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Rant: nVidia vs ATi

nVidia vs ATi


I've never been much concerned with 3D-acceleration as I didn't have that many uses for it. Off lately though more and more programs started making use of 3D-acceleration, in addition to which I have started playing the odd 3D shooter here and there. Strategy games also make more and more use of 3D acceleration nowadays than a while back (When the 3D effect was merely due to the way the 2D environment was rendered). Off lately I've had experience with both nVidia and ATi cards (and as such the drivers as well). This short rant will summarise my experiences (From a Linux side, since I am a Linux user).

WARNING: The opinions expressed in this rant are entirely my own and are in no way substantiated or proven. Make of this what you want, it is not meant to convince you of anything, but rather to give a biased opinion of my experiences.

The nVidia experience

nVidia has deffinately put in a lot of effort to make the drivers as useable as possible on the Linux platform. On Gentoo I can make the nVidia drivers work in 3 commands and possibly a bit of configuration to make things run a tad better:

# emerge nvidia-kernel
# emerge nvidia-glx
# opengl-update nvidia

Actually, I suspect the last of these commands is not required since the ebuild already does it for you. After this you may or may not need to edit /etc/X11/{XF86Config,xorg.conf}, depending on your needs. Also, you may want to add the nvidia kernel module to /etc/modules.autoload.d/kernel-2.[46] but my experience is that the kernel autoloader does a brilliant job at loading modules on the fly.

The other day I had to install Windows temporarily in order to play some Half-Life2. The driver installation was a breeze for my GeForce card.

The ATi experience

It's a week down the line. My ATi 9700 card is still running at less than 400 fps using glxgears (which doesn't even do anything intense), and which happens to be slower than when I was using a ATi Rage 128 card with 32MB Ram (540 fps).

I'm pissed at ATi. How difficult can it be to produce decent drivers? I'm currently busy downgrading Xorg to version 6.7.0 since none of their drivers can load under 6.8.0 (which fixes a lot of problems I had with 6.7.0 - half of which I can't remember any more). Hopefully by the end of the day I'll have a working graphics card.

I remember similar problems with the Rage 128 card under Windows. Thank goodness I'm not using Windows any more. The situation has apparantly changed somewhat with the advent of the catalyst drivers, on which I cannot comment since I haven't ever used them.

UPDATE: Today I was wondering why my ATi 9700 card was performing better under Linux (now) than under Windows using games such Quake III, Enemy Territory and so forth. Got told it's cause I'm not using "up to date" drivers. Fair enough, I'm told to install the Catalyst drivers. Fair enough. Downloaded version 5.1 (30MB down the line, with a 3GB/month internet CAP). Try to install them, they give me the finger. I uninstall the old drivers (took me 10 damn reboots before I managed to get Windows to not "fix" the situation). They still give me the finger. Screw that, ATi - next time I'm paying R1500 more and getting a nVidia card. Schees. ATi makes me want to swear.


No matter what Operating System you are running I would recommend going the nVidia road. In spite of ATi producing some really good graphics cards, the driver problem is a big one - I'm not a Linux newbie and I'm having my days with this card. I hate the fact that I have to downgrade Xorg in order to use my graphics card - I upgraded Xorg on my home machine even before 6.8.0 before it was even officially released and the nVidia drivers worked like a charm. I can see the difference every time a new nVidia driver gets released (in fact, it's one of those things in life that one looks forward to - almost like a new kernel release).

UPDATE: I just read that currently there are no 64-bit support from ATi. I'm quite happily using my nVidia card under my 64-bit kernel. ATi: Catch a wake up.

UPDATE: Hmm, looks like I spoke too early. ATi has on 17/1/2005 finally released drivers for x86_64 and drivers for xorg-x11-6.8.0. Finally.

UPDATE: ATi has done it again. This time the kernel module (fglrx) refuses to load. It compiles but doesn't want to load. I'm back to a whopping 270fps on glxgears. One of these days I swear I'm going to make a bigger issue of this. Anyway, kernel is a no go area if you are using ATi (for the moment at least).

UPDATE: I can't remember since when, but the ATi drivers on Linux seem to finally be working. At least. They still don't support suspending/resuming and all those other nice features I really want. I read somewhere the other day that the nVidia drivers do support suspending/resuming (Not sure how true this is so don't take my word for it).