Radeon Open-Source Performance Over Three Years, Compared To Legacy Catalyst

Written by Michael Larabel in Display Drivers on 5 March 2014 at 04:45 AM EST. Page 6 of 6. 20 Comments.
Ubuntu 14.04 History + Catalyst - HD 4870
Ubuntu 14.04 History + Catalyst - HD 4870
Ubuntu 14.04 History + Catalyst - HD 4870

The GpuTest results were mixed for this synthetic OpenGL test.

While for newer AMD Radeon GPUs the performance is now getting close to Catalyst (within ~80% the speed of the binary driver; read yesterday's article if you have not already done so), for the Radeon HD 4870 at least representing the older GPUs there is still a very evident difference. These results found the Catalyst driver from 2011 was routinely ~30% faster than the current open-source AMD Linux GPU driver from 2014: Mesa 10.1 and Linux 3.13 as shipped currently in Ubuntu 14.04 LTS.

This testing does continue show for those who have long told companies "just release docs or code to the community!" and then believe a driver will magically happen that's made by the open-source community and on-par with the binary blobs, it's not that easy, even for a six year old graphics processor. Similar examples of this can also be found within Intel's i965 driver for their "Gen4" era hardware, etc. Besides there being still a performance imbalance for this legacy hardware, there's also other missing features from the open-source driver like CrossFire support, more advanced anti-aliasing modes, useful overclocking support, a proper GUI control panel, and other features. For newer AMD Radeon hardware on the open-source drivers, there's also the waiting game for better OpenCL support and OpenGL 4.x compliance.

The Catalyst Legacy driver is also no longer an option for new Linux users due to legacy driver not being compatible with current Linux kernel and X.Org Server releases. At least for those stuck to older hardware, the Radeon HD 4000 series performance should be "good enough" for most users otherwise it's time to think about a hardware upgrade. The open-source AMD Radeon Linux GPU driver has made much progress in the past few years in going from running at abysmal speeds to now with decent/usable performance (it's especially good for the Radeon HD 5000/6000 series hardware and newer) and there being much hope for the future with the open-source AMD developers getting caught up in low-level Radeon driver work and recently they have been more quickly enabling support for new GPUs.

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Michael Larabel

Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 20,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter, LinkedIn, or contacted via MichaelLarabel.com.