One of the common complaints about the ATI Catalyst Linux driver is slow 2D performance, but is this really the case? Does AMD's binary-only Linux driver have 2D performance issues that could actually make it run slower than the open-source driver developed by the X.Org community through specifications released by AMD? In this article we have run a total of 28 benchmarks looking squarely at the 2D performance between the Catalyst (fglrx) driver and the xf86-video-ati (Radeon) drivers on Ubuntu Linux.
This testing is quite simple, we took an ATI Radeon X1800XT 256MB graphics card and looked at the 2D performance using the Catalyst 8.12 / fglrx 8.56.4 driver and then again with the xf86-video-ati 6.10.0 (obtained from its Git repository along with the latest DRM code as of January 13, 2009). The rest of the hardware consisted of an Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 at 4.00GHz, ASUS P5E64 WS Professional motherboard, 2GB of OCZ DDR3 memory, 160GB WDC WD1600JS-00MHB0 SATA HDD, and a Samsung SyncMaster 305T 30-inch LCD at 2560 x 1600. On the software side we were using Ubuntu 8.10 with the Linux 2.6.27 kernel, GNOME 2.24.1, X Server 1.5.2, GCC 4.3.2, and the default EXT3 file-system. For carrying our our tests we used the Phoronix Test Suite. EXA acceleration was used during testing with the open-source ATI stack.
With the first three GtkPerf tests (GtkComboBox, GtkComboBoxEntry, and GtkToggleButton) the two drivers had performed very close. The Catalyst driver came out ahead with the GtkComboBox and GtkToggleButton widgets, but it was by a very slim margin.