I have been using Ubuntu as my main OS for 3 cycles now, with a Radeon HD 4870 video card. In every cycle the open source video drivers were not enough, meaning that something was not working right. Weather it was the movies or Unity 3D (compiz cube in the old days) I always had something which was not working. So I always installed the ATI proprietary drivers, thus solving the issues.

Precise was the first OS upgrade I have ever made (for the old ones I always made a complete new install). So, before upgrade, I have uninstalled the ATI drivers and reverted to the open source one in order to avoid issues.

After the upgrade everything is working as it should with the open source drivers Gallium 0.4. I have all the nice 3D features and full HD movies are running.

So, I am really asking myself, if there would be any reason for me to turn back to the propriety drivers from ATI? I mean do you guys know for sure there are some features present that are not in the open source one drivers?



The proprietary drivers typically enable or enhance 3D support on some cards, as well as potentially providing enhanced 2D. They are also said to allow the card to operate at a lower temperature. They might, I suppose, also enable fan control if the open driver doesn't.

In practical terms, it comes down to the combination of driver and your particular set of hardware and the programs you use. Adding the drivers, and falling back to the open driver, is easy using Additional Drivers.

In my case, during the 12.04 beta period, I found that using ATM's Radeon driver corresponded with frequent crashe of a few of the applets I was using. Since I don't need to push my machine's 3D capabilities, I opted for the open driver.

  • Thanks for your answer. As long as I don't find any program that requires the proprietary driver, I'll stay on open source. There is usually to much hassle with the official drivers. – bioShark May 8 '12 at 8:22

As a complement to jonc's great answer, and in one word: performance.

In virtually all game reviews, performance of proprietary drivers beat the open source ones by a large margin, although the gap is shortening as in each release the open source drivers get impressively better.

But the point is: do you need performance? For all purposes but serious 3D gaming, open source drivers provide decent performance. It runs Unity just fine (which is a 3D desktop), and it also handles 720p and 1080p videos quite well.

Open source drivers are usually more stable, developed by people that understand Linux much better than ATI or NVidia, and definitely more secure, since they are open and thus can be audited, while proprietary ones are a black box.

On the other hand, proprietary have AMD's Catalyst Center, a nice GUI where you can fine-tune and have control about some features.

But these minor differences apart, in the end of day performance is still the major difference when it comes to proprietary vs open source video drivers.

  • Thanks for your input. I don't need gaming in Linux cause I dual boot to Windows, which I keep only for that purpose. Of course there I use the proprietary drivers and I am also quite proficient in tweaking gpu clock and the cooler speed, etc. – bioShark Jun 12 '12 at 17:20

Sometime the open source drivers are better, sometimes the proprietary ones. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

  • that's a pretty generic answer :) – bioShark May 7 '12 at 8:25
  • In case sometimes something can be better- find out witch one and get plan what to do in case it will brake. – Kangarooo May 7 '12 at 9:13
  • Very poor quality answer. I think he means that open source drivers are sometimes "better" in terms of stability and security, while proprietary drivers have better performance. I've never seen the other way around (open source never had the same speed, and proprietary, by definition, cannot being audited) – MestreLion Jun 11 '12 at 7:23

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