After a long time waiting, we finally have a new Linux driver for Radeon cards.
AMD’s relationship with Linux so far has been a mix of love and hate. Until not long ago, if you had an AMD Radeon card, you had two options to make it work on Linux.
You had first the radeon driver, which is free code and therefore comes pre-installed on most Linux distributions. This driver is maintained by AMD, but without good results: it only serves to show the desktop, play videos, and little else, since it does not really take advantage of the 3D capabilities of the card.
Second, you had the fglrx driver, closed source (to prevent Nvidia and other manufacturers from discovering AMD’s secrets, supposedly). This was more like the Windows driver, in that it was possible to play games with 3D graphics with it, although the performance was still poor.
The disgusting state of AMD on Linux
Also, AMD programmers weren’t able to keep up with Linux releases, and you are forced to use older versions of the kernel and x.org (the graphics display system used by most distros).
The height of the highs came with the release of the new version of Ubuntu. If you use a Radeon card you should not upgrade to Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, because fglrx is not available for this version. You have the radeon driver, but little else, so in this case it is recommended to stay on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS.
AMD’s situation in Linux couldn’t be worse, although luckily the company promised that things would change. And today the day has finally come when we begin to notice the change, with the arrival of the new Linux driver for Radeon cards, called AMDGPU-PRO, created from scratch by AMD and made up of two parts, one free and the other closed source.
AMDGPU, a new era for AMD on Linux
AMDGPU is the open source part, and is the core of the driver, the part that allows the operating system to communicate with the graphics chip to draw on the screen. The idea is that, thanks to its free license, each distro can modify the code and include it in the system by default, and that other programmers can improve and optimize it.
The second piece of the puzzle is AMDGPU-PRO, and it is closed source. This is where the key to AMD technologies lies, the ones you don’t want to go public with yet. Therefore, this part is responsible for improving compatibility with the new cards that AMD launches, and for improving optimization with the latest 3D games.
Although they are two independent parts, AMD works at the same time in both, so the need to choose a driver is over. By default, the Linux kernel already includes AMDGPU(from version 4.5.4) for normal use of our card, and if we want to play the latest titles, we will have to install AMDGPU-PRO.
Now you can get the new Linux driver for Radeon cards
AMDGPU is already available on some distros, such as Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, and starting today we can get the first beta of AMDGPU-PRO. In addition, the latest beta of SteamOS has already been updated with the possibility of installing AMDGPU-PRO, something important because this driver is also the first from AMD that supports Vulkan, the new API.
It’s not all good news. At the moment on the download page we can only get the installer for Ubuntu 16.04, but hopefully over time it will be released for more distros. But more importantly, the new driver only supports a few cards:
- R9 Fury X
- R9 Fury
- R9 Nano
- R9 M395X
- R9 380X
- R9 380
- R9 285
Over time, all Radeon cards up to the HD 7000 range (chipGCN 1.0 Southern Islands) are expected to achieve compatibility with the new driver, but that is still lacking.
AMDGPU ushers in a new era for Linux gamers?
AMDGPU-PRO driver beta download for Ubuntu 16.04