Radeon Gallium3D: A Half-Decade Behind Catalyst?
What happens when you pull out some vintage computer hardware and run the latest Linux software as well as go back and run some of the oldest software available? Well, in the case of systems with antiquated R300-era ATI Radeon graphics, you are left with a downward slope in performance. Not only is the latest open-source Radeon graphics driver not always performing as well as an ancient Catalyst driver, but also the power consumption of the latest Linux code remains on an incline.
With Mesa 8.0 coming about, and already having benchmarked the latest graphics hardware under this open-source Linux stack (Radeon, Nouveau, and Intel), I was contemplating what to do next. With the Mesa 8.0 Radeon Gallium3D performance tests, an ATI Radeon X1800XL was benchmarked, which is an R500 class GPU but software-wise it runs on the R300 Gallium3D driver. That's the only option available since AMD discontinued support for ATI R300 through R500 ASICs from their proprietary Catalyst driver in early 2009. The next step I decided in the Mesa 8.0 testing escapade was to pull up some even older Radeon hardware.
The oldest ATI graphics hardware I have available that is still functioning is an RV370 GPU, which is found in the form of a Mobility Radeon X300 on an old IBM ThinkPad. The RV370 / M22 was released to notebook vendors in 2005. The seven-year-old mobile Radeon PCI-E GPU is built on a 110nm fabrication process, offers 128MB of 64-bit DDR memory running at 250MHz, and the RV370 core is clocked at 350MHz. The Mobility Radeon X300 has a support level of OpenGL 2.0 and DirectX 9.0b. This GPU was also one of the first ATI mobility products featuring PowerPlay 5.0 for some power-savings functionality, but the power conservation abilities of that old GPU is not nearly as great as the features found on modern Radeon hardware.
Paired with the ATI Mobility Radeon X300 graphics in the IBM ThinkPad R52 notebook was an Intel Pentium M 1.87GHz single-core processor, Intel i915 + ICH6M chipset configuration, 2GB of RAM, and a 80GB Hitachi IDE HDD. This notebook had worked fine with various Linux distributions going back to early 2006 -- I think I even recall running the last Mandrake release on this pre-Lenovo ThinkPad.