ATI A Year in Review. As 2005 comes to an end, both NVIDIA and ATI have fought a competitive battle not only when it comes to their hardware lineup but also display drivers for alternative operating systems. When discussing this subject matter, GNU/Linux users have been quick to criticize ATI Technologies whether it is due to poor installation support, distribution compatibility, rudimentary control panel, or simply the performance level of its drivers. On the contrary, even though NVIDIA had unveiled its GeForce 7 series, 2005 has not been the best year for the green developers. This year the NVIDIA 1.0-7XXX drivers had came and gone along with the introduction of the 1.0-8XXX series after a near four month barren. NVIDIA's major advancements made public to the Linux community this year has been OpenGL 2.0 support, CoolBits implementation, 7800GTX support, nvidia-xconfig utility, and finally support for SLI (Scalable Link Interface). This year we had experienced nine ATI Linux driver releases while there was only seven from the NVIDIA side. Some of the gains this year for ATI developers has most notably been x86_64 support, dual head capabilities, revamped installer, improved workstation performance, improved display management, aticonfig utility, dual link support, ATI PowerPlay, and suspend/resume support. What remains to be seen at this time, however, is support for ATI's newest X1000 series as well as CrossFire. Classifying the improvements made to the ATI drivers, the most substantial gain made would likely be the entirely new installer that has put an end to strictly RPMs. The new ATI installer also allows the user to automatically install the drivers depending upon their X version along with the ability to generate distribution specific packages. The packages available for generation are presently Debian, Mandriva, Red Hat, SuSE, and Ubuntu with numerous versions for each of the distributions. However, this ever-increasing Linux compatibility continues to increase the overall size of the new installer program. ATI's aticonfig utility was another home run this year for the red as this command line program allows the automatic generation of the Xorg configuration to allow for the newly installed drivers, or to enable PowerPlay and a variety of other graphical features. Coincidently, NVIDIA had unveiled its nvidia-xconfig utility almost two months after the christening of aticonfig. The reason for this article today is not to simply look at the video features for the two main driver competitors in the Linux graphics market but rather to see how ATI's drivers have not only progressed technology wise but how this correlates to the frame-rate performance experienced in games. As we have done through countless quarters for NVIDIA, today we are turning the table and seeing the performance level of ATI's drivers over time.
To perform the ATI driver testing, and simply due to the pace at which Linux advances, we resorted to using a Mobility RADEON X300 64MB GPU. In addition, we used a standard install of Red Hat's Fedora Core 4 and defaulting to the stock versions. The X300 was used due to greater compatibility with previous versions of the ATI proprietary Linux drivers.
|Processor:||Intel Pentium M 750 (1.86GHz)|
|Motherboard:||IBM R52 18494WU (i915PM + ICH-6M)|
|Memory:||2 x 1GB OCZ DDR2-533|
|Graphics Card:||ATI RADEON X300 64MB|
|Hard Drives:||Toshiba Slim 100GB MK1032GAX|
|Optical Drives:||DVD-RW Drive|
|Add-On Devices:||Intel PRO/Wireless 2915ABG|
|GCC (GNU Compiler):||4.0.0|
Making their way onto the benchmarking field for this ATI driver comparison is Enemy Territory, Unreal Tournament 2004, and Doom 3. Antialiasing and Anisotropic Filtering were left out of the picture due to the mainstream graphics solution used in testing. In Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory v2.60 we ran the Railgun demo at 640 x 480, 800 x 600, 1024 x 768, and 1280 x 1024. The in-game graphical settings were maintained at high quality settings. Moving onto the Unreal Tournament 2004 v3334 Demo, UMark Linux BETA 3 was called in for benchmarking with ONS-Torlan and DM-Rankin maps while the image settings were ran at both high image quality and high performance settings. The resolutions tested in Unreal Tournament 2004 were 800 x 600, 1024 x 768, and 1280 x 1024 with both two and 12 bots. In Unreal Tournament, we also recorded the maximum frame-rate in the benchmarks, to further display findings beyond the average. For the most demanding numbers, we turned to Doom 3 v1.3.1302 to run the standard demo1 at 640 x 480 and 800 x 600 with low quality settings. The proprietary ATI drivers used were versions 8.16.20, 8.18.6, 8.18.8, 8.19.10, and 8.20.8. Versions 8.8.25, 8.10.19, 8.12.10, and 8.14.13 were left out due to compatibility reasons with the 2.6.11 kernel. In addition, we also took up an incredibly rare opportunity of doing a performance test against the Windows ATI Mobility CATALYST v5.13 drivers. We felt this Windows XP install necessary to show any differences in the frame-rate performance between the Windows and Linux ATI drivers (although some of our sanity was lost with the Windows installation). Microsoft Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 was used during testing along with ATI's official Mobility CATALYST v5.13 for RADEON series was used. All of the Windows benchmarks remained the same using Doom 3 v1.3, Enemy Territory v2.60, Unreal Tournament 2004 Demo v3334, and Unreal Mark v2.0.0. On the following pages are our results.