It was on July 20, 2006 that I had issued The State of ATI Linux while ending off the ATI Redblog, which was a fifty-day experiment for using the ATI fglrx driver under Linux exclusively to see how well the driver really could compare to that of NVIDIA's binary competition. It's going on a year later and it's now time for this year's address as far as what I have seen from the driver in the past year and where I hope and believe the driver is going in the near future.
When writing this statement last year there were several points with the driver that I had expressed concerned over and considered critical for the success of the driver. While there are still some bitter issues revolving around the fglrx driver, I am pleased to report that a number of the issues brought up last year have been since resolved (i.e. the control panel and X.Org 7.1 support and now X.Org 7.2). However, the lingering issues that haven't been resolved are the areas most users are concerned with: installation, the frame-rate performance, and Compiz (well, now Beryl and Compiz Fusion) support.
What I have seen from ATI since last July has been most notably the introduction of the AMD Catalyst Control Center Linux Edition. Officially, since last July there have been about 18 features added and 34 issues resolved with the driver between 8.27.10 and 8.38.6. Most of the "features" had been introduced earlier in the year and last year. The last major feature to have been implemented was the AMD Catalyst Control Center, which in the 8.37.6 driver had reached version 1.0.
With really just one major feature all year, what gives? Well, right now we are more or less going through a recession with the fglrx driver. If you haven't noticed, most of the recent driver releases have really just been maintenance releases to address some outstanding bugs. We have seen similar periods in the past prior to the official introduction of the ATI Dynamic Display Management Options and the Radeon X1000 series support where there was a plateau effect when the features had leveled off for a number of months. Contrary to the belief of some, ATI's developers are motivated and do more than sending out a renumbered driver every month. To feel the distress of some, you may want to look at some of the responses to the Name The Next ATI Driver Contest (some of the responses are quite comical). What ATI has in fact been working on equates to a new Linux display driver.
With the DirectX 10.0 Vista driver now out the door, the software engineers have been working on the new Linux driver (and one for Microsoft Windows XP as well). AMD will not officially confirm this, of course. While the features for this yet to be released driver cannot be officially corroborated, the driver should contain OpenGL improvements including support for Compiz/Beryl/Compiz Fusion, video playback improvements, and last but not least the overdue Radeon HD 2000 series support. With the new driver should also come performance improvements after more than two years of waiting. As to when one can use this new driver, I would hope for it to be out by December of this year at the very latest. If ATI cannot push out a driver within the next six months that address these outstanding issues, I would recommend that you eliminate any and all of your ATI products and avoid using them at all costs. However, I am confident that by the end of this year AMD's intentions for ATI in the Linux community will become incredibly clear and that they will be able to produce a better driver.
If you don't believe me about such improvements on the way or think this is just propaganda, with the 8.38.6 fglrx driver installed try running strings -a /usr/lib/xorg/modules/drivers/fglrx_drv.so | grep -i R600. Or try replacing the R600 with a term like Audio or HDMI. Granted, at this point with the current driver it won't do you too much good. With the fglrx 8.38.6 driver, the first signs of Composite support coming is also visible.
As far as hardware support goes, there's been the introduction of support for the Xpress 1250 IGP and adding new Radeon X1000 components (such as for the X1950 series), but support for the Radeon HD 2000 series is still missing in action. The Radeon HD 2400 and HD 2600 series were pushed out the door last week and sadly there was no accompanying Linux driver. It's being worked on, but it's not officially out yet. When will it come out? Probably with the new driver. The R600 driver code should mostly exist already in the publicly available driver, but AMD is more than likely waiting for officially announcing the support to maximize the exposure with the new driver.
Last year video playback with ATI hardware was great, but in recent releases that has went down hill. It's only a temporary decline and because of esut.a and glesx.so, which revolves around OpenGL ES and more information on that will be shared shortly.
In the past year ATI has made some progress with the driver in the area of the control panel, fixing bugs, continuing in a timed release cycle, etc. Is it as much progress as I would have ideally hoped for? Probably not as the two or three major areas of concern still haven't been addressed. Right now the fglrx driver doesn't even work with Fedora 7. However, the work done in the past year is worth noting and shouldn't be shrugged off just as it doesn't have performance improvements and eye candy support. Work is being done, but that work takes time. Am I still using the fglrx driver? Yes, I am running the fglrx driver on my updated Fedora machine and others.
Going back to last year's analogy about ATI trying to fine-tune a hull on a ship while there is a giant hole in the side, there's a new engine coming, but will it start?
Other recommended reads: The Open-Source ATI R500 Driver, The Truth About ATI/AMD & Linux, ATI Drivers: Ubuntu vs. Windows, ATI Has Open-Source Drivers Too, An Outcry For Improved ATI Linux Drivers, and the ATI Year in Review 2006.
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