While last week we reported Intel Sandy Bridge graphics support is still troubling in Ubuntu 11.04 and also the support broke at the last minute in Linux 2.6.39, there's really good news to report this week from the Sandy Bridge Linux land. When using the very latest working Linux driver code, in many cases the OpenGL performance of this open-source driver stack is now faster than Intel's official Windows 7 driver.
The last time we benchmarked the Intel Sandy Bridge (SNB) Linux driver stack against that of Windows 7 was back in February when the Intel Linux graphics were still behind Windows. Since then, we have reported on SNB Linux graphics improvements, including a small Mesa patch that dramatically improved the performance and optimizations within Intel's Linux kernel DRM driver. Many began to speculate that these optimizations were enough to bump the Linux driver ahead of the closed-source Windows driver, but now we have largely confirmed this as in fact being the case.
Intel last week sent over one of their Huron River laptops (bearing a Sandy Bridge CPU) that is for their Software Development Platform efforts for the per-commit Linux driver benchmarking that we are setting up for them using OpenBenchmarking.org and the Phoronix Test Suite. This notebook was a Hewlett-Packard EliteBook 8460p. This notebook was equipped with an Intel Core i5 2520M Sandy Bridge CPU, 160GB Intel SSDSA2M160 drive, Intel SNB HD 3000 graphics, and 4GB of system memory. The native resolution of the notebook's panel was 1600 x 900. The specs are certainly great, but it was pre-loaded with Microsoft Windows 7 Professional x64. However, we used that to our advantage to run some updated Windows 7 benchmarks before wiping it and loading up Linux.
Via the Windows version of the Phoronix Test Suite, Nexuiz, Warsow, OpenArena, and Lightsmark were run from the up-to-date Microsoft Windows 7 stack. Following that, Ubuntu 11.04 x86_64 was loaded up. Like our other Sandy Bridge setups, the "out of the box" Ubuntu 11.04 graphics experience was very poor as mentioned in the articles last week. As a result, the Linux 2.6.39 kernel, Mesa 7.11-devel, libdrm, and xf86-video-intel were obtained from Git on 22 May. However, due to the Linux 2.6.39 SNB issue mentioned last week, the support there too was borked until the HP EliteBook was booted with the i915.semaphores=1 option.
The Ubuntu 11.04 x86_64 tested configuration was with the Linux 2.6.39 kernel, Unity 3.8.10 desktop, X.Org Server 1.10.1, xf86-video-intel 2.15.0 Git, Mesa 7.11-devel git-fd6f2d6, GCC 4.5.2, and an EXT4 file-system.