Accelerated-X™ Summit Series

            OpenGL on IBM AIX?

Xi Graphics acquired as a new customer a major international firm based in Europe that ran into difficulties obtaining from IBM graphics adequate for their needs for use on the IBM AIX-based Power Series computer line. So they turned to us.

Within a short time, their customer's IBM systems were being updated in various countries with Accelerated-X graphics support SW that brought new life from the IBM-supplied graphics cards in the installed systems. See AIX Case Study (PDF) and/or GXT135P.

Since then, we have learned that OpenGL is posing some problems for the IBM Power Series and AIX for some of IBM's customers/users.  It seems that the GXT4500P and GXT6500P graphics cards have been discontinued by IBM, and for some reason, replacement graphics cards are either not available, or their performance is not acceptable.

While Xi Graphics does not have graphics drivers for the 4500OP or 6500P cards, we can put OpenGL on the GXT145P and GXT135P. Those cards use the Matrox G450 graphics chip, which are pretty limited for 3D use compared to later graphics chips.

OTOH, for OpenGL requirements that are not very stringent in terms of speed, the cards might be fast enough to avoid an expensive upgrade to hardware.

For more demanding 3D requirements, Xi Graphics would recommend using some of the later Matrox cards. The task of putting then on the IBM Power Series would require the blessing of ATI or Matrox, and possibly some involvement by IBM to insure the cards would boot with the normal Intel-type bios.

Should any of this be of interest, contact us and we can go from there.


•  Accelerated-X can do OpenGL on GXT135P/145P cards, but cards are have low 3D performance.

•  High-performance OpenGL needs faster graphics card and Accelerated-X.

•  Use of Xorg X servers can cause "less than optimal" performance, instability, and maintenance nightmares.

•  Xi Graphics has X11R6.4 compliant OpenGL v1.5+ for
non-gamer" requirements.

•  Accelerated-X OpenGL pipeline is hardware-accelerated, built "from the ground up" by Xi Graphics.

•  Xi Graphics can support several ATI and Matrox cards on AIX if blessed ATI, Matrox, and IBM).

The Basis of the "Graphics Problem"

The major computer companies seem to be having a difficult time getting modern graphics cards/chips/GPUs on their UNIX line of computers with SW that is capable of bringing out the best from the graphics hardware.

The cost of developing graphics chips and the supporting X Window System SW to support the hardware on the platforms with UNIX kernels is such that it is difficult to justify when the sole market is limited to the customers (using UNIX) of just one of the major computer makers. So, the obvious solution would seem to be an OEM deal with a GPU manufacturer.

This approach, while on the surface seems logical and straight-forward, has some nasty details lurking under the surface.

Which X server to use?
The major computer manufacturers who offer their own brand of UNIX have an associated X server with its ddx's (graphics drivers), and probably their flavor of the CDE or the Gnome desktop .

Often the X server is a little dated, and the associated graphics drivers are also dated or reduced to "frame buffer only" performance (as was found to be the case with the IBM GXT135P).

Keeping an X server "up to snuff" with the increasing emphasis on powerful graphics for ATC, Wall Displays, 3D Simulators, CAD/CAM, and so on, is a costly endeavor if done right.

This would seem to explain why the computer manufacturers have basically abandoned the effort, and turned instead to the idea of using the Xorg X servers.

Who needs good graphics on AIX, anyway?
Or on SPARC, or on HP-UX, or on VxWorks?  Good graphics are only needed on workstations and gamer machines, right?

AIX, SPARC, and HP-UX are nowadays targeted to the "server market" which does not require strong graphics, and often no graphic at all.

Anyone needing graphics beyond a text-based terminal window should just go to Linux and use Xorg graphics, and the "graphics problem" goes away. Hmmm, really?

Linux & Xorg kill some things
Lots of time is killed when trying to use Xorg on systems that are graphics intensive. Projects, if not killed, are often severely wounded in performance and suffer slipped schedules.

Linux and Xorg certainly will not kill Windows, (see note at right, above), but the combination is doing damage to the old UNIXs, because the owners of them seem to be unsure how best to handle strong graphics on their systems.

To read what we at Xi Graphics think about Open Source for X servers (and graphics drivers, too) check out the Education Corner and read the screeds on Xorg and Open Source.

Shining UNIX on a hill
Or something like that. Suppose that IBM, HP, (maybe) Sun, and other owners of UNIX kernels wanted strong, intensive, stable, and up-to-date graphics capability available to their customers, capability that used the latest graphics GPUs as well as the long-running ones from Intel, Matrox, ATI (AMD) , etc.

Further suppose that those shining UNIXs on the hill all used the same up-to-date, feature packed, X11R6+ compliant, commercial, closed-source X server that was the fastest, most stable available.

Add to the mix, the idea that the graphics drivers for a GPU would work on any/all of the UNIX kernels, and any computer platform, since all of the graphics drivers were written by the same organization for the same X server back-end.

Then top off the image with the fact that the maintenance support for all of that X Window System SW was FREE.

Much of this image is already in use around the World. The rest of it is within easy reach, with little to no cost to the computer makers or the GPU makers.

Lots of winners with this scenario, but some losers, too. The losers would be the individuals who make a living trying to maintain and support the "free" Open Source Xorg SW on Linux.

Who writes the Graphics Driver?
The obvious answer: "The GPU manufacturer, silly."   Who better to write the graphics driver for a GPU than the company that made the GPU, right?

Certainly the computer companies are not expected to have the in-house capability to write graphics drivers many years after they abandoned the graphics chip development business.

IBM, HP, and Sun all seem to have lost the in-house capability for development and maintenance of the X Window System, which, ironically, they helped to bring about.

So the Xorg X server will have to be used, at least for the basic framework of an X server (Nvidia makes major changes to the Xorg servers, but uses the basic frame).

Otherwise the GPU mfgr must learn each UNIX kernel and its X server, and then support them. Seems a bit expensive and unwieldy

Will Linux & Xorg kill other UNIXs ?
The founders of RedHat bragged about wanting Linux to kill the OS market (meaning Windows, of course) so that Open Source and Linux would then have the ability to rule the OS market.

That was a far-fetched idea from a couple of far-out individuals, but maybe the owners of the venerable UNIX OSs are feeling the effects of Linux and the Open Source Xorg X servers? It would seem so. And the heat goes beyond just graphics, of course.

Linux got a reputation for stability some ten to twelve years ago running Apache (web server) when several reports of systems running for several years without any - that's ANY - downtime. And that meant Linux was a really solid, reliable OS, right?

At least for the Apache web server, it was a good thing. But as the years have gone by, Linus and his boys have changed the kernel some three trillion times (oops, got that confused with the bailout/stimulus estimates - it has only been a couple of billion times).

Linux is a constantly moving target. We know, since we support (some) Linux kernels, and have done so since Xi Graphics was founded about fifteen years ago. So we know about Linux changes.

If OS stability is of little concern in a system, and if change is considered fun and a "learning experience," then by all means use Linux instead of a UNIX kernel and OS managed by grown ups.

Linux will kill UNIX when Xorg service is free
That will be the day. The motto of the free open source XFree86 organization as expressed by its President was "just get something out there fast." (To me, personally, over the phone).

Quality or stability of the code was not important. Just having something "out there" was paramount.

But gotta hand it to Dr. Dawes, It created a lot of jobs. Filled by a lot of folks who could not write an X server or graphics driver if their life depended on it, but posed as Linux experts at top hourly fees, or got hired on by firms to "support the Open Source Community" so the Community would consider the company a "good citizen."

When Xorg servers are good enough that they don't need all of that "service" or that service is free, then the old UNIXs better be nervous.

Until then, some good, solid graphics on them will allow then to again kick butt.