Revisiting Linux GPUs: Playing the Driver Gameby Kristopher Kubicki on December 17, 2004 12:49 AM EST
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IntroductionMost Windows gamers felt the height of the driver wars between NVIDIA and ATI about 18 months ago - driver "optimizations", rushed releases and performance fluctuation. Linux remained relatively untouched during this process, getting an update once every 4 or 5 months with only the minimum enhancements. It looks, however, that things are about to change - and very soon. When NVIDIA and ATI both released their newest Linux drivers within a couple of days of each other, we started to get the feeling that there was some healthy competition brewing. However, memories of rushed-to-release drivers haunt us - and we hope that trend hasn't spilled over into Linux.
NVIDIA still reigns as the undisputed Linux champ right now. Most of the reports across the web have dubbed this a phenomenal NVIDIA driver release - which would only stake their claim stronger. In almost every instance of our previous GPU roundup, the meager GeForceFX 5700 Ultra had no problems stomping all over the ATI's Radeon X800 Pro. The lack of ATI's commitment to high performance Linux drivers has cost them dearly in the Linux segment and it is no surprise that the Linux crowd tends to brew an "NVIDIA only" mentality. However, ATI's newest drivers seem to pack quite a bit of punch in our preliminary testing, and we will finally have the opportunity to provide some ATI benchmarks on Doom3 as id reports the newest drivers work correctly.
The scope of today's analysis is to run the older driver sets and compare them to the newer ones released last month. While we don't expect miraculous gains in performance, we would like to see if some of the deficiencies that we have noted in past reviews are being corrected. We also will take a slightly revisited look at some 64-bit benchmark numbers from Unreal Tournament. Obviously, NVIDIA's newest driver release doesn't mean much if it only offers improvements on the 32-bit kernel.
Unfortunately today, we are not testing OSS drivers for these graphics cards. The OSS driver development is an excellent project, but the performance of these drivers in gaming situations is so poor - we even had difficulty getting Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory to run.