Earlier this month AMD rolled out a new workstation graphics card driver, which is effectively the same Catalyst driver used by the consumer-oriented Radeon graphics cards but with greater testing and certification for the ATI workstation offerings. The press release announcing this new driver was titled "Application Performance Increases By Up To 20 Percent with Latest ATI FirePro Graphics Driver," so we decided to see if this proprietary driver really lives up to its claims under Linux.
Also stated in the AMD press release is that this newest FirePro graphics driver update adds support for stereo 3D and audio over DisplayPort. According to this press statement, the areas where the workstation 3D performance should be more than 20% faster are for CATIA, 3DS Max, and ProENGINEER, among others. The DisplayPort audio that works with the ATI FirePro graphics cards offering such connections will allow up to 5.1 Dolby Digital and 5.1 DTS surround sound along with 8-channel uncompressed audio. While not directly related to this effort, AMD has also announced they will begin issuing bi-monthly workstation driver updates for those notebook users with a mobile FirePro graphics processor.
Linux was not specifically mentioned in this press release announcing the 8.702 driver, but seeing as AMD's Linux support is largely fueled by their workstation products, the same level of support is to be expected. The FirePro Linux driver release notes did not specifically mention the performance improvements, but it did list the new DisplayPort audio and stereo 3D capabilities. The FirePro Linux driver has a version string of fglrx 8.70.3 and its OpenGL version string is 3.2.9551.
At Phoronix we have reviewed the FireGL V8600, FirePro V8700, and FirePro V8750. This Linux driver update is compatible with these FireGL and FirePro graphics cards, but for this article, we picked out the FirePro V8750 to use for our testing. The ATI FirePro V8750 remains AMD's highest-end workstation graphics card with its features including 2GB of GDDR5 video memory, two DisplayPort outputs, one dual-link DVI output, one stereoscopic 3D output, 800 Unified Shader Engines, OpenGL 3.0 support, CrossFire Pro support, a 750MHz core clock, and 900MHz video memory clock. The FirePro V8750 is based upon the RV770XT core and at this time, its price tag is about $1450 USD at Amazon.com.
Besides the ATI FirePro V8750 our test system was made up of two AMD Opteron 2384 Quad-Core processors, a Tyan Thunder n3600M motherboard, 4GB of ECC Registered DDR2 memory, a 160GB Western Digital WD1600YS-01S SATA hard drive, and the ultra high-end graphics card was driving a Dell S2409W LCD display. On the software side we installed Ubuntu 9.10 (x86_64) with the Linux 2.6.31 kernel, X.Org Server 1.6.4, GCC 4.4.1, and an EXT4 file-system. For comparing the FirePro Linux driver update, we used the fglrx 8.66.10 release as our baseline driver, which is what is available through the Ubuntu Karmic repository as the proprietary ATI Linux driver option.
For looking at the Linux workstation graphics driver performance with this new software update we used SPECViewPerf 10 with the 3ds Max, CATIA, Pro/ENGINEER, SolidWorks, and TCVIS tests. All of this testing was facilitated by the Phoronix Test Suite.