AMD Radeon Settings, Gaming Evolved, and Raptr: The danger of default settings.

Okay, so I just got a Radeon R9 380 in the form of a Gigabyte G1 Gaming video card. It’s the first real GPU I’ve had in years and years — the last real video card I had was back when AGP2 was all the rage.

It all started the usual way:
* Uninstall anything related to the old video card. In my case I’m using integrated video (Radeon HD 7660D) but why risk it?
* Install new video card.
* Install new video card drivers.

Again, nothing out of the ordinary. Just the usual things that you should always do when installing new hardware on a Windows system. After reinstalling the AMD Catalyst drivers from the card manufacturer’s website, Catalyst reported there was a new driver for the system and it was going to update. Updates are more or less necessary, right? So I downloaded and updated.

This is where you can start to tell something at AMD went wrong and the marketing people are now running the company:

AMD Installer

AMD Settings Branding“? What is this? And why cant it be disabled? It’s quite enough that Microsoft keeps pushing unwanted software when you’re using Windows 10. There’s “AMD Quick Stream”, which doesn’t really tell you what it does. Then there’s the “AMD Gaming Evolved” app which is a barrel full of worms.

Okay, so I decided to install everything and see what was up. Reboot. All the AMD applications are configured by default to start on system boot.

Annoying.

Set about to disable that. I’m including screenshots because the UI for the applications is not exactly the simplest, and it is very different from what the old Catalyst drivers looked like, and cos I’ll probably forget about this in a few months.

AMD Radeon Settings:

AMD Radeon Settings

The entire middle section of the window is a link to this page.

Click on Preferences and heeeey, what the hell?

AMD Radeon Settings Prefences

There’s an option for “Banner Advertisements”. Come on now. I’m running adblockers on all my browsers and yet here we have a hardware manufacturer trying to simply bypass all that. Seeing this made me wonder what else was in store on the other apps, which leads me to…

AMD Gaming Evolved

AMD Gaming Evolved

This doesn’t look that bad. It looked for games that I have installed on my system and then suggested optimized video settings for them. Okay, that’s nice, now I don’t have to go about configuring each game one by one. But I certainly do not want the application to start at system boot. To find the preferences click on the little wrench icon next to Minimize up on the window title bar.

AMD Gaming Evolved preferences
The yellow arrow points to the wrench. Yeah, fuck usability.

General section

Landing here after clicking preferences and disable start on boot for… Raptr. I thought I was in the AMD Gaming Evolved app? Where did this “Raptr” thing come from? AMD needs to get their branding in order, really. So disable start on boot. Scroll down and another surprise:
AMD Gaming Evolved Promotions

“Promotions”? I don’t want any of that. Why would I do that to myself? Disabled that.

“Alerts & Sounds” section

  • Disabled “Enable sound alerts”
  • Picked “Hold messages until game is closed”. I’m sure those very important messages will turn out to be advertisements.
  • Disabled popup notifications. I thought this is what the Windows 10 Notification center is for?

Chat tab

AMD Gaming Evolved preferences

This makes me thing that “Raptr” is the name of the application and the name of an upstart social network for gamers that will be run by AMD or a company it hired for that purpose. It’ll have to compete with Steam, EA Origin, PlayStation Network, Xbox Live and a few others.

I wonder how long that will last. Running these things is expensive and prone to failures of all sorts; that’s before even starting on DoS and DDoS attacks.

Dock tab

Nothing troubling here

Games tab

AMD Gaming Evolved preferences

  • “Game Tracking”? I’ll be having none of that, thank you. This is pure gold for all those entities that live off tracking your every movement on the internet.
  • “Performance”? Sounds like an excellent way to spam your friends.

Plays.tv tab

This is useful for some, I guess

Twitch

Again, useful if you use it.

In-game tab

  • Disabled the in-game overlay. I’m here to play games, not view statistics about me playing games, or receive notifications of any kind. I already get annoyed when I watch a youtube video and a social network notification pops up.

Privacy

AMD Gaming Evolved preferences

This is a clusterfuck, plainly stated.

  • “Torrent”: First off AMD will use your bandwidth to save companies money. People bitched about Microsoft using the same tactic to update Windows over the internet and save themselves some money. Here we have AMD trying to pull off the same thing and no one is making a ruckus.

How long until someone figures out how to turn this into a vector to spread malware? Until something goes wrong and it starts using all the available bandwidth all the time?

I am not okay with this.

  • “Raptr Scanning”: I’ve heard this excuse so often it now qualifies as white noise. I’m disabling it because when Raptr inevitably folds, all of that information will be sold alongside any other assets.

AMD Gaming Evolved preferences

Aha. Here we are. Be lazy and let the thing configure all the settings for each game separately? You have to let AMD mine your computer for whatever information they decide they want.

Thanks but no thanks.

Hotkeys

Eh, whatever. They’re there.

AMD Quick Stream

According to AMD:

AMD Quick Stream Technology is an Internet stream optimization software powered by AppEx Networks’ IPEQ (IP End to end Quality Of Service) technology that prioritizes and shapes the Internet data streams flowing in and out the PC, allowing the high‐priority streams and apps to dynamically enjoy the better network resources when competing the limited bandwidth with other less important ones. At the sametime it boosts the overall Internet performance by shaping both the inbound and outbound traffic to eliminate or reduce the chances of traffic congestions. AMD Quick Stream Technology offers the end users smoother and enhanced Internet experiences.

According to me:
Bufferbloat.

If you search for “AMD Quick Stream” most of the results report that people have issues with the software. I did have the “license not found” problem, which I fixed by uninstalling the application.

So the solution for all Quick Stream issues is to get rid of the application. Simple.

UGH, JUST UGH

That’s my reaction to all this. It’s just a bit much that if I want to have a great gaming experience, I have to give up not only the cost of the hardware but also to give up a lot of privacy in order to have the tiniest bit of convenience, all so AMD can make a bit of money.

I’m uninstalling everything but the driver itself and will look around for a solution to the “AMD Settings Branding” thing. I’m pretty sure there should be a way to repackage the drivers so you get what you need to run your hardware and only that, without any extraneous bells and whistles.

This is a bit disappointing. I expected more of you, AMD.

Xorg, Radeon, Thinkpad.

By the pits of elemental chaos, I don’t know where to begin. I truly don’t. I’m typing this up trying to calm down after I was taken against my will on an odyssey of bad documentation, stupid changes and general assholery.

It all started with an innocuous aptitude update; aptitude upgrade. Package linux-image-3.2.0-4-686-pae refused to install properly, but that can be dealt with later. Reboot.

All hell breaks loose upon Xorg. All 2D/3D hardware acceleration is gone. Xrandr refuses to work and the most it can do is clone the displays, displaying the following error with a command that worked for years before today:

$ xrandr --output LVDS --auto --preferred --output VGA-0 --auto --preferred --right-of LVDS
xrandr: screen cannot be larger than 1600x1200 (desired size 2680x1200)

Dig into documentation… nope, I’m setting all options properly. The xorg.conf man page has this golden nugget of information:

VIDEOADAPTOR SECTION
Nobody wants to say how this works. Maybe nobody knows ...

Is it any wonder people are using sites like StackExchange as their first stop when trying to fix issues? Man pages refuse to evolve and more and more applications simply don’t provide them, telling you to go to their website when seeking help.

Anyway, back to Xorg. Installing the proprietary fglrx driver doesn’t work; the Radeon Mobility X1400 card on this Thinkpad T60 is not supported anymore. I could try apt pinning to get it to work… but Debian doesn’t really encourage its use. Purged the driver from the system.

Now I’ll have to do the one thing I really didn’t want to do. Setup a xorg.conf file manually. Switch to a VT (Ctrl+Alt+F1), uplift to root, Kill X (/etc/init.d/lightdm stop), issue X -configure. Get this error:

Number of created screens does not match number of detected devices.
Configuration failed.

2003 called. They want XFree86 back.

All right then, let’s manually create a xorg.conf file that X can use without shitting itself. Visit thinkwiki.org and found useful nuggets of information, including a mostly working xorg.conf file. Couple this with another demonstration xorg.conf file and I came up with this beauty:

Section "Device"
Identifier "ATI X1400"
Driver "radeon"
Option "AGPMode" "8"
Option "AGPFastWrite" "1"
Option "RenderAccel" "1"
Option "AccelMethod" "EXA"
Option "AccelDFS" "1"
Option "EnablePageFlip" "1"
Option "ColorTiling" "1"
Option "DynamicClocks" "1"
Option "BIOSHotkeys" "1"
BusID "PCI:1:0:0"
EndSection

Section "Monitor"
Identifier "LVDS"
Option "DPMS"
EndSection

Section "Screen"
Identifier "Default Screen"
Device "ATI X1400"
DefaultDepth 24
SubSection "Display"
Virtual 2680 1050
EndSubSection
EndSection

It’s ugly, it’s messy. It mostly works.

Video performance is, hmm, how to describe it… quirky; I’m getting lots of drawing artifacts all over the place; CPU usage seems to come and go. Hell, the performance of iceweasel while typing this post leaves much to be desired. But now I’ve got a starting point from which to improve the situation.

Was any of this necessary? No. Would I have run into these issues if I were using Windows or OS X? Certainly not. The urge to leave Linux behind on the desktop and move back to Windows is becoming ever stronger. Windows 8 runs quite nicely on my Thinkpad X61t, and I don’t have to deal with forced changes to my desktop environment.

I’m tired of this. All of this. First Amarok 2 became a monster that still can’t compare with Amarok 1.4.x — Clementine does the job well enough, but really. Then GNOME 2 turned into GNOME 3, throwing into disarray the desktop environment landscape; people haven’t recovered and the alternatives aren’t working yet. Interacting with Android devices remains a pain in the ass. Interacting with iOS devices is basically impossible. The big companies are treating Linux like a third-class citizen.

Should I not be able to get performance to what it was before, I will be migrating back to Windows. I am not alone in this consideration. Right now a whole lot of people are migrating to OS X or Windows to avoid these headaches; they too are tired of having to fight the desktop in order to do real work.

Linux is victorious on the server and mobile spaces, but I now truly don’t expect it to remain more than a plaything for common desktop users. I hope to someday come back to the Linux fold but this won’t probably happen for a few years, when things have changed.