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NVIDIA’s (even bigger) Linux Advantage

NVIDIA’s latest Linux graphics driver aims to solve one of the number one Linux headaches: Installation. The NVIDIA Linux Update is a new feature that removes the hassles and potential for error that plague many Linux installations. Read on to find out why this development reinforces NVIDIA’s Linux commitment.

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NVIDIA Unified Driver Architecture – The (even bigger) Linux Advantage

Last December, we discussed NVIDIA’s then-new Linux graphics release and its importance to Linux users and distributions (please see here for the original article). With the December 11, 2002 release, the NVIDIA Corporation ratified its support of Linux by introducing a single binary driver for over 200 NVIDIA products. The Unified Driver Architecture (UDA) shared 95% of its code base between all supported operating systems. The UDA featured speed, stability, support, and forwards and backwards compatibility across multiple platforms, not just Windows. The 12/11 release also included full support for the CineFX Architecture, the core feature set for the new GeForceFX line of graphics processors (GPU’s). Summary Linux features include:

  • Complete Unified Driver support for OpenGL and advanced NVIDIA features
  • Industry recognized leader in Linux driver quality, stability, compatibility and support
  • Industry’s fastest Linux graphics performance
    • As measured by SPEC Viewperf benchmark
  • Largest provider of Linux graphics support for OEMs
  • 100% support from NVIDIA engineers, not by third parties
  • Two dedicated public support e-mail aliases for all processors
  • NVIDIA dedicated support guarantees Linux solutions work

Unified Driver Architecture features:

  • Single driver binary for 200+ NVIDIA products
  • Allows NVIDIA to easily support numerous operating systems
    • 95% of all code base is shared between all operating systems
  • Enables NVIDIA to easily release drivers for new processors and operating systems that are
    • Fully featured
    • Highest performance
    • Rock solid stable
    • Forward and backward compatible with all architectures
  • IT departments can easily setup, deploy, and support large systems with a variety of NVIDIA processors

    By Platform:

    Desktop

    IA32 (Intel Pentium and AMD Athlon)

    • Pixel and Vertex Shader support
    • OpenGL 1.4 with CineFX Architecture support
    • Multi-monitor support

    AMD64 (Athlon 64)

    • Pixel and Vertex Shader support
    • OpenGL 1.4 with CineFX Architecture support

    FreeBSD (first introduced 11/02)

    • Pixel and Vertex Shader support
    • OpenGL 1.4 with CineFX Architecture support

    Mobile

    IA32 (Intel Pentium and AMD Athlon)

    • Power management for hibernate/resume modes
    • Full mobile hot key support
    • Multi-monitor support

    FreeBSD

    • Supports all NVIDIA processors
    • OpenGL 1.3 support
    • GLX 1.2 support

    Multi-platform (nForce)

    IA32 (AMD Athlon)

    • High-performing graphics
    • Multi-monitor support
    • USB/USB 2.0
    • FireWire
    • IDE
    • Audio
    • Networking
    • Communication

    Workstation

    IA32 (Intel Pentium and AMD Athlon)

    • Support for Quadro hardware features
    • Windows and Linux performance parity; SPEC Viewperf performance leader
    • Rapidly displacing proprietary UNIX platforms
    • ISV Certifications (i.e. Maya)
    • Multi-monitor support
    • OpenGL 1.4 with CineFX Architecture support

    IA64 (Intel Itanium)

    • Full support for Quadro hardware features
    • Fastest IA64 Linux SPEC Viewperf performance
    • CineFX Architecture support

    AMD64 (Athlon 64)

    • Industry’s first graphics solution for Athlon 64 processors
    • Quadro workstation ready
    • OpenGL 1.4 with CineFX Architecture support
    • GLX 1.3 support

    FreeBSD

    • Industry’s first graphics solution for Athlon 64 processors
    • Supports Quadro hardware features
    • OpenGL 1.3 support
    • GLX 1.2 support

What’s New?

What you’ve read so far is largely the same from December’s release. What’s new is the most exciting feature, NVIDIA Linux Update. Anyone who’s installed Linux drivers, including NVIDIA’s, knows what a royal pain in the butt it can be. Finding the right driver can be a chore in itself. Getting it to actually install and work can make DOS and Win 3.1 nightmares look pleasant by comparison. NVIDIA heard the cries of angst from the Linux community and developed Linux Update in response. Linux Update features:

  • Integrated installer simplifies setup and deployment
  • Intelligently download new drivers directly to your PC
  • Fully supports all major Linux OSs and CPUs
  • 100% uptime on NVIDIA’s dedicated FTP servers
  • Ease of use installation and deployment of software
    • Detection of Linux operating, kernel and CPU
    • Sets up the system for optimal performance and stability
  • Future-proof drivers
    • Downloads and installs newer NVIDIA driver if available
    • Checks for precompiled kernel interfaces for kernels that were released *after* installed driver

Windows-only users are probably thinking, “Big deal. Windows drivers and apps have had those features for years.” That’s true, and that’s exactly the point. NVIDIA Linux Update seeks to simplify driver installation and maintenance for novices and power users. For example, tweakers still have over 20 command line options available to them. Novices, however, don’t have to worry about that increased complexity until later (or never at all). The installer is also open source, meaning one can modify it to provide even more flexibility and features to Linux Update.

Linux Update is available now for all IA-32 platforms. IA64, AMD64, and nForce chipset support is coming soon.

Driver Details

v1.0-4349 (March 31, 2003)

This driver includes:

  • Unified Driver Architecture
  • NVIDIA Linux Update
  • GeForce FX and Quadro FX support
  • Red Hat 9.0 and Mandrake 9.1 support

NVIDIA vs. ATI

This chart compares NVIDIA’s Linux support to its primary competitor, ATI:

 
NVIDIA
ATI
Unified Driver Architecture Yes, one driver supports all graphics chips No, multiple drivers available from ATI, DRI Project, Utah-GLX teams
OpenGL Performance Industry leader as measured by Quake3 and SPEC Viewperf Not the industry leader
Auto-update utility Yes, built into driver No
Install 100% compatible with all Linux OSs Yes, 100% compatible install No, RPM only
Support Yes, two dedicated support email addresses and online support forum Yes; online feedback forum

As you can see, NVIDIA is well ahead of the pack in treating Linux as a professional platform.

Industry Use

Linux isn’t just for geeks and rebels against the Microsoft empire. Linux means business and industrial-strength applications, and NVIDIA is partnering with several significant industry leaders in developing and utilizing applications in UNIX with NVIDIA GPU’s. Among them are:

Magic Earth, a leading supplier of software and services for the upstream oil and gas industry,specializes in high-performance volume visualization and interpretation solutions. Magic Earth produces MagicDesk™, delivering the power of GeoProbe on Linux for detailed reservoir analysis on IBM Intellistation M Pro’s with NVIDIA’s Quadro4 900 XGL.

The Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) at Ohio State University deployed over 50 NVIDIA Quadro4 900 XGL workstation graphics boards for an integrated visualization cluster used to research large scale (Terascale) visualizations. These are used in the BALE (Blueprint for an Advanced Learning Environment) program that OSC uses to, according to Associate Director Al Stutz, “provide large scale, real-time volume rendering results. To be able to decompose the computation and graphics within the same node will provide real-time results for massive computations that have long been a need of researchers across the state of Ohio.”

Digital Domain, one of the largest digital studios in the world, is standardized on Quadro4 GPU’s and Linux. They host an integrated production studio that includes divisions for:

  • feature film visual effects (Titanic)
  • commercial production
  • music videos
  • location-based entertainment
  • feature film development

Michael Taylor, Vice President of the Digital Studio at Digital Domain, is very impressed with the level of service his company has received: “What has distinguished NVIDIA most for us has been their customer service and their commitment to helping Digital Domain experience a smooth transition to Linux. We’re also impressed with the quality of their Linux drivers and the level of cooperation we received to make sure that NUKE runs impeccably with their professional graphics hardware.”

Conclusions

NVIDIA’s December 2002 release was a big step in the right direction. The March 2003 is an even bigger leap forward. People expect excellent drivers from NVIDIA. While it is reassuring to hear about NVIDIA’s dedication to the viability of Linux, it is expected that their drivers will work and that they will work well. Linux Update is significant in that it removes much of the guesswork, drudgery, and hazards of previous installation procedures. Let’s face it, part of the appeal of Linux is the ability to get one’s virtual hands in it and muck about. But there comes a time when one actually wants the OS to *do* something and dealing with installation headaches just gets in the way. Linux gurus who loathe automation should not be put off by this development because NVIDIA still offers command line support and the installer is open source; they can twiddle bits until their hearts are content. Newcomers should welcome this development with cheers and parades for it removes a major headache and barrier for first-time Unix users.

The latest driver build featuring Linux Update is available now directly from NVIDIA. Give it a try and get a taste of what the Linux future holds.

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