Recently I published OpenGL benchmark results on Phoronix showing the open-source R600 Gallium3D driver competing with Catalyst for Radeon HD 5000/6000 series graphics cards. For the Radeon HD 7000 series and newer "GCN" graphics cards that are supported by the different RadeonSI driver, the performance has a ways to improve. What wasn't included with those recent Phoronix articles were looking at the performance for the Radeon HD 4000 series GPUs, which is now only supported by the open-source driver and the Catalyst Legacy driver that doesn't work on modern Linux distributions. Therefore, for this article we're looking at the Catalyst Legacy performance on Ubuntu 12.10 (as well as its open-source R600g driver at the time) and compare it to the OpenGL performance found out of the box on Ubuntu 13.10 and then with the latest Linux 3.12 and Mesa 10.0 driver code.
Ubuntu 12.10 has a Catalyst Legacy driver Launchpad PPA for providing the binary driver support that works with the Radeon HD 2000/3000/4000 series graphics cards. AMD had abandoned the Radeon X1000 (R500) series and older GPU support years ago but then early last year they decided to drop HD 2000/3000/4000 series support so the mainline Catalyst driver right now only supports the HD 5000 series and newer. The Catalyst Legacy driver for these GPUs isn't really maintained in a manner like NVIDIA for Linux kernel and X.Org Server updates, thus largely leaving the AMD Linux customers to use either old distribution releases or rely upon the open-source driver.
With a system that was fully compatible with Ubuntu 12.10, I tested an ATI Radeon HD 4870 (RV770) graphics card "out of the box" with Ubuntu 12.10 x86_64 using the Xfce desktop. Ubuntu 12.10 shipped with the Linux 3.5 kernel and Mesa 9.0.3. After that, the fglrx-legacy PPA was loaded for fglrx 8.97.2 / OpenGL 3.3.11672 that works with this HD 4870 graphics card. Under Ubuntu 13.10 with Xfce, the "out of the box" open-source driver configuration was tested with the Linux 3.11 kernel and Mesa 9.2.1. Following the stock (X)ubuntu 13.10 testing, the system was upgraded to the Linux 3.11 mainline kernel and Radeon DPM support manually enabled followed by upgrading to Mesa 10.0-devel from the Oibaf PPA. During all open-source driver testing, swap buffers wait was disabled from the xorg.conf. This testing shows the state of the open-source driver from one year ago (Ubuntu 12.10) to how it is now both in Ubuntu 13.10 and using the latest development code, additionally it's all compared to the Catalyst Legacy driver for the Radeon HD 4870 on this AMD Opteron 2384 system used throughout all testing. The Xfce version of Ubuntu Linux was used to bypass any possible performance changes caused by Unity/Compiz over the past year.
All of this Linux OpenGL benchmarking for the Catalyst Legacy and Radeon Gallium3D drivers was handled in a fully-automated and reproducible manner using the open-source Phoronix Test Suite software.