The latest Catalyst for Linux package on AMD's ATI/Linux support page at the time of this writing is version 8.38.6, a 51MB+ download released six days ago, and which I have been running so far for five days with my testing workhorse, the Gateway 7422 notebook which sports one ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 chipset with 64MB of video memory. The v8.32 Mobility Linux drivers which I ran before this upgrade had a number of noticeable problems in the Control Centre, ugly small fonts, the ability to launch several instances of the same applet at once, and the very little functionality of it all.
Latest Catalyst Linux drivers on AMD's site
I'm glad to report that AMD seems to have learned the lesson and at least the cosmetic part of the control centre has been improved greatly, as you can see in the screenshots below. I really wish ATI had this level of Linux drivers support in 2001 or 2003, not so late by 2007. But still, the improvements need to be recognized. In addition to the cosmetics and the GUI, I'm happy to report that I can do CTRL-ALT-F1 and CTRL-ALT-F7 to switch back and forth between full screen text mode and the GUI without the occasional lock-ups that plagued this machine when using the old drivers. Of course, it still lacks tons of features compared to the Windows version, but at least it's not the joke full of little annoyances that the previous versions were.
Control Centre for previous Mobility drivers, v8.32.5, from January this year.
Welcome Screen in the new Control Centre
Not all roses
The nice GUI installer continues ending with a note stating that it's important for the user to run 'aticonfig' to complete the configuration of the display settings. I've said it before and I said it again... if the GUI installer is running with root privileges, why can't that program spawn the 'aticonfig --initial' command "automagically"?
Also, while the drivers and control panel correctly identified a secondary monitor hooked into the notebook's VGA out socket, and the new Control Panel feature titled "Identify Displays" correctly show the numbers "one" and "two" each in its separate display successfully. But as soon as I switched the "Mode" setting for display #2 from "Single" or "Clone" to "big desktop", it switched video modes on the notebook display to some weird 800x400 or something like that, with half the screen not viewable, and asks for a reboot. After a reboot, the desktop comes up normally, once again in "Clone" mode (the VGA output shows the same image as the notebook's LCD).
OpenGL Quality/Acceleration settings
Quite frankly, I never thought about using a dual-screen configuration with a notebook, and while on this test I was unable to show "big desktop" mode, I even have my doubts that Mobility Radeon 9600 with 64MB could handle it. In any case, if the system doesn't support it, then the control centre should grey out the option. And if the chipset supports it, the it should just work instead of exhibiting the weird behaviour described above. But hey, 95% of it works, and it looks nice. I waited so long already that I can wait a bit more for the remaining 5% of functionality to work OK. OpenGL drivers are automagically installed as well by the graphical installer and while I'm not a 3D freak I was able to run OpenGL screen savers just fine with decent speed.
Dual-Screen support. "Big Desktop" mode
If you're still running the old ATI Linux drivers with the ugly Control Centre, head towards AMD's support page and get the 8.38.6 -or newer- Catalyst drivers. My next step will be attempting dual-screen "big desktop" mode with my desktop box to narrow it as either a hardware limitation or a software one. Stay tuned.µ
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