NA Jun 27 @ 7:30pm
AMD Radeon Open-Source Drivers Pretty Impressive
I recently had the chance to compare the AMD FGLRX proprietary graphics drivers with the AMD Radeon open-source graphics drivers. I was pretty surprised at the results. I know websites like Phoronix.com do benchmarks on these things, but this is a real-life Linux gamer's experience with both, playing my games. I did my comparisons with a last-gen graphics card: the AMD Radeon HD 6790, a card from 2011. I hear the FGLRX drivers are better designed for newer cards, but that is not everyone's reality.

With FGLRX, at least four Source games I tried were downright unplayable, due to extremely low frame rates. They were Team Fortress 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Half-Life 2: Deathmatch and Counter-Strike: Source. I didn't bother to try any of the others, like the Half-Life 2 or Portal games, as the FGLRX results seemed very unpromising. I submitted all of this feedback on AMD's Steam Linux forum (http://devgurus.amd.com/community/steam-linux), but it seems doubtful the forum is maintained or monitored by AMD any longer.

The open-source drivers, on the other hand, left me pleasantly surprised. I was expecting non-gaming caliber performance -- suited best for web browsing and watching online videos at most. But they could handle 3D games pretty decently, such as Team Fortress 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Half-Life 2: Deathmatch and Counter-Strike: Source.

While not in the 100 to 200 frames per second range like some games, these games dwelt very stably in the 50 to 60 frames per second range. They rarely, if ever, slowed down due to effects like fire or explosions. If I had to describe the experience with one word, I'd choose "steady."

I'm sure they couldn't handle next-gen games, such as Battlefield 4 or the latest Crysis game, if they became available on Linux. But popular last-gen 3D games that can get intensive? Sure.

The only problem I found with the open-source drivers was that once the GPU fan started ramping up in speed, it wouldn't stop, even long after I had quit the game. It just kept on blasting hot air noisily and incessantly for hours. However, I'm on Ubuntu 12.04, and I hear this problem has been addressed in Ubuntu 14.04, which employs a Linux kernel (3.13, I believe) that makes use of default Dynamic Power Management for AMD graphics cards. I may switch to Ubuntu 14.04 in late July, when it is made directly available through Software Updater, for this reason.

It's exciting to see open-source graphics drivers excel so surprisingly well. They're not perfect, and they have room to improve, but they are better than you'd think. I hope they will continue to improve, and offer greater performance, frames per second and higher settings, for Linux gamers with AMD graphic cards, especially older ones.

Here is the raw data from my tests.

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AMD Radeon Open Source Driver:

Team Fortress 2: 50 - 60 fps, avg. 55 fps
Very satisfied

Killing Floor: 10 - 35 fps, avg. 21 fps
Satisfied (much more steady with fire particles than FGLRX)

Half-Life 2: Deathmatch: 50 - 60 fps, avg. 55 fps
Very satisfied

Dota 2: 15 - 30 fps, avg. 22 fps
Satisfied (a bit worse than with FGLRX, but still playable)

Counter-Strike: Source: 50 - 60 fps, avg. 55 fps
Very satisfied

Left 4 Dead 2: 40 - 60 fps, avg. 55 fps
Very satisfied

Serious Sam 3: BFE: 5 - 15 fps, avg. 7 fps
Disappointed

Xonotic 0.7.0: 27 - 42 fps, avg. 33 fps
Disappointed

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AMD FGLRX Proprietary Driver (Version 13.10 Experimental Beta):

Team Fortress 2: Unplayable (fps too low)
Very dissatisfied

Killing Floor: 10 - 35 fps, avg. 21 fps
Satisfied enough (frame rate drops severely when fire particles are introduced)

Half-Life 2: Deathmatch: Unplayable (fps too low)
Very dissatisfied

Dota 2: 25 - 50 fps, avg. 35
Satisfied

Counter-Strike: Source: Half the time unplayable (fps too low), other half 200 - 220 fps, avg. 210 fps
Dissatisfied

Left 4 Dead 2: 10 - 30 fps, avg. 20 fps
Dissatisfied

Serious Sam 3: BFE: 15 - 30 fps, avg. 20
Satisfied

Xonotic 0.7.0: 45 - 60 fps, avg. 55 fps
Satisfied

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LOLCAT Jun 28 @ 9:30am 
The unfortunate thing is fglrx working so randomly. For me, using a 6850, fglrx has double (or even more) the performance compared to the open source driver. So if I have 50-60 fps in TF2 with radeon, I have above 100 with fglrx.

So unfortunately the open source driver is not yet so impressive (not even mentioning the lack of OGL 4.x support), only "okay", you just have no chance to see what fglrx is capable of, when it actually works... (Also that 13.10 you're using is almost a year old. Try something newer.)
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