All of the Catalyst Linux driver releases this year have been... well, boring. There have been a few bug fixes in each release and new product support for the latest ATI/AMD GPUs, but no major features have been introduced in several months. However, during this time we've been telling you to get ready for an interesting summer and that "we have reason to believe AMD does have some Linux work under development that could make 2007 look boring compared to this year." It was in 2007 that AMD had introduced their brand-new driver with AIGLX support. Well, with the release today of Catalyst 8.5 the monthly Linux driver releases are becoming more interesting and we should have several exciting months ahead. What does today's Linux driver bring to the table? We'll give you the run-down in this article, but to get you started there is now Catalyst AI, Linux 2.6.25 support, and a much improved 2D performance!
There are several fixes and a few general improvements with Catalyst 8.5, but one of the new features is support for DKMS in AMD's graphical installer. A few months ago, the Ubuntu packaging scripts for the fglrx driver had added DKMS, or Dynamic Kernel Module Support. This Linux framework makes it possible to have kernel modules automatically rebuilt when booting into a new kernel and therefore making the system easier to maintain when upgrading the kernel. With Catalyst 8.5 and later, if DKMS is installed prior to running the graphical installer, it will attempt to create the DKMS kernel module automatically.
With the Linux 2.6.25 kernel having been released last month, Catalyst 8.5 introduces full support for this latest kernel. Some of the fixes in this release include the X Server no longer failing to initialize in some cases with the RS780 IGP, restoring TexturedVideo so that it's enabled by default on X Server 1.4, video playback improvements, fixing a soft hang when using dual-head fglrx on Ubuntu 8.04, and last but not least is fixing a segmentation fault in AIGLX and corruption when evicting compressed textures. Like most releases, there are also updated packaging scripts for many of the distributions. In preparation of other work to come, Catalyst 8.5 for Linux adds a libatiadlxx.so file.
While support for DKMS and the Linux 2.6.25 kernel is great, the Catalyst 8.5 most dramatically brings improved 2D performance. With this fglrx 8.49 driver, users should notice much improved 2D performance, especially with the KDE translucent shadow effects.
Further enriching the ATI Linux experience for gamers, the fglrx driver now supports Catalyst AI! This option added to the AMD Catalyst Control Center Linux Edition makes it possible to enable or disable specific driver optimizations. This option has been found in the Windows Catalyst driver for the past four years or longer, but it's finally appearing on Linux. At this time Catalyst AI is just found under the "More Settings" area with a slider bar for toggling this feature. The Catalyst AI options are just standard and advanced. We first hinted at Catalyst AI for Linux last October when the fglrx 8.42 driver was introduced. Also added to the AMDCCCLE in version 1.10 is a MipMap detail level adjustment. This setting can be adjusted so mimapping is done with performance or quality in mind.
In addition, this release also has PCI ID support for several new ATI GPUs. Among the GPUs with added support in Catalyst 8.5 include the RV770, M98, ATI Radeon HD 3690, and FireStream 9170.
The most interesting developments with this driver release are improved 2D performance and Catalyst AI, but Dynamic Kernel Module Support also goes a way into improving the installation experience for this proprietary driver and the Linux 2.6.25 support is needed for some of the newer Linux distributions. The bug fixes are also important additions to this driver. However, the best is yet to come so stay tuned to changes for the forthcoming Linux Catalyst releases. If you run into any ATI Linux problems or experiences to share, be sure to stop by the Phoronix Forums. In the near future, we will be looking more closely at Catalyst AI on Linux with performance results.