ATi/AMD Graphics Drivers To Go Open Source?

There’s been plenty of speculation recently about ATi (recently acquired by AMD) intending to release a new Linux version of their graphics drivers. This announcement on it’s own is good news for an improved ATi linux driver has been long awaited… ATi have, perceptually at least, lagged behind nVidia in terms of performance and support for Linux in general for a long, long time. However both graphics chip vendors have done little or nothing for the Open Source community, instead releasing binary drivers only.

A news article appearing today suggests that ATi may be about to change all that!

The word is that AMD will itself be programming the basics of an open-source driver for the two recent graphics chip generations (R500 and R600, i.e. X1300 to HD 2900) and then collaborating on its further development with the open-source community. AMD will not only be providing interested developers with a streamlined version of documentation, as it did with x9500-x800 graphics chips. Instead, the information provided will reportedly allow a driver to be written that will address all of the graphics chip’s functions, including 3-D capabilities. Blizzard says that this step puts AMD In an even better light than Intel, which has repeatedly been praised for its open-source drivers, though it does not provide independent developers with any documentation for its graphics chips.

And the article goes on to conclude:

AMD says that it cannot and would not make the source code for the proprietary drivers available, explaining that “it is in everyone’s interest.” According to an AMD press release , however, a major update will be released in the next few days that not only will finally contain support for the R600 graphics chip generation presented in mid-May, but is also expected to improve 3-D performance considerably.

In the next few months, AMD will then be coming up with another new version that will finally support AIGLX, enabling 3-D effects with Compiz on the Linux desktop even without Xgl. In its press release on the new drivers, AMD had already indicated that it would be expanding its commitment to open source over the next few months, but the details that have now been revealed were not included in the press release.

Cooooool – this should hopefully encourage nVidia to follow suit, and also enable ATi card owners to get Compiz-Fusion operating without the need for lots of “hoop” jumping. For quite a while now, the only real choice for decent 3D graphics performance on Linux has been to use nVidia’s cards and proprietary drivers.

Over the coming months and years we should hopefully start to get some totally Open Source implemenations of 3D graphics drivers. Something that has been a long time coming. I wouldn’t rush out and buy that ATi card just yet though… Development of a robust and reliable graphics driver may take quite some time.

What brought on this change of heart then:

  • User pressure,
  • AMD’s acquisition of ATi or, just perhaps,
  • a small PC vendor by the name of DELL?

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