The driver cycle really hit full swing this spring when ATI had introduced Radeon X1000 hardware support, Dynamic Display Management Options, Avivo/TexturedVideo, X.Org 7.1 support, ATI external events daemon, and more. However, the last few drivers have been relatively dismal when it comes to introducing new features as the change-logs have mostly consisted of resolving known issues. However, we know for a fact that ATI developers have been working on underlying changes to the drivers that are not presently available to the end-user, but will be introduced next year. ATI/AMD will have some truly exciting things in store for next year as they introduce new features throughout the year -- similar to what they had done during this spring/summer. ATI Technologies had received a great deal of scrutiny with their Linux support coming out six months after they had introduced the R500 X1k series. Next month ATI Technologies will be introducing the R600 GPU series, and we do know that ATI has learned its lesson about belated product support. Next year will be a very interesting time for ATI/AMD Linux users.
The critical issues that remain are no AIGLX/GLX_EXT_texture_from_pixmap support, poor Linux OpenGL performance in games and workstation applications, and a few peculiar bugs such as an issue with X-Video on x86_64 systems. The fglrx drivers also do not support CrossFire MultiGPU Technology, however, we would anticipate that support to come anytime in the near future (especially after the disaster NVIDIA has made out of Scalable Link Interface support on Linux). Desktop eye candy is attracting many new Linux users, and is one of the leading complaints voiced on the Phoronix Forums about the fglrx drivers lacking AIGLX/GLX_EXT_texture_from_pixmap support. ATI also has a lot of room to improve when it comes to bringing aticonfig features to the graphical ATI Control Panel. Rumors have also been going rampant about possibilities of AMD open-sourcing portions of the fglrx display drivers, but at this time we will remain mute from commenting on those matters.
Without a doubt, ATI's advancements this year have placed much greater pressure on NVIDIA's Linux display drivers. NVIDIA had belated GeForce 7300/7600/7900 support, several issues after the belated introduction of the 1.0-9XXX series, belated X.Org 7.1 support, and their SLI MultiGPU support continues to be almost worthless. This was also the first year that they had begun offering Linux Beta display drivers. Our NVIDIA AYiR 2006 article can be read here. In fact many now feel that the image quality of ATI's graphics cards under Linux are superior to that of NVIDIA's (more on this will be published in an independent article later).
There also remain several unique characteristics to ATI's fglrx drivers such as the community-maintained packaging scripts. On top of the graphical installer for the fglrx drivers, using the --listpkg and --buildpkg arguments the user can generate distribution-specific packages on supported distributions. The distributions that presently support generatable packages are Debian, Fedora, Mandriva, Red Flag, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SuSE, and Ubuntu -- along with many of the derivative distributions. However, if you are a distribution maintainer or developer and are interested in working on fglrx packages for your distribution, the Phoronix Forums will have additional information for how you can contact ATI.
In regards to the performance of ATI's fglrx drivers released this year, all twelve drivers performed approximately the same using the ATI Radeon X800XL 256MB and our set of Linux-native gaming benchmarks. However, in the latter driver versions there were slight frame-rate increases. Even though the level of frame-rate performance remains largely unchanged this year, there is without a doubt a night and day difference between the 8.21.7 and 8.32.5 display drivers.
If you are interested in the additional gains as well as short comings made by ATI this year as well as other information on their Linux fglrx drivers check out the Phoronix Redblog. Our ATI AYiR 2005 can be read here. This article can be discussed and you can share your own Linux graphics experiences in the Phoronix Forums.