Intel has confirmed that recent patches to its Linux graphics driver were related to its continued work on preparing the ecosystem for its new line of discrete graphics cards.
Phoronix reported that Intel released 42 such patches with more than 4,000 lines of code between them on February 14. The main purpose of the patches was to introduce the concept of memory regions in "preparation for upcoming devices with device local memory." (Such as, you know, discrete graphics cards.)
The integrated GPUs found in many of Intel's CPUs don't rely on this memory region setup, so all signs pointed towards the Linux drivers being part of Intel's plans to build standalone GPUs. Just in case those signs weren't obvious enough, however, Intel has confirmed the motivation behind these drivers in a tweet:
"Our journey toward a new visual computing experience is underway, and that includes a commitment to the #OpenSource community. Local memory implementation is the first of many steps toward robust Linux support for our future discrete graphics solutions." (Followed by a link to the patches.)
Intel has been clear about its intentions for the graphics market. The company said in December 2018 that it's working on everything from integrated GPUs and discrete graphics for gaming to GPUs for data centers. Those products are set to make their debut in 2020; of course, Intel's testing the drivers required to make them run.
That also tracks with Phoronix's observation that Intel typically releases preliminary Linux drivers roughly a year before new hardware debuts. (Or at least when Intel plans to release that hardware, barring any delays.) The company will probably release similar patches in the coming months.
Still, any information about Intel's graphics plans is welcome. Right now the graphics market is dominated by AMD and Nvidia, and as we noted in December, Intel is probably the only company that even has a possibility of successfully introducing a new discrete graphics architecture. Why not enjoy the occasional glimpse behind the curtain as that architecture's being built?