More about Framebuffer Objects

In the past, when I was writing about hardware-accelerated graphics – i.e., graphics rendered by the GPU – such as in this article, I chose the phrasing, according to which the Fragment Shader eventually computes the color-values of pixels ‘to be sent to the screen’. I felt that this over-simplification could make my topics a bit easier to understand at the time.

A detail which I had deliberately left out, was that the rendering target may not be the screen in any given context. What happens is that memory-allocation, even the allocation of graphics-memory, is still carried out by the CPU, not the GPU. And ‘a shader’ is just another way to say ‘a GPU program’. In the case of a “Fragment Shader”, what this GPU program does can be visualized better as shading, whereas in the case of a “Vertex Shader”, it just consists of computations that affect coordinates, and may therefore be referred to just as easily as ‘a Vertex Program’. Separately, there exists the graphics-card extension, that allows for the language to be the ARB-language, which may also be referred to as defining a Vertex Program. ( :4 )

The CPU sets up the context within which the shader is supposed to run, and one of the elements of this context, is to set up a buffer, to which the given, Fragment Shader is to render its pixels. The CPU sets this up, as much as it sets up 2D texture images, from which the shader fetches texels.

The rendering target of a given shader-instance may be, ‘what the user finally sees on his display’, or it may not. Under OpenGL, the rendering target could just be a Framebuffer Object (an ‘FBO’), which has also been set up by the CPU as an available texture-image, from which another shader-instance samples texels. The result of that would be Render To Texture (‘RTT’).

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I question the amount of VRAM on Phoenix.

I am still contemplating, why the server-box I name ‘‘ was crashing, and my attention keeps coming back to the graphics chip. Before this computer was resurrected, it was running in 32-bit mode, as ‘‘. At that time, it only had 2GB of RAM. But now it runs in 64-bit mode, with 4GB of RAM.

When I boot, the BIOS message still tells me that it has 128MB of shared memory, for the graphics chip. But strangely enough, the piece of text I pasted into this posting, reads that the graphics driver has set aside 256MB of VRAM, near the top of the 4GB of physical addresses. I did not know that the kernel can override a BIOS setting in this way, let us say just because processing has been switched to 64-bit mode.

One mishap which could naively go wrong, is that the legacy driver, unaware of the specifics of this motherboard, could be allocating 256MB of shared memory, but that physically, the hardware cannot share past the address ‘‘. That is, the address ‘‘ may have become forbidden territory for the graphics card. It is however uncommon, that the programmers of kernel-space modules, would make such a simple mistake.

This is a 64-bit system, which only accepts up to 4GB of RAM, thus only possessing 32-bit physical addresses, to go with its 64-bit virtual addresses.

According to this screen-shot:


I only have 3.74GB of RAM available to the system, instead of 4GB. The reason for this, is the fact that 256MB have in fact been reserved for the graphics chip. By itself this would seem to suggest, that the allocation has succeeded.

Also, the fact that 49.26MB of shared memory was momentarily being indicated, is not too telling, because several types of processes could be using shared memory for some purpose. This feature does not only exist, for user-space processes to make texture images available to the graphics card.

Continue reading I question the amount of VRAM on Phoenix.