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My thoughts on graphics drivers

In the last days there was a bit of discussion about the closed-source nVidia and ATI drivers, mainly because of xorg 7.1 and the ABI breakage.
I think it might be interesting to write something up about how I feel about this.

I do feel I have to use as much free software as I can. I trust free software, I love free software. But, I do have some needs that I have to trade with my freedom to be able to continue my work on other aspects of free software.

In my main box, which is what I work on the 90% of the time, I have a nVidia card that runs the nvidia binary driver. I work on multimedia programs, so I really need xv overlays working, thing that is not available on nv driver.

I work on two monitors since a few months now, and that increased my productivity, as I can watch a movie and still have enough screen real estate to work on something else. I need a working xinerama for that, this card provides me a working TwinView with DVI and VGA output.

Now, I’m not a gamer, so I care nothing about 3D performances, the most of 3D I used on this box is with Stellarium, that and Google Earth the other day just to see how it was. I used to play Unreal Tournament back in the days, but I’m done with that since long time.

Chutzpah suggested me an ATI 7000 card, AGP with dual output (DVI and VGA), that should use a driver good enough to provide me the two things I’m looking for, and it’s also quite cheap (about €32), that is a good thing especially since I don’t find it a priority myself to get out of the nvidia driver binding.

Now, if somebody has that card, and can tell me whether xinerama works, and if the xv overlays are fine performance-wise, I’d be really grateful. A simple test for the xv overlays is to play something in xine or mplayer (I personally use Kaffeine), then open a terminal and try to cat a long long file (like Xorg.*.log). If the image on the player window stops while the cat is going on, then xv overlays aren’t working as they should.

I would really like to be able to use an opensource driver with a fine 2d graphics card, but up until that, I have to trade part of my freedom to be able to work on other stuff, especially since I’m not paid to do this at all, and I’m still on contract jobs, so even if I have some money saved, I try to avoid spending it on things that are not in my priority list, and I’m not keen on spending them on this unless I can be sure that xv and xinerama works properly as I need them to.

Comments 3
  1. I can’t answer all your questions, unfortunately, but I’ll answer what I can…First Admission:This is NOT ATI branded. This is apparently an ATI card (I really didn’t even know until I installed linux and groked lspci), but there’s no logos for ATI on the card itself.Be that as it may, this may be a technology reseller or something…But anyways;lspci -vv says:01:00.0 VGA compatible controller: ATI Technologies Inc Radeon RV100 QY [Radeon 7000/VE] (prog-if 00 [VGA]) Subsystem: C.P. Technology Co. Ltd RV100 QY [Radeon 7000 Evil Master Multi-Display] Control: I/O+ Mem+ BusMaster+ SpecCycle- MemWINV- VGASnoop- ParErr- Stepping+ SERR+ FastB2B- Status: Cap+ 66MHz+ UDF- FastB2B+ ParErr- DEVSEL=medium >TAbort- <tabort- <mabort-=””>SERR- <perr- latency:=”” 64=”” (2000ns=”” min),=”” cache=”” line=”” size=”” 08=”” region=”” 0:=”” memory=”” at=”” e8000000=”” (32-bit,=”” prefetchable)=”” [size=”128M]” region=”” 1:=”” i=”” o=”” ports=”” at=”” c800=”” [size=”256]” region=”” 2:=”” memory=”” at=”” ff8f0000=”” (32-bit,=”” non-prefetchable)=”” [size=”64K]” expansion=”” rom=”” at=”” ff8c0000=”” [disabled]=”” [size=”128K]” capabilities:=”” [58]=”” agp=”” version=”” 2.0=”” status:=”” rq=”48″ iso-=”” arqsz=”0″ cal=”0″ sba+=”” itacoh-=”” gart64-=”” htrans-=”” 64bit-=”” fw-=”” agp3-=”” rate=”x1,x2,x4″ command:=”” rq=”1″ arqsz=”0″ cal=”0″ sba+=”” agp-=”” gart64-=”” 64bit-=”” fw-=”” rate=”&lt;none”> Capabilities: [50] Power Management version 2 Flags: PMEClk- DSI- D1+ D2+ AuxCurrent=0mA PME(D0-,D1-,D2-,D3hot-,D3cold-) Status: D0 PME-Enable- DSel=0 DScale=0 PME-2) The Kororaa XGL demo crashes on me whenever I start up the video player. I’m taking this to mean that video in general will not work.3) Maybe I shouldn’t even bother, because this card has VGA, S-Video, but no DVI, so it’s obviously not the same card.4) Also, I don’t even use the binary drivers…So, I don’t know if I’m any help at all… but if you’d like more information, or if you’d like me to test anything for you, or if I actually can be of some help somehow, google me. You’ll find a way to get in touch with me :).(Or I could just tell you, use my nick @ {,,} for Jabber. The latter two also being live e-mail addresses. Jabber prefered, however.)

  2. …I sure as hell hope you can make heads or tales of the above comment.Freaking… gah.(I guess I should have previewed… oh well!)

  3. Actually, just about any of the R200-based ATI cards would do the job for what you’re after.I personally use a Radeon 9200SE 128MB, and for the most part, I’m very happy with the performance I gain from it. I don’t use dual monitors, dispite the card being capable of it (I have one 19″ CRT monitor), but I can vouch for xv and OpenGL working well.Newer games are a problem, in that the frame-rate is poor, but I’m not a gamer either — games like Cube work well, as does Matlab, which I use a lot in my Electrical Engineering work.This is using the GPL’ed driver that’s distributed with the kernel, in concert with the driver distributed with cards can be easily picked up second hand.

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