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I see that my machine (Radeon HD 6290) has the option to choose either the X.Org X Server driver or the AMD proprietary driver:

enter image description here

I want to know which one is the recommended one in term of performance in general? Do one of them have an edge over the other? And apart from performance, is there any stability issue with them in general? How often are they updated?

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I'm not sure about performance, but I do have something to say about stability (but take it with a grain of salt, likely YMMV). My laptop failed to suspend/wake (to/from RAM) with the X.Org X server, but not with fglrx-updates or fglrx-experimental-xx. Checking syslog shows that the problem was with an (instance of) Xorg process. Just putting it out there for reference. Remember, YMMV. It was very similar to this bug-report. Purging the driver, and installing the latest fglrx-experimental-xx fixed it. – oaskamay Apr 10 '13 at 2:47
my friends HP laptop using AMD used to heat a lot, but when he changed from to fglrx his laptop was much cooler than before, no heating – edward torvalds Dec 6 '14 at 21:24
up vote 6 down vote accepted

The xorg open source driver is far more stable than the proprietary one, so if you don't need any of the features of the proprietary driver, stay with the open source driver.

Fglrx and fglrx-updates are the same when a new version of Ubuntu is released. Fglrx-updates later is updated when newer drivers are released by AMD, while fglrx is in general not updated until you upgrade to a new release of Ubuntu. This means, that fglrx-updates will probably have better performance, less bugs and more features than fglrx, yet it might in principle happen, that an update is released for it, which contains new bugs (which might even prevent your system from starting a GUI).

Now to the advantages of the proprietary driver:

  • It has far superior 3D performance, what is also relevant for desktop performance when using a compositing window manager (Unity uses Compiz, which greatly relies on 3D acceleration)
  • With it the graphics card uses less power (mainly relevant on laptops)
  • It comes with OpenCL support, meaning that some programs can benefit from the graphics chip (for instance imagemagick, although I think this feature is disabled on Ubuntu)
  • You can use VAAPI to get hardware accelerated video decoding (for instance in VLC media player), but this usually is only required on very slow CPUs, like AMD C-series or Intel Atom.
  • On some cards, the open source driver does not support audio output over HDMI, in this case, use the proprietary driver.

Now the disadvantages of the proprietary driver

  • Did I mention that it's less stable than the open source driver?
  • On some systems tearing artifacts are visible when playing video files (there is a setting in the Catalyst Control Center to prevent this, yet it doesn't work on some systems)
  • For some settings one has to use Catalyst Control Center instead of Ubuntu System Settings, for instance if you want to extend the desktop to a second monitor for the first time.

Since they are mentioned in one of the comments, just a word regarding the experimental drivers: I don't recommend to use them, they are at the moment (at least on 12.04) incompatible with some other packages (most notably: hardware video decoding and opencl don't work without ugly hacks). If you really need the latest drivers from AMD, get them from the AMD website and use them to build distribution specific packages.

Long story short: If everything works fine for you with the open source drivers, use these. If you want or need one of the features mentioned above, and you are ok with the very small risk that an update breaks something, use fglrx-updates, otherwise fglrx. Don't use the experimental drivers if you are not sure what you are doing.

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thanks! Performance is exactly my issue. My laptop (graphic HD6290, 4GB ram, AMD C60) runs very smooth on windows 8, but it lags and is unresponsive on Ubuntu. I'm thinking that it might be a driver issue. You did mention the exprimental drivers, I think it's not in my screenshot, no? – Chin Apr 10 '13 at 15:22
In this case try the fglrx-updates drivers, they work well on my C60 netbook and give surprisingly good performance. The experimental drivers aren't in your screenshot. I guess the Ubuntu developers are aware of the issues with the experimental drivers and don't list them therefore. – soulsource Apr 11 '13 at 8:02
And another thing: If you want to watch videos on the laptop, you'll probably need hardware decoding. For this you need to use the proprietary drivers. In addition you'll need to install the hardware decoding libraries: libva (maybe also libva-dev), libva-x11-1, libva-glx1, xvba-va-driver. To see if it's working, install vainfo and run it in a terminal. If it lists various (if I remember correctly 2) profiles, hardware decoding support is installed correctly. The only player available on Ubuntu that supports hardware decoding out of the box is vlc. Check input and codec settings to enable it. – soulsource Apr 11 '13 at 8:14
nice, my laptop is also C60 – Chin Apr 11 '13 at 14:58
Until recently the dynamic power management was disabled on the open source drivers by default, and one had to set a kernel command line parameter to enable it. Since Kernel 3.13 dynamic power management is enabled in the open source driver as well for many cards, so with a recent kernel version the overheating issue should no longer be present. – soulsource Dec 12 '14 at 12:40

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