Giving ATI a second glance

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 x.org 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.