Giving ATI a second glance

Giving ATI a second glance

Summary: For those of us running Linux desktops, a graphics card decision can make or break a system in ways no commercial OS user can fathom.


For those of us running Linux desktops, a graphics card decision can make or break a system in ways no commercial OS user can fathom.

Previously in Null Pointer, I mentioned that I had moved from Nvidia to ATI and would report on my progress. It's been a little over three months since the new hardware arrived, but it has only been the past week that the ATI drivers have reached a state that I would describe as satisfactory.

A number of issues stood between ATI and X-based nirvana. Firstly, the ATI drivers were horribly out of sync with what was distributed in my distribution's repository, even the bleeding edge option. Secondly, the ATI drivers wanted an older version of the X server than I had running, it worked fine with Nvidia and there was no way I was going backwards. And finally, the hardware was too new to be properly supported by the open-source driver alternatives (sorry radeon and radeonhd).

So I lived in a place where stability and the ability to play full-screen movies without dropping frames was an optional extra. It wasn't fun. I rued the decision to return to ATI after the trauma of suffering the lack of driver support from 2003 to 2005, and continually wished I could come up with an Nvidia for Linux and ATI for Windows PCIe adapter for the motherboard.

After ATI released version 9.7, which I coupled with xorg-server 1.6.3, and it's back to how things should be.

It's not fantastic, but it is acceptable.

If experience with ATI has taught me anything, it's that the current state of affairs may be fleeting. But I can say that now there exists a place with a currently up-to-date version of the server and the ATI driver that can use Compiz Fusion without being utterly slow or having any obvious drawbacks — even on an unsupported 2.6.30 kernel.

It's still no match for Nvidia, but at least the performance is back to within an order of magnitude.

Topics: Open Source, Hardware, Linux


Chris started his journalistic adventure in 2006 as the Editor of Builder AU after originally joining CBS as a programmer. After a Canadian sojourn, he returned in 2011 as the Editor of TechRepublic Australia, and is now the Australian Editor of ZDNet.

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  • Surely...

    The joy of open source is that you can just open up the code yourself and fix it isn't it?
  • Not Open Source

    The ATI drivers are closed source, as are the Nvidia ones.

    Most of the competitive advantage in that space is based on drivers so making them open source would tend to be a bad idea. ATI hardware is actually slightly better, but the better optimization of Nvidia drivers tends to give them better performance.
  • Not all bliss bombs huh?

    ...and you wonder why Linux has not taken off for mainstream desktop computing....
  • Same here

    Video card support is the biggest thing that has stopped me fully migrating to linux to this point... It is very frustrating because generally everything else works so well.

    I live in hope that at some point increasing demand from end users will see linux driver support improve. Worth sticking with if not only for this reason
  • Well - duh

    Welcome to the software BUSINESS
  • Why choose the Radeon series?

    High end graphics boards such as the ATI FirePro and FireGL series work fine under Linux. Likewise the NVidia Quadro FX series with maybe some setting adjustments.

    At the consumer end of the market Intel is making rapid progess with its Open Source drivers. AMD (owner of ATI) will have to do the same to even stay in the game.
  • I gave up on ATI

    One of the positives of AMD purchasing ATI was the drive for better linux support for ATI cards - I recall reading somewhere that a large proportion of AMDs customers are linux based and that AMD was keen to sell these people a graphics card as well.

    I stuck with a 4850 for 3 months and several driver upgrades before giving up on it and getting an Nvidia 275 (possible bad bumps and all). Better video support and better openGL support.

    I hope AMD get ATIs act together for them, competition is a good thing, but I wont be buying ATI again for another few years.
  • Software Business?

    I think you mean the hardware business.

    Remember that AMDs processors do not appear in many consumer desktop systems - most are Intel based. AMDs hardware business may be a little different from what you think it is and in that space (servers, rendering farms and embedded devices) linux features very strongly hence the considerable recent focus on linux display drivers by AMD.
  • i just returned my ati

    After making my new computer, i wanted to try an ati card with linux. It was a low end profile but had a gb ram and seemed to be just fine for what i needed. Weak games and programming.

    Loaded the ati drivers via their site, bad idea. Loaded the proprietery drives via ubunut which was better but wasnt great. So i returned it and got the same kind of card with the nvidia chip so i hope this one is better, it comes tomorrow.

    Graphics card support is holding a lot of people back. There needs to be better support for these things.
  • ATI just does NOT work

    > High end graphics boards such as the ATI FirePro and FireGL series work fine under Linux.

    Bull. Those cards have lousy OpenGL support even under Windows and are close to useless on both Linux and OSX.

    The sad truth is that there is really very little choice. If you just want it to work and don;t care about performance, you choose Intel. If you need performance, then the only option is NVidia. as far as Linux distributions are concerned, clued users will benefit greatly from choosing Gentoo. Less experienced users should probably stick to some flavour of Ubuntu (crap distro, but large audience) or Novell/OpenSuse.
  • No problem with ATI video card here

    Hi everyone

    My laptop has an ATI Radeon Express 200M and I have *no* problem with it on Ubuntu 9.04, even running Compiz (3D desktop). Full screen DVD playback and YouTude videos - no problem. Works very well.