ATI Radeon X1800 Linux Preview
While ATI Technologies had launched the Radeon X1000 series in October of 2005, which was the first time in a quite a while (since the Radeon 9700) that they had implemented large architectural changes, the support under Linux simply wasn't there. In fact, even after the X1900 launch earlier this year the Linux support remained missing in action. Months later this ATI Linux support has yet to be found, that is until this afternoon with the public launch of the 8.24.8 display drivers. If you will recall back in January of this year, Matthew Tippett allowed us to share with our readers that the X1000 support should come in just a few releases. In the article we also speculated a spring 2006 release. Well, this ATI fglrx v8.24.8 driver release is just in time for being the first release this spring. On top of the initial Radeon X1000 support, there are a handful of improvements, new TexturedVideo rendering technique, fixes for a couple bugs (such as the server restart issue), and a few R200 fixes. We will have separate articles going up today, and in the coming days, that discuss and tests these various changes.
It of course would not be fair if we did not mention NVIDIA in this whole hardware-to-Linux-support time matter. While NVIDIA had capitalized on their GeForce 7800GTX (G70) same-day Linux support back in June of 2005, the initial release had contained clocking issues that severely limited the performance abilities of the card, and that issue was not even fixed until the succeeding driver release a few months later. With NVIDIA's CeBIT hardware launch this year for the GeForce 7600 and 7900 parts, Linux support wasn't even provided same day nor even the same week -- even when architectural wise there weren't too many vast changes. In fact, the Linux support did not come out until last week -- almost a month later -- and it signified their first official driver release in almost four months. With this belated support, it was not as if NVIDIA had not finished the appropriate port in time as at launch date Phoronix had access to the 1.0-8751 drivers, which were considered internal Beta candidates at that time. Fortunately we had the privilege from NVIDIA to release the performance numbers and other related information rather than having to wait for the public driver release.
There has also been the whole Linux SLI (Scalable Link Interface) debacle that took almost 13 months to be released under Linux, and to this point the quality of SLI on alternative operating systems is still incredibly poor. As Phoronix had exposed last month, NVIDIA's SLI intentions with bringing fourth this multi-GPU technology to Linux may have been as a result of a deal between this green company and Hewlett-Packard. One of the benefits, however, for this belated X1000 support is that any issues that had originally occurred with the initial Windows display drivers will hopefully not hamper GNU/Linux users. Also on the bright side the Radeon X1000 prices have dropped quite a bit since they began shipping to retailers. Today in our first ATI Radeon X1800 preview, and truly the first Linux X1000 article for that matter, we will be having a look at the X1800XL 256MB part as well as the X1300PRO, which we previewed a few months back. These numbers will also be compared against various NVIDIA GeForce solutions.
For those that have yet to associate themselves with ATI's Radeon X1000 series some of the key features include Shader Model 3.0, TSMC 90nm manufacturing, Ring Bus memory controller, dynamic branching improvements, and adaptive antialiasing. Strides have also been made all around with the vertex and pixel processing, caching system, Hyper Z compression, and HDR (High Dynamic Range Lighting). The video memory controller has been redesigned to make it much more efficient to allow for improvements in the memory frequency scaling and raising the limits of the memory bandwidth -- it is also rumored that the controller will be compatible with upcoming GDDR4 modules. Many of ATI's marketing efforts have also been focused on Avivo -- for which they claim video and display perfection. ATI's Avivo is the rough equivalent to NVIDIA's PureVideo. Some of the ATI Avivo features include H.264 HD video playback and the Avivo video converter.
There has also been some discussion about ATI striking up physics rendering capabilities with their GPUs or even general processing abilities with the X1000 series. When these plans do end up being carried out, we are unaware at this time if such a feature will be implemented into the Linux drivers. Seeing as the processing abilities could potentially assist workstations, it does increase the probability of such an event occurring. ATI's X1000 series also support CrossFire multi-GPU technology. For those that are not aware, the Linux drivers are not presently supportive of CrossFire, nor do we personally anticipate them to be for at least some time so at this point we will remain mute on the matter.