We thought it was already clear what graphics processors and drivers work and don't work with Linux desktop eye candy such as Beryl and Compiz, but it seems based upon the number of e-mails we have been receiving along with messages in community bulletin boards that the line isn't so clear after all. For those that have never tried out Beryl, it is a compositing window manager branched from Compiz (though Beryl will merge back with Compiz soon) that provides a variety of window decorations and other desktop "eye candy" for X.Org users. In this article we hope to make it clear for you what GPUs will make your Linux desktop look the most pleasurable and what ones just sweat thinking about these desktop effects. We have taken eight different systems, benchmarked them using the Beryl Benchmark, and have our thoughts on these ATI/AMD, Intel, and NVIDIA solutions with Beryl v0.2.
For the ATI graphics processors in this article we will be testing the R200, R300, and R400 series with comments on Beryl for the R500/R600 generation processors. On the NVIDIA side we will be testing the GeFore FX, 6, and 8 series. Finally, we will also be testing the Intel GMA 3000 IGP.
The GPUs with the best open-source display driver and support for AIGLX the longest is the ATI Radeon R200 series, which consist of GPUs from the Radeon 8500 to the Radeon 9250. While these cards have had the longest support their performance is far from the best. Some parts of Beryl, such as the water plug-in, cannot even function due to the lack of the GL_ARB_fragment_program extension. The R200 system we had tested Beryl on had used an ATI Radeon 9250 AGP graphics card with 128MB of video memory (running at 1280x1024), 1GB of system memory, and a Pentium 4 2.8GHz "C" processor while running Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn.
Beryl Benchmark is not an incredibly accurate benchmark, but it does serve to show how well Beryl can run on a particular setup. Beryl Benchmark is simply a plug-in that will show a pop-up window that displays the frame rate in frames per second (FPS). Also, keep in mind that with each of these different systems we had used more than just a different graphics card so there are many more variables at play. Our Radeon 9250 system with Beryl v0.2 was averaging 16 to 20 frames per second while the desktop was idling with the Beryl window manager being active and no other desktop effects. However, when it came to dragging around wobbly windows and other subtle effects, the frame rate was consistently less than 5 FPS. For the very basic desktop eye candy an R200 graphics card with the open-source X.Org Radeon driver will work, but anything beyond that will lag your desktop experience.