Quad-Monitor AMD/NVIDIA Linux Gaming: What You Need To Know
Written by Michael Larabel in Monitors on 5 December 2013. Page 4 of 8. 46 Comments

The open-source Radeon driver support for the R9 290 "Hawaii" GPUs is still not yet into shape: the Hawaii support is only found in the Linux 3.13 kernel and Git for xf86-video-ati and Mesa (plus LLVM changes too). Hardware acceleration is not even enabled by default for the R9 290 series on the open-source driver until the RadeonSI Gallium3D support is further stabilized. However, for the heck of it I decided to try booting up the four displays on the open-source stack (Linux 3.12 kernel + Mesa 10.1-devel R600g) with a Radeon HD 6950 2GB GPU. This graphics card with 2GB of video memory failed to drive four displays with Catalyst, but under the open-source driver it worked! All four displays immediately mode-set!

While the open-source Radeon driver had no problems driving the four displays on supported GPUs, the performance is obviously slow with the Radeon performance generally being noticeably slower than Catalyst for many workloads.

Configuring the displays when using the open-source driver can be done by any of the RandR-based utilities like KScreen or the GNOME Control Panel utility. The open-source RandR programs get the job done, but they tend to not be as intuitive or feature-rich as the NVIDIA Settings program. Other display settings need to be set from the xrandr command-line or xorg.conf.

Therefore, when it comes to the quad-monitor Linux setup experience, it's easy to call the binary NVIDIA driver the winner. The NVIDIA binary driver successfully handled all Kepler graphics cards tested (including those with 2GB of vRAM) with the four 1920 x 1080 displays and the nvidia-settings program makes it incredibly easy to configure the displays. You can use any of the RandR programs too that integrate with your desktop. Meanwhile for the Catalyst driver, the quad-monitor setup worked fine for the Radeon R9 290 and the AMDCCCLE tends to be good enough for most users with the functionality it presents. The Catalyst issue though was the lack of quad-monitor support for graphics cards with 2GB of video RAM where it worked fine from the open-source driver. The Catalyst Linux driver also had issues running across four displays for the newer Unigine demos. With the open-source GPU drivers, the Nouveau driver testing failed outright while the open-source Radeon driver did work for all tested GPUs where there is suitable open-source support (non-290 series) except for slow performance.

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