ATI Radeon X1800 Linux Preview
So what is there to gather from the Radeon X1000 series ATI Linux support? Looking over the results NVIDIA still has its frame-rate lead in the various benchmarks used today but that is not to say the ATI X1000 cards tested today go out empty-handed. Prior to the October 2005 launch of the ATI Radeon X1000 series some had hoped the X1800XL would be the GeForce 7800GT killer, but that simply was not the case even with the Windows drivers. On the Windows front the X1800XL is capable of beating out the 7800GT 256MB (at reference speeds) in some tests, while in other common environments the lead was in favor of the green. It was also interesting to see the X800XL perform so closely to the X1800XL. At first we thought it may have been a fluke but running the benchmarks again once through yielded identical findings. We then thought it was a CPU bottleneck with the overclocked Intel Pentium D but when turning to an alternate AMD-based system the X800XL and X1800XL differences were similar. Of course, the X1800XL is not the fastest in the X1000 series, and the series alone does boast features that cannot be matched by the X800XL when it comes to Avivo and other design improvements. Through this whole matter the X1300PRO was a modest performer, and in the CPU-bound Enemy Territory the results of all the ATI cards were similar, and when it came to the intensive tasks the X1300PRO fell short of the X1800XL.
One of the decisive advantages to the X1000 series, however, is the image quality. Even with the frame-rate performance falling short of the desired goals, we felt the image quality with the Radeon X1800XL was clearly superior to its competition. In our opinion, from watching movies using mplayer to running Quake 4, the image quality all around was noticeably cleaner and more vibrant than what was presented with the NVIDIA GeForce 7800GTX. With the likelihood that additional Avivo features will be making their way over to Linux, the image quality should only be getting better. It certainly was appealing with the talk about Avivo TexturedVideo -- something that none of us had anticipated so soon -- and this should hopefully be only be a small insight of what is to come from ATI Linux. As a whole the Radeon X1000 series image quality is certainly a striking win for ATI.
Yet another area for concern with most users is the noise and power consumption of the Radeon X1000 series. When it came to the noise emitted by the X1800XL reference heatsink, it was incredibly quiet. In fact, the X1800XL fan was much quieter than what we have heard from the X1800XT and X1900 series (as well as the NVIDIA competition). The X1300PRO heatsink from ASUS was also on the quieter side of things. We also did not let these X1000 candidates escape our hands without monitoring their power consumption. As the X1800XL was idling inside of Fedora Core 4 GNOME, the system's (system specifications listed on page 5) Wattage was an approximate 164W, and then when firing up fgl_glxgears, the power quickly jumped to 250 Watts. With the X1300PRO in the same setup, the idle was 157W and the fgl_glxgears load was 221W. For a staunch comparison, the power consumption of an ATI Radeon X300 128MB card (passively cooled) on the same setup was 133W and 202W. Of course, PowerPlay was not enabled or any other power management features during these tests.
When it comes directly to the 8.24.8 fglrx display driver release, ATI has once again raised the stage for their Linux possibilities and monthly releases. The need does remain, however, for a viable Linux 3rd party utility. To this point, Rovclock seems to be the only public Linux utility available but its viability is largely out the window. The only cards officially supported are the Radeon 7000 - 9000 GPUs, and it is not maintained nearly to the status of Roderick Colenbrander's work with NVClock. It of course would be ideal if ATI were to implement overclocking options from within their proprietary drivers (similar to NVIDIA's CoolBits) as well as support to monitor the GPU temperature. In this department of making more feature-filled options there is still a lot of room to be made.
A few other notes, the 512MB and TV-Out issues with the Radeon X1000 series are presently being investigated and they should be corrected in future driver releases (likely the 8.25.x release). As also mentioned previously, Fedora Core 5 improvements are also likely to take place in the ATI installer within a few releases. Another undocumented change to note with the 8.24.8 drivers is that many of the "unknown" values have been removed from the ATI Control Panel. No longer is the chip type, chip revision, DAC speed, memory type, or transfer mode listed from the information tab -- these items have been removed in this release as previously they were displayed as "unknown" or the information was simply to common for most users.
To recap, the ATI Radeon X1000 series do sport some amazing improvements when it comes to the architecture. This was largely the first time these improvements could be spotted since the glorious days of the Radeon 9700 hardware. These changes in the R500 series make the card much more efficient with some of the changes being TSMC 90nm manufacturing, Ring Bus memory controller, and dynamic branching improvements. Another heavy hitter to come with the X1000 series is Avivo. When it comes to the ATI X1800XL its performance was not up to the frame-rate standards we had entirely anticipated but what it had demonstrated was being a very reliable mid-range solution. The image quality was certainly fascinating as well as the other features that made their premiere with the X1000 series. This card may be perfect for the occasional gamer, movie buff, or common enthusiast. Beyond that the ATI Radeon X1800XT and X1900 products are available. The price for such a beauty? The list price continues to remain at $429 USD; however, it is not difficult to find a new X1800XL retail kit for a little over $300 USD. In addition, availability is no longer a grave concern as it has been months since the launch.
With the ASUS EAX1300PRO 256MB at hand it proves the X1300 series is a reliable possibility for any budget Linux user. In Enemy Territory, the frame-rate was comparable to that of the X800 and X1800, while in the demanding games the performance was not as admirable. However, ATI does present the X1300 to be a terrific solution for a media PC/HTPC. The X1300PRO image quality was also visually pleasing and it does sport Avivo for which ATI is targeting video and display perfection. With the 8.24.8 release, however, the TV-out functionality is not working but upon the issue being addressed the X1300PRO could serve as a terrific candidate for a MythTV setup. The X1300 series could also serve well with the general desktop user. The price for the ASUS EAX1300PRO 256MB is approximately $100 while other X1300PRO solutions can also be found in that same price range.
Was the Radeon X1000 Linux support worth the months of waiting? Simply put, in our opinion, yes. It had allowed ATI's Linux development team to address issues that could have potentially sprouted up which would have hindered the support or performance of these new GPUs. It also allowed time for the developers to begin work on other features such as the new TexturedVideo option. Not only had NVIDIA delivered same-day hardware availability when they launched the GeForce 7800GTX 256MB G70, but they also published the drivers (1.0-7667) that same day. The caveat, however, that we bring up repeatedly was that there were serious clocking issues that had not allowed the G70 core to operate at its maximum 3D frequencies. That initial problem had put the 7800GTX on the same playing field as the mid-range 6600GT. On top of the desktop X1000 support, the 8.24.8 drivers also support the Radeon Mobility X1800/X1600/X1400/X1300. Granted, there is still a lot of left to be accomplished with this newly founded support. To gain the most out of X1000 Linux support, Xorg 6.9 or newer is highly recommended.
As demonstrated today ATI is certainly working hard at extending their hands to its Linux users, and we are certainly interested with whatever else ATI's Linux department may bring to the table this year in their monthly installments. From mobile solutions to media setups and workstations, ATI is dedicated on capturing segments of the Linux market and conquering the competition -- especially from what we have seen today, and it looks like they are slowly but surely starting to succeed. With the Radeon X1000 support now publicly available for Linux, in the coming weeks and months at Phoronix we will be delivering X1300/1600/1800/1900 reviews as well as other investigations. An antialiasing performance article is also in the works for the near future. We would like to sincerely thank ATI Technologies and especially their talented Linux department. They have done terrific work with their monthly driver updates and ultimately bringing forth the Radeon X1000 support. We also hope there will be other other good things to come.
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