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A 14-Way Comparison Of NVIDIA vs. Nouveau Drivers

Michael Larabel

Published on 9 November 2011
Written by Michael Larabel
Page 1 of 24 - 21 Comments

Back in September I provided the most comprehensive AMD Radeon Linux graphics comparison that took 28 graphics cards from all supported ATI/AMD Radeon product families and tested them under Linux using the latest Catalyst driver as well as the open-source Mesa/Gallium3D driver. In this article is a similar comparison on the NVIDIA side as I take most of the GeForce graphics cards at my disposal and try them under the NVIDIA binary Linux driver and the community-developed open-source "Nouveau" driver. Not only is the OpenGL performance looked at for multiple generations of NVIDIA hardware, but the thermal and power consumption is compared too. In certain OpenGL workloads, the open-source Linux driver is now faster than NVIDIA's own driver for select graphics cards in a fair comparison, but overall the NVIDIA blob still reigns supreme.

I intended to complete this NVIDIA comparison for publishing during Oktoberfest, but ran out of time before the Munich event and XDC2011 Chicago. I ended up then holding off until after the Ubuntu Developer Summit so that the latest Git code for the Linux kernel and Mesa could be used. In particular, to take advantage of the Nouveau DRM after the Linux 3.2 kernel merge, in order to have a look at the very latest state of this community-developed driver that's created entirely through clean-room reverse-engineering without any support from NVIDIA.

This article is similarly structured to the AMD comparison, but with looking at the NVIDIA Linux hardware support. With each of the tested graphics cards is also a brief summary for reference. It's largely a summary about the current state of the Linux support for the given GPU and other thoughts, to as briefly provide the important details of the 400+ graphics driver articles and over 110 graphics card reviews under Linux I have written on Phoronix in the past seven years as it pertains to the Linux support.

For an easier look at pouring through all of this information, consider subscribing to Phoronix Premium to view entire articles on a single page and without any advertisements.

Unfortunately, the selection of NVIDIA GeForce hardware used for testing is not nearly as extensive as the ATI/AMD Radeon comparison. It is still rare for NVIDIA Corp to be interested in sending out hardware to Phoronix (or recommending their AIB partners to do so), which means as a result a number of the graphics cards I ended up purchasing (read: please stop using AdBlock on Phoronix). I even purchased GPUs just with this comparison in mind.

The graphics cards covered in this article include the GeForce 6600GT, 8400GS, 8500GT, 8600GT, 8600GTS, 8800GT, 9500GT, 9800GT, 9800GTX, GT 220, GT 240, GTX 460, GT 520, and GTX 550 Ti.

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