Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ubuntu Linux - Nvidia Vs AMD Graphics Cards

nVidia Geforce 470 verses AMD Radeon 6870

I recently re-acquired a Geforce 470 from a friend. After reading many times how well nVidia supports x86_64 Linux I figured I'd replace the AMD Radeon 6870 in my main system. Their performance is roughly on par with each other so I'm not really gaining or losing anything, theoretically. The drivers I used nVidia's 295.59 and for AMD I used Catalyst 12.6 beta. Below is what I found out from my testing.

These tests and results are very not scientific. YMMV.

Driver Installation -
Both drivers required there be compilers and many dependencies installed to to compile their kernel module. I elected to install the newer driver packages from their official websites instead of using the older (but probably well tested) Ubuntu supplied drivers. Nvidia's driver was a pain in the ass as I had to drop to the console and kill the X server before using their text based installation. The AMD driver installed from the desktop just fine using a nice GUI, as long as the dependencies were installed first.

Driver Stability -
Even though the AMD used beta drivers, I found them to be much more stable than nVidia's in everyday use. The nVidia drivers lagged out after a couple of hours of use and the display becomes jerky and not smooth. I use my computer for gaming mostly and this is no good.

Compatibility -
nVidia takes the taco here. All of my games and OpenGL apps work great. But to be honest I only ran into a single application that didn't work with the AMD. The application was DC Universe Online running under wine.

Raw Speed -
Again, nVidia wins. Frame rates were 1.5 - 3x higher than with the AMD. Not saying that the AMD had low frame rates, but the nVidia were higher. For example World of Warcraft under wine would get ~30-60FPS with the AMD drivers and the nVidia would get ~60-120FPS. These are both with vsync off. The nVidia card had more wild fluctuation in frame rates than the AMD but maintained it's higher FPS.

Image Quality -
I'm no expert but they both looked pretty darned good. The AMD had a lot more options to tweak settings in it's control applet.

Support for Multi Monitor Setups -
AMD ftw on this one. On the nVidia a lot of my Humble Bundle games would try to span both monitors at a resolution of 3840x1080 when it should have been on one monitor at 1920x1080. If this is a flaw of the game or the drivers, I do not know. The AMD didn't have this problem. On a side note nVidia's control applet was easier to set up for multi monitor than AMDs.

I was also able to drive 4 monitors (2 on DVI + 2 on mini display port using adapters) on the AMD as opposed to 2 (2x DVI) on the nVidia.

Relevant System Specs -

  • Intel i7 2600k @ 4.6GHz
  • 16GB DDR3 RAM
  • 2x 27inch Monitors, 1920x1080 each
  • Ubuntu 12.04 LTS
  • Gnome 3 w/ Gnome-Shell
In closing I would probably say I prefer the AMD card a little better because of it's driver stability (I know, crazy statement). It doesn't matter how fast a card is if it becomes jerky and unresponsive after a couple of hours of use. I'm grateful to have either card though.

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