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Plague at Pi Towers

via Raspberry Pi

Alex, Helen and I are all in our respective beds today with the plague. So your usual blog fodder won’t get served up today because none of us can look at a monitor for more than thirty seconds at a trot: instead I’m going to ask you to come up with some content for us. Let us know in the comments what you think we should be blogging about next, and also if you have any top sinus remedies.

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VC4 and V3D OpenGL drivers for Raspberry Pi: an update

via Raspberry Pi

Here’s an update from Iago Toral of Igalia on development of the open source VC4 and V3D OpenGL drivers used by Raspberry Pi.

Some of you may already know that Eric Anholt, the original developer of the open source VC4 and V3D OpenGL drivers used by Raspberry Pi, is no longer actively developing these drivers and a team from Igalia has stepped in to continue his work. My name is Iago Toral (itoral), and together with my colleagues Alejandro Piñeiro (apinheiro) and José Casanova (chema), we have been hard at work learning about the V3D GPU hardware and Eric’s driver design over the past few months.

Learning a new GPU is a lot of work, but I think we have been making good progress and in this post we would like to share with the community some of our recent contributions to the driver and some of the plans we have for the future.

But before we go into the technical details of what we have been up to, I would like to give some context about the GPU hardware and current driver status for Raspberry Pi 4, which is where we have been focusing our efforts.

The GPU bundled with Raspberry Pi 4 is a VideoCore VI capable of OpenGL ES 3.2, a significant step above the VideoCore IV present in Raspberry Pi 3 which could only do OpenGL ES 2.0. Despite the fact that both GPU models belong in Broadcom’s VideoCore family, they have quite significant architectural differences, so we also have two separate OpenGL driver implementations. Unfortunately, as you may have guessed, this also means that driver work on one GPU won’t be directly useful for the other, and that any new feature development that we do for the Raspberry Pi 4 driver stack won’t naturally transport to Raspberry Pi 3.

The driver code for both GPU models is available in the Mesa upstream repository. The codename for the VideoCore IV driver is VC4, and the codename for the VideoCore VI driver is V3D. There are no downstream repositories – all development happens directly upstream, which has a number of benefits for end users:

  1. It is relatively easy for the more adventurous users to experiment with development builds of the driver.
  2. It is fairly simple to follow development activities by tracking merge requests with the V3D and VC4 labels.

At present, the V3D driver exposes OpenGL ES 3.0 and OpenGL 2.1. As I mentioned above, the VideoCore VI GPU can do OpenGL ES 3.2, but it can’t do OpenGL 3.0, so future feature work will focus on OpenGL ES.

Okay, so with that introduction out of the way, let’s now go into the nitty-gritty of what we have been working on as we ramped up over the last few months:

Disclaimer: I won’t detail here everything we have been doing because then this would become a long and boring changelog list; instead I will try to summarize the areas where we put more effort and the benefits that the work should bring. For those interested in the full list of changes, you can always go to the upstream Mesa repository and scan it for commits with Igalia authorship and the v3d tag.

First we have the shader compiler, where we implemented a bunch of optimizations that should be producing better (faster) code for many shader workloads. This involved work at the NIR level, the lower-level IR specific to V3D, and the assembly instruction scheduler. The shader-db graph below shows how the shader compiler has evolved over the last few months. It should be noted here that one of the benefits of working within the Mesa ecosystem is that we get a lot of shader optimization work done by other Mesa contributors, since some parts of the compiler stack are shared across multiple drivers.

Bar chart with y-axis range from -12.00% to +2.00%. It is annotated, "Lower is better except for Threads". There are four bars: Instructions (about -4.75%); Threads (about 0.25%); Uniforms (about -11.00%); and Splits (about 0.50%).

Evolution of the shader compiler (June vs present)

Another area where we have done significant work is transform feedback. Here, we fixed some relevant flushing bugs that could cause transform feedback results to not be visible to applications after rendering. We also optimized the transform feedback process to better use the hardware for in-pipeline synchronization of transform feedback workloads without having to always resort to external job flushing, which should be better for performance. Finally, we also provided a better implementation for transform feedback primitive count queries that makes better use of the GPU (the previous implementation handled all this on the CPU side), which is also correct at handling overflow of the transform feedback buffers (there was no overflow handling previously).

We also implemented support for OpenGL Logic Operations, an OpenGL 2.0 feature that was somehow missing in the V3D driver. This was responsible for this bug, since, as it turns out, the default LibreOffice theme in Raspbian was triggering a path in Glamor that relied on this feature to render the cursor. Although Raspbian has since been updated to use a different theme, we made sure to implement this feature and verify that the bug is now fixed for the original theme as well.

Fixing Piglit and CTS test failures has been another focus of our work in these initial months, trying to get us closer to driver conformance. You can check the graph below showcasing Piglit test results to have a quick view at how things have evolved over the last few months. This work includes a relevant bug fix for a rather annoying bug in the way the kernel driver was handling L2 cache invalidation that could lead to GPU hangs. If you have observed any messages from the kernel warning about write violations (maybe accompanied by GPU hangs), those should now be fixed in the kernel driver. This fix goes along with a user-space fix to go that should be merged soon in the upstream V3D driver.

A bar chart with y-axis ranging from 0 to 16000. There are three groups of bars: "June (master)"; "Present (master)"; Present (GLES 3.1)". Each group has three bars: Pass; Fail; Skip. Passes are higher in the "Present (master)" and "Present (GLES 3.1)" groups of bars than in the "June (master)" group, and skips and fails are lower.

Evolution of Piglit test results (June vs present)

A a curiosity, here is a picture of our own little continuous integration system that we use to run regression tests both regularly and before submitting code for review.

Ten Raspberry Pis with small black fans, most of them in colourful Pimoroni Pibow open cases, in a nest of cables and labels

Our continuous integration system

The other big piece of work we have been tackling, and that we are very excited about, is OpenGL ES 3.1, which will bring Compute Shaders to Raspberry Pi 4! Credit for this goes to Eric Anholt, who did all the implementation work before leaving – he just never got to the point where it was ready to be merged, so we have picked up Eric’s original work, rebased it, and worked on bug fixes to have a fully conformant implementation. We are currently hard at work squashing the last few bugs exposed by the Khronos Conformance Test Suite and we hope to be ready to merge this functionality in the next major Mesa release, so look forward to it!

Compute Shaders is a really cool feature but it won’t be the last. I’d like to end this post with a small note on another important large feature that is currently in early stages of development: Geometry Shaders, which will bring the V3D driver one step closer to exposing a full programmable 3D pipeline – so look forward to that as well!

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Eight years, 2000 blog posts

via Raspberry Pi

Today’s a bit of a milestone for us: this is the 2000th post on this blog.

Why does a computer company have a blog? When did it start, who writes it, and where does the content come from? And don’t you have sore fingers? All of these are good questions: I’m here to answer them for you.

The first ever Raspberry Pi blog post

Marital circumstances being what they are, I had a front-row view of everything that was going on at Raspberry Pi, right from the original conversations that kicked the project off in 2009. In 2011, when development was still being done on Eben’s and my kitchen table, we met with sudden and slightly alarming fame when Rory Cellan Jones from the BBC shot a short video of a prototype Raspberry Pi and blogged about it – his post went viral. I was working as a freelance journalist and editor at the time, but realised that we weren’t going to get a better chance to kickstart a community, so I dropped my freelance work and came to work full-time for Raspberry Pi.

Setting up an instantiation of WordPress so we could talk to all Rory’s readers, each of whom decided we’d promised we’d make them a $25 computer, was one of the first orders of business. We could use the WordPress site to announce news, and to run a sort of devlog, which is what became this blog; back then, many of our blog posts were about the development of the original Raspberry Pi.

It was a lovely time to be writing about what we do, because we could be very open about the development process and how we were moving towards launch in a way that sadly, is closed to us today. (If we’d blogged about the development of Raspberry Pi 3 in the detail we’d blogged about Raspberry Pi 1, we’d not only have been handing sensitive and helpful commercial information to the large number of competitor organisations that have sprung up like mushrooms since that original launch; but you’d also all have stopped buying Pi 2 in the run-up, starving us of the revenue we need to do the development work.)

Once Raspberry Pis started making their way into people’s hands in early 2012, I realised there was something else that it was important to share: news about what new users were doing with their Pis. And I will never, ever stop being shocked at the applications of Raspberry Pi that you come up with. Favourites from over the years? The paludarium’s still right up there (no, I didn’t know what a paludarium was either when I found out about it); the cucumber sorter’s brilliant; and the home-brew artificial pancreas blows my mind. I’ve a particular soft spot for musical projects (which I wish you guys would comment on a bit more so I had an excuse to write about more of them).

As we’ve grown, my job has grown too, so I don’t write all the posts here like I used to. I oversee press, communications, marketing and PR for Raspberry Pi Trading now, working with a team of writers, editors, designers, illustrators, photographers, videographers and managers – it’s very different from the days when the office was that kitchen table. Alex Bate, our magisterial Head of Social Media, now writes a lot of what you see on this blog, but it’s always a good day for me when I have time to pitch in and write a post.

I’d forgotten some of the early stuff before looking at 2011’s blog posts to jog my memory as I wrote today’s. What were we thinking when we decided to ship without GPIO pins soldered on? (Happily for the project and for the 25,000,000 Pi owners all over the world in 2019, we changed our minds before we finally launched.) Just how many days in aggregate did I spend stuffing envelopes with stickers at £1 a throw to raise some early funds to get the first PCBs made? (I still have nightmares about the paper cuts.) And every time I think I’m having a bad day, I need to remember that this thing happened, and yet everything was OK again in the end. (The backs of my hands have gone all prickly just thinking about it.) Now I think about it, the Xenon Death Flash happened too. We also survived that.

At the bottom of it all, this blog has always been about community. It’s about sharing what we do, what you do, and making links between people all over the world who have this little machine in common. The work you do telling people about Raspberry Pi, putting it into your own projects, and supporting us by buying the product doesn’t just help us make hardware: every penny we make funds the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s charitable work, helps kids on every continent to learn the skills they need to make their own futures better, and, we think, makes the world a better place. So thank you. As long as you keep reading, we’ll keep writing.

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Moving to Open Source Email List Software

via Open Source Ecology

We just took another small step on our path to creating the open source economy. We are pleased to announce that we have installed the free, libre open source (FLOSS) email list software on OSE servers – phpList. We are now transitioning all of our email lists into phpList. When we decided on phpList in 2018 for the OSE Newsletter, it was determined to be the most feature-rich FLOSS alternative to the gold-standard paid alternative, MailChimp.

And this is a good time to get into compliance with GDPR – the recent European privacy regulations. To keep receiving updates from OSE – you will need to resubscribe to our lists if you are on them. Or to start receiving updates – you can subscribe for the first time:


We have several email lists. OSEmail is our main OSE Newsletter featuring news updates, workshop announcement, progress reports, and other noteworthy items. OSEmail comes out a few times per year at monthly or longer intervals. Anyone can sign up to receive our free newsletter. You can see more information at https://wiki.opensourceecology.org/wiki/OSEmail

We also have another newsletter for Design Sprints. Design Sprints are online virtual collaboration events where we engage in design and documentation work. Design events last from one to a few hours – typically on Friday or weekends – where we collaborate in real-time as a team. We use online editable documents and the OSE wiki to coordinate development work. Anyone with technical skills can participate, and we host several design sprints per year as needed. The Design Sprint newsletter is an announcement of upcoming Design Sprints which comes out every time that a Design Sprint is organized. It provides background information on the Design Sprint so that contributors get a heads up on what to expect. If you would like to participate, you can sign up at the Design Sprints Newsletter.

What kind of updates do we have in store? I am taking a ‘sabbatical’ to write a book. In 2008, we formulated the Global Village Construction Set (GVCS) and began blogging regularly. Continued progress got us to the world stage with my GVCS TED Talk in 2011. Since then, there has been lots of exciting developments – and not enough time to document them. At this here one decade mark since the beginning of the project – I decided to write a book about our learnings – and how to take the Global Village Construction Set to the next stage. The experiment is as alive as ever, with every day producing new evidence that transcending artificial scarcity and achieving freedom – for the first time in human history – is more possible than ever.

Still, we are far from the kind of impact that Linux has done for software. Why? That is the central question I will attempt to answer – as we focus for the next decade on opensourcing critical infrastructures of material prosperity. That is a prerequisite to self-determination and freedom – a central question that our civilization has not yet mastered. And many question whether we will survive at all. In another decade, end of 2028 – I’m retiring for the third time to work on applications of technology, not technology per say. That means helping people to grow – and building village campuses for global regeneration.

I believe that taking OSE to the next level requires a thorough analysis of all OSE learnings – as well as a survey of all knowledge gained by civilization to date across many disciplines. This helps put our work into perspective – as we are doing nothing new. We are just integrating and applying existing know-how and standing on the shoulders of giants.

So if you would like to keep receiving OSE news – or to join our mailing list for the first time – please do so by subscribing to the list below. For reasons of GDPR internet privacy regulations, we require that everyone on our existing lists resubscribe so that OSE is in compliance with the regulations.

Trick or (the ultimate) treat!

via Raspberry Pi

I’ll keep today’s blog post short and sweet, because Liz, Helen, and I are all still under the weather.

Raspberry Pi 4!

Don’t tell Eben, Liz, or the rest of the team I showed you this, but here’s your Halloween ‘trick or treat’ gift: an exclusive sneak peek at the Raspberry Pi 4.

We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming from tomorrow.

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We have the plague

via Raspberry Pi

Apologies to our daily visitors (we love you guys); we don’t have a proper blog post for you today because we’re all really ill. (I have food poisoning, Helen is coughing up goo and can barely speak or breathe, and Alex is being sick.)

You’ve got a day until Halloween; if you’re looking for inspiration, we’ve got several years of archived spooky project posts for you to check out. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and have a little lie down.

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