AMD Catalyst 2013 Linux Graphics Driver Year-In-Review
After a few days ago delivering the 2013 NVIDIA Linux Year-In-Review, an annual article I've been writing for both AMD and NVIDIA since 2005 to cover the Linux driver and support improvements made each passing year, it's now time to take a look at the Catalyst Linux driver releases from 2013. While NVIDIA added many new features to their Linux driver, enhanced many existing features, and continued delivering first-rate Linux GPU support at launch-time, it's not been the same for AMD's Linux team.
With AMD no longer abiding by a monthly release process for Catalyst Linux/Windows driver updates, as they had been doing for many years, the Linux updates have tended to be seldom at times. In fact, if going to AMD's web-site to look at their AMD Catalyst Display Driver releases for Linux, their only official releases of 2013 listed on AMD.com were Catalyst 13.1 and Catalyst 13.4. After that, they only list the most recent beta: Catalyst 13.11 Linux Beta v9.4 (at the time of writing this article in mid-December due to my ongoing travels). They've released other beta Linux driver releases throughout the year and a few more official releases (but for whatever reason disappearing from the AMD.com web-site), but not as many as the Windows Catalyst beta releases that are much more frequent.
In kicking off 2013, AMD's Linux crew did their Catalyst 13.1 Linux release. Catalyst 13.1 brought official support for X.Org Server 1.13, which was released in September of 2012 and had been supported for months already by the NVIDIA Linux driver. The Catalyst 13.1 driver update also brought bug fixes, which were scattered throughout and ranged in importance. The update did also report to improve Valve's Source Engine games performance on Linux, but the rate of success reported by Radeon Linux users varied as indicated by the comments. That month AMD also put out an updated Catalyst Legacy Linux Driver for older Radeon GPUs.
After that, there was a Catalyst 13.2 Beta but no change-log was published by AMD. It's been common for the AMD Linux driver releases to go without any public change-log. A few weeks later was another Catalyst 13.2 Linux Beta and it too had no official change-log but ended up fixing some Steam issues and other bugs. Common around this time were many complaints about the Catalyst 13.1/13.2 drivers lagging months behind in their support for the latest upstream Linux kernel.
At the end of February was another Catalyst 13.2 Beta update that brought a few more fixes. In March was a Catalyst 13.3 Beta with Linux 3.8 kernel and Ubuntu 13.04 support, but no other real changes. A week later was a new Linux driver beta with Source Engine game fixes and other fixes for games on Valve's Steam client. After that, in April there were still Catalyst 13.3 Beta 3 updates with more bug fixing.
Finally, at the end of April, there was the Catalyst 13.4 for Linux release. This was AMD's first official Linux Catalyst update since Catalyst 13.1 back in January... Three months prior. Incorporated here were the bug fixes and other changes from the numerous betas.
One month after Catalyst 13.4 for Linux, Catalyst 13.6 appeared. Catalyst 13.6 brought official support for Ubuntu 13.04, support for X.Org Server 1.14, and support for the GLX_EXT_buffer_age extension. The GLX_EXT_buffer_age extension had been sought after by window manager developers and had been supported by NVIDIA's binary driver going back to the end of 2012. This extension is about exposing information to applications about the driver's use of front and back-buffers for a given surface so that the application can potentially re-use old frames for minimizing re-draws. Also present in Catalyst 13.6 for Linux were bug fixes for Team Fortress 2, WebGL, and other Linux games.