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Linux - From nvidia to radeon
May 13, 2011
3 minutes read

Recently I had to replace my old dying WD disks with a new one. My previous setup contained a pair of WD 160G disks in raid-1 that hold the main Gentoo OS install. One of them started to fail frequently, and they had become pretty obsolete by todays standards (in both space and speed). I got a new WD black 1.5T (not that I need that much space, but the 1.5T model was a bit faster than the 1T one; both belonging to the FAEX family), and after a DOA (due to bad packaging mostly) I was ready to install Gentoo from scratch again after a good 6 years.

At the same time I decided it was time to test a Radeon card and open source drivers. All those years I was using Nvidia hardware, which along with their closed source driver, gave me no trouble at all and plenty of speed. Just because I was in the mood for some playing around, I replaced the old Nvidia 6600 with a new Radeon 5570. Both with passive cooling. My setup is doing mostly (95%) desktop work, so there is no need for an expensive and loud adapter.

The install procedure went without troubles, and soon I had a nice KMS console @ 1680x1050, on my 64bit Core2Duo.

I emerged only stable versions from the portage tree for mesa, xorg and ati open source drivers. Emerged KDE and friends, and rebooted. Hey, without touching a single conf file, KDE was running with compositing and pretty fast effects. In fact I felt that the new setup was faster than the 6600+closed nvidia combo.

But it’s not until I actually started using my new setup, that I encountered problems. These would range from simple graphics corruptions (the fade out effect when logging out was one example), to KDE loosing it all together. The mouse would not respond, yakuake would sometimes paint and sometimes not, etc. I could reproduce the problems by installing xmoto. After a few seconds of gameplay (full screen), when I exited back to KDE, things would start to go very wrong. Text was garbled, screen would blink sometimes, complete crashes.

The solution is to either install the AMD binary driver, or try the latest open source updates from git. The x11 overlay on Gentoo provides ebuilds that install the latest and greatest in open source drivers. I kept xorg to stable, and upgraded mesa, libdrm and xf86-video-ati to ~9999. And yes, things got better. I did a few tests and don’t get any of the previous problems anymore. Xmoto and back to KDE is as it should. Although I haven’t pushed it as much, I think most of them are solved.

But still there are some quirks. For example, XBMC wont exit back to KDE, and it’s interface seems sluggish. This was a known issue for ATI and XBMC, reported to be fixed for 10.1 which I’m using but continue to have the same problem. This is again fixed in the git version.

So, was it worth it? Maybe. I’ll see how it goes. Basically though it means I have one more thing to look after. Keep an eye on git source changes and compile them once in a while, but that would mean I can’t go back if there any regressions. I won’t be installing the binary AMD drivers; KMS is nice, but I can let it go if the whole setup is unstable. If I have to install any binary closed source drivers, I think I’ll do it from Nvidia again :-)

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