Is Linux finally getting decent 3D graphics support?
For all but the most dedicated Linux geeks, graphics- intensive gaming remains a painfully elusive fanatasy. The few games that can run on Linux (using a Windows API emulator) typically demand that you throttle down the grahics to embarrassingly low settings, even if you've got a pixel-shredding new GPU in your rig. Why? It's the drivers.
Of the two leading GPU vendors, ATI has takne the worst beating from Linux users-and for good reason. For years, the company has basically ignored Linux, with sporadic development leaving its propriatary driver stagnant and underpowered and no open-=source driver for the community to improve upon. "All of the things people take for granted in the consumer Linux world? We weren't doing any of that," says ATI principal technical staffer John Bridgman. Meanwhile, Nvidia has at least managed to put out decent closed source, proprietary drivers for LInux, making it the firfst choice for 3d graphics in the open-soruce world.
Now ATI is figing back with a plan to overclock its reputation with Linux users.
Ati's new Linux initiative is twofold First, the company is bringing its Linux Radeion driver development cycle in sync with its Windows development cycle, making it easier for the company to port the latest code to Linux. Sefond, ATI is releasing an open-source version of its drivers-stripped of DRM-related IP- to the public, allowing open-source Linux distributions such as Ubuntu and OpenSUSE to update drivers as part of their own development cycles.
"The open-source library will reduce the turnaround time for the support of newer GPUs. This bodes well for the longterm growth of its surrounding community," says Alex Fletcher, principal analyst at Entiva Group. But, says Fletcher, "there is a fair amount of skepticism about ATI's plans based on a lackluster record of Linux support."
At the heart of ATI's new interest in Linux is a little bit prodding from AMD, which acquired the company in 2006. The decision to release open-soruce graphcs drivers is a reflection of AMD's own policy of supporting the open-srouce community.
Analyst Alex Fletcher credits the demand for 3D performance improvements to Linux's gathering momentum among desktop users but says the issue extends beyond gaming. "There are far more potential beneficiaries for 3D performance acceleration on Linux than just games," he says. But it does seem that gaming graphics are a key componnent of ATI's decision. John Bridgman of ATI explains, "We don't know exactly where gaming on ILnux is going to go. But if it doesnt happen, we'd rather it not be our fault."
The open source ATI Radeon HD driver is available now at http://tinyurl.com/2ccdk3