Earlier this month we delivered our annual performance look at NVIDIA's 2010 Linux graphics drivers and now the tables have turned to do our annual examination of the ATI/AMD Catalyst graphics drivers for the Radeon graphics processors. This was certainly an interesting year -- both good and bad -- for AMD with their Catalyst Linux driver.
Most of the "new features" this year for the Catalyst Linux driver has been bringing up support for new Linux distribution releases, such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.0, Ubuntu 10.04/10.10, and openSUSE 11.2/11.3. There has also been lots of bug fixing going on. In terms of actual new features, ATI Eyefinity became officially supported under Linux with the Catalyst 10.7 release. Eyefinity is AMD's technology for driving more than two monitors per graphics card simultaneously and is found on the Radeon HD 5000/6000 series at this time along with most of the FirePro workstation graphics cards. Eyefinity is what powered the 24 display monitor demo back in 2009 and that system was even running Linux, but it was not until this summer when Linux officially received Eyefinity support. Besides Eyefinity, this year's drivers also brought support for the newest OpenGL 3.3 and OpenGL 4.0/4.1 extensions and a new 2D acceleration architecture.
In Catalyst 10.2 and succeeding releases, the 2D performance has improved greatly thanks to this acceleration architecture derived from their Windows 2D code paths. Besides that work and many bug fixes, there was not too much more exciting going on with the Catalyst drivers in 2010. Of course, their open-source Linux drivers are much a different story with a lot of work having been done over the past year to bring that up to speed and delivering a quality "of the box" experience on Linux. In 2010, AMD also continued providing same-day support for their new hardware products under Linux, this year with the Radeon HD 6000 series of graphics processors. What AMD had not done this year though has been to improve their X-Video Bitstream Acceleration (XvBA) implementation by much or do anything to open up the specification or provide any alternate way to utilize the interface besides a VA-API library wrapper.
For our benchmarking of every official AMD driver from Catalyst 9.12 to Catalyst 10.12 we used an ATI Radeon HD 5770 1024MB graphics card. This system was loaded in a computer with an Intel Core i5 750 CPU, an ECS P55H-A motherboard, 4GB of DDR3 system memory, and a 500GB Western Digital WDC5000AADS-0 hard drive. The Linux operating system in use was Ubuntu 9.10 with the Linux 2.6.31 kernel, GNOME 2.28.1, X.Org Server 1.6.4, GCC 4.4.1, and an EXT4 file-system.
Here is some of the key ATI Linux driver information for each monthly Catalyst update:
Catalyst 9.12: fglrx 8.68.2 / OpenGL 3.2.9232
Catalyst 10.1: fglrx 8.69.4 / OpenGL 3.2.9252
Catalyst 10.2: fglrx 8.70.3 / OpenGL 3.2.9551
Catalyst 10.3: fglrx 8.71.4 / OpenGL 3.2.9704
Catalyst 10.4: fglrx 8.72.5 / OpenGL 3.2.9756
Catalyst 10.5: fglrx 8.73.3 / OpenGL 4.0.9836
Catalyst 10.6: fglrx 8.74.4 / OpenGL 4.0.9901
Catalyst 10.7: fglrx 8.75.5 / OpenGL 4.0.10057
Catalyst 10.8: fglrx 8.76.7 / OpenGL 4.0.10151
Catalyst 10.9: fglrx 8.77.5 / OpenGL 4.0.10188
Catalyst 10.10: fglrx 8.78.6 / OpenGL 4.0.10243
Catalyst 10.11: fglrx 8.79.4 / OpenGL 4.0.10317
Catalyst 10.12: fglrx 8.80.5 / OpenGL 4.1.10362
Benchmarks used by the Phoronix Test Suite included Lightsmark, Nexuiz, OpenArena, Warsow, MPlayer, Unigine Sanctuary, Unigine Tropics, and Unigine Heaven.