If you’re a gamer (or video editor), there are only two manufacturers in the graphics cards business that matter – there’s ATI and nVidia.  If you’re a Linux user in the same, how these companies support their hardware is probably a big factor in your decision to buy one over the other.

For proprietary drivers, nVidia has long been winning that battle.  Their drivers aren’t perfect, but thanks to RPMFusion, they’re easy, and relatively stable.  The open source driver support for nVidia frankly sucks.  With Fedora 11, we now have nouveau, which offers 2d and kernel mode setting, but with no 3d, it means no shiny desktop effects and certainly no good card performance, which is probably why you bought the card to begin with.

ATI is a different story.  Their proprietary drivers have sucked for a long time.  While the performance may be suitable after getting them installed, they come with nasty side effects like not being able to come back from resume and screen freezes.  And even though ATI has all the information to write good drivers for modern systems, they sometimes lag forever in getting working drivers out for recent kernels.  The big difference though is that the open source drivers for ATI are great.  Most ATI cards benefit from excellent out of box support to where ATI’s closed source driver is no longer necessary.

The reason for ATI’s open source drivers being good is that ATI released the specs to their newer cards.  This gave the open source community the opportunity to develop their own drivers for the newer cards.  The results are awesome.

The Radeon HD 3xxx and 4xxx support finally matures in linux kernel 2.6.32.  These cards get kernel mode support and full 3d support out of box.  Beyond that, Phoronix has now published benchmarks of the upcoming catalyst 9.10 driver against the free open, source drivers with amazing results.

Not only will the linux community get great out of box support and open source stability, but will also get drivers that rival or overwhelmingly scold the closed source ATI released drivers!  If ATI can move the full way into making their drivers open source, it will not only be a performance and stability benefit, but a great marketing tool to a growing demographic of Linux users.

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