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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Tue, 21 Oct 2014

Catalyst/fglrx trouble in Debian (and not just in Fedora)

My AMD Catalyst (aka fglrx) trouble in Fedora is well-documented. Biggest of the big at this point is that the proprietary AMD driver DOES NOT work with GNOME 3.

The reason for this incompatibility seems to be that GNOME is getting ready for the Wayland display server, and code associated with that move makes GNOME crash when you try to run it under Catalyst/fglrx, which appears to know nothing about the imminent arrival of Wayland. (Note: You can play with Wayland today in Fedora 21. I did so briefly before the whole thing fell apart on me.)

The lack of an easy-to-install (i.e RPM-packaged) proprietary AMD driver has been a problem since the release of Fedora 20 and no doubt is a major factor in why nobody has packaged Catalyst for a Fedora/RHEL-derived distro since.

Yep, there is no RPM-packaged Catalyst for Fedora 20, and it looks like the situation will continue through the Fedora 21 cycle. There is also no Catalyst RPM -- from RPM Fusion or anybody else -- for RHEL/CentOS 7.

Since it appears that Catalyst/fglrx won't run with GNOME 3 unless GNOME itself is modified to remove the Wayland code that is gumming up the works (with said removal a topic of much discussion the Fedora Forums), the near future for the AMD proprietary driver in Linux looks very, very bleak.

I've written a bunch of paragraphs and have barely touched on the distribution referenced in the headline of this post:

Debian.

Yes, Debian. I did a test install of Debian Jessie last week, and the same thing happened: GNOME 3 runs fine with the open-source Radeon driver, not at all with the closed-source fglrx.

At least Debian still packages fglrx/Catalyst.

But if a package won't run with the default desktop environment in a distribution, what's going to happen?

I'm as disappointed in the seeming lack of outcry over this issue in Debian as I have been with Fedora.

I'll end with two Debian bug reports:

1. Google Chrome and Chromium crash under fglrx in Debian

I don't think this Chrome-crashing issue, which I also had in Fedora, has anything to do with GNOME -- it's all Catalyst/fglrx/Chrome-related. But it was a problem with fglrx, and the bug report has an intriguing fix for the xorg.conf file. (The last time I had to futz with xorg.conf was a long, long time ago.)

From the bug report:

According to an internet search this is a common problem when using chrome and proprietary drivers. (perhaps xorg problem? I hope I've assigned correctly)

The workaround is to add the correct module paths to /etc/X11/xorg.conf

Section "Files"
        ModulePath "/usr/lib/fglrx"
        ModulePath "/usr/lib/xorg/modules"
        ModulePath "/usr/lib/dri/"
EndSection

2. GNOME won't run with fglrx in Debian

You'd think this bug would be blowing up LIKE WILDFIRE. The fact that it's so far below the radar really makes me think. And what I'm thinking isn't good.