Much to everyone's surprise, earlier this month ATI released a new set of display drivers (v8.14.13) which shocked the entire Linux community. These drivers finally showed some major improvements for ATI not only in performance, but also in the driver installer and control panel. Although ATI still has a lot of work ahead of them, if they want to become the leader in Linux graphics cards, they're slowly catching up and becoming more competitive with the drivers that NVIDIA offers to the Linux community. Even with NVIDIA taking much of the Linux market-share, there still is another company trying to have its stake at Linux graphics: XGI Technology. In this article, we're going to be sharing our thoughts regarding XGI Technology's Linux display drivers. The XGI graphics cards we have in front of us today is the Volari V3XT and Volari V8, both of which are AGP 8x.
For those unfamiliar with the entry-level V3XT graphics card, it features 128MB of DDR SDRAM, while its RAM is clocked at 200MHz, and the core is clocked at 250MHz. The XGI Volari V8, on the other hand, runs at 300MHz for both the VPU and memory while sporting the same amount of RAM. Unfortunately, as XGI still has yet to support the Linux 2.6 kernel and barely supports Xorg 6.8.2, we had dug up our old Mandrake 9.2 CDs; which uses the 2.4.22-10mdk kernel and XFree86 4.3.0.
Like ATI and NVIDIA, XGI offers unified Linux drivers, meaning one driver package is compatible with all of their different cards. The XGI Volari Linux unified driver sets we attempted to use was versions 1.02.02 and 1.02.03, as they were the latest available drivers from XGI Technology. When downloading these drivers, the IA32 and EM64T versions are bundled together. On a side note, we would like to point out that the documentation included with the XGI drivers is rather poor. The readme file for the most recent driver release was written on April 6, 2004, while both of these drivers were released in early 2005, and the overall support offered in the included documentation was very much sub par.
After successfully installing Mandrake 9.2 and the kernel source code, we proceeded to run xgitest.sh. This is simply a testing script to check if the XGI display driver supports the Linux kernel and XFree86 version and to make sure the kernel source is properly installed. As expected, all three tests passed.
Feeling confident about the XGI install process, we proceeded to run install.sh. When doing so, the script failed to compile the FBdev module thus failing to find XGIfb.o, which was supposed to be included in the package. Even with these substantial errors, the script continued to carry out the rest of the operations from attempting to insert the XGI modules into the Linux kernel, to checking for the XFree86 configuration. We also encountered these identical problems when attempting to install previous versions of XGI's Volari drivers. After doing so, we went ahead and wiped the entire hard drive to reinstall Mandrake; followed by recompiling the stock kernel. However, even after these additional steps were taken, the XGI drivers still failed to build correctly. Unfortunately, due to the lack of supported distributions due to the specific XFree86 and Linux kernel versions required, we were unable to try out these drivers on other distributions. Thus, it’s unfortunate to announce, at this time, we were unable to get either XGI graphics card fully working with acceleration under Linux.
Earlier this year XGI had released its source-code to the Linux community, but what they failed to mention in their press release was that the 3D acceleration portion of their drivers would remain closed-source. In addition, these drivers continue to only support the 2.4 kernel, which may be nice if you’re running older hardware, but there's currently no official support for the 2.6 kernel. Although it will be very unlikely for XGI to open up the 3D portion of their drivers anytime in the near future, due to fierce competition from NVIDIA and ATI drivers. If XGI were to successfully open up their entire driver development its sales would not only increase, but we might finally be able to see some competitive drivers for XGI's Volari series. Furthermore, XGI Windows users are sharing some of the same problems when it comes to poor XGI driver performance not only in the frame-rate but also for texture filtering and other display features.
We hope when XGI Technology publicly unveils their upcoming Volari 8300/8600/8600XT graphics cards, within the next month or two, these cards will be accompanied by some fresh drivers for Linux. These new drivers will hopefully support the latest version of Xorg and the Linux kernel, in addition to offering an improved installer and graphics performance. Alternatively, the same could occur if they were to become the next open-source patron by opening up their entire driver project to the programming community. If XGI Technology really wishes to become competitive with ATI and NVIDIA, they seriously need to address the problems with their drivers on all platforms. What good is nice hardware, when there aren't drivers to compliment?