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AMD Makes An Evolutionary Leap In Linux Support

Michael Larabel

Published on 19 June 2008
Written by Michael Larabel
Page 1 of 3 - 96 Comments

Less than a year ago we shared with you the revolutionary steps AMD was taking to deliver significant improvements to their once infamous proprietary Linux display driver and at the same time the work they were doing to foster the growth of an open-source driver for their latest graphics card families. These steps have certainly paid off for both AMD and the Linux community at large. AMD's proprietary driver is now on par with NVIDIA's Linux driver and there are two open-source ATI drivers picking up new features and improvements on an almost daily basis. AMD also continues to publish new programming guides and register information on a routine basis for their latest and greatest hardware. This has been truly phenomenal to see, but AMD has now evolved their Linux support by taking it a large step further. AMD is in the process of pushing new high-end features into their Linux driver -- such as Multi-GPU CrossFire support -- and with the ATI Radeon HD 4850 they have even begun showing off Tux, the Linux mascot, on their product packaging and providing Linux drivers on their product CDs!

While AMD has been making great strides in both their open and closed source investments, their performance-oriented proprietary driver isn't yet feature equivalent to the Windows Catalyst Suite and they have had problems delivering same-day (or close to same-day) Linux support when introducing new graphics processor generations. As of late they have been able to deliver same-month support for their new products that are just minor revisions within a series, but when introducing the Radeon X1000 "R500" series it had took a staggering seven months for any level of Linux support. Most recently, when the Radeon HD 2000 "R600" series was released, it had taken AMD about six months for any level of support. Today though we are excited to share that all of this should be an issue of the past. AMD has not only provided same-day support for their just-announced Radeon HD 4800 "RV770" series, but they're now beginning to ship the Linux drivers on the retail CDs included with these newest graphics cards. In addition, AMD is very close to reaching feature parity between their Windows and Linux drivers.

In the past when ATI introduced GPUs in a brand new product family it had taken months for support as there wasn't much code being shared between the two drivers. Since last year when the new OpenGL driver was introduced, a majority of the code is now shared between the Windows and Linux drivers. This code-sharing design is similar to NVIDIA's where they have been using much of the same code within the Windows/Linux/FreeBSD/Solaris drivers except for the platform-specific bits. NVIDIA has generally had a good record of delivering Linux, FreeBSD, and Solaris product support within days of their new product launch. However, NVIDIA's first-cut Linux support has been a bit problematic as of late -- most notably when the GeForce 8 series was introduced and its performance issues as well as other bugs.

Thanks in large part to this code sharing, we are seeing same-day support for the Radeon HD 4850/4870. If you buy a Radeon HD 4850/4870 today, you can go use it on Linux right away! They've actually been running the RV770 under Linux for about eight weeks now, which then gave them the idea and allowed them time to ship this driver to consumers via the driver CD included with the retail graphics cards. For the record, NVIDIA has never included Linux/FreeBSD/Solaris drivers on the disk with their graphics cards. While we would recommend always downloading the latest display drivers, this is a significant step forward and does reaffirm their commitment to the Linux operating system.

Originally the Radeon HD 4800 series was scheduled to formally launch on June 25, 2008. The media was just briefed on these next-generation "RV770" graphics cards this past Monday after the Cinema 2.0 Event under an NDA. The embargo has been lifted today (June 19) as some AMD partners have ignored the embargo and begun selling these new graphics cards early. As a result, we don't have our Linux benchmarks of the RV770 to deliver on such a short notice. However, we do have dual ATI Radeon HD 4850 512MB graphics cards in hand. We are in the process of benchmarking these graphics cards under Linux as well as comparing the results to the earlier Radeon HD 3850/3870, NVIDIA's GeForce 9800GTX, and other graphics cards. We are working to get these Linux results out and we expect them to be published in the coming days.

With Linux drivers being found on the CDs with their Radeon HD 4000 graphics cards, they are now proud of their Linux efforts. While it's one thing to tuck away a Linux driver in some obscure folder on the driver CD and not to mention it anywhere else, this isn't what AMD has decided to do. With ATI's official packaging, Tux will be prominently displayed on the packaging. This is to show the consumers that ATI graphics cards are supported under Linux. However, for the AIB partners designing their own product packaging, it's up to them whether to include this Linux symbol. We hope many of the AIBs decide to include Tux on the packaging, and as a Linux user we would hope you chose the vendors that do acknowledge the Linux market. To our knowledge, this is the first time Tux will be prominently displayed on a wide-scale for computer hardware targeted at desktop consumers.

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