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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  • DarkTrooper - Tuesday, December 6, 2005 - link

    First the good part, I am glad that ATI has finally managed to get a good working installer. Now the bad part for me: since I switcht to an x850 (R481 Core) I cant use the Driver, since it seems that the specifiy PCI-ID is not in this driver, which results in an "no matching pci ID found" after running fglrxconfig (which would be nice to have in a GUI version, or at least a menue based text version). Hope they manage to add this product soon... gets kind of anoying always having to wait month over month until they manage to fix things like this. Also the missing 64bit driver is some what disapointing (even though I only own 32Bit maschines).
  • mpineiro - Thursday, May 5, 2005 - link

    While I will admit that I only skimmed through the article, I think you failed to mention that it is nearly impossible to install the ATI drivers, especially with 3d Acceleration on most distributions.
  • momenman - Friday, December 31, 2004 - link

    Though the statements here regarding NVIDIA is generically true - I am personally unhappy with the "mouse moves but screen frozen" bug - due to which I can't use the 3D acceleration on FX-5700 ( though the problem is not there with GeForce2 MX cards, for example. ) . Its been almost a year and half since this bug surfaced on the nvidia linux board but the problem persists - thanks to the closed nature of the nvidia drivers.

    Let's just wait and see .....

  • svartalf - Sunday, December 19, 2004 - link

    In regards to the DRI project drivers "not being there", I will offer that you've been trying the official released drivers that are typically included with the distributions. (By the way, you can _almost_ play UT 2k4 with the drivers- I know, I recently tried it on a Centrino based laptop and an r200 based GPU.) Recent improvements include 3D accel across Xinerama screens and TCL support- these are betas in the version control system and should be showing shortly in the distributions as they're wrung out.
  • SLIM - Saturday, December 18, 2004 - link

    You can add one more dissenting opinion to the growing list in regard to the comment about 64/64 being a meager boost compared to 32/32 UT2004. A 15% boost in performance is better than a processor upgrade, some vid card upgrades and certainly better than anything expensive ram can do compared to value ram (2-2-2 vs 3-3-3 @400). I just hope 64bit windows will be able to show the same level of performance gains.
  • Saist - Friday, December 17, 2004 - link

    I'm just going to say this to the author:

    try to install ATi drivers into Debian.

    if you get that to succeed. Please do an article on how you did it.
  • Rand - Friday, December 17, 2004 - link

    I'm inclined to agree with the opinions of thoe others, I felt the relative gains from going to 64bitwas quite appreciable.
    At this point I'm not sure I would even have expected the ~10% gain seen, so it's quite decent from my perspctive.

    ATI's performance under Linux still remains wholly unimpressive at best. Seeing the less then impressive 5700U beating the X800 Pro in a number of cases only serves to underline how poorly ATI's drivers perform.

    It doesn't impact me personally as I rarely use Linux and not at all for gaming, but for those that do nVidia is still clearly the manufacturer of choice.
  • mlittl3 - Friday, December 17, 2004 - link

    Oh and one other thing.

    Intel said that going from 32 to 64 bits will just allow one to add (address) more than 4 GBs of RAM to a system and that's all.

    AMD always said that the added registers would allow for improvements no matter how much RAM you have.

    I guess AMD was right.

    PS. How much improvement is necessary to go from meager to the next level? The way I see if from the article it's something like this.

    0-10% Abysmal
    10-20% Meager
    20-30% Poor
    30-40% Average
    40-50% Good
    50%> Excellent

    I don't think we will ever see a greater than 30% increase going from 32 to 64 bit in order to get a positive rating, but hey, some people are harder to please than others.
  • mlittl3 - Friday, December 17, 2004 - link

    I have to agree also with #5,8,10. I must not know what the definition of "meager" is. Any improvement over 10% is totally significant by any measurement.

    Just looking back at an old Anandtech article comparing Unreal 32 to 64 bit performance in SuSe 9.1 shows 32bit performance at 26 fps and 64bit at 25 fps. Now a 1fps difference is meager and shows 32bit winning over 64bit.

    I know this was a very different system but the absolute frame rate is not what's important. Its the difference between 64bit vs. 32bit. Driver development has come a long way and now we are seeing a 13 to 15% increase in fps going from 32 to 64bit.

    And you can't say that its just the drivers because the same drivers are being used in 32 and 64 bit modes in this new comparison and we are still seeing a "huge" (not meager) gain in performance going from 32 to 64bit.

    Framing articles in reference to old data is a good way to measure improvements. I think that is how we know if an older video card is outperformed by a newer one, a new operating system works better than an older, etc.
  • deathwalker - Friday, December 17, 2004 - link


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