I have a dirty confession – I’ve always liked ATI stuff except for when the GeForces first came out and they were cheap as heck. Buying two of them would buy you a high end 3DFX card or ATI card and it would still outperform them. Also these were the college days when AGP was still new and having two videocards meant one less thing to kill your PC. Then again this was drexel, and we had the Kelly Hall heat wave that year, and it killed my motherboard.
ATI fought and fought hard to get back to the top, and it was only after AMD bought out the last of the DEC stuff for really awesome 64bit support and then gobbled up ATI that things got good again. Frankly it was a great move since graphics are almost all math, so having a 64bit (or even 128bit) pipe with multipath and short-lines is just great.
The came the licensing wars.
Linus (correctly) said that kernel shims were OK so long as they’re open source. He’s no dummy, kernel shims let the kernel load blobs, but being open source they replace the linking and once you’ve got the linking objects you’re most of the way to having a driver since you can see what the card is being sent and you can see what the kernel is sending. Open source drivers followed, but some of the really exotic stuff only recently caught up.
nVidia has always, always been a pain in the ass in Linux. The shim wouldn’t build when it first came out and required users to edit the Makefile, certain gcc versions produced drivers which were slow or had unintended consequences depending on how they did memcpy and other low level functions. Installing nVidia was mostly a one way ticket to either kernel lock-in or building it by hand. To further add insult to injury, nVidia never offered a unified driver and always had three versions. Now this was OK up until recently – They kept a list of cards so you generally knew if you needed nv, nvidia-G01 or nvidia-G02. Now the bad news: nVidia has decided to drop updates for older cards. I realize they can’t update them forever, but what’s missing? Open sourcing the drivers.
ATI hasn’t really offered up any open source drivers, but they did offer unified drivers. Download one, build it, you win! The build process is pretty seamless. ATI hasn’t moved to quash open source drivers either, to the point where the open source drivers are so stable that they are now officially merged to MESA. If you’re wondering what MESA is, MESA provides openGL functionality to the system in a common package. To have drivers in it for a major manufacturer like ATI means you simply install MESA and 3D just works. No more diddling around with drivers, third party crap, and the ATI clock tray icon (unless you want to).
Now if you’re like me, you’re running OpenSuSE. You’re probably not like me but you might be running Linux. Windows users should have stopped reading six paragraphs ago. I upgraded to 11.3 from 11.1 (which I needed to run to hack the novell client from SuSE 10 into working because novell doesn’t even update their own stuff) and what broke? Oh, the nvidia drivers. Given that this is a work PC, I have no sway in my videocard. I went to fire up sax2 and I was told it was deprecated because of XOrg updating their autodetection routines. The new XOrg is nice, the new SuSE is nice, but with no new nVidia release my KDM login manager doesn’t work. Weirdly enough I can log in on the console and do a startx which does work, but it would be nicer to have a GUI running. (Then again having an ominous text console keeps the n00bs off my PC). After hacking on this most of the last few days, it’s definitely a problem in how nVidia does the initialization and it’s directly related to the fact I am running nvidia-G01. Way to go nVidia.
My laptop (ATI)? Runs great, and it’s a radeon mobility 600. Hardly new. Guess we know who’s videocard I’ll be buying in the future.