ATI vs Radeon driver clarification needed

Can anybody provide some clarification on the following ATI issues? My attempts to retrieve this info from the net only seem to make things more confusing with conflicting information sources.

I have just upgraded two computers - one with a Radeon 9600 the other a Mobility Radeon 9700 (both ‘RV350’ type cards) - to openSUSE 11.0. For the first time both these systems now have some 3D features enabled by default. For example, openGL screensavers now run smoothly, and in the My Computer sysinfo screen it says 3D support enabled, using the Radeon driver. I’m still unclear about a few things, however:

  1. According to info I read on the Radeon driver site, these cards don’t have any 3D acceleration, only acceleration of 2D elements, which seems to contradict the info noted above. I’m confused as to whether this driver provides any actual 3D acceleration or not?
  2. Anybody know if the plan for the free Radeon driver is to provide improved 3D support for such cards in the future, or will efforts be focusing only on newer cards?
  3. In what package is the free Radeon driver provided? For example, if I want the latest version is it going to be part of and involve complex installation of multiple packages?
  4. Some apps such as Google Earth don’t run well at all. Is this a Google or Radeon driver problem, and are there any plans to remedy this that anybody knows of?
  5. My laptop now seems to be a bit more power-hungry (using KDE3) than it was with previous openSUSE releases, and if I run KDE4 it’s far worse with the fan whirring constantly, especially if I switch on the KWin effects. I wonder how much of this has to do with the 3D acceleration (or lack of), i.e. if there is actually no hardware acceleration going on (only software rendering causing extra CPU load), could I expect the laptop to be more or less resource hungry if I was running the proprietary ATI driver that made proper use of the graphics hardware?

I’d just like to be a bit clearer on all this because previous attempts to install the proprietary ATI driver have never been fruitful, and I’d rather not mess about with the systems if I knew that the free Radeon driver was likely to improve significantly any time soon.

There are two different open-source Radeon drivers:

  1. The base Radeon driver (titled “radeon”) which is for R3xxx/RV3xx and older, and has its origins in XFree86 (the predecessor to and the SourceForge DRI Project. This driver is the one you would want for your RV3xx-based card, as it directly supports 3D acceleration.

  2. A newer driver (titled “radeonhd”) which, while having its roots in the older “radeon” driver, is aimed at the newer GPUs (primarily R6xx and newer, as it does not support 3D acceleration in the R5xx/RV5xx chipsets of the X1K series).

Because of the aforementioned issues regarding 3D acceleration with the X1K series, this group of GPUs (which includes my current X1650 Pro) is best served by the proprietary Catalyst Linux drivers for openSuSE (currently 8.8) in the ATI repository.