This article is deprecated: but can still be interpreted as 'better do not rely on proprietary drivers' !

Maybe this should be more detailed. A few years ago my 'new' laptop - a IBM Thinkpad T43 had a ATI M300 radeon mobility card inside.

01:00.0 VGA compatible controller: ATI Technologies Inc M22 [Radeon Mobility M300]

I didn't think much about ATI regarding linux before buying it because my 3d needs were limited very much because of not playing much games on the laptop. The problem was, that not only 3D support was limited on linux but also 2D support was implemented sloppily with lots of different issues.

Of course I tried the fglrx closed source driver from ATI from time to time. But different things just made it unusable. My linux only laptop crashed more often (hardlocks) than any windows i had in use before with any other graphic card. To give you some examples what i mean:

  • changing back to the real console right after X showed up (that's the graphical backend in linux) made X crash. This bug was solved finally after a few years they knew of. sad sad...
  • using any external monitor requires you either to reset X or reboot the whole computer. That's very sad if you are used to tools like i810switch. i810switch works for some Intel Chip based boards and let's you switch on/off external vga port whenever you like without restarting the computer or X. This 'chip' was on my previous used laptop: a Ibm Thinkpad R51
  • random 'hardlocks' which happen even if no 3D program was involved.
  • not to mention the lack of documentation for using the fglrx driver, thanks to the open source community for providing good documentation instead.

But right after that 'course' I got the fgrlx kernel module compiled and was sticked to 'old' kernel releases from that time on. I once installed always the newest kernel because of better hardware support (ATI is not the only vendor doing bad drivers for linux *hehe*). But altough you get some 3d support the 3d driver for acceleration is very limited compared in functionality and of course speed. The windows driver for this M300 radeon mobility hardware was hundred times faster. The first closed source driver which makes this card useful is the 8.42.3 release which was just released a few weeks ago (24.10.2007 but i'm not sure). So again: I had a very expensive 3D card in my laptop for about 3 years which was as good as using software rendering using mesa. The fact is still, will this support continue in the future? Maybe they drop this card from the proprietary package of ati closed source drivers and what then? Using the 'open source kernel radeon' driver with 2D support only?

So first thing I tried was the open source radeon driver, coming with the kernel which was what I wanted first. The open source radeon driver supported NO 3D acceleration but some 2D acceleration for watching either DVD or DIVX/MPEG and other formats.

The first time I was sadly faced to the fact that i really need 3D was the 'college course' which was about using opengl. First I used software mesa 3d support which was of course very limited but worked for nearly all the things we did. But then i started to use blender which was a 'pain in the *ss' with software 3d rendering support only. Then after having many problems with the closed source driver for about a year and lot's of different versions i went trough i tested the r300 project (see below) with the results that the documentation is horrible to none-existent and that my external monitor had not the right resolution and modeline. So this was absolutely no working solution. I switched back to the closed source ATI driver. And yesterday after installing ati-driver 8.42.3 i discovered that my graphic card could even be used to play ut2004 without to many issues. And i noticed that even quake3 has a very high framerate increase while i also changed all settings to max.

Still the situation is not as good as it seems. There are a lot of things that have to be done right before I would buy any ATI product again.

But since ATI was bought by AMD it seems that things are getting better. Until it is 'good' I still have to say: DON'T BUY ATI IF YOU EVER WANT TO USE LINUX WITHOUT SUFFERING THE SAME PROBLEMS AS I DID

other important things which are not made right by ATI

  • suspend/resume of the graphic card is not working as expected
  • powermanagement is implemented very bad or not at all
  • 'vga out' has serious issues as discussed already
  • AIGLX support is needed. NVIDIA completed this support one year ago already. *sigh*
  • they don't mention linux much on their homepage and related links are often broken, either skip support then or do it right please. but a 'half hearted' solution is - in my opinion - no solution.
  • better graphical tools for hardware maintenance or diagnostics
  • better interaction with the open source community

trying the r300 project open source 3d driver for the M300 card

Maybe those open source drivers work with my card?

http://forums.gentoo.org/viewtopic-t-374745-highlight-r300.html ..
01:00.0 VGA compatible controller: ATI Technologies Inc M22 [Radeon Mobility M300]

here is another great error from the closed source ati driver

Close source drivers suck and especially those from ATI!

This error occurred after starting the game 'spring' was was not limited to that game. Quake3 for instance didn't produce this kind of error, maybe because it doesn't require that much memory from the graphic card.

Once this error message showed up in the console the program was started from the computer froze for about 3 seconds. The problem was that this message used to pop up about 3 times/second. But funny though was the fact that this error occurred not right after game start. Some games could be played for minutes while others stopped working right from start. I experimented with different map sizes (spring maps, that's gaming data) which showed that small maps work in general while big ones are very problematic.

fglX11AllocateManagedSurface: __FGLTexMgrAllocMem failed!!
fglX11AllocateManagedSurface: __FGLTexMgrAllocMem failed!!
fglX11AllocateManagedSurface: __FGLTexMgrAllocMem failed!!
fglX11AllocateManagedSurface: __FGLTexMgrAllocMem failed!!
...

conclusion

I would not buy a laptop with a graphic cards which relays on closed source drivers. My next laptop probably has a "intel" graphic card in it.

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