It was exciting this week to finally see Intel's Sandy Bridge platform work under Linux with OpenGL acceleration without any problems, but it was even more exciting to see just how fast the Core i5 2500K graphics were under Linux using an open-source Mesa driver. As these tests show, the Core i5 2500K on the classic Mesa Intel driver is actually faster than mid-range ATI Radeon HD graphics drivers on Gallium3D, such as the Radeon HD 4550 and Radeon HD 5450. In some tests, the Core i5 2500K was also faster than the Radeon HD 4650 on Gallium3D and in select instances was approaching the Radeon HD 4830 on Gallium3D. This came as a huge surprise. However, as expected, the Sandy Bridge performance falls well short when compared to the same hardware when using the AMD Catalyst driver and its much more well-tuned OpenGL stack. The Core i5 2500K graphics were also better than the NVIDIA GeForce GT 220 on the Nouveau Gallium3D driver.
There are no benchmarks of Intel's previous-generation Clarkdale/Arrandale CPUs with their HD graphics in this article since the graphics performance cannot be compared directly due to processor differences. However, even when the previous-generation CPUs are running on the latest open-source driver code, their performance falls well short of these Intel Core i5 2500K. The Core i5 2500K is a wonderful processor with captivating performance and it sells for a little more than $200 USD right now (find it at Amazon and NewEgg).
The OpenBenchmarking.org Performance Classification indicates the Core i5 2500K as being a solid mid-range Linux component with the exceptions of Lightsmark and Nexuiz where its performance falls short. Wait, what is this? Well, as I won't say all the unannounced features early to ruin some surprises, you will just need to come listen to me talk about Phoronix Test Suite 3.0-Iveland and OpenBenchmarking.org at the Phoronix Munich meet-up next week, or for the non-Bavarians and those that don't like drinking Augustiner, a week later in Los Angeles at the Southern California Linux Expo (or view the information online post-launch).
If you plan to upgrade to Sandy Bridge prior to the availability of Ubuntu 11.04, Fedora 15, and other Linux distributions coming out in H1'2011, be prepared though to either build the Linux kernel / Mesa / libdrm / xf86-video-intel DDX from source or have a package repository available that meets the needed requirements for proper support (the key packages: Linux 2.6.37, Mesa 7.10, xf86-video-intel 2.14). If you wish to use VA-API H.264 video acceleration, you will also need the latest libva package. For those Ubuntu 10.10 users, within recent weeks it should be possible to use the xorg-edgers PPA for retrieving these newer packages without needing to build anything from source. The latest Linux kernel can be picked up from the Ubuntu mainline kernel PPA.
While the Sandy Bridge Linux experience is pleasant when using the Intel BLKDH67BL motherboard, even with the latest code, the original issues on the ASUS P8H67-M PRO motherboard remain. With the exact cause not even being known, this does leave a slight uneasy feeling as it can't be said for sure whether this is specific to just the ASUS motherboard or what other H67 motherboards may be impacted. For anyone concerned when purchasing a new H67 motherboard, after updating to the latest Linux software, run a command such as "phoronix-test-suite benchmark build-linux-kernel" to fully stress the system to see if the system locks-up with a corrupted screen -- it doesn't even need to be a graphics test to exhibit this issue.
Going forward with Intel's Ivy Bridge, which should launch by year's end, hopefully we will see a more pleasant "out of the box" experience on modern Linux distributions to satisfy more customers. Hopefully Intel's PR department has also learned their Linux lesson for Ivy Bridge and that if they sent out the Intel Bearup Lake motherboard and CPU back in December as they did for everyone else, many headaches could have been avoided.
Not only is the Sandy Bridge graphics performance terrific, but also it is even more impressive when it comes to the CPU Linux performance. There are the Sandy Bridge CPU benchmarks I published last month and then AVX Linux benchmarks from earlier this week using a GCC 4.6.0 snapshot for testing the Advanced Vector Extensions. There are also more Intel Core i5 2500K Linux benchmarks on the way looking at other areas of Linux performance, including more graphics tests and of the Core i5 2500K performance using VA-API H.264 video playback acceleration. There will also be graphics benchmarks comparing the Windows and Linux Sandy Bridge driver performance.
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