me that it would help push vendors in the right direction. I think there are a lot of smart people like the Moblin guy who know right away it's not going to work on Linux, but for end users it hard to find current correct information. I have talked to vendors at times and they don't even know if Linux will work on their products. Vendors sometime even say the don't work, just to play safe, when in fact they do work. I would like to see a "Linux Capable *****" star rating for printers etc. I have to share an AIO network printer with other family members and the problem always is how well does it work on Linux.

Shawn I would try to return your netbook for a refund or future credit. Acer should state not Linux upgradable. Tell them your readers are standing by you. Best of luck.

Very good news. :)

Shawn Powers's picture

Two, the situation isn't quite as dire as the article paints it

Thanks for the inside info, Adam. Sadly the chipset doesn't work all that great in Windows either (which is what I currently have installed on my Acer), but I'm really glad someone continues to struggle through it.

(Ok, that sounds bad -- I'm not glad you're struggling, but glad you haven't given up, lol!)

Shawn Powers is a Linux Journal Associate Editor. You might find him on IRC, Twitter, or training IT pros at CBT Nuggets.


Adam Williamson's picture

The pain in the ass is mostly in doing the work to make the driver fly in the first place, which is made easier for most because people like me and Olivier have done it already :) Once you get the driver up and running, which isn't hard if you follow the instructions I linked to for your distro, it actually works rather well. Haven't had a graphics-related crash on my Vaio P at all, the video playback acceleration is neat, and the 3D support is pretty good (I run Compiz on it). Suspend/resume works flawlessly, even screen brightness works for me. Still, due to the potential future problems, I wouldn't recommend anyone buy a Poulsbo-powered system if they have any choice in the matter.

Misc. notes

Adam Williamson's picture

I'm the Adam Williamson mentioned in an above comment, one of the poor fools at the coal face trying to keep this chipset working. :)

A few notes. One, the kernel is not really a problem. The kernel module component of the psb driver is entirely open source and so far it's been quite trivial to keep it working with newer kernel releases, right up to 2.6.31. The biggest problem for keeping the driver running on newer distributions is the closed-source components, which are not the kernel module, but an X library, the DRI library, and the video playback acceleration library. If these lose binary compatibility with the components in the distribution you're running, then you're screwed, because there's no way they can be rebuilt by anyone but Intel/Dell/Canonical. Without those components, you lose 3D acceleration support and video playback acceleration support.

Two, the situation isn't quite as dire as the article paints it, though it is a giant pain in the ass. You can use Poulsbo chipsets with the psb driver on Fedora 11, Mandriva 2010, and Ubuntu 9.04 and 9.10. For Fedora 11, see my post which was referred to above. For Mandriva 2010, the support should be there right out of the box, you don't need to do anything but install it on a Poulsbo system. For Ubuntu 9.04, see this giant messy thread. For Ubuntu 9.10, see these slightly cleaner ones: thread 1 and thread 2.

Once distributions go up to X server 1.7, things will get trickier, unless Intel/Dell/Canonical see fit to release an updated build of the driver. Fedora 12 will be the first distro to use X server 1.7; it's being bumped in this round of releases, whereas Ubuntu 9.10 and Mandriva 2010 aren't. This is giving me some trouble, as the driver doesn't work without modification on this version of the X server. It should be possible to get at least the basic driver running, I'm working with a guy called Victor Stinner on getting this going at present. If we can get that sorted out, we'll be able to see if the 3D / video playback stuff still works with the new X server. If it doesn't, there's nothing we can do about that without an update from upstream, as that code is closed.


Michael's picture

Hi, anyone know if the GMA 4500MHD works well under Linux? I am thinking about getting the new Acer 11.6 Timeline laptop. Thanks


Shawn Powers's picture

I think that's the same chip that is in the Lenovo X200, which works *great* with Linux. :)

Shawn Powers is a Linux Journal Associate Editor. You might find him on IRC, Twitter, or training IT pros at CBT Nuggets.

Thanks Shawn. What is your

mugs's picture

Thanks Shawn. What is your opinion between getting a netbook with Atom and ION vs the Acer Timeline with CULV and integrated graphics?

Tough Call

Shawn Powers's picture

I think I'm going to hold out for the ARM based netbook/notebooks that are coming down the pipe. Now THAT is some exciting stuff. :)

Shawn Powers is a Linux Journal Associate Editor. You might find him on IRC, Twitter, or training IT pros at CBT Nuggets.

When are they expected?

mugs's picture

When are they expected? But, if you had to choose now, which would you go with? :)

Not sure...

Shawn Powers's picture

I'm not sure when the ARM systems will ship, but if I had to pick now I'd probably go with ION out of spite.

I guess read reviews on the options VERY closely, and go from there.

Good luck!

Shawn Powers is a Linux Journal Associate Editor. You might find him on IRC, Twitter, or training IT pros at CBT Nuggets.

Same with VAIO P

Anonymous's picture

Same thing with vaio P comes with GMA500

works with basic VESA, but sucks in performance.

Adam Williamson's blog is best source of info on GMA500 on Linux

Oisin Feeley's picture

AdamW has been working hard at getting the code Intel dumped into some niche Ubuntu repository cleaned up and repackaged. The result seems to be that Fedora 11 has a working driver for the GMA500:

There are suggestions that there _may_ be a Moblin2 Free driver:

It's great that he and others have been able to move from the original situation he reported on January 29th 2009 "Intel GMA 500 (Poulsbo) graphics on Linux: a precise and comprehensive summary as to why you’re screwed" to doing the work that _Intel should have done!_. Shaun Powers is dead on the money with his assessment of Intel's responsibility and the damage this is doing to their reputation.

No Moblin driver

Adam Williamson's picture

That Moblin driver lead turned out to be a dead end, unfortunately.


Oisin Feeley's picture

I had secret hopes that some other engineering group in Intel had seen the light and negotiated something with ImgTec that allowed them to release it as FOSS. Pity.

Spot on, but Dell shares responsibility.

Paul Beardsell's picture

Dell sold me an M12 with Ubuntu 8.04 pre-installed. Dell & Ubuntu have been chatting. Dell & Intel talk. Dell *decided* to put Ubuntu 8.04 on the M12. Never have I bought hardware without being so confident it would run Linux and run it well. I didn't check the chipset, it seems I was a fool, but why should I have been expected to in this case? Now I'm stuck on Ubuntu 8.04. This notebook is going to have to discarded. Y'know I can't be bothered with nanny-state consumer legislation but I reckon I have a claim here for misrepresentation, the h/w is not fit for purpose.

*ALL* my notebooks have been by Dell. I'm annoyed! Dell? Smell.

For Me

Shawn Powers's picture

The Intel/Dell thing is like a drug dealer and a druggie. The dealer (Intel) is just making money on Dell (the druggie)'s need to "compete" with longer battery life. You can't tell me Intel didn't know what problems this would cause. They make the stuff for crying out loud! (Ok, fine, they requisitioned for this to be made, still...)

I just can't see a scenario where Intel didn't push this chipset onto Dell, Acer, etc. "Longer battery life, less heat -- all the cool kids will invite you to their parties"

So yeah, Dell and Acer are partially to blame, but in the end my beef is still with Intel.

Shawn Powers is a Linux Journal Associate Editor. You might find him on IRC, Twitter, or training IT pros at CBT Nuggets.

intel from intel

andri's picture

hum were to start you make the bigest deal about the drives being close source but that is common practice for a grafix company expely a ip company
the fact waye driver suck so much you can blame it on intel instead of using the references drives from powervr(yes they are blob drives) they decide to hire Tungsten graphics to write the drives and the drives from Tungsten graphics are rely bad compared to powervr references drives
the Tungsten graphics drives have extremely bad performance extremely unstable
heck the Tungsten graphics drives are not even using the onboard firmware
and the chip falls back to software vertex shading
and just to make a point powervr have deliver good linux blob drivers to those that ask for them TI has on it website linux drivers for the OMAP3xxx
(Beagle Board , Nokia N900 , Pandora ,Palm Pre)

and also as note
remember there is a reason for almost every one in the embed marked use powervr(apple Samsung TI) the crafix cores have the best power/performance
i just wish that intel did use the drivers from powervr

The same problem

Daniel Cabrera's picture


I have the same problem, sadly I realized the problem with GMA500 when Ijust ordered tha AO751H, I've installed Ubuntu 9.04 and could have run Compiz, now I am using Ubuntu 9.10 I'll try install Compiz again I wish I could.

Well, I hope that Intel make an agreement with people from Poulsbo and release a driver for Linux.


I'm right there with you

Chuck Henry's picture


I'm in the exact same boat. I love my 751h but I can't go Karmic. I like 9.04 but I can't get decent video performance no matter what from Ubuntu forums I try. And so far all the backport tricks to get things working in Karmic don't seem to work.

I love this netbook except for this issue! I've even stooped so low as to stand in the store with a Windows 7 retail box in hand and argue with myself about why I shouldn't buy it. I did eventually put it back... but it was close!

I feel your pain! Intel, fix this please.

ACER? You what?

kneewax's picture

I feel pain, and understand your grievences. But I think the biggest mistake was not Intel's but yours. You bought an ACER? Why man WHY? World renowned as the worst computers ever backed up by the worst support dept in the history of computing.

I'm sorry but this may well be a problem far worse than intel's short-sightedness....

The Aspire Ones are actually

Anonymous's picture

The Aspire Ones are actually pretty good. When was the last time you tried an acer?

Good keyboard, working wireless, cheap, open drivers across the board (except the poulsbo on one of the newer models, apparently). What's not to like?


Shawn Powers's picture

Well, I won an Acer 10" at OSCON this year, and it runs Linux beautifully. I just wanted the bigger screen resolution and full sized keys. The Acer 751h has both -- but came with the GMA500 chipset.

But yes, it was my fault for not doing research before buying. Like I said, since it had an Intel chipset, I assumed I was fine. *sigh*

Shawn Powers is a Linux Journal Associate Editor. You might find him on IRC, Twitter, or training IT pros at CBT Nuggets.

coupla points...

Anonymous's picture

Hi Shawn,

Don't blame Intel. Blame the Dell's and Acers that took an embedded product -- never meant for products with user-replaceable OSes -- and put it into consumer form factors. They did this in order to get the lower power draw and smaller footprint of the Menlow platform, to differentiate from the zillions of Diamondville netbooks out there. People criticize Microsoft and Intel for being so proactive in defining the netbook form factor, and then you read something like this, and think perhaps they didn't go far enough.

If as it expects to compete in the smartphone market, as it plans to, Intel will have to use best-of-breed smartphone GPUs like the PowerVR (it's an IP core, btw, not a chip). They haven't had time to make any of their own yet. And, those b-o-b GPUs can reasonably be expected to have closed drivers. That's because smartphone owners don't ever replace their OS, so there's no disadvantage (well, not any prohibitive ones, anyone) to keeping the drivers closed.

The trouble happens when those parts with closed drivers get used outside their intended markets, by consumer companies. Closed drivers are perfectly acceptable if you don't plan to change the OS. They're the norm in the embedded market. But when companies use these parts outside their intended markets, it can make hassles for everyone.

Oh, by the way -- you ought to have a look at Mandriva -- it's supporting GMA500 in its newest release, currently in final beta. I believe it also includes the Moblin UI stuff.




Adam Williamson's picture

In both this comment and your article (on which no comments are apparently allowed, hence I'm replying here) you imply that it's somehow inevitable, a law of nature or something, that the PowerVR-derived GMA 500 *must* use closed source drivers. This is just misleading. Intel does not use drivers received from PowerVR, as others have mentioned, it chose to contract Tungsten to write drivers for it. It was entirely Intel's choice to accept closed source drivers from Tungsten. It could have developed the driver in-house, or required Tungsten to develop an open source driver. It *should* have done one of these things, to honor its commitment to providing open source Linux drivers for its hardware. It did neither. That's not inevitable, the way you try to paint it as being.

(I can't cite my sources, but it's known that Intel's Open Technology Group, which does all the rest of Intel's driver development, is hopping mad at the situation and wants to write its own open source GMA 500 driver, but Intel's Ultra Mobile Group, which got to be in charge of the Menlow stuff, refuses to let it. This is as much a tragedy of Intel's schizophrenic internal organization as anything else.)

Henry Kingman, I'd love to

rob_s's picture

Henry Kingman,

I'd love to know what your connection to intel is - you only ever seem to have good things to say about the atom & moblin platform according to a google search.


Shawn Powers's picture

I knew my terminology would be off (ie core vs chip). Thanks for clearing that up.

At LinuxCon, I listened to one of the Moblin developer talk about Intel, but when I brought up the GMA500 -- it was an awkward discussion. I honestly didn't know about the PowerVR GPUs being used in the embedded market, so I appreciate that info.

Still, if Intel expects to compete with small form factor, or embedded (the lines are blurring there) devices, I don't see how the Poulsbo could be a good move on their part. I think it's a fixable problem though, just by offering some driver support, even if not open.

Thanks for the Mandriva info. I'll check it out for sure.

Shawn Powers is a Linux Journal Associate Editor. You might find him on IRC, Twitter, or training IT pros at CBT Nuggets.

Glad someone said it...

cmnorton's picture

Glad you're saying your peace. Clearly, Intel was making a Windows netbook. There's always System76. I'm happy with my Gazelle Ultra, and I'm happy with the service I got on it, which was extraordinary.