With those core items covered, here are some comments about each of the key Linux graphics drivers for Ubuntu 11.10.
Intel: Linux 3.0 + Mesa 7.11 + xf86-video-intel 2.16. Right now there is not xf86-video-intel 2.16.0 DDX in the Oneiric repository, but 2.15.901, which is one of the release candidates for Intel's quarterly X.Org driver update. Since that point there has just been bug-fixes, so the final 2.16.0 release still should make it into main. The xf86-video-intel 2.16 DDX brings initial Ivy Bridge support, 30-bit deep-color support, and the SNA (Sandy Bridge New Acceleration) architecture.
The SNA acceleration architecture is much faster, but it is still not enabled by default as the remaining regressions are worked out. Those interested in trying out the Sandy Bridge New Acceleration will need to build the DDX from Git or be using the SNA PPA that provides the enabled packages.
Worth noting about the Intel graphics support in Ubuntu 11.10 is that the Sandy Bridge support is much better. With Ubuntu 10.10 and Ubuntu 11.04, the Intel Sandy Bridge support was a mess. Fortunately, thanks to the updated stack, the open-source support is now quite good. All the Sandy Bridge tests I have done recently have been rock solid on Linux and there has been a number of performance optimizations and other improvements made in recent months. It is even better with the Linux 3.1, but then you are risking your kernel.
With the Mesa / DDX / Linux versions used in Oneiric, there's also initial support for Intel Ivy Bridge hardware. This hardware will not be out for a few months and by then the Mesa and kernel DRM support will surely be further tuned, but hopefully the initial Ivy Bridge support is in good standing. It should be, but we will need to wait until we get our hands on some early Ivy Bridge processors until we know for sure. We are already getting excited about the Ivy Bridge prospects.
Those with older generations of Intel integrated graphics may notice some performance improvements when moving from Ubuntu 11.04 (and older) to Ubuntu 11.10 thanks to Mesa and DRM optimizations.
Open-Source AMD: In previous Ubuntu releases there was already the migration to Gallium3D compared to the "classic Mesa" Radeon drivers, so there are not any groundbreaking changes on the Radeon side with Ubuntu 11.10. In this next Ubuntu release, just look for more stable support, more complete OpenGL support from the R300 and R600 Gallium3D drivers, new hardware enablement, and possibly some performance optimizations (that will be saved for another article).
Due to infrequent xf86-video-ati DDX driver releases, Ubuntu is once again shipping a Git snapshot. Git master of xf86-video-ati tends to be stable since not a lot of interesting work takes place in the DDX anymore, but this Git snapshot is from mid August (2011-08-11).
New hardware working on the open-source Radeon stack should be Fusion and more complete Radeon HD 6000 series support.
There also are not any fundamental changes on the open-source Radeon side in this release in terms of enabling the Xorg state tracker, pipe-video, or anything radical.
AMD Catalyst: With Canonical not shipping the Linux 3.1 kernel or xorg-server 1.11 at the last moment, for AMD's proprietary Catalyst driver it's not a mad dash to ensure there's ABI support in time, which usually is the case for the six-month Ubuntu Linux releases. Packaged up for Ubuntu 11.10 right now is Catalyst 11.8, but Catalyst 11.9 will hopefully be pushed in before going gold.
Catalyst 11.9 when released in September will have fixes for the notable GNOME 3.0 Shell corruption. GNOME Shell has been rather broken on the Catalyst driver for months, but with the Catalyst 11.9 (fglrx 8.89 series) it should finally be fixed up.
Open-Source NVIDIA / Nouveau: This is the first Ubuntu Linux release that enables open-source NVIDIA (Nouveau-based) OpenGL acceleration by default! Canonical did this since the Nouveau stack is finally becoming more stable and to provide a better Unity desktop experience.
The level of Nouveau support can still be like a game of Russian Roulette, depending upon the hardware generation, due to a variety of bugs. Nouveau is still lacking in the areas of power and fan management.
Additionally, due to the use of the Linux 3.0 kernel and not back-porting the Linux 3.1 Nouveau code, there is no acceleration support for the GeForce 400/500 "Fermi" graphics processors. NVIDIA's newest graphics processors will go without hardware acceleration support by default in Ubuntu 11.10. There is also a lack of re-clocking support in the upstream Nouveau for Fermi and other issues, but hopefully in Ubuntu 12.04 LTS the Nouveau support will be in better standing.
NVIDIA: It's the NVIDIA binary driver; it should "just work" well on Ubuntu 11.10. The current NVIDIA driver release shipped in the Oneiric repository is the 280.13 release, which is new (though not the bleeding edge 285 betas) and offers up VDPAU enhancements, new hardware support, support for new OpenGL extensions, and various other enhancements compared to their driver from six months ago.
For those that happen to have troubled graphics drivers on Ubuntu 11.10, in this release Canonical is now falling back to "Unity 2D" rather than classic GNOME. Unity 2D mostly looks the same as the normal Unity interface, but less visual effects and other small differences as it does not leverage hardware acceleration.
If you are interested in the Wayland Display Server experience on Oneiric, see Running Wayland On Ubuntu 11.10.
Additionally, in September there are plans for a massive driver/GPU comparison on Phoronix. Stay tuned by following us on Facebook or Twitter (@Phoronix and @MichaelLarabel). Also subscribing to Phoronix Premium will ensure more tests are carried out while you get ad-free browsing and all articles are rendered on a single page.