It has been two years since the ATI Radeon HD 4800 (RV770) series launched so we have gone back since that monumental hardware launch and have re-tested each Catalyst driver release since then to see how the performance has changed for the ATI Radeon HD 4850 graphics card. The Catalyst driver has certainly matured over the course of two years in speeding up the OpenGL performance with this hardware along with bringing new features to their proprietary driver, but it is not exactly smooth sailing.
The ATI Radeon HD 4850 and ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards based upon the RV770 GPU had launched in June of 2008. Not only was the hardware great, but it was met by an evolutionary leap in their Linux support. This was the first major ATI product launch that was greeted by same-day Linux driver support (and all succeeding launches since have shared the same level of support) and many other advancements on their once widely criticized Linux side. In the months that followed the Radeon HD 4000 series launch they went ahead and unleashed CrossFire on Linux, provided OverDrive support for GPU overclocking, and have nearly reached feature parity with their Windows Catalyst driver. While in terms of features they may be close to a parity, today we are investigating how the Linux Catalyst driver performance has changed over the course of the past 24 driver releases.
Catalyst 8.6 was the first driver shipping with Radeon HD 4850/4870 support while with Catalyst 8.7 the support was official and over succeeding driver releases it was further refined. We tested the Catalyst 8.6 Linux driver up through the most recent Catalyst 10.6 driver release that just came earlier this month. The only drivers we could not test was Catalyst 9.2 as AMD had pulled that file from their servers and then also Catalyst 9.12 as the driver was bugged and could not successfully initialize in our configuration.
For being able to past the ATI drivers from the past two years we had installed Ubuntu 8.04.4 LTS onto an older test system so that there would not be any Linux kernel or X.Org Server compatibility issues with the older driver releases if using a newer Linux distribution release. Ubuntu 8.04 ships with the Linux 2.6.24 kernel (x86_64), GNOME 2.22.3, X.Org Server 22.214.171.124, and an EXT3 file-system. Ubuntu 8.04 was left in its stock configuration, which includes the use of Compiz by default. Our test system was an Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 dual-core processor clocked at 3.87GHz, a Gigabyte EP45T-DS3R motherboard, 2GB of DDR3 system memory, a 160GB Western Digital WDC WD1600JS-00M Serial ATA hard drive, and a Diamond ATI Radeon HD 4850 512MB graphics card.
Nexuiz, World of Padman, OpenArena, Warsow, VDrift, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, and Lightsmark were the OpenGL benchmarks used. For looking at the 2D performance was QGears2, Render Bench, and JXRenderMark. This testing was managed by the Phoronix Test Suite.