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So, it'm about to buy a fresh videocard. Since I do most of my stuff on Linux, I wonder how well will either videocard perform. I recently had a good experience with GeForce 6600 with proprietary drivers and a less than satisfactory experience with Radeon 9000 a while ago. From my experience, proprietary drivers for GeForce used to work very well, while proprietary drivers for Radeon failed miserably. And opensource drivers were sloooow.

A few months ago I found out that ATI opened their specifications, and a work on fully featured opensource driver is in progress. I prefer to use free software whenever possible, with the exception of games, so, if that driver is fast enough, feature-rich enough and reliable enough I'd very much like to try it out. I wish I could say that if I can just to basic things, like watch video, heavily use compiz and work with simple applications, this may be enough. I do most of my gaming under Windows anyway. However, there is a good chance I'll go into indie game development in a few months fulltime, so it should also be able to run not-so-very-demanding games (say Nexuiz).

But if it isn't, I'd like to know, what to expect from proprietary drivers. Do recent proprietary drivers from NVIDIA and ATI work well? Are ATI drivers just as easy to install on Ubuntu as are NVIDIA drivers?

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Thanks for your replies, this helped to clear the air. In the end, I went with Nvidia, mostly because my friend recommended me the hardware as superior. –  Septagram Mar 9 '11 at 4:09
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up vote 4 down vote accepted

What you have mentioned in your post is still relevant today. However the proprietary "fglrx" driver for ati has caught up very much with the proprietary nvidia. So much so that i barely notice a difference between catalyst on windows and fglrx on linux. One area where ATI still lacks is HD video playback where there is no equivalent of nvidia's VDPAU. However with ATI opening up, expect much more work on the XvBA. So what i will recommend is that unless you watch a lot of HD movies. Go for Radeon. I have a 4650 and i am very pleased with its performance.

Unfortunately things are not that rosy on the opensource front. The noveau, radeon and Gallium3d drivers are all fine if all you want to do is compiz and maybe a few indie games. But all the open source solutions ( be it mesa, gallium or anything else) are still miles behind their proprietary counterparts. Right now the best performing Open Driver is the Gallium3D driver for the R600 ATI Chip ( Radeon hd 3xxx series), but its still not mature enough. So unless you have very modest requirements, you will have to go for the prorietary ones.

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Always the hardest question on linux ...

Intel open source drivers are nice, 3d performance and hd content are lacking ...

Amd open source coming up, they drop support of many cards in the process, even proprietary drivers lack a decent 3d performance and hd content ... (Best gaming cards on windows)

Nvidia open source drivers are almost dead, they support all cards for a long time, they don't plan to support Wayland (somewhat the future X11), but the proprietary drivers is the best for 3d and hd content on linux ... (second best on windows but better proprietary apps support)

Remember that old macbooks integrated nvidia gpu are enough to emulate gamecube/wii games on windows xp, so your performance should be enough with a mid-range card ...

Edit :

Gpu needs on linux :

Minimal use : Intel integrated gpu (driverless)

Htpc : Nvidia ion integrated gpu (proprietary drivers)

Gaming : Nvidia mid-range gaming card (proprietary drivers)

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Is there a source on "don't plan to support wayland?" It's my understanding the nouveau development is actually very good. It just recently frooze apis and left the staging area in the kernel. It's a "real" driver from 3.4. When I got rid of my nvidia card 6 months ago I could play StarCraft 2 with the nouveau driver, albeit with very low fps. –  user50849 Jul 12 '12 at 7:25
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