Recent (May-2011) Phoronix driver comparison of Catalyst to Free Open Source drivers

For AMD users, there is an interesting Phoronix article here: [Phoronix] May 2011: Gallium3D vs. Classic Mesa vs. Catalyst]( where they compare the performance of the AMD proprietary Catalyst driver to the free open source “classic Mesa” and “Gallium3D”. The different hardware they tested on (where the hardware DOES make a difference) were the X1800XL, HD2900XT, HD4670 and HD5770.

I confess I don’t know how to select between the free open source “classic Mesa” and “Galium3D”, but clearly Phoronix know how to do so in order to produce the chart comparison tables in their article.

I would be interested in learning ‘how’ they did this selection between ‘classic Mesa’ and ‘Galium3D’, althought that is more an academic curiousity than a real life need to know. We have only one PC in our apartment with Radeon graphics (and HD3450) and I typically run the Catalyst driver on that PC. When on occasion that I do use the free open source driver, I typically use the ‘radeon’ driver and it simply does its own automatic selection between ‘classic Mesa’ and ‘Gallium3D’.

The Phoronix conclusion was:

The ATI Gallium3D drivers are certainly making progress in improving the performance and are definitively better than the classic Mesa drivers, but they still have a ways to go to performing closer to the official Catalyst GNU/Linux driver not only in terms of performance but also features and OpenGL support level.

If one looks at the Phoronix charts, one can see the Catalyst has anywhere from 3x to 9x superior speed performance. Thats a significant difference.

I think it worth stating, that in the past the GNU/Linux Catalyst implementation was also noted to be slower than its MS-Windows Catalyst counter-part implementation, and have less features than its MS-Windows Catalyst counter-part (especially less features in terms of HD video playback for offloading decoding from CPU to GPU). Hence one can infer that the ‘free open source’ GNU/Linux drivers have a long way to go from a performance/feature perspective in comparison to the MS-Windows proprietary Catalyst drivers … EXCEPT perhaps on one very significant and not to be understated aspect, which is the free open source drivers are just that : FREE.


  • free to use the driver (with its code) in any way in which one pleases
  • free to modify the code for one’s own use (which implies one actually has the code)
  • free to give away the driver/code
  • free to give away modified versions of the driver

As far as I know one does NOT have the proprietary Catalyst driver code, nor is one supposed to modify the code in the ‘beer-free’ Catalyst proprietary driver, nor is one supposed to give away any modifications to the code in the ‘beer-free’ Catalyst proprietary driver.

Note that while I am a big nVidia graphic card fan, I do ask that the nVidia and Intel graphic card fans stay out of this thread with any Intel vs nVidia vs AMD card rants (or combinations there of). Please lets stick to ONLY THE TECHNICAL in this thread. Again, a caution that I have moderator permissions and I will remove any such rants.

Thank you

Very useful it is, Could you suggest me a good driver for my Amd radeon 6990?

@oldcpu. Classic Mesa vs Gallium3d Mesa mailing-list discussion here:

[opensuse-factory] Radeon Gallium Driver ?](

Gallium drivers will be available in GNOME:STABLE:3.0 repository for
11.4 (when it is released, ie really soon now), since it is required by
GNOME Shell.

I plan to discuss the switch for next openSUSE release with X team.

Frederic Crozat <fcrozat@xxxxxxxxxx>

Thats a great link of a mailing list dicussion! Thanks!

There are some excellent tidbits in there for better understanding a number of things wrt the radeon open source driver. For exmamle, they note that

there are actually 2 mesa drivers for radeon, r300 and r600, and both come with 2 version : classic Mesa (r300c and r600c) and Galium3d Mesa (r300g and r600g).

Also the note that for the radeon driver

development have switched to the galium3d drivers in Mesa. r300g is considered as stable, r600g is considered as “experimental” … … both drivers show a +20% performance increase overe their classic Mesa counterpart

where IMHO the 20% performance observation is consistant with the Phoronix observation.

Following up on the r300 and r600 terminology, I note this page X.Org Wiki - RadeonFeature which has a table called the “decoder ring for engineering vs marketing names”, and the

  • r300 includes the 9500-9800, X300 - X600, X1050-X1150, 200M (ie mostly legacy AMD hardware)
  • r600 includes the HD2400 - HD4290.

It does puzzle me as to where the r100, r200, r400, rs600, r500, r700, Evergreen and Northern Islands fit in, … but I most definitely make note that there is a LOT here that I know absolutely nothing about and hence I am still learning. Learning a LOT I might add.

From a support perspective, where this comes in handy is being better able to possibly assess the graphic problem of a user with specific AMD hardware, and know better where to best focus one’s support efforts.

Great news for you guys with ATI graphics. What do it do with my NVidia? Is there any 3D available there too? I’ll guess i have to use Nvidia drivers.