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Linux Gaming Across 9 Distros [Review in Progress]

Jason Evangelho of Forbes has started a Linux series where he reviews various Linux distributions (distros) for ease of use and performance in regards to Linux gaming. Jason's series isn't about just running benchmarks as he asks questions that everyday users would need to find out. Where am I going to get up-to-date graphics drivers for my AMD or NVIDIA graphics card? How is the default state of gaming on the Linux distro? Can I get Steam working right out of the box or am I going to have to tweak my system to accomplish this task? The 9 Linux distros that he is going to test in the series includes: Fedora 29 Workstation, Pop!_OS 18.10, Debian 9, Solus 4, Manjaro 18, Linux Mint 19, elementary OS 5, Deepin 15.9, and Ubuntu 18.10. His test system consists of an AMD Ryzen 5 2600, Radeon Sapphire RX 580, Gigabyte G1 Gaming GTX 1080 and more. So far he has tested Fedora 29 Workstation and Pop!_OS 18.10 with Pop!_OS 18.10 easily winning hands down in usability and performance. With the recent announcement that Google is leveraging Linux, Vulkan, first party games, and open-source AMD drivers for games running on its Google Stadia game streaming service; Linux gaming performance may enter into our PC gaming world very soon!

If you're an NVIDIA user, good news: Pop!_OS has a separate installer image for you which automatically installs the proprietary (and far more performant) graphics driver. Again, there's no need to enable alternative software sources or hit the command line. The moment your OS is installed you're ready to start gaming. You'll be using the latest and greatest stable driver, Nvidia 418.43. Radeon gamers have an advantage across several Linux distributions: the open source driver is part of the kernel (and thus ready to use immediately), well maintained and quite performant. This typically means less steps to get up and running with Steam and Steam Proton. One distinct difference between Pop!_OS and Fedora, however, is that Fedora runs with a much newer MESA driver. Specifically, Fedora 29 uses MESA 18.3.4 while Pop uses MESA 18.2.8. The kernel on Pop is also a bit older, but again I noticed no disadvantage on the gaming side save for one: updating your kernel to 5.0 will add Freesync support which is a feature I can't live without. It is quite literally a game-changer.

Posted by cageymaru March 20, 2019 12:23 PM (CDT)

Linux 5.0 Release Includes FreeSync Support and Spectre Fixes

The Linux 5.0 kernel has been released, and among other things, it officially adds support for FreeSync displays on AMD GPUs. Phoronix notes that AMD previously supported FreeSync on Linux "via their hybrid driver package with its DKMS module in Radeon Software," but posted a tutorial for enabling it and testing FreeSync support in Ubuntu. They note that Vulkan games (which presumably includes Valve's Proton renderer,) compositors, web browsers, media players and a few other apps aren't currently supported by FreeSync at this time. Meanwhile, the publication also put the recent Spectre performance mitigation measures to the test, and found that performance on the Core i9 7980XE dropped by about 13% with the Spectre protections enabled. Core i7 8086K performance dropped by about 17%, while Ryzen 7 2700X performance only dropped by 3%. Unfortunately, running the same benchmarks on previous Linux kernels would be like comparing apples to oranges, so its hard to say exactly how much Linux 5.0 mitigates Spectre's performance hit, but it looks like certain workloads are still relatively sensitive to the security countermeasures.

To utilize FreeSync you need to be using the xf86-video-amdgpu DDX driver. You can verify so looking for "AMDGPU" in the Xorg.0.log. You also need the above-shown Xorg.conf snippet to enable the "VariableRefresh" AMDGPU DDX driver option. Using the xf86-video-modesetting DDX is unsupported at this time. Your xf86-video-amdgpu driver also has to be relatively new, but such supported X.Org driver can be found in the likes of the Padoka PPA... After enabling the VariableRefresh option and restarting the X.Org server, you can verify that the DDX is new enough and option is working by ensuring that VariableRefresh is successfully mentioned in your Xorg log.

Posted by alphaatlas March 04, 2019 9:02 AM (CST)

Linux Gaming Is on a Life-Support System Called Steam

Linux gamers should get on their knees and give Gabe’s feet a good kissing because Steam is largely responsible for keeping gaming on that platform alive, according to a piece by Engadget. While the percentage of Linux gamers hasn’t really grown and still represents a tiny fraction of the gaming market, some argue Valve’s enthusiasm for technologies such as Proton (which has brought thousands of Windows games to the open-source OS) is a great reason to back Steam instead of competitors such as the Epic Games Store, which lacks this kind of support.

One of the only reasons Linux is even a conversation nowadays is because Steam has kept its embers warm all these years. "The pro of supporting Linux is the community," Super Meat Boy Forever creator Tommy Refenes said. "In my experience, Linux gamers tend to be the most appreciative gamers out there. If you support Linux at all, the chances are they will come out of the woodwork to thank you, offer to help with bugs, talk about your game, and just in general be pretty cool people. The con here unfortunately is the Linux gaming community is a very, very small portion of the PC gaming market."

Posted by Megalith February 23, 2019 4:25 PM (CST)

Windows 10 Will Finally Offer Easy Access to Linux Files

Working with Linux files in the Windows environment is comparable to running through a field with landmines, but that will change with Windows 10’s April 2019 Update, which brings support for "accessing, viewing, and even modifying Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) files from File Explorer or via the command line." Users simply have to enter "explorer.exe" into a Bash shell. "Use drag and drop, copy and paste them, or even open them directly in Windows applications to modify them."

Rather than accessing these files directly, Windows runs a Plan 9 server as part of the WSL software in the background. Windows 10 has "a Windows service and driver that acts as the client and talks to the Plan9 server." That server translates your file operations and handles Linux metadata such as file permissions, ensuring everything works properly even when you access a file with a Windows tool. But that’s just the complicated stuff that happens in the background, and you don’t have to think about it.

Posted by Megalith February 17, 2019 11:20 AM (CST)

Forbes Tries To Game on Linux

Thanks to Valve's Proton Initiative and related development efforts, gaming on Linux is faster and easier than ever, but just how easy does that make it? Forbes reporter Jason Evangelho decided to find out, as he (seemingly) used Linux as his primary PC gaming platform for 6 months. Jason said that availability and usability aren't huge issues anymore, as Proton officially supports thousands of games while unofficially working with many more, and Lutris makes setting up Windows-only clients like Origin a breeze. But interestingly, the journalist dedicated almost all of his article to one specific issue: setting up graphics drivers. Jason believes that the process of picking, downloading, and in some cases, compiling the right graphics driver for any particular setup is still well beyond what the average gamer is willing to put up with, and failing to use the right driver can lead to unacceptable performance, assuming games run at all.

But here's the first problem: is this all common knowledge for new users? I'm willing to bet it is not. Even if they've been told the differences between open source and proprietary drivers, what happens when they do navigate to this area of Ubuntu and update? Maybe they'll be eager to check out what all this fuss is about Steam Proton and playing their favorite Windows games on Linux. Not so fast. Valve lists the graphic driver requirements for Proton as Nvidia 415, which is several months newer than Nvidia 390. Now users will need to add a "PPA" which is a software repository not built in to Ubuntu. Will that have the right driver? How do they know without extensive googling? Is that going to update automatically, and as often as Nvidia's Windows 10 drivers do?... For as user-friendly as Linux has become, gaming still requires some guesswork, which I've only navigated by completely immersing myself in it. And the direction changes dramatically based on if you're using Team Red or Team Green. It changes based on what flavor of Linux you're using.

Posted by alphaatlas February 14, 2019 9:06 AM (CST)

Radeon 7 Will Have Day One Linux Support

Over the weekend, an AMD representative told Forbes that the Radeon VII will support Linux on day 1, right out of the box. That apparently wasn't the case for the recently released RX 590. And today, Phoronix did some more digging into support for Vega GPUs on Linux, and found references to enhanced PowerPlay features in the Linux 5.1 kernel. Some of these improvements go all the way back to the "Vega 10" GPU, which I believe is a reference to the GPUs in Vega 56/64 and the Radeon Instinct MI25 as opposed to the "Vega 10" IGP, but there are some unique additions for the new Vega 20 GPU as well.

It took AMD a couple weeks to get the RX 590 Polaris refresh in game-ready condition for Linux, which only reinforced a widely held negative belief that Linux is a second-class citizen when it comes to gaming. Sure, that perception has been changing dramatically thanks to Valve, but day one support should happen with every launch.

Posted by alphaatlas January 21, 2019 12:52 PM (CST)

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Development Dumps Linux and Mac Support

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night was one of the most successful video game Kickstarter campaigns of 2015 as it raised over $5.5 million during its funding phase. Backers of the game were reassured by Koji Igarashi (IGA) himself that donating more to the project to reach clearly outlined stretch goals "which will help IGA expand his vision for this game." A direct quote from the Kickstarter campaign page says, "The game will be developed for Steam (PC/Mac/Linux), (PC/Mac/Linux), XBOX One, Playstation 4, Wii U, and PS Vita. For the first time on Kickstarter, backers will have the option to receive physical retail copies for all supported platforms: PC / XB1 / PS4 / Wii U / Vita." In a lengthy blog post, IGA has announced that "Bloodstained will no longer be supported on Mac and Linux." He goes on to offer the backers that chose Mac or Linux an option to change their order to another platform. The reasoning behind the change is "due to challenges of supporting middleware and online feature support and making sure we deliver on the rest of the scope for the game." There was no mention of Mac and Linux support coming at a later date or a single mention of a refund option in the blog post. Odd. Thanks @Armenius !

Development has reached its peak -- we are currently checking the performance of Bloodstained on each platform. Overall, we are done with enemy placement and entering the adjustment phase. But there are still many progression-blocking bugs that must be taken care of.

Posted by cageymaru December 27, 2018 5:13 PM (CST)

Could Microsoft Release a Desktop Linux?

"MS-Linux? Lindows? Could Microsoft release a desktop Linux?" ZDNet’s Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols doesn’t believe the idea is that far-fetched, as Redmond has recently embraced the open-source software by letting Linux companies use its patents for free, releasing its own distro, and relying on the OS to power its cloud-computing service Azure. The editor believes that Windows 10 is so buggy and costly that Microsoft "making the Linux kernel the heart of its desktop operating system" would make a lot of sense.

Why do this? Because Microsoft still invests billions in developing Windows, while it brings less and less revenue to company. Remember when Microsoft claimed Windows 10 would have a billion users in a few years? Not happening. Microsoft could save some serious coin by making the Linux kernel the heart of its desktop operating system. What about all those Windows programs? Sure, if everyone had to port their applications to Linux that would stop most ISVs in their tracks. But who says they need to port them?

Posted by Megalith December 23, 2018 4:20 PM (CST)

Here Is Battlefield V Multiplayer Running on the Linux Operating System

GloriousEggroll on YouTube has uploaded a video of Battlefield V running on the Linux operating system with 1080p Ultra settings. Any stuttering seen in the video is common to DXVK due to the state cache building up. Once the state cache is built, the stutter goes away. His channel features many Linux tutorial videos. In addition to the multiplayer action shown below, he has a VSYNC on video of single player action in Battlefield V. Lots of work has gone into Wine, Steam Play, DXVK, Proton, and more since Valve offered financial support for the projects.

Arch Linux+Wine-Staging 3.21+DXVK+Esync. Mesa-git+LLVM-svn. Kernel 4.20-rc4. Vega 64. Threadripper 1950x.

Posted by cageymaru December 04, 2018 1:36 AM (CST)

Linux Kernel's New Code of Conduct Results in F-Word Being Replaced with "Hugs"

When Linux adopted its new Code of Conduct, many predicted it would lead to increasing censorship, and that appears to be exactly what is happening: in a new patch series, all instances of the f-bomb have been replaced by the word "hugs." Neowin points out that many of the comments (e.g., "some Athlon laptops have really hugged PST tables") just sound confusing.

Surprisingly, at least with this initial patch series, it's just 33 lines of changed comments out of 3.3+ million lines of code comments within the kernel source tree, but we'll see what other words may get cleaned up next for making the Linux kernel more inviting to all. Linus Torvalds has also cleaned up his colorful language and refrained from any outbursts on the mailing list since his brief retreat during the 4.19 cycle.

Posted by Megalith December 01, 2018 4:00 PM (CST)

AMD FreeSync Support Slated for Inclusion in Linux Kernel 4.21

According to Michael Larabel of Phoronix, FreeSync support (or VESA Adaptive-Sync / HDMI VRR) is going to be merged with the upcoming Linux 4.21 kernel cycle. This will enable full FreeSync support for Linux gamers who own an AMD GPU! Mr Larabel also found new AMD Zen linux-firmware, and a workaround for the AMD Radeon RX 590 under Linux.

Assuming no major last minute issues, the code should then be merged into the Linux 4.21 mainline kernel when its merge window opens at the very end of December or early January. Linux 4.21 should then be released in March for those that may be planning a new monitor purchase or upgrade to one of these capable displays.

Posted by cageymaru November 30, 2018 9:56 AM (CST)

Ubuntu 18.04 Gets 10 Year Lifespan Ahead of Canonical IPO

At a keynote in Berlin, Canonical's founder Mark Shuttleworth said that Ubuntu 18.04 LTS is getting a 10 year support period, which is 5 years longer than normal. This extension is specifically aimed at the IoT, financial services and telecommunications market, where products will often operate for many years without significant changes. He also reiterated "Canonical's promise to easily enable OpenStack customers to migrate from one version of OpenStack to another," and promised to support versions of OpenStack from 2014 and on. Interestingly, these promises come ahead of Canonical's planned IPO in 2019. Mark seems to think that Ubuntu is a real competitor with Red Hat now, which IBM just recently acquired, and he's quite enthusiastic about the future of Ubuntu. The full Canonical keynote can be seen on Ubuntu's blog here. Thanks to dgz for the tip.

He also disclosed that Canonical is still aiming at an Initial Public Offering (IPO) in 2019. This is not on a set schedule. Instead, it will happen when the company meets the metrics he's set. "We have work to do. The team knows what work we still need to do. We're growing up at a company. Recent changes in the market is bringing this time closer." Before Canonical IPOs, he plans on bringing in growth equity from private-equity companies. Shuttleworth has started talking with private equity advisors to get things ready to bring in a cash infusion.

Posted by alphaatlas November 19, 2018 4:10 PM (CST)