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 is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.

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