Revision 1 as of 2010-03-07 08:28:37

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The program intel_gpu_dump from the intel-gpu-tools package will output the current state of the GPU. This page describes how to interpret its output.

Note: intel_gpu_dump needs superuser privileges, so invoke it with sudo intel_gpu_dump.

The GPU (graphics processing unit) is a specialized processor that offloads graphics rendering from the CPU. It is especially important for 3D rendering, but can also do 2D acceleration, video decoding, etc.

Ringbuffers, batchbuffers, and debug registers

The graphics drivers run on the CPU and are responsible for feeding instructions to the GPU. They do this by placing the instructions in a so-called ringbuffer. A ringbuffer is a piece of memory that the CPU can write to and the GPU can read from. The CPU writes instructions to the GPU from the beginning of the ringbuffer and maintains a TAIL register which contains the address of the last valid instruction that the CPU has finished writing. The GPU follows and executes the instructions that the CPU has written up to the TAIL register. It maintains a HEAD register that contains the address of the last instruction that the GPU has finished reading. When CPU reaches the end of the ringbuffer it wraps around and starts writing from the beginning (which is why it is called a ringbuffer). It just has to watch the HEAD register to make sure it doesn't overwrite any instructions that the GPU hasn't yet read.

Often it is not practical for the CPU to write all instructions to the ringbuffer. It then writes instructions to another piece of memory and this is called a batchbuffer since it contains a batch of instructions. It then places an instruction in the ringbuffer to read from a batchbuffer at a given memory location. At the end of the batchbuffer there is either an instruction that says that this is the end of the batchbuffer, in which the GPU continues from where it left the ringbuffer, or an instruction to read from another batchbuffer (this is called a chain).

In addition to the HEAD and TAIL register, there are tons of other registers and intel_gpu_dump prints a few that are useful for debugging. By comparing this information with the data in the ringbuffer and batchbuffers, one can often get idea of what has gone wrong if the GPU has hung.