Open source drivers are getting pretty good these days. I haven’t had any problem with Intel or AMD hardware.
I hear the old ones are pretty bad, but my G4500HD does everything I need well. Video acceleration could be better though. There isn’t a proprietary driver for Intel either, your only choice is open source. The composited 3D desktop in KDE works great on my laptop which has an Intel chip.
Right now the older cards are better supported than the new ones. If you could somehow get an x1800 or something from the same generation that would probably be the best. The
r300g driver is getting more development work than
r600g. That’s not to say
r600g is bad, in fact it’s great! It’s just somewhat behind the driver for the older hardware. AMD has a proprietary driver for the new hardware, but in my experience you want to avoid it; it’s pretty bad. The hardware covered by
r300g isn’t supported by that driver, so the open driver is your only option there. And like the Intel chip I have, my Radeon 4850 runs the composited desktop in KDE well.
At the moment, I wouldn’t recommend an HD6000 series. The 6900s have no support at all in the open driver, and the others have basic support. Go for an HD5000 or an HD4000.
They have a really good proprietary driver, but the open driver is struggling along. It’s getting better all the time, but Nvidia is doing nothing to help the developers. At least AMD helps out a little bit for their hardware.
The advantage to having an open driver is that it will work out of the box in any distro. If you install Fedora, everything will work including dual screen and 3D. The proprietary ones are painful to setup. Neither of them properly set up my dual screens. It was easier to setup with Nvidia which isn’t saying much because the AMD blob was just awful at this. Also, anytime you update the kernel, you have to reinstall the driver. Most distros take care of this if you install the in-repo version, but if you don’t it’s annoying to boot up one morning and realize you updated the kernel and now X.org doesn’t work.
If you aren’t planning on playing 3D games, either the Intel or AMD drivers are the best. The AMD driver is more modern than the Intel one, it uses the Gallium3D architecture within Mesa (that’s what the
g stands for in
r600g), but they both get the job done.
Although this post is based on facts, it still contains my personal experience and opinions.
Although there is a project for OpenSource drivers, you probably need to consider Nvidia being closed source drivers only. Now in case of Nvidia this doesn’t really bring a lot of bad things since they really work on their drivers very hard. The best support when it comes to closed source graphic card drivers on Linux.
Nvidia graphic cards are the only ones that provide equivalent performance on Linux and Windows.
Still, the closed source drivers imply some limitations like no support for features available only to GPL drivers (like KMS).
Now when choosing Intel you need to be extremely careful. Some of the Intel graphic cards are actually 3rd party bundled cards that don’t have any (or have very crappy) support. But if you choose the correct chip, you can enjoy the best opensource drivers out there. For example even very low end Intel cards can be faster in compositing window managers then high end Nvidia cards.
Now this is complex. AMD provides both proprietary drivers (that tend to suck a lot) and they also release documentation and support opensource drivers development.
Now the problem is that the opensource drivers will never contain certain licensed/patented/etc… features and since they don’t really concentrate on the closed source drivers development I guess they will always be behind (Windows features/performance).
Check out the following lists of linux friendly graphics cards/chipsets, both open and proprietary:
http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=category&item=Graphics%20Cards (provides benchmarks and reviews and all, pretty cool)
On a personal note, i would choose a NVIDIA graphics card. Their proprietary linux drivers are really good and frequently updated. They even release driver versions for FreeBSD and Solaris. To my knowledge there’s no match out there(neither proprietary nor free) and I didn’t have any real issues with direct rendering and 3D pertaining to NVIDIA cards since GeForce series got out.