Most 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.

The Test


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  • KristopherKubicki - Friday, December 17, 2004 - link

    Pannenkoek: Unfortunately I have large doubts about ATI or NVIDIA ever opening up their drivers. Both companies have more software engineers than hardware engineers. They spend a *lot* of time and money reinventing the wheel between the two of them - and I think they want to keep it that way.

  • KristopherKubicki - Friday, December 17, 2004 - link

    MooseMuffin: It's SUSE 9.1 - i think i might have a typo in there somewhere. We kept it at 9.1 instead of 9.2 just for that reason (the kernel is very updated though).

    Hope that helps,

  • Pannenkoek - Friday, December 17, 2004 - link

    I back up #5: 10-15% gain from 32bit to 64bit is not "meager"...

    Before you ditch the open source 3D drivers for the newer videocards (if any exist...), please keep in mind they have to reverse engineer the cards, as NVIDIA and ATI don't co-operate and no hardware spec's are available. As far as I know only serious 2D OSS drivers are in development.

    Also, we should not applause ATI's gains in performance, as they were abominable to start with. However, we should applause their changing attitude towards open source platforms. Let us hope it will continue to improve!

    And let us hope NVIDIA and ATI will open their hardware in the future, so open source drivers can be made for them. No buggy proprietary drivers tainting the kernel anymore. But I fear we may wait a long time for that to happen. ATI is hugging Direct3D and MS too closely to encourage development of good OSS drivers as a way to counter NVIDIA's lead in OpenGL. And NVIDIA won't open up as long as that is the case.

    Nevertheless, hereby I beg NVIDIA and ATI to design their future generation cards in such a way that opening the spec will not expose their holy IP.
  • Myrandex - Friday, December 17, 2004 - link

    And that should only increase with time with optimized 64bit code, drivers, improved operating system components, etc. Reply
  • icarus4586 - Friday, December 17, 2004 - link

    ...performance gains between 32-bit and 64-bit distributions on Unreal Tournament 2004 were meager

    I agree with Icehawk, and beg to differ with the author. >10% performance gains are not "meager" by any stretch. Imagine NVidia/ATI releases a new Windows driver that increases performance 10%. I'm pretty sure nobody would say that was a "meager" improvement.
  • R3MF - Friday, December 17, 2004 - link

    thank god i have an nForce2 and Ti4200, SUSE 9.1 runs like a dream.

    i have just bought an nForce3Ultra and 6800GT for the parents.

    i will upgrade to an nForce4 and 6800GT early next year.

    notice a trend? you would have to be daft using ATI silicon in a machine you intend to install Linux onto.
  • Icehawk - Friday, December 17, 2004 - link

    I should say total delta from 32:32-bit to 64:64-bit . Reply
  • Icehawk - Friday, December 17, 2004 - link

    I don't know why they say the bump in 64-bit UT performance is minor - if you look at the total delta from 1.0-611 32-bit -> 1.0-6629 64-bit it is a ~13% increase on the 6800 and ~15% on the 5700U which is pretty darn good IMO. Reply
  • MooseMuffin - Friday, December 17, 2004 - link

    How did you guys get these drivers installed on Suse 9.2? As far as I can tell suse 9.2 uses xorg and ati only supplies xfree drivers. Reply
  • mickyb - Friday, December 17, 2004 - link

    ATI's performance is shameful on linux. They have some serious work to do. Reply

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