As a prelude to the forthcoming Windows 7 vs. OS X 10.8 vs. Ubuntu Linux benchmarks that are looking at how Intel OpenGL graphics compare between the operating systems, here's some Intel Sandy Bridge benchmarks that provide a historical look at how the Linux kernel -- and upgrades to the Intel Direct Rendering Manager driver within the kernel -- have matured over time. On average, the Intel Linux graphics performance is up about 30% over the course of the past few kernel releases this year.
The OS X vs. Windows vs. Linux OpenGL benchmarks will be published soon and take the recent all-around OS X 10.8 vs. Ubuntu Linux benchmarks much further while focusing entirely upon the OpenGL performance and the drivers between the different operating systems (it's also talked about in Comparing Intel HD 2000/3000/4000 Linux Graphics). This testing is being done from a mid-2011 Apple Mac Mini that has a Core i5 2415M "Sandy Bridge" processor with HD 3000 graphics. Ivy Bridge is obviously out now and more interesting, but unfortunately no Ivy Bridge Mac Mini yet and the Retina MacBoo Pro is currently a Linux lemon while the new Ivy Bridge MacBook Air also has problems. Plus with already having the Sandy Bridge Mac Mini, this hardware was decided upon for the testing.
When it comes to optimizing the Intel Linux graphics performance, most of the changes come via improvements to the Intel Mesa DRI driver and then the Intel DRM driver within the Linux kernel. To show how the Intel DRM driver has recently matured, here's some benchmarks of recent Linux kernel releases from last year's Mac Mini running Ubuntu 12.10.
The Core i5 2415M system with 2GB of RAM and Intel HD 3000 graphics was running an Ubuntu 12.10 x86_64 development snapshot with Unity 6.2 and the latest Mesa Git (8.1-devel) and xf86-video-intel code at the time of testing in late August. Being swapped out was the Linux 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, and 3.6 kernels. The Linux 3.6 kernel was using the latest Git development code while the other versions were using their vanilla releases as available from the Ubuntu mainline PPA. For the Linux 3.2 and 3.3 kernels, the latest point releases (3.2.28 and 3.3.8, respectively) were used since their original releases were problematic on the hardware.
The Linux 3.2 kernel wasn't the first release to introduce Sandy Bridge Linux support, but testing stopped there due to Linux issues with the older kernels on the Apple Mac Mini hardware. The Linux 3.2 kernel was released at the beginning of the calendar year so this basically shows off the open-source Intel DRM driver improvements affecting Sandy Bridge that were made in 2012.