A recent performance surprise with X on my Fedora Linux desktop
As I discussed yesterday, on Monday I 'upgraded' my office workstation by transplanted my system disks and data disks from my old office hardware to my new office hardware. When I turned the new hardware on, my Fedora install booted right up pretty much exactly as it had been (some advance planning made networking work out), I logged in on the text console, started up X, and didn't think twice about it. Modern X is basically configuration free and anyway, both the old and the new hardware had Radeon cards (and the same connectors for my monitors, so my dual-screen setup wouldn't get scrambled). I even ran various OpenGL test programs to exercise the new card and see if it would die under far more demanding load than I expected to ever put on it.
(This wound up leading to some lockups.)
All of this sounds perfectly ordinary, but actually I left out an
important detail that I only discovered yesterday. My old graphics
card is a Radeon HD 5450, which uses the X
radeon driver. My new
graphics card is a Radeon RX 550, but things have changed since
2011 so it uses the more modern
amdgpu driver. And I didn't have
the amdgpu driver installed in my Fedora setup (like most X drivers,
it's in a separate RPM of its own), so the X server was using neither
amdgpu driver (which it didn't have) nor the
(which doesn't support the RX 550).
The first surprise is that X worked anyways and I didn't notice
anything particular wrong or off about my X session. Everything
worked and was as responsive as I expected, and the OpenGL tests I
ran seemed to go acceptably fast (as did a full-screen video). In
retrospect there were a few oddities that I noticed as I was trying
things due to my system hangs (
xdriinfo reported no direct rendering
vdpauinfo spat out odd errors, for example), but there was
nothing obvious (and
glxinfo reported plausible things).
The second surprise is what X was actually using to drive the
display, which turns out to be something called the
This driver is a quite basic one that relies on kernel mode setting but is
otherwise more or less unaccelerated. Well, sort of, because
modesetting was apparently using glamor to outsource
some rendering to OpenGL, in case you have hardware accelerated
OpenGL, which I think that I did in this setup. I'm left unsure of
how much hardware acceleration I was getting; maybe my CPU was
rendering 24-bit colour across two 1920x1200 LCDs without me noticing,
or maybe a bunch of it was actually hardware accelerated even with
a generic X driver.
(There is a tangled web of packages here. I believe that the open source AMD OpenGL code is part of the general Mesa packages, so it's always installed if you have Mesa present. But I don't know if the Mesa code requires the X server to have an accelerated driver, or if a kernel driver is good enough.)
PS: Kernel mode setting was available because the kernel also has
an amdgpu driver module that's part of the DRM system. That
module is in the general
kernel-modules package, so it's installed
on all machines and automatically loaded whenever the PCI IDs match.
PPS: Given that I had system lockups before I installed the X server
amdgpu driver, the Fedora and freedesktop bugs are
really a kernel bug in the
admgpu kernel driver. Perhaps this is
unsurprising and already known.