mattst88's blog - Status of X11 on Alpha

Status of X11 on Alpha

As mentioned yesterday, X.Org 7.4 (xserver-1.5 and newer) cannot operate on Alpha due to way it accesses PCI resources such as ROM information and video memory. Kernel Bug 10893 was filed 6 months ago, but nothing has been fixed. A work-around is to implement a fallback in libpciaccess that would access /dev/mem directly, as previous Xservers do. Unfortunately, no one appears to care enough about X support on Alpha to implement it.

Julien Cristau (jcristau), an X.Org developer, originally reported the implications of providing no fallback to the Debian bug tracking system. After failing to find it reported anywhere in's Bugzilla, I reported it. On the #xorg-devel IRC channel, I asked jcristau if he could add anything to the bug report.

<mattst88> jcristau, if you could add anything to bug 19026, I'd really appreciate it.
<jcristau> mattst88: honestly i don't really care..

Not a good sign. Discouraged, I worked on something else for a half hour. I came back to IRC to see that developers had been discussing the fallback. No one was particularly enthusiastic. I asked Adam Jackson (ajax) of Red Hat why he opposed the fallback.

<mattst88> do we not want this fallback just on principle or because no one really cares to write it?
<ajax> mattst88: can't it be both?
<mattst88> sure, but is a temporary fallback really unacceptable?
<ajax> it's distasteful. i'm not going to write it. if someone else did, i probably wouldn't stop them.

I figured at this point I'd bother Ian Romanick, the libpciaccess maintainer, a bit more to see if I could get anything done. Before I had the chance though, David Airlie, responsible for all sorts of X development, responded.

<airlied> mattst88: also kms doesn't use the sysfs files
<airlied> or pciaccess.

The obvious implication of this statement is that once KMS (kernel modesetting) is implemented, lacking PCI resource files won't matter!

Unfortunately, it's not as quick and easy as we'd hope.

<airlied> but I need to revisit the whole mapping VRAM into unpriv userspace on those bonghits platforms.
<mattst88> right, so it should allow people to use radeons without fbdev, but isn't the radeon driver going to use sysfs/libpciaccess?
<airlied> mattst88: not with kms.
<airlied> userspace drivers in kms don't get access to all of VRAM
<airlied> or to registers.
<mattst88> so with kms, all this business about fallbacks and sysfs won't matter?
<airlied> no, however we have a whole new set of worries.
<airlied> mattst88: things like alpha sparsemem means we can't map VRAM into userspace on those platforms nicely.
<airlied> I need to read up more on the drug induced haze that is alpha mmio
<mattst88> is it doable? that is, are you at all interested in doing it? :)
<airlied> mattst88: I'm probably having to figure out how it might all work for IA64.
<mattst88> is that a similar situation to alpha?
<airlied> well its bad in that you can crap out certain machines if you allow users to access the mmio space.
<airlied> so its a DoS.

As always, there's work to be done, but this time it looks like there's someone who is actually going to do the work.

If anyone is interested in testing kernel modesetting with an R300, R400, or R500, check out David Airlie's drm-rawhide branch of his drm-2.6 kernel tree on

I'll attempt to test with my Radeon X1550 and UP1500 motherboard soon and will report what I find.

– Tags: alpha linux radeon xorg