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A Big Comparison Of The AMD Catalyst, Mesa & Gallium3D Drivers

Michael Larabel

Published on 5 January 2011
Written by Michael Larabel
Page 1 of 9 - 201 Comments

As was alluded to in our New Year greeting, we have been working on a massive graphics card / driver comparison under Linux. Beginning with ATI/AMD hardware, we have tested a series of graphics cards spanning the Radeon X1000, HD 2000, HD 3000, HD 4000, and HD 5000 generations using the very latest drivers. These drivers include the official Catalyst 10.12 Linux release as well as the very latest development code for the open-source Mesa and Gallium3D drivers. The results for seven ATI GPUs spanning four generations with three drivers are quite interesting.

The graphics cards used in this large Linux GPU and driver comparison include the Radeon X1950PRO, Radeon HD 2900XT, Radeon HD 3650, Radeon HD 3850, Radeon HD 4670, Radeon HD 4870, and the Radeon HD 5770. We are completing a similar set of cross-GPU cross-driver tests on the NVIDIA side as well and expect to have those Linux benchmarks completed within the next week or two. The rest of the system hardware included an Intel Core i5 750 CPU, an ECS P55H-A motherboard, 4GB of DDR3 system memory, and a 500GB Western Digital SATA HDD.

With these different ATI/AMD graphics cards, we tested the official Catalyst 10.12 driver (the latest available proprietary driver at the time of testing; version fglrx 8.80.5) along with the very latest Gallium3D and Classic Mesa open-source drivers. The open-source components were built from Git on 2010-12-25 using the latest Linux 2.6.37 kernel development code, libdrm, xf86-video-ati DDX (version 6.13.99), and Mesa 7.10-devel (the Gallium3D version is 0.4 in Mesa 7.10). This was done atop an Ubuntu 10.10 x86_64 Linux operating system with the GNOME 2.32.0 desktop with Compiz enabled, X.Org Server 1.9.0, GCC 4.4.5, and an EXT4 file-system.

Besides the GPU/driver changes, the only other change during the course of testing was using the stock Ubuntu 10.10 (Linux 2.6.35) kernel during the Catalyst driver testing since Catalyst 10.12 is not compatible with the Linux 2.6.37 kernel that was used for the latest open-source graphics DRM with the Mesa/Gallium3D drivers. The other note is that there are no Catalyst results for the Radeon X1950PRO since AMD discontinued its driver support back in 2009.

The tests used across this selection of hardware and drivers included Nexuiz, Warsow, OpenArena, World of Padman, Smokin Guns, Tremulous, VDrift, and Lightsmark. This OpenGL workload is rather light for proprietary graphics drivers with modern GPUs and CPUs, but it is the selection of tests that actually work with Mesa / Gallium3D and are available from the Phoronix Test Suite. It would have been nice to run Unigine and our other more demanding graphics tests in this large comparison, but they are simply incompatible with the open-source drivers at this point and for the near future.

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