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The Truth About OpenGL Driver Quality 158

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the when-standards-aren't dept.
rcht148 (2872453) writes "Rich Geldreich (game/graphics programmer) has made a blog post on the quality of different OpenGL Drivers. Using anonymous titles (Vendor A: Nvidia; Vendor B: AMD; Vendor C: Intel), he plots the landscape of game development using OpenGL. Vendor A, jovially known as 'Graphics Mafia' concentrates heavily on performance but won't share its specifications, thus blocking any open source driver implementations as much as possible. Vendor B has the most flaky drivers. They have good technical know-how on OpenGL but due to an extremely small team (money woes), they have shoddy drivers. Vendor C is extremely rich. It had not taken graphics seriously until a few years ago. They support open source specifications/drivers wholeheartedly but it will be few years before their drivers come to par with market standards. He concludes that using OpenGL is extremely difficult and without the blessings of these vendors, it's nearly impossible to ship a major gaming title."
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The Truth About OpenGL Driver Quality

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  • by rsilvergun (571051) on Monday May 12, 2014 @11:12PM (#46986813)
    wanted an ATI card. Better performance and Image Quality for less money, but I just don't have time to be screwing around with making games work :(. I miss the hey-day of my 1650. $90 bucks, rock solid stable and fast. Just couldn't keep up.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I just bought a GTX 750 TI.. upgrading from a Radeon HD 3870, so quite a bump..

      I had CUDA working with the nVidia drivers directly from the site, but was getting odd audio feedback in games..
      Switched to xorg-edgers ppa, and now it works perfectly for games, but can't get CUDA to work....

      If AMD had actually released the "only in userspace" driver, I think I would have gone with one of theirs...

    • by Billly Gates (198444) on Monday May 12, 2014 @11:38PM (#46986917) Journal

      ATI blows equally. Intel is known to have a little better drivers but have software worts to encourage them to CPU bound for obvious reasons. Or was the case 6 years ago when I worked for a famous game company.

      Windows 8/8.1 blows on Nvidia with the latest drivers if you do not have the latest cards. Ask any owner as the majority of the 8.1 update 1 failures were NVidia related.

      My ATI 7850 also craps out requiring a re-image with any .4 drivers. 12.4 and 13.4 I avoid even though they are WHQ.

      The situation with the graphics markers are like the ISPs with broadband or the major telecoms when picking a cell phone. Not a monopoloy but an oligopoly run by a few. Boy I miss PowerVR, S3, 3DFX Vodoo, and Matrox.

      You can bet if they were still around competing toe to toe with Nvidia and ATI everyone would benefit regardless of which side you pick. To me I view them as picking AOL vs RealPlayer. Yuck.

      For the record I was an nvidia fanboy at one time too before owning ATI cards.

      • by exomondo (1725132) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @12:19AM (#46987083)

        Boy I miss PowerVR, S3, 3DFX Vodoo, and Matrox.

        I don't, having to code for OpenGL, Direct3D, Glide, Rendition and MSI to optimally support all the different vendors on the market was a huge PITA. Though I do agree that the competition was so fierce that technology was bounding forward at a brilliant pace! ...and that part I do miss.

        • by Billly Gates (198444) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @12:29AM (#46987113) Journal

          ATI is catching up and are competitive. NVidia lowered the price and made their Quadro turn into the Titan serious to counter the ATi 290x.

          Good for consumers. However, their drivers are shit. ATI's drivers have improved then had issues again with frame pacing and mantle on older AMD chipsets. Nvidia had some questionable hardware and now worse drivers which are unstable and Windows 8/8.1 HATE. They do not even support all of directX 11.1 which is the cause of the crashes.

          Part of me feels ATI and Nvidia are doing this on purpose so they can sell the remarked gamer cards as FirePRo's and Quadro's for real professional work yada yada at an expensive price. I mean if it is so bad even for 2d Adobe apps you need a $2,000 card just so video artificats do not pop up you know you have trouble.

          Or maybe I am cynical to think of a conspiracy to sell professional grade cards more with real opengl of course.

          • by taylorius (221419) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @04:14AM (#46987643) Homepage

            A small correction, Nvidia Quadro has not "turned into the Titan". Quadro cards are largely the same hardware as the consumer cards, but with minor changes to enable certain features. The main difference is in the drivers. Consumer drivers err on the side of speed, whereas Quadro drivers will typically have lower performance in a game type situation, but be better suited for CAD / 3D work.

            • A small correction, Nvidia Quadro has not "turned into the Titan". Quadro cards are largely the same hardware as the consumer cards, but with minor changes to enable certain features. The main difference is in the drivers. Consumer drivers err on the side of speed, whereas Quadro drivers will typically have lower performance in a game type situation, but be better suited for CAD / 3D work.

              Not necessarily true anymore for all Quadro's. The titan is a different beast than the other high end cards that Nvidia makes. It has double precession and other on demand hardware features. It is true the drivers crippled double precession floats on it but for cheap engineering cards they are great.

              But you are taking a crap-shoot with the drivers.

              5 years ago ATI was the suckiest hands down! They have improved slighty and Nvidia has gone down to where they both have their good and bad versions with bugs eve

              • "It is true the drivers crippled double precession floats on it"

                My understanding was that the crippling was done in firmware/hardware. I'd like to see otherwise as it'd save having to buy K10 cards for a current project.

          • by npridgeon (784063)

            If the article is correct (I didn't follow the link), ATI is in a perfect spot to go full open source. They would have a ton of people helping to build stable and open drivers and would be able to compete with Nvidia without spending a ton of money. Too bad it'll never happen.

        • by Narishma (822073)

          That's not too different from having to write different code paths for different vendors using OpenGL or D3D for performance reasons.

          • by exomondo (1725132)

            That's not too different from having to write different code paths for different vendors using OpenGL or D3D for performance reasons.

            Well it is, like I said it's OGL, D3D and 3 more vendor-specific code paths. Targeting 5 is significantly more effort than targeting 2.

            • by Narishma (822073)

              That's not what I meant. Currently, it's not unusual for AAA games to have 2 or 3 different paths (or more, if they explicitly support different generations of hardware) even when using a single API for performance reasons. I was saying that having to support 3 different APIs instead of 3 different code paths using the same API isn't that much more work.

              • by exomondo (1725132)
                You had the same thing when targeting specific features of the Voodoo 2 as opposed to the Voodoo 1 even when using Glide. Having multiple code paths for a single API to support multiple generations of hardware is not new, it was done back when we were supporting a dozen graphics APIs as well.
                • by Narishma (822073)

                  And again you're missing my point. I didn't say it was new.

                  • by exomondo (1725132)
                    So what is your point? Previously we had to write for many APIs (OpenGL, Direct3D, Glide, Rendition, MSI, etc...), now we have to write for fewer APIs (only OpenGL and Direct3D). In both cases we always had multiple code paths per API so what point are you trying to make?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Assmasher (456699)

          Indeed.

          I really DO NOT miss D3D execute buffers. Glide was awesome, and OpenGL 1.2 on IRIX was joyful (if the OS didn't crash on you...)

          I remember coming into work one day and my dev manager saying the equivalent of "sorry about your office, but NASA is having trouble with their IR2 at Moffet so we got SGI to lend us one for a few weeks..." and lo and behold next to my desk was a brand spanking new - still had packing materials stuck to it - Onyx IR2 sitting there in all its purple glory. That was my fav

          • by exomondo (1725132)
            Definitely! It was cool to have the 3D accelerator days, a TNT paired with a Voodoo 2 was such a cool combo! But then being able to work on an InifiniteReality the size of a pair of refrigerators with - back then - an enormous amount of computing power was just astounding (from a nerd point of view). I do miss that, and having such a buzzing development community being pulled in all different directions by the latest innovation from one of the many vendors :)
      • by Kjella (173770)

        The situation with the graphics markers are like the ISPs with broadband or the major telecoms when picking a cell phone. Not a monopoloy but an oligopoly run by a few. Boy I miss PowerVR, S3, 3DFX Vodoo, and Matrox.

        Ask the people stuck with Poulsbo how they feel about PowerVR graphics, they are one of the few who suck worse than nVidia for driver support. 3DFX with their Glide API was king of proprietary solutions. S3 was the patent champion, even today their patented S3 Texture Compression causes trouble for open source. And Matrox made Intel's 3D performance look stellar. YMMV but I feel the competition in the graphics market is still working fairly well, at least a lot better than on the CPU side. It's just that th

        • by poetmatt (793785)

          This is correct. We had more competition in terms of choosing graphics cards in the past, it didn't mean they were actually competitors or even tried to not do a completely shit job that didnt' help anyone in the long term.

          Intel doesn't give a shit even today as far as graphics - good luck getting any launch game to run on any integrated graphics platform on a screen above 1024x768, where even a $50 card from literally anyone else will do better than the extra $50 intel is charging people to have an IGP. He

      • by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki&gmail,com> on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @03:06AM (#46987453) Homepage

        Really, considering the quality of drivers out of nvidia for the last year I'm glad I switched to ATI. I think it started around the nvidia 302.xx series, where the mass lockups began and the nvidia forums(before they were hacked) that had the 480k post thread with 1m+ views for TDR's. [nvidia.com] Then it was the crashing with firefox, that lasted from the 302's right up to the 320's. It only got worse about the time the 310's or 315's rolled around and the drivers were causing hardlocks across all 400,500,600 series cards. And I think it was right around the 308's where the complaints got so bad that nvidia was willing to pay shipping costs for anyone in the continental US to have their rigs sent to California so they could try to find out why the TDR problem was so rampant.

        I haven't heard anything good on the state of nvidia drivers, if I have a complaint about ATI drivers is that some programs are bit more sluggish compared to my nvidia card, but I'll take the stability over the TDR, TDR, TDR, TDR, TDR, TDR. And sadly it wasn't one card(had a 400, and two 560 series cards), and one configuration, or even one power supply or a particular CPU in my case. It was across AMD, Intel, various ram speeds, paired, non-paired, different PSU's, and machines in more than one physical location.

        My general policy has been to flip-flop every generation and go nvidia to ati and back again. But the last series of drivers pissed me off to no end that I dumped them for ATI, and Matrox didn't go anywhere they're still making video cards only on the business end though. The problem of course is much like the CPU business right? Remember the days of Cyrix, AMD, Intel? Well it was a case of hardware pushing so fast that not all of the companies could keep up. Same deal happened in the videocard market.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          It goes to a "black screen of death" (due to powermiser settings I've determined). I also get the TDR issue where the display "loses connection to the video card" but, that DOES seem to be able to be offset properly using:

          [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\GraphicsDrivers]
          "TdrLevelRecover"=dword:00000004
          "TdrDdiDelay"=dword:00000007
          "TdrDelay"=dword:00000003

          &

          [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\GraphicsDrivers\Configuration\NOEDID_10DE_06CD_00000002_00000000_2000100^D0693

      • by Xest (935314)

        "Windows 8/8.1 blows on Nvidia with the latest drivers if you do not have the latest cards. Ask any owner as the majority of the 8.1 update 1 failures were NVidia related."

        I know it's an anecdote, but you said ask anyone, so hey, I have 8.1 update 1 and saw no failures with a not the latest card using the latest drivers. Not had the slightest problem, everything worked fine and smooth (well, apart from generally just being Windows 8 - but hey, I like to try before I judge).

        • by poetmatt (793785)

          It's all anecdotes, and anyone who believes personal anecdotes is a fool and deserves to lose their money to a corporation on their foolish decisions. Which is how our economy operates, anyway.

      • My 7870 performance on Linux has been getting steadily better. The release schedule is WAY faster than it was and I haven't seen any regressions for a long time.

        The last 2 releases tripled performance on Portal - it's over 300 FPS now.

        Steam on Linux appears to have lit a fire under AMD and real progress is being made. Shit Just Works now.

        • Let me know when they get Catalyst to work well with Windows.

          My 7850 can not run anything after 13.12 and couldn't run 13.4 either without a damn re-image.

          • by Lotana (842533)

            Who the hell uses Windows for gaming?!! Linux is where all the games are. Windows is only for serious work. :-)

      • I'm not so sure ATI does blow equally. I have two 660ti's in SLI to power 3 monitors. Anything beyond the ~2 year old 327 series drivers does not work for me. Without surround mode, I at least get three screens with newer drivers... generally I get a stupid amount of slowdown to the point where I feel like I'm running Windows 7 on a 486. If I somehow manage to turn on surround mode, all three screens are recognized, but only 2 of them display anything. The slowdown also gets much, much worse. To date I have
  • I work with some high end graphics software
    The Mesa drivers don't work.
    A prolonged and nasty install of the Nvidia drivers is req. for the software to work.
    Not a good user experience on Linux
  • The article seems to mention Windows/Linux (or Linux/Window). What about OpenGL/GLES drivers on other platforms, such as Mac OS X, Android, iOS, ?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by tlhIngan (30335)

      The article seems to mention Windows/Linux (or Linux/Window). What about OpenGL/GLES drivers on other platforms, such as Mac OS X, Android, iOS, ?

      OS X and iOS well, the drivers I believe work, but can be slow. The reason is, well, Apple pretty much wrote the drivers for AMD, nVidia, Intel and Imagination Technologies. There probably was a lot of cooperation with the respective companies, but Apple pretty much wrote it themselves as the others do not have the time, money or resources to write drivers for App

      • The article seems to mention Windows/Linux (or Linux/Window). What about OpenGL/GLES drivers on other platforms, such as Mac OS X, Android, iOS, ?

        OS X and iOS well, the drivers I believe work, but can be slow. The reason is, well, Apple pretty much wrote the drivers for AMD, nVidia, Intel and Imagination Technologies. There probably was a lot of cooperation with the respective companies, but Apple pretty much wrote it themselves as the others do not have the time, money or resources to write drivers for Apple.

        Apple is not writing the drivers for AMD and nVidia. I'm not sure about Intel. At one time Apple wrote the Nvidia drivers (over a decade ago), but they never wrote the AMD drivers. AMD and nVidia definitely have internal teams writing their drivers these days.

        Apple is responsible for the OpenGL stack and driver ABI, which is where they work closely with the GPU vendors. But they're taking drops of the drivers and pre-bundling them with the OS. It can make submitting bugs a problem because Apple are the ones

    • by Sits (117492) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @12:15AM (#46987073) Homepage Journal

      There's a comment at the bottom of the article by David Poole [blogspot.co.uk] that links to a post talking about OpenGL driver quality on desktop Linux and mobile Linux [dolphin-emu.org]. The summary from that blog post is:

      • Vendor N closed source desktop Windows/Linux - Excellent. Near perfect.
      • Vendor X open source desktop Linux - Good. Highly responsive to bug reports but updates get to users slowly.
      • Vendor I closed source desktop Windows - Good but lacking useful features.
      • Vendor A1 closed source desktop Windows/Linux - Mediocre. Unresponsive to bug reports.
      • Vendor A2 closed source mobile - Bad. Buggy, vendor knows there are issues but doesn't fix them, driver limits performance forcing others to implement workarounds.
      • Vendor Q closed source mobile - Bad. Buggy, vendor is unresponsive to bug reports.
      • Vendor P closed source mobile - Unknown. Driver does not publicly support high enough version of OpenGL ES.
      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        So why do people keep writing letters instead of the firm names? Everybody knows that Apple (Q) is unresponsive to bug reports, but saying so won't make black choppers fly over your basement.

        • by PRMan (959735)
          No. Just lawyers.
        • by msclrhd (1211086) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @06:21AM (#46988027)

          If you read the blog post, they don't use letters: N=NVIDIA, X=Mesa, I=Intel, A1=AMD, A2=ARM/Mali, Q=Qualcomm/Adreno, P=PowerVR. There is no mention of Apple.

    • Windows/Linux (or Linux/Window).

      Well, I use GCC and MinGW, so that would be GNU/Linux vs GNU/Windows... Apple's OS is illegal to install on my hardware so I don't know about GNU/OSX.

      OpenGL ES is used on mobile platforms, and there are some tight CPU related issues (often what would be strictly GPU hardware is emulated CPU side on crappier devices). Smartphones and tablets don't really compare to the desktop. I'd be more interested in the difference in Nvidia vs ATI drivers consoles. For instance: the PS4's AMD/ATI Radeon vs the Xbone'

    • That was my question as well. You can't say so at PC sites, but I thought the real growth platforms, games and non-games, were iOS and Android (in the order you prefer.)
    • I believe Apple are up to OpenGL 3.3? Well GL is at 4.4 right now, which is more or less feature parity with the D3D 11 that was released 3 or 4 years ago. So you see how throwing money at the problem (Microsoft) results in far better, more robust and more feature complete solutions than waiting for some greasy students to finish their open source coursework.
  • My guess. I didn't try hard. But the important question to everyone, is this A B C in the right order?
    • Aw shit, busted for reading TFA but not actually bothering to read any of the summary. Well, I was eager and didn't give a shit about the icing, I went straight for the cake, but I was dead on ....

      (So sue me ... not literally, of course since these days --- well --- you know ... )
  • Vendor B has the most flaky drivers. They have good technical know-how on OpenGL but due to an extremely small team (money woes), they have shoddy drivers.

    Is that the excuse? So uh, ATI has always had money woes? Since time was time? That should have been a sign.

    • by fractoid (1076465)
      Yeah, this Vendor A/B stuff fooled no-one. As such, I wonder how much point there is (legally speaking) in doing that as opposed to just saying "nVidia's drivers are closed source and they optimise for benchmarks and popular games, ATI's drivers are open but crap, Intel gives no fucks and just wants to build SOCs."
  • by gentryx (759438) * on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @12:15AM (#46987067) Homepage Journal
    OT: "Geldreich" is a German compound of Money (Geld) and rich/plentyful (reich). So if he's called Rich Geldreich, that could be written as Rich Rich... Yeah, I know: no one knows Richie Rich today.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I didn't want to comment, because I've had a love hate relationship with some of these drivers. Two video cards ago when I was building my current computer, I wanted ATI because I was tired of the NVIDIA post-kernel-install. NVIDIA got lucky because the ATI card was DOA. So I went with a 9600GT. And I kept using it till a few months ago, when I replaced it with a 630 (about the same speed, but doesn't have the 'single monitor only' problem when using the Nouveau drivers. But the Nouveau drivers proved

  • won't share it is specifications?

  • Not being a gamer, I'm all okay with waiting for the rich kid's hardware to catch up. Besides, too much graphics capibility seems to do nothing but encourage developers to force all sorts of ridiculous visual doodads on software that really needs to do nothing but serve as point and click program launchers.

  • I like to rant about OSS, and will continue to, but I also saw a surprising and positive result with the open-source Radeon driver.

    On a low-end Radeon 6320, about a year ago Half-Life 2 was extremely choppy on Linux. Of course it might have been a Mesa or compositor problem too, instead of a driver issue.

    However, I recently tried it again and the frame rates are now almost as good as under Windows. Nice improvement.

  • If I had a time machine and I could visit myself in a past life, but it was even more hemmed in than Twitter—say Morse code at one millibaud—my message to self (circa mid to late 1990s) would be this: Screw games.

    Yes, I had a blast playing those games. But then I started making "mixed" decisions in how I set up my system to balance the games I liked to play and the development tools I needed to use. In hindsight, that was nothing but bad mojo. The difficulty of achieving a perfect stack is exp

  • I used to write drivers for hardware a looong time ago (disc drives, UARTS, that kind of thing.) I realize that these graphics cards are way more complicated and trying to squeeze every last ounce of performance out of them can be a lot of effort. (I can remember spending a day trying to save a single instruction inside a device interrupt, and those were relatively simple devices.)

    Even so, eventually you can't just kkep adding people to a project. If the concepts are well known then you get some decent p

  • Replace the proprietary junk with an Octacore DSP as a co-processor and do software rendering assisted with extra instructions. If it works with arm, it should work with Intel.

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