1. Computers
  2. Display Drivers
  3. Graphics Cards
  4. Memory
  5. Motherboards
  6. Processors
  7. Software
  8. Storage
  9. Operating Systems


Facebook RSS Twitter Twitter Google Plus


Phoronix Test Suite

OpenBenchmarking Benchmarking Platform
Phoromatic Test Orchestration

Nouveau's OpenGL Performance Approaches The NVIDIA Driver

Michael Larabel

Published on 21 March 2011
Written by Michael Larabel
Page 6 of 6 - 94 Comments

The performance improvements on multiple GeForce graphics cards in a number of OpenGL tests is quite an achievement considering the Radeon driver isn't even at a performance parity to the proprietary Catalyst driver and even AMD's open-source engineers don't think they'll quite reach a parity to their highly-optimized multi-platform proprietary driver. With the Radeon X1000 (R500) GPUs on their Gallium3D driver the performance is quite competitive, but usually there is still some small difference in performance.

In some tests -- such as the more demanding Lightsmark -- there is still a huge performance difference between the latest Nouveau code and where the latest NVIDIA binary driver is currently performing. With higher-end NVIDIA GPUs, the Nouveau driver also does not perform nearly as well, likely due to some critical elements missing from this open-source driver right now. With the lower-end GeForce hardware, however, that is where the Nouveau driver is shining right now.

While the OpenGL frame-rate performance is much closer now for the Nouveau Gallium3D driver to the proprietary NVIDIA driver, it is not approaching the blob on all fronts. The proprietary NVIDIA driver supports OpenGL 3 or OpenGL 4 (depending upon the hardware) where as the Nouveau Gallium3D support is still bound to OpenGL 2.1. Granted, of course, this is not anything Nouveau-specific but is rather an unfortunate limitation of all open-source Mesa/Gallium3D drivers.

The Nouveau driver also lacks support for many other features supported by the proprietary driver: multi-GPU SLI support, VDPAU video acceleration, OpenCL/CUDA compute, TV-Out (it's working on Nouveau for only some GPUs), and HDMI audio. The Nouveau driver also has only primitive power management / dynamic core and memory clocks support for some GeForce generations. Mobile users with NVIDIA hardware are still best off with the proprietary driver for much better power management and video acceleration support.

There is also GPUs for which the Nouveau support is broken. As part of the early 2.6.39 Nouveau testing, I had plans for a much larger graphics processor comparison, but that was reduced due to broken Nouveau support. A vintage GeForce 6600GT had serious 3D issues, GeForce 8 hardware can be unstable in some tests (hence the GeForce 8500GT failing in some of the tests), and a GeForce GT 240 would encounter a lock-up upon initialization that would drop it back to Mesa's software rasterizer. Those were just the most easily spotted issues. The best Nouveau support overall right now is with the GeForce 9 family where the support seems to be the best. There is also early GeForce 400/500 "Fermi" support, but that currently requires "non-free" firmware/microcode for acceleration support.

Overall though the Nouveau developers are doing an impressive job considering the situation and anyone planning to use this open-source NVIDIA Linux driver will definitely want the Linux 2.6.39 kernel. Unfortunately, this work is too late for Ubuntu 11.04, Fedora 15, and others, with many of the upcoming Linux distributions using 2.6.37/2.6.38. It is also unlikely that the page-flipping support will be back-ported since it is not the most trivial patch.

These results can also be analyzed on OpenBenchmarking.org.

About The Author
Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the web-site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience and being the largest web-site devoted to Linux hardware reviews, particularly for products relevant to Linux gamers and enthusiasts but also commonly reviewing servers/workstations and embedded Linux devices. Michael has written more than 10,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics hardware drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated testing software. He can be followed via and or contacted via .
Latest Articles & Reviews
  1. Sub-$20 802.11n USB WiFi Adapter That's Linux Friendly
  2. The Lenovo T450s Is Working Beautifully With Linux
  3. Linux 4.0 SSD EXT4 / Btrfs / XFS / F2FS Benchmarks
  4. Linux 4.0 Hard Drive Comparison With Six File-Systems
  5. Lenovo ThinkPad T450s Broadwell Preview
  6. How Open-Source Allowed Valve To Implement VULKAN Much Faster On The Source 2 Engine
Latest Linux News
  1. EXT4 In Linux 4.1 Adds File-System Level Encryption
  2. Open-Source Ardour 4.0 Audio Software Has Big Improvements
  3. Linux-Powered Endless Computer Raises $100k+ In A Few Days
  4. GCC 5.1 RC2 Arrives, GCC 5.1 Planned For Next Week
  5. F2FS For Linux 4.1 Has New Features & Fixes
  6. Phoronix Server Upgrade This Weekend: Dual Haswell Xeons, 96GB DDR4
  7. Google's Experimental QUIC Transport Protocol Is Showing Promise
  8. Red Hat Joins Khronos, The Group Behind OpenGL & Vulkan
  9. NetworkManager Drops WiMAX Support
  10. Wine 1.7.41 Works More On Kernel Job Objects, MSI Patches
Most Viewed News This Week
  1. Nouveau: NVIDIA's New Hardware Is "VERY Open-Source Unfriendly"
  2. Linux 4.0 Kernel Released
  3. Microsoft Announces An LLVM-Based Compiler For .NET
  4. Linux 4.1 Brings Many Potentially Risky x86/ASM Changes
  5. VirtualBox 5.0 Beta 2 Released
  6. KDBUS Is Taking A Lot Of Heat, Might Be Delayed From Mainline Linux Kernel
  7. Mozilla Start Drafting Plans To Deprecate Insecure HTTP
  8. KDBUS To Be Included In The Linux 4.1 Kernel