Tuesday, 16 October 2012

AMD Catalyst 12.9 Beta - Looking Good

I'm used to the inevitable sense of disappointment when trying new versions of AMD's proprietary Linux drivers.

Let's face it: they boast a poor installer, a limited & buggy graphical configuration tool (amdcccle), irritating "AMD Testing use only" overlays with their beta drivers, terrible default underscan settings, and essential configuration options hidden in the completely undocumented Persistent Configuration Store.

Oh, and painfully slow driver releases following kernel updates. Did I miss anything? (Probably plenty.)

Hence, I didn't have high hopes for the next kernel upgrade. I'd even stuck with 12.6 until now.

Moving to kernel 3.6.1, latest stable Catalyst (12.8) failed to build the kernel module. It actually gave the same error as 12.6 did under kernel 3.5.4. I wasn't surprised; just disappointed, as usual.

firegl_public.c: In function 'KCL_MEM_AllocLinearAddrInterval':
firegl_public.c:2152:5: error: implicit declaration of function 'do_mmap'

This time, however, AMD have listed their next beta driver prominently on the Linux driver download page. Kudos; I hated having to dig around their website for it.

12.9 beta comes with a hefty 7% filesize increase over 12.8, and in my sceptical way, I was expecting a corresponding 7% increase in problems.

Not so.

The installer feels faster (but no, I didn't time it).

By a stroke of luck, the kernel module actually built without a hitch.

On reboot, it worked without further intervention.

Now here's a simple but helpful one. Previously, to start amdcccle, one had to run sudo amdcccle - a dodgy workaround at best. Now, they've fixed amdxdg-su, so that the menu entries now work, along with the direct command:

$ amdxdg-su -c amdcccle

Then, amdcccle started without error, the monitor configuration screen worked without a single frustration (is it just me, or have they improved that drag and drop interface?), and the settings were duly instantiated following a reboot.

The awful default underscan I'm used to on my plasma was no longer present (meaning I no longer have to interface directly with the undocumented PCS).

And, the cherry on the cake - no more "AMD Testing use only" watermark plastered all over my monitors.


This just isn't fair - there's hardly anything left for me to complain about!

For once; well done, AMD.

Update after the bedding-in period:

Alas, all is not perfect. Vsync, which was working perfectly under 12.6, is now broken (making the watching of videos rather unpleasant).

Additionally, I'm seeing screen corruption in a variety of cases during overlay transitions. Forcing a screen redraw clears it, but again, this is a frustrating problem which didn't exist before.

All things considered, I'd rather have a variety of irritations during installation & initial configuration than I would persistent issues affecting day-to-day usage. Here's hoping they're fixed in 12.9 stable.

One is left wondering just how comprehensive AMD's test packs, unit & integ tests are (this is presuming they do actually perform testing). Further, with the rumours of staff cuts at AMD, is the situation going to get better... or worse?

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