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Nouveau Drags Behind Intel & Radeon For Linux 2D Performance

Michael Larabel

Published on 18 March 2014
Written by Michael Larabel
Page 1 of 4 - 14 Comments

While 3D/OpenGL is our primary focus of performance tests when it comes to graphics cards on Linux, it's always interesting to go back and check on the 2D performance as it's still important for the Linux desktop experience. The 2D performance is becoming interesting right now as well due to Intel's driver defaulting to SNA and GLAMOR acceleration being tried by some drivers for faster 2D over OpenGL. In this article we have some fresh 2D benchmarks of Intel, NVIDIA, and AMD graphics hardware running an updated open-source GPU driver stack on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS.

Prior to leaving for California for some business trips I began running some new tests of Intel / Radeon / Nouveau drivers with the Linux 3.14 kernel and Mesa 10.2-devel atop Ubuntu 14.04 LTS. The 3D results will come later this week while today are the 2D open-source driver results. The tested graphics processors included:

- Intel HD Graphics 4600
- AMD Radeon HD 5830
- AMD Radeon HD 6770
- AMD Radeon HD 6870
- AMD Radeon HD 7850
- AMD Radeon HD 7950
- AMD Radeon R9 270X
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760

The selection was limited by the hardware I had available and time I had to test. Testing happened from a Core i7 4770K system so thus on the Intel side was only able to test the HD Graphics 4600 integrated graphics processor. The other comment is there wasn't much testing of the NVIDIA hardware with the Nouveau driver due to that open-source stack being unbearably slow with many GeForce GPUs due to the driver still lacking re-clocking support. While the Intel and Radeon Linux graphics drivers are getting faster, Nouveau is still limited to running at the graphics card's core/memory/shader clock speeds at boot that were set by the video BIOS rather than being allowed to run at their maximum-rated frequencies... We're waiting for some future Linux kernel release to finally having proper dynamic power management / re-clocking support, but it may still be a while as it's a big work item.

The Unity 7 desktop on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS x86_64 was used during all of this 2D graphics testing from the three major graphics vendors. The Linux 3.14 development kernel was obtained from the Ubuntu Mainline Kernel PPA and the updated user-space components were found via the xorg-edgers PPA. All benchmarking was handled via the Phoronix Test Suite for its open-source, full automation, and reproducibility benefits.

The default acceleration methods for each of the drivers was used: Intel's 3.0 pre-release drivers default to SNA (rather than UXA on older series), Nouveau uses EXA, and the Radeon driver uses EXA by default for the Radeon HD 6000 series and older while the Radeon HD 7000 series and newer is limited to only supporting GLAMOR.

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