ATI dropping support for <R600 - wtf!?
Before going to sensible work again, I have to vent myself here with a little rant. For the starting point: I am the proud owner of a Thinkpad T60 equipped with a X1300 mobility which I got 2 1/2 years ago and which has served me well ever since. I use it mainly for doing calculations, latex, coding at work and for video and some light gaming in my free time. I am not a zealot when it comes to open source; I like the concept of open source software and try to use it whenever possible, but I don't regard the attempt to earn money with software as a crime and have no reservations when it comes to well-written closed source software.
When I got the device I installed the fglrx driver and was rather pleasantly surprised by it working stable and reliably - I had read other stories. There were some glitches, but I though to myself: "wait for the next revisions, they'll iron it out" and - nothing improved, some bugs went away, others came. This game has been going on till now, and at NO POINT IN TIME, a revision of the driver did all that it advertised, but the thing was always broken in some way or the other. Specifically, the most annoying areas were:
- Xv: working well for some months, then completely disappearing, and never working again with vsync or on all players (mplayer + xine + vlc) till this day.
- Basic OpenGL: I don't need it badly, but I have a graphics accelerator, so it'd better do it. The first revisions worked, but there was some lag between commands submitted to the processor and the display casuing an inacceptable lag between input and reaction in ALL OpenGL programs. I had to hack around by preloading a library that did some waiting I don't remember exactly before swapping buffers. This got better over time but never really went away until the new generation of drivers hyped on phoronix appeared.
- Antialiasing: this has suffered from the lag described above until this day. It seems better in the last revisions.
-Vsync in OpenGL: this never ever worked really reliably, causing the lag described above.
- Visual artifacts: numerous revisions of the driver would display heavy corruption or artifacts in different situations, ranging from random lines over blackened window borders to the thing called the "checkerboard of doom" in these forums
- ... I could continue this list for some time ....
Now, AMD is dropping support completely for this generation of hardware from the driver, and, bottom line: for the whole life cycle of this support, the driver NEVER worked correctly. It was usable, but lacking many features that were advertised and that I expect from this type of hardware.
I am very concious of the opensource efforts, and appreciate the release of programming documentation but, honestly, in my oppinion this shouldn't be a big favour, but just the rule: if I buy something, I should be given the documentation on how to use it. Using hardware for me means being given the possiblity of writing code that uses it, not just running a set of pre-selected OSsed with varying support on top of it. The fact that this isn't the rule doesn't make it more of a favour.
Apart from releasing the documentation, the "open source effort" consists of paying one developer working on the open source code. Effectively, this means for me that ATI/AMD is offloading the linux driver support to the community resp. other companies like RedHat and Novell, therefore dropping support for this generation of hardware on linux nearly completely, which is not acceptable to me.
I highly appreciate the efforts of the developers that work on delivering support for this hardware in the opensource drivers which has shaped up nicely till now, but that doesn't take the responsibility from the company building the actual hardware. There are examples out there how to do it better: intel, HP with their opensource printing driver, NVidia (allthough it is closed source, they maintain support for all generations of hardware, the legacy drivers also get forward-ported to newer revisions of X and linux if I am informed correctly) etc.
So, consequence for me: I will try to avoid ATI hardware in the future whenever possible. I either want well-working closed source support (which is what people on Windows or OSX also want) or, even better, opensource support _actively maintained_ by the hardware manufacturer. Intel does the latter, and the performance of their graphics hardware is totally capable of satisfying my needs. ATI/AMD have proven to deliver none of both. Their strategy is better than the situation with a company that doesn't produce any programming info or a reliable binary driver, but I usually try to avoid those, too.