the lamentable state of ati-drivers

November 17th, 2006

It's a well known fact that for modern ATI video cards, that is for cards with chips R300 and later, the open source driver that comes with Xorg does not support them. The only driver that does, is ATI's proprietary closed source driver. The driver has new releases about once a month and supports all of the modern ATI cards. However, it does not hold the same quality as most linux drivers.

In the first place, support for new cards lags way behind hardware releases. I have a Radeon Mobility X1300 card, which was released in October 2005. According to ATI's site, the first version of their driver which supported this card was 8.24.8, released in April 2006. How would you feel if you bought a new car, but when it was delivered, it had no seats, no steering wheel, and no pedals? Then the company made you wait 7 months until you could actually drive the car?

Secondly, the driver just isn't very good. The Xorg open source driver for radeon cards, which I used for years in the past, may or may not perform as well as ATI's driver when it comes to 3D acceleration, but it does support the features I use perfectly well. ATI's driver, however, has certain deficiencies. For instance, X-video support for my card was only introduced in version 8.30.3 last month. Even so, it's buggy. When playing movies in mplayer with X-video, I see symptoms that never surfaced when using Xorg's driver with an older card, like the video will start to lag and framedrop, cpu usage will spike, old frames in the movie will reappear less than a second after they have been shown, zooming the video to full screen and then back to windowed will freeze parts of the last frame in full screen mode onto the desktop wallpaper etc. I doubt this is supposed to happen, and over a year has passed since this video card was first sold. Another thing is 3D performance. I was concerned with how low my framerate was in glxgears, for what is supposed to be a fairly modern video card. I was getting about 100fps. After installing version 8.31.5 released a few days ago, this has now jumped to 850fps, so I'm guessing whatever the problem was, it's now fixed.

But in any case, it _should_ be possible to buy a video card and use it from day one. The fact that you can buy an older card, which by now is well supported by Xorg, is positive, but new computers are sold with new cards, so if you want a laptop, you're stuck. I wonder just how long it will be until the X1300 card is fully supported and the driver is as good as bug free..

:: random entries in this category ::

1 Responses to "the lamentable state of ati-drivers"

  1. Yeah. Linux drivers was really the main reason that I bought NVIDIA rather than ATI. I think I'm glad I did.