Website Phoronix, a site heavily devoted on everything Linux, discovered that the ATI Radeon R300, R400, and R500 series GPUs are receiving a new driver under Linux after twenty years of life. This new driver is an open-source graphics driver created by developer Emma Anholt. The driver is intended to allow the GPUs to access the ability to request NIR shaders from the Mesa 3D library (via the state tracker in Mesa 3D) and send the NIR to the TGSI pathway. NIR minimizes the pressure of the GPU when running 3D level applications—essentially an optimization layer that is located at the core of the driver's shader compilers received from Mesa.
ATI R300, R400, and R500 see graphical updates via Linux community GPU driver
What does this mean for the ATI Radeon cards from two decades past? Not only is it expected to improve performance of the GPUs while gaming, increasing performance as well as limiting the waiting during load times. It will not help to improve current next-gen games, but those games from that particular generation should see a positive increase in quality and performance.
Phoronix does speculate the possibility that the new driver will restrict the NIR to only the R500 series of ATI graphics cards, especially with the other two GPU series being limited on hardware. However, it is only speculation and is not fact at the time of this writing.
The ATI Radeon R500 GPUs were manufactured, at the time, with an immensely large 90nm process. This particular graphics card series was also given the name X1000, and happen to be the flagship GPU for ATI. The ATI Radeon X1800 XT, for example, was only able to access as high as 83 Gflops of processing performance (with a G). Now, with current cards from AMD and NVIDIA, such as the RTX 3090 series, are capable of achieving 35 TFlops or higher.
Emma Anholt is anticipating to release the new graphics driver once the new Mesa 22.0 launces. However, at this time, the community is conducting further tests to make sure the driver is completely stable prior to a full Linux release.