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Mac Graphics Drivers Are Still Troubled

Free Software

Published on 25 March 2011 08:28 AM EDT
Written by Michael Larabel in Free Software
1 Comment

While the Mesa / Gallium3D graphics drivers on Linux leave a lot to be desired, in terms of features, supporting the latest OpenGL specifications, and performance compared to the multi-platform proprietary Linux and Windows drivers from NVIDIA and AMD, the Mac drivers aren't too much better.

Apple largely develops their own GPU drivers for Mac OS X in-house and last year they overhauled their OS X OpenGL stack for NVIDIA and AMD graphics processors. This was done as Valve Software was porting their Source Engine to Mac OS X and their current drivers on Mac OS X 10.6 at the time simply didn't cut it. The Snow Leopard Graphics Update improved the OpenGL performance, fixed various corruption issues, improved the GL Shading Language support, and fixed up or added support for various other OpenGL extensions. Like the Mesa / Gallium3D drivers, Mac OS X too is largely living in a OpenGL 2.1 world at this time.

While Apple made these strides with their graphics stack last year -- and they have been doing original improvements from the beginning (e.g. using the Low-Level Virtual Machine for shader optimization and simplifying shaders on Intel IGPs) -- they still aren't great.

Earlier this month I was the first to share that Unigine Corp was looking at supporting their engine under Mac OS X and to also release a Mac client for their OilRush game currently in development. They later confirmed those plans, but here's some more exclusive details in my talking with Unigine Corp this morning.

Denis posted a screenshot of OilRush on Mac OS X this morning to the game's forums, but the message simply said "Macbook 13", NVIDIA 320M."

Mac Graphics Drivers Are Still Troubled


Yes, OilRush is running on Mac OS X. It just took a couple weeks to achieve this, however, it's not too surprising. The Unigine Engine is already quite portable with it currently supporting Microsoft Windows, Linux, and a mobile version supporting Android. Unigine has always treated Linux as a first-class operating system (hence why I'm always willing to talk about their work on Phoronix) and from there porting the engine to Mac OS X isn't much of a stretch.

Mac OS X already has Valve's Source games and many other titles ported by various game studios and Ryan "Icculus" Gordon also being a champion doing game ports there too. However, with the Unigine Engine, it's likely the most stressful on Mac's graphics driver stack. I'm told that while the Unigine Engine / OilRush are running under Apple's operating system, it's not without some driver bugs right now. That's using Mac OS X 10.6.6 and there's some rendering glitches and other weird things, but it's to the point that "video drivers for Mac sucks." At least though they're better than Mesa / Gallium3D, where OilRush has no chance of running for the foreseeable future.

Earlier this month I also said:
Anyone want to bet that they will also be porting this beautiful engine over to Apple's iOS devices for the A5-powered iPad 2 and iPhone 5? They already have it for Android, but it requires NVIDIA's TEGRA2 platform for the demanding compute and graphics requirements.

It turns out this is being explored too. During the same conversation, an Apple iOS port of the Unigine Engine has already commenced. Already though the developers have come to find that the Unigine Engine is too demanding for the Apple iPad, but they're still seeing how viable it is to run Unigine Engine on the iPad 2.

With that said, a mobile version of the OilRush game is on the agenda. Though due to the compressed form factor, the mobile build will contain less units and other missions from the desktop Windows / Linux / Mac OS X version. This version will also be released after the PC version is shipping.

Look for more Apple Unigine news next month. Meanwhile, OilRush pre-orders are now available for Linux and Windows. By pre-ordering the game for less than $20 USD before its June release, you also get access to beta versions of the game. As I mentioned earlier this week, OilRush is also coming to Steam. I'm also giving away free copies of Unigine OilRush.

About The Author
Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the web-site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience and being the largest web-site devoted to Linux hardware reviews, particularly for products relevant to Linux gamers and enthusiasts but also commonly reviewing servers/workstations and embedded Linux devices. Michael has written more than 10,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics hardware drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated testing software. He can be followed via and or contacted via .
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