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Legacy ATI Driver question

ati catalyst headaches

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#1 Max Norris

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Posted 04 October 2012 - 12:51

One of my wife's machines is a mid-range unit, nothing fancy but it's no slouch, video's a bit on the older side though, an ATI HD 3850 AGP 512MB. (It actually holds its own quite well despite its age with gaming in Windows.) Anyways, ATI has "legacied" a bunch of their cards, this one included. Under Windows it's not a big deal; even under Windows 8 it's running the older Catalyst 11.10 drivers (seems to be that cards "sweet spot" driver wise) and going on its happy way. With Linux though it's been nothing but problematic, at best.

The open source drivers do work, decent 2D acceleration and all that, quite acceptable, multiple monitors work, etc, but it's borderline abysmal with 3D, even with a current build pulled out of their Git repo.. I know the card can do much better, right now it's like watching a slideshow sometimes. If that machine was just going to run desktop apps it wouldn't even be an issue. The problem is the Catalyst drivers aren't getting updated anymore. The latest ones won't work with the card anymore, the older ones will apparently run into compatibility issues with the newer kernel (or so I read), older ones also have problems with multiple displays and such. Last time I personally worked with an ATI card under Linux was a few years back, so pretty much anything I know about it is out of date. I did try an older Catalyst driver, think it was 11.10, it kinda/sorta worked, but dual displays didn't, got some bizarre corruption with the mouse cursor, etc.

I suspect she's pretty much boned with it as it's just not worth replacing, for what that machine is getting used for it'll probably just wind up using Win7 or 8, but does anyone have any practical experience with an ATI AGP board with a current distro? I could just throw on an older Ubuntu build but really would like to avoid that if I can. I frankly don't care which distro, prefer Arch or even one of the 'Buntu's, but whatever, if it works it works.


#2 f0rk_b0mb

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Posted 04 October 2012 - 13:08

Ubuntu 12.10 on a P4, 1 gig of ram, and a agp NVIDIA 6200, is a really shi*y machine (I wasn't surprised). I ended up going with Ubuntu 10.04 and it rocked! I used it mainly for browsing the web, checking my email, etc. You could also try XFCE (Xubuntu).

#3 OP Max Norris

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Posted 04 October 2012 - 13:12

Ubuntu 12.10 on a P4, 1 gig of ram, and a agp NVIDIA 6200, is a really shi*y machine (I wasn't surprised). I ended up going with Ubuntu 10.04 and it rocked! I used it mainly for browsing the web, checking my email, etc. You could also try XFCE (Xubuntu).

Yea, if I had a spare nVidia laying around I'd just swap the sucker. From my own personal experiences anyway, I usually get much better results with nVidia under *Nix and ATI under Windows. I was hoping to use a current build of whatever distro, but that's probably not in the cards with this video card, and like I mentioned it's just not worth plunking any money into it, it's not either of our main systems. Not that it's a turkey system, it's quite solid in performance for its age, keeps up fairly well with my main system for the most part, 2.7GHz quad, 4GB,etc.. not state of the art but no junker. Figured I'd ask if anyone has any first hand experience with one of these older ATI boards and a current distro before I go with a plan-B, never know, might get lucky.

#4 f0rk_b0mb

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Posted 04 October 2012 - 13:48

Yea, if I had a spare nVidia laying around I'd just swap the sucker. From my own personal experiences anyway, I usually get much better results with nVidia under *Nix and ATI under Windows. I was hoping to use a current build of whatever distro, but that's probably not in the cards with this video card, and like I mentioned it's just not worth plunking any money into it, it's not either of our main systems. Not that it's a turkey system, it's quite solid in performance for its age, keeps up fairly well with my main system for the most part, 2.7GHz quad, 4GB,etc.. not state of the art but no junker. Figured I'd ask if anyone has any first hand experience with one of these older ATI boards and a current distro before I go with a plan-B, never know, might get lucky.


Maybe you could try Arch? It won't be the fastest, prettiest desktop, but it would be your best bet to give it a new life. Then again, it a witch to install.

+1 For NVIDIA being the best on Linux, ATI for Windows.

#5 Haggis

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Posted 04 October 2012 - 14:01

not sure if this will help as not had a lot of time to go right into it but

http://driverscollec...SS=Linux x86_64

#6 simplezz

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Posted 05 October 2012 - 18:20

I use the FOSS driver (r600) for my HD 5770. While the 3D performance leaves a little to be desired, it's a rock solid 2D driver. And I can manually control the power / fan levels via /sys/class/drm/card0/device/power_profile.

As far as your case goes, there are a few things you can try, though there's no guarantee that they will improve the 3D performance:
1. Ensure you're not software rendering:
glxinfo | grep direct
2. Install minimalist arch installation.
3. Opt for a low overhead desktop / X session. XFCE, LXDE, Enlightenment, and Fluxbox come to mind. I use XFCE myself.
4. Disable desktop composition if it's already enabled. This can really improve performance.
5. If you're really struggling and want to mess around a bit, then you can always try writing a custom xorg.conf.