We began talking about Intel graphics regressions in Ubuntu 9.04 back in January but for the most part that went under the radar at Canonical up until Ubuntu 9.04 was nearing release. At that point it was then explored whether greedy migration heuristics improved performance as the UXA acceleration architecture was still too problematic to enable by default. We had found that using some of the latest kernel code had improved the performance some, but still there were major regressions within Intel's new Linux driver stack.
Due to the performance regressions and other bugs present in the Intel driver stack found in Ubuntu 9.04, it ended up killing the netbook experience with many of these Atom-powered netbooks using Intel 945 graphics (though the problem at hand impacts all Intel IGPs). Since the release of Ubuntu 9.04, new packages have started to roll in for Ubuntu 9.10 (a.k.a. The Karmic Koala), but the situation is not yet better for Intel. In fact, in some cases the performance is even worse.
To see where Ubuntu's Intel stack is at, we had upgraded a clean Ubuntu 9.04 installation to the latest Karmic packages as of 2009-05-06. We also enabled the xorg-edgers PPA to fetch the latest Intel driver (an early xf86-video-intel 2.8 snapshot). Besides this bleeding-edge Intel driver, Ubuntu 9.10 is tracking the Mesa 7.6 development code, the Linux 2.6.30 kernel, and on a side note it has integrated GCC 4.4. This testing was done on a Dell Inspiron Mini 9 netbook. We compared the Ubuntu 9.04 i386 performance to the latest packages mentioned above. The defaults with each set of packages were used, which means EXA in Ubuntu 9.04 and UXA in Ubuntu 9.10. Testing was, of course, done by the Phoronix Test Suite.
At this point, the latest Ubuntu and xorg-edgers code has actually regressed compared to what is found in Ubuntu 9.04. The Ubuntu 9.04 performance was already bad compared to Ubuntu 8.10, but these latest packages cause an additional 35% drop in GtkComboBox performance. More results are on the next two pages.