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Nikhil Kumar for GNU/Linux Users' Group, NIT Durgapur

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Gaming on Linux, Proton to the Rescue

People trying to switch to Linux have always been plagued with issues as limited app support and most importantly, games have been primarily developed for the Windows platform. The pro by day and gamer by night faction have had to make a lot of compromises. Not anymore as gaming on Linux has been constantly improving and it just might be the best time to game on Linux.

Somehow Linux has become a serious gaming platform, something must've happened for sure, right?

Well, Proton happened

For starters, Proton has done a great job at that. Its an open-source compatibility layer funded by Valve, built upon WINE and developed by CodeWeavers.

Proton has made gaming on Linux as easy as pressing the play button on Steam to run the game. Along with WINE proton also makes use of DXVK (a vulkan based implementation of Direct3D 9/10/11 APIs) and other Vulkan implementations of Direct3D that the gamer would otherwise have to install on his own. Proton is still in its infancy but is requalarly improving.

Before proton, its not that we didn't have choices, some games could be run using WINE or Lutris. Some older titles would run just fine like Crysis3 in my experience performs similarly on just WINE while others could be prove to be a real pain.

A website by the name protondb maintains a comprehensive database of user reports on games which run on Linux and also on how well they run. With about 80% of all games in the top 100 on steam have a Gold++ or better rating, which means that they do run on Linux without any configuration and the performance is quite comparable to Windows.

At the time of writing about 11,339 out of 14,715 games reported do run on Linux according to the data on protondb.

Perormance comparision

(SOURCE- forbes)


Open-Source Radeon drivers rock

AMD has a history of using and contributing to open-source alternatives comapred to their green rivals. With the announcement of linux kernel 5.8 we saw quite a host of improvements for both AMD's APUs and GPUs.

AMD might be reliant on open-source alternatives mainly because of the disparity between the reseach budgets among its competition, who knows?

Whatever it might be it certainly has provided performance improvements over the past year especially with the introduction of HWE kernels.

NVIDIA still hates open-source?

The Nouveau project has attempted to bring open-source drivers for nVidia cards on Linux but good luck with that as it will only perform as good as a fraction of the original performance of the card beacuase nVidia decided to lock the performance on drivers that aren't digitally signed by nVidia themselves. I know not cool.

Nouveau vs Proprietary Drivers

(SOURCE- usejournal)

People with nvidia hardware have no choice other than to give up software freedom for state of the art gaming. Having to install a proprietary driver only to game isn't a just cause for giving up open-source principles and just the thought of it makes the heart ache. NVIDIA has the majority of the market share in the discrete graphics sector and still decides to just flat out reject any open-source involvement.

You'd expect the proprietary drivers to be quite good but not actually. NVIDIA's implementation of the Intel internal and discrete nVidia GPU setup called optimus is quite complicated (this Arch wiki article might help understanding). You can use one or the other gpu primarily which nulls the benefits of the multi gpu setup otherwise applications need to be manually switched to make use of the NVIDIA GPU using PRIME render offload (the official method supported by nVidia). And lets not talk about Wayland support. Intel, AMD basically everyone but nVidia have decided to support wayland development.

Changelogs of nVidia's pre-release builds of the 450 series driver does seem to address some major issues wile others remain as is. It'll be interesting to see what happens in the future as the description of GTC session 2020 states that nVidia will be and I quote "supporting Nouveau for NVIDIA GPUs".

Color us surprised and damn excited, as long as the announcement is substantive.

Even though you decide on installing proprietary drivers the process is not very complicated most distributions have graphical installers, detailed descriptions of the various methods, comprehensive tutorials and great communities. Pop!_OS goes a step further by including proprietary drivers in the iso itself. Not a big fan but a great starting point for newbies.

Linux gaming wasn't considered the best gaming experience but if you ask me for a privacy centric, more secure, customisable OS that doesn't break my system after an update is enough for me to sacrifice a few fps.

Something strange happened last year when Linux started to outperform Windows on certain titles. This video from Citrus Tech Tips is here to emphasize.

Valve has been continually contributing to the linux kernel and is helping gaming on linux. The ACO compiler replacing the LLVM compiler will reduce compile times by about 50% and greatly improving game performance.


(SOURCE- forbes)



Some people might be concerned about relying on proton to run games might deincentivise game developers to build native games but I feel its more of a platform which more people use might encourage developers to eventually support linux natively. Like this new gaming platform for native linux games.

Linux gaming is still not better but its certainly getting there. Linux is certainly the future. Running non-native apps close to its native performance says quite a lot. Someday we might even exceed gaming performance on Windows and people will no longer have reason to stick to Windows and move to an operating system that values the users' privacy, is fully custiomisable and doesn't update when you dont want it to.

The future does look very bright for gaming on linux. In the meantime for all the people not on linux, do certainly give it a go. All it takes is a flash drive to try linux no install required.

For more news related to gaming on Linux check this Phoronix news archive

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Top comments (5)

vennstone profile image
Venn Stone

Proton has been an interesting addition to Linux gaming. It's not quite ready for Win/Mac users to justify MakingTheSwitch™ to Linux but it has greatly expanded the gaming libraries for those of us running it.

calios12 profile image

A game designed in linux for linux can run faster, but the modern games we mostly see out are designed and developed in Windows and the game engine translates functions automatically to correspond to linux which most of times isn't the best way to create a game which executes faster and bears possibilities for bugs too. Yet ... Unity (proprietary) and Godot (Open Source MIT) seems to have the best translation for multi-platform outputs nowadays, but people talk even for some other small and cheap proprietary game engines which are able to operate and generate games in every platform for every platform and run OK
In fact, when I dug into the question that playing in Linux is much easier and more convenient, I asked myself why this is so, the answer became obvious almost immediately - custom mobile game development of developers was created on a campaign basis, which is what Linux and from here have speed and other amenities when playing with Linux

uvinduharshana profile image
Uvindu Harshana

Hey! I'm running POP os. Is there any link to amd opensource driver pack?

kumanik5661 profile image
Nikhil Kumar

You don't need to install any drivers separately for Radeon
AMD's opensource drivers are already available in the Linux Kernel 4.17 onwards

uvinduharshana profile image
Uvindu Harshana

Yep. But I have trouble installing davinci resolve .