To achieve great 2D graphics performance from Linux Graphics stack has most definitely been an challenge for years. Trying to get the XRender extension more usable with XAA/EXA/UXA (see my previous blog post), utilising all-software image backends, utilise GL directly to accelerate the 2D and so on. The best solution really has been the CPU rasterization backend based on the fact that the CPU simply runs with higher clock speed and quite many of these 2D operations require raw processing power.
So are we stuck just to continue the everlasting optimisation of the existing solutions? Maybe not.
Now it seems that this there might be some light in the tunnel. Cairo has been getting some quite impressive performance figures with its cairo-drm backend. Instead of using XServer to do the rendering or build an abstraction of XRender with GL backend (what glitz was doing) it has the capabilities to use directly the GEM buffers and issues the rendering commands directly to HW. This will allow direct access to GPU and will give quite impressive performance figures.
The thing is still that cairo-drm is an experimental backend and that the backend is limited to Intel HW (i915 to be specific).
With the performance figures - what the cairo-drm can really do, the goal for the guys is now to get this same performance out from the GL interface directly. This would 1st of all remove the limitations mentioned above and 2nd, it would also allow all the rendering to happen under one driver - OpenGL. This of course would mean that there would be only one graphics stack to tune and maintain and would allow CPU to do other stuff. The cairo-gl project aims to do exactly this.
The cairo-gl backend would also make the solution usable with other than Intel specific HW. The questions of course is that how well the solution performs in non-Intel HW.
Time will show how the cairo-gl backend will perform and whether it is capable to beat CPU rasterization backends.
More info about the progress from: