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ATI R300: Open v. Closed Drivers

Michael Larabel

Published on 6 October 2006
Written by Michael Larabel
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Earlier this year we had compared the open-source ATI display drivers against the closed-source fglrx drivers with R200 components. Since that point, however, open-source support has appeared by default in X.Org 7.1 for R300 generation GPUs. While ATI does not officially support these R300 open-source drivers, this alternative have been gaining momentum with users largely due to the lack of GLX_EXT_texture_from_pixmap support in fglrx. This extension is needed for the AIGLX desktop eye-candy. These drivers do lack TV-out support and many other features found within ATI's fglrx drivers, but how does its performance compare? When we had analyzed the drivers on the Radeon 9250 earlier this year we had seen the X.Org drivers take a massive beating from the fglrx drivers. Today we are investigating the performance within the R300 DRI drivers.

The ATI graphics solutions supported by the open-source R300 drivers are the R300, RV350/M10, R350, RV360, R360, RV370, RV380, RS400, RV410, R420, R423/R430, and R480/R481 GPUs. What this virtually means is support for products from the Radeon 9500 to the Radeon X850 PCI Express. For the most part the open-source X.Org drivers support all of ATI's hardware except for the Radeon X1000 series. According to the DRI FreeDesktop Wiki, the R300 drivers are still considered unstable, but these drivers do boast many of the standard desktop features and should work in most scenarios. Meanwhile no NVIDIA solutions have open-source 3D support.

For our testing purposes today we decided to use a Lenovo/IBM ThinkPad R52. This notebook uses Mobility Radeon X300 64MB as well as an Intel Pentium M 750 (1.83GHz) processor, 2GB of DDR2-533, and 80GB IDE HDD. Ubuntu Edgy Eft Beta 1 was used with all updates as of October 4, 2006. The major software packages consisted of X.Org 7.1.1, GCC 4.1.2, and the Linux 2.6.17-10 kernel.

After installing Ubuntu Edgy Eft Beta 1 and applying all of the updates, the Mobility Radeon X300 64MB had no problems operating with the open-source Radeon drivers. For those that are unaware, DriConf is available for configuring some user-space display options.

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