British graphics processing unit design company Imagination Technologies has released the source code for the original driver which was written to support PowerVR 1-series GPUs. These proprietary 3D acceleration GPUs are really quite old, having Primarily deployed in products in the mid/late 1990s, but Imagination Tech’s move is nonetheless welcome and encouraging.
The release of source code to extend support for old and retro hardware is always popular with the various communities of computer enthusiasts. Such bounty can allow retro computer enthusiasts, for example, to tinker, update, and find new uses for what might otherwise be waste silicon. However, since the code/hardware is so old, it will mostly be of interest to the curious. Ultimately, enthusiasts want concepts such as the right to repair to be extended to the right to continue programming and using old hardware, which can be enabled through the open supply of products/firmware/software including the expiration date has passed.
If you follow the link to the GitHub repository hosting the source code, you’ll see that Imagination reasonably states that it releases this code for reference only. He adds that there is no guarantee that it will compile or work correctly with your configuration.
There is a special note regarding certain licensing issues, which means that Imagination cannot provide certain libraries and headers used in the PCX port of Tomb Raider.
PowerVR 1-series GPUs (manufactured at 350 nm) were found in three main product lines. The PCX1 and PCX2 graphics cards are probably the most familiar to older PC users. These featured up to 4MB of VRAM and clock speeds of up to 66MHz (which you could sometimes overclock to 75MHz). You would have found these GPUs in the very popular Apocalypse 3D and Apocalypse 3DX accelerators sold as PCI add-on cards, much like we buy today. However, these were pure 3D accelerator cards (as were contemporary 3DFX Voodoo models), so they had to be paired with 2D capable graphics cards in the PC.
Before the first PowerVR 1-series GPUs hit the PC DIY market, Compaq was an early adopter. At that time, the GPU was codenamed Midas. There were a few iterations of this card, which Namco used to work on their Rave Racer port for PC. Sadly, this arcade racing port was cancelled, although insiders believe it was the best looking 3D game on PC at the time.
Imagination Technologies celebrated these early developments in a blog post, written to celebrate its 25th anniversary, in 2017. Since those PC beginnings, Imagination has primarily worked on mobile GPUs and has been a major Apple iDevice partner for several years.
On the subject of Imagination Technologies and open source, earlier this month the company revealed that it was working on a new Mesa Vulkan open source driver for PowerVR Rogue GPUs. With the ball appearing to be rolling, it will be interesting to see if there are any more similar developments from the company in the months to come.