Questions regarding GPU drivers?


It’s time for me to buy a new laptop, and I had a few questions regarding the sate of GPU drivers…

What is the state of ATI/AMD drivers? (open source and propriety)
I have heard that there are issues with FLASH running full screen on propriety drivers requires the user to restart X?
Are they on par with (the proprietary) NVIDIA drivers?

I have read that NVIDIA Optimus is unsupported on Linux, so would I be stuck with running Intel’s chip? Would it be possible to switch one or the other off through the BIOS or something similar??
What about ATI’s switchable graphics? Is that supported?

And lastly, I have also heard that Intel’s graphics drivers are pretty bad, is there any truth to that?
On paper, at least, they offer similar performance to NVIDIA 320/330 chips, is that something I should expect with under linux?

Any and all advise is welcome.

To answer some of your questions, but not all.

In linux, I have never gotten flash to run fullscreen (64-bit) regardless of my graphics driver.
Nvidia proprietary drivers tend to run cooler then the open source drivers.

After playing around with the latest kernel, there were options in the config file to have switchable graphics so the latest (3.0 or .39) may have support.

Some quick laptop buying advice: Get a synaptics touchpad not an alps. Try to get a laptop with an open BIOS that is not locked down (this is extremely hard to find).

Good luck.

The state varies dependant on the AMD hardware. For many of the Radeon HD hardware (but not the very very latest) the open source radeon driver will support enabling special desktop effects (such as cube rotation) where the nouveau open source driver for nVidia hardware is not yet as advanced.

Support has stopped mostly for the radeonhd open source driver, so for radeon the main open source drivers are radeon, vesa and fbdev. The fgrlrx (catalyst) driver for AMD currently works reasonably well with non-legacy Radeon hardware.

Some 32-bit users of nouveau propreitary driver are reporting issues with KDE. Some 64-bit users of nouveau proprietary driver are reporting issues with plasma. I have not seen any myself.

I have not observed this.

In some ways the proprietary radeon drivers are superior to the propreitary nVidia drivers. In some ways they are worse. Typically in GNU/Linux when there is a change to Mesa, or the Kernel or X server that impacts the proprietary drivers, nVidia is much sooner (faster) than Radeon in coming out with an update to be compatible with the change.

For a laptop, it is very useful to have xrandr support so to drive an external monitor for presentations, or work at home on ones computer desk. wrt features both Radeon and FGLRX drivers (proprietary Catalyst) support xrandr. Nouveau/nVidia (propreitary) are limited in that way. However one can obtain a capability with nVidia proprietary driver using a different application than xrandr. Since I don’t have a laptop with nVidia hardware I can not provide much more information on that.

I don’t think so. We need someone to write a guide. I have asked a few people to do so (write a guide) but thus far not much luck. There is a packaged known as ‘bumblebee’ that you should look into, which should provide the capability to in part use or work around graphics problems in GNU/Linux with optimus. But its not 100% complete by any stretch (far from it) so you should likely investigate this yourself to flush out the details. I don’t have such hardware so I am not motivated to flush out the details.

Not all laptops support this in the BIOS. See what I noted about bumblebee.

I don’t know. We need someone to write a guide. I have asked some times but no one has.

Yes and No. It depends exactly on what Intel Graphic hardware.

My wife just ordered an X220 Lenovo laptop with Intel Integrated HD 3000 graphics (sandybridge). There have been some sandybridge problems and also updates in the very latest kernels and in the 2.15 Intel driver. Whether that is enough to address many of the problems, I can’t say. I do know from reading about the 2.15 Intel driver testing on the Intel site there are still many issues to sort.

I don’t know.

One thing you should note, that for the major graphic hardware suppliers (nVidia, AMD, Intel) the graphic drivers for MS-Windows are by far SIGNIFICANTLY superior in most cases to the graphic drivers (both proprietary and open source) available for GNU/Linux.

Thanks bsilvereagle and oldcpu.

Having read a bit about bumblebee, I doubt I would be happy enough using it. And on the half dozen laptops I had a look at today, I couldn’t find any settings in the BIOS to disable the integrated graphics. It seems too much of a gamble to buy a laptop and just hope I’d be able to make it work somehow.

I guess I will have to settle for an older, pre-Sandy Bridges laptop with only a discrete GPU.


It’s not as bad as you seem to believe, at least on my netbook, an ASUS EeePC 1015pn, default graphics chip is set to Nvidia, my guess is that’ll be the way for most if not all Optimus systems. I don’t use and don’t intend to use, bumblebee on this machine but the bumblebee repo is still useful as you get the acpi_call module ready packaged there, and this module is the utility that makes switching graphics possible. I use it to switch over to the Intel chip to extend battery time from around 4 hours to around 5.5 hours, I might switch back to Nvidia after summer, I use this machine for outdoor work.

You seem to be one of the lucky few.
From what I have read it seems that most people aren’t able to get their NVIDIA card to work at all without bumblebee; you can’t just turn the Intel GPU off because it is the only one that can output to the screen itself.
The issue is with Xorg itself, drivers can’t really slove it. As I understand it, Bumblebee seems to be a hack that runs two Xorg sessions.

So we have to wait for Wayland to be able to achieve full functionality on hybrid graphics.