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Which is probably better for a new machine running Ubuntu?

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I rolled back the changes to my question because I did not mean 'probably', I meant 'provably'. As in, mere opinions are of no use to the community, we need evidence-based answers. The 'under Ubuntu' bit might very well be redundant, though, so please feel free to remove that again. – Eugenio Perea Nov 6 '10 at 0:24
The question itself may be problematic for the format of Perhaps it should be removed. – Eugenio Perea Nov 6 '10 at 0:26

In terms of hardware, I think at this moment ATI is providing more bang for your buck, with many cheap cards outperforming NVIDIA cards of the same value.

However, while ATI's open-source drivers are continuing to improve, I don't think they (nor the binary fglrx driver) compare with NVIDIA's proprietary driver -- yet. If you're using a typical desktop/office machine, you may be okay with a nice ATI card and either set of drivers. However, if you plan on doing any gaming, I think you may have less of a hassle using NVIDIA. So, at this point in time, I'd say an NVIDIA video card may be your best bet purely because of the drivers.

I have an NVIDIA GTS 250 and it's been running without issue, except for a text rendering bug in 10.10 (which is still beta) which has already been fixed in a newer driver.

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The scenario has changed in Ubuntu 16.04 ;-)

If you were using the AMD Catalyst (fglrx) driver on older Ubuntu you may wish to avoid upgrading to Ubuntu 16.04.

The ‘Xenial Xerus’ does not support the widely used proprietary graphics driver for AMD/ATI graphics cards.

Instead, Ubuntu "recommends using open source alternatives (radeon and amdgpu)", and say "AMD put a lot of work into the drivers, and we back ported kernel code from Linux 4.5 to provide a better experience."

More details:

If you already have an AMD graphics, Don't panic! You will definitely find a lot of workarounds and fixes. But if you are planning to buy a new laptop fully supported by Ubuntu, best bet is to go with nvidia graphics.

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After an entire year with this card, I will not be using ATI in the future. Both the proprietary and open source drivers have serious, albeit very different, issues. In fact, the experience has been so frustrating that I will make an effort to never use hardware that needs restricted drivers ever again.

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Certain nVidia cards have no Free Software Driver (edit to add: Nouveau doesn't support all nvidia cards). When a security upgrade to Xorg breaks ABI compatibility and therefore breaks your driver, you're stuck on SVGA...well, that's if you're lucky.

With the AMD/ATi driver you have a Free Software Driver that is upgraded when Xorg is upgraded. It is not dependent upon the manufacturer to support it, even if you choose to use the proprietary driver.

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certain ATI cards are not well supported either =)... The best bet is: if the card is > 1000HD series -> get the proprietary driver. If it's an nVidia and it's newer than 2yrs, same thing. – RolandiXor Oct 30 '10 at 8:21
noveau is a Free Software driver FYI – LFC_fan Nov 6 '10 at 0:25
@LFC_fan: Yes, I'm aware -- nouveau doesn't support all nvidia cards. – Broam Nov 9 '10 at 18:37
Wow, bunch of freedom-haters on this site. Performance isn't everything. – Broam Oct 31 '11 at 13:00

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