Valve’s Source Engine Runs Faster on Linux Than It Does on Windows

Yesterday the Valve Linux team posted on its blog with an update regarding performance on Linux/OpenGL compared to Windows/Direct3D in its Left 4 Dead 2 port. Astoundingly, it announced that the Linux port of the game ran faster in Ubuntu 12.04 than it did in Windows 7.

When we started with Linux, the initial version we got up and running was at 6 FPS. This is typical of an initial successful port to a new platform.

One of the most important bits of work that was done by Valve was done so in cooperation with graphics vendors: AMD, Nvidia, and Intel. While Valve worked on analyzing bottlenecks in the game and drivers, driver engineers worked to fix them. However, not only do these changes improve performance in Valve’s Source engine, but since changes were made at the driver-level, every graphical application should see some sort of benefit.

Improving the public driver … benefits all games. Identifying driver stalls and adding multithreading support in the driver are two examples of changes that were the result of this teamwork.

After briefly pointing out how it went about improving performance, the Valve Linux team posted its results. After all was said and done, it had Left 4 Dead 2 running at 315 frames per second (FPS) on Linux. This is compared to the Windows/Direct3D implementation, which posts in at 270.6 FPS.

The team mentioned that such a leap in performance over the Windows build considering the amount of time spent on developing both implementations (hint: it’s been working with Windows for a long, long time) “[speaks] to the underlying efficiency of the kernel and OpenGL.” It also added that “in the process of working with hardware vendors, [it] also sped up the OpenGL implementation on Windows. Left 4 Dead 2 is now running at 303.4 FPS with that configuration.” Impressive stuff to say the least.

So what does all this mean for the end-user? I personally was a bit shocked at first to hear the results, but soon after I remembered how slow and hoggish Windows can be. I logged onto Windows a few days ago and boy, was it slow (relative to my primary Debian Linux environment, of course). The idea that software can and does run faster on Linux might sway additional game developers over to the platform, what with Valve already leading the charge and talks of Blizzard also tagging along. I’m excited to see who else of the bigger names in gaming decide to join the penguin party as well.

As more games come to Linux in faster forms than the Windows counterparts, performance-envying gamers are likely to dump Windows for their friendly neighborhood Linux distribution as well. Furthermore, as the arrival of more gamers begins to saturate Linux’s desktop market share, more and more non-gaming software developers will start to consider the platform as well. It is truly an avalanche effect: more software means more users, and more users means more software.

I made a mention a few weeks back to the other LockerGnome writers that in half a year’s time (so, around January 2013), you’d see desktop Linux begin being treated as a “first-class citizen” when it came to software. They laughed and called me names, leaving me out of any of their rousing LockerGnome games. (Sorry, that reference was executed pretty poorly.)

Nevertheless, I still believe Linux is on its way up in the desktop space. After all, it already dominates every other area of computing, why wouldn’t it be a viable choice for the desktop consumer as well?

Source: The Valve Linux Team Blog

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  • Andy Pasztirak

    Frankly, especially Blizzard games and many other titles, especially the ones running under OpenGL I found to be 2-3x faster on Linux than Windows so it’s no great surprise. :)

    • JC Sese-Cuneta (謝施洗)

      Yep, exactly. Gamers have known it for a long time. I have the same experience, so it surprised me that Valve was surprised.

  • Kevin

    In the current state, I believe Linux, specifically Ubuntu 12.04, is not ready for widespread adoption. I installed it on an extra harddrive I had on my main machine because of all the news about Valve testing Steam games on it. After downloading the driver off Nvidia’s website (I have a GTX 550 Ti), I realized that I needed to type in something in the command line to install the driver. But since I know nothing about it the command line, I gave up and returned to Windows, where graphics driver installations only consist of running an exe.

    • Ozzzzysh

      Installing Nvidia drivers on linux is as simple as logging out, going to a command line, logging in as root and typing “sh /Path/” It’s not like rocket science. Although I agree it is very new to most people. If you know what to do it’s a 3 minute process. Or you can just use Ubuntu’s Additional hardware program to install the drivers with a click of a button. You don’t even have to go to NVidia’s website. Just because it’s not Windows, doesn’t mean it’s harder. It’s just different, but not as different as Windows 8… lol

    • JC Sese-Cuneta (謝施洗)

      Huh? Since like 10.xx releases, there was no need to do a command-line update of NVIDIA. The latest has always been in the repository, you are even prompted at first boot. That was when I started to recommend Ubuntu to my gamer friends, because they don’t have to do a CLI update of NVIDIA.

      And if for whatever reason you really have to do the CLI way, as @ozzzzysh:disqus said, it isn’t rocket science.

      Please don’t dismiss Linux just because you have a prenotion of it being CLI only. Thank you.

      • Matt Hartley

        You are 100% correct. :)

        Yeah, they didn’t care for your reality check apparently. I about peed myself at “command line to install the driver.” Who still does this on Ubuntu?

        Anything not already in the kernel, is available via the restricted driver manager. Thanks for correcting the false statements above, it’s good to see someone here is still paying attention. :)

  • Yicheng Bao

    A suggestion: Valve could try including driver installations as a service in steam. That way, new users to Linux can enjoy it with a lot less effort

    • Anthony Schulz

      Flawed logic. Steam just sells/makes games. They do not manufacture hardware such as graphic cards. Therefore they can’t offer graphic drivers, and other hardware drivers. The main problem is companies neglecting drivers for their hardware on linux. For instance AMD/ATI have a track record of terrible support for linux. Compared to their counterpart, Nvidia which has good support for linux. The point being, this is a step towards something good. The increase of popularity of games for linux with encourage hardware manufactures to write drivers. My problem is Ubuntu being the flagship OS for steam. Although Debian is the popular package compared to yum/zypper/RPM etc.

      • Eddie Ringle

        I’d say it was the reverse, actually. AMD offers decent proprietary drivers but also helps out with the open source drivers. Nvidia on the other hand provides great proprietary drivers (most of the time) but neglects the Linux community nearly entirely. They haven’t released any specs and don’t contribute to the open source drivers. The situation with laptops using Nvidia Optimus technology (read: that’s a lot of laptops) also isn’t faring too well, with absolutely zero support coming from Nvidia for Linux users.

      • Yicheng Bao

        honestly, i think Valve is just putting fire under microsoft because they hate windows 8. Linux won’t overtake windows in market share (in the next 15 yeras) because corporations rely so heavily on it. Many corporate in house applications also only work on windows, and cross platform compilers are horribly not optomized.

  • frostythesnowman

    Which openGL version is the linux version running on?

    It’d be interesting to see a newer, more modern game based off DX11 ported (like AvP, Metro 2033, Crysis 2, Dirt3) to openGL4 and compare performance, Left 4 Dead 2 is based on on DX9 which is ancient and not as efficient as it could be.

  • Uğur Gümüşhan

    if linux is that good why do they need super duper extra optimizations?

    • JC Sese-Cuneta (謝施洗)

      What “super duper extra optimizations”? In fact, what “optimizations”? Never encountered such things.

    • Eddie Ringle

      They didn’t do any “super duper extra optimizations.” They simply implemented OpenGL support properly and it turned out to be pretty fast (which is no surprise).

  • JC Sese-Cuneta (謝施洗)

    Honestly, I’m not surprised at all. To date, all games I’ve tried running on Linux (be it native or via WINE), performs far better than Windows (XP or 7).

    * Neverwinter Nights 2
    * World of Warcraft
    * Guild Wars
    * Runes of Magic
    * and others

    I’m surprised that game developers were surprised about it. Only proves that they know little about Linux and are quick to dismiss it as “some unknown OS that is not for gaming”.

    Heck, we were able to report problems about RoM (Runes of Magic) that’s plaguing Windows players because the problem showed up in Linux WINE. Just like what Valve “discovered” which ended up also improving the Windows version.

  • Baljit Singh

    By next year, Ubuntu will be the face of Linux. I know many people who aren’t happy with it, but all things considered, it’s not rocket science to change a few lines of code to adjust with another distro. I’m really excited, everything is now shaping for Linux, video editing, gaming, gimp I’d becoming better its looking good :)

  • Kaiser

    Now I want to make my own linux distro.. =P

  • Wolfee Darkfang

    No surprise there. SecondLife also runs better on Linux.

  • Roger

    Linux will never, I repeat NEVER have the biggest market share, while it keeps down this road!

    Don’t get me wrong. I run Ubuntu Server on one of my servers and it works great!
    It was increadibly easy to setup and install applications. But for desktop it isn’t a good option.

    Come on! How many times a windows user have to open the command prompt and type something!? They don’t want to be type things! They want to click! They don’t even have to think! They just need to click next->next->finish.We’re not on the 80s! We already have mouses and touchscreen devices!! -don’t get me started about linux support of touchscreen devices!

    Another annoying thing in linux: Installing a new software. In Ubuntu, it is very easy if you are able to find in the synaptic. But, what if you can’t find the software you nedd in synaptic!? Well, not very user friendly right!?
    Not to mention having to download and compile software! – Just programmers, IT guys, geeks and compilers have patience enough to do that.

    Briefly: A well trained ape can use a Windows Pc but it can’t use a Linux and as long as it stays this way Windows will have the lead

    • Eddie Ringle

      Ubuntu has a pretty streamlined process nowadays with regards to setting up and configuring your install. Other major desktop environments provide similar experiences with regards to point-and-click settings.

      As for installing software, Ubuntu has this covered as well with the Ubuntu Software Centre. Look a little further than the Ubuntu Server install and you’ll find it’s evolved beyond the classic terminal (and the terminal still comes in handy at times in cooperation with the GUI, something I can’t really say is all that true with Windows and command prompt).

    • mr.sour

      I agree even though there are many people that say that linux is simple for the user in almost all cases windows is simpler, and the artical also states that because of there new approach to make the games run on linux starting from scrach the games are running on windows almost nearly as fast so i would see no reason to switch the operating system completly, and most pc gamers do other things on there pc whitch could be windows specific and many people who play games on a pc may not have the technical experience to switch to linux or they may share the computer with more then one person and that other person doesnt want to switch to linux.
      right now if valve got there games to run on linux i feel that very few people would switch for that reason but if useing linux and incressing the preformance is what valve is after why not make a valve distro just for high preformance gameing because most people would probally duel boot the operating systems anyways.

    • Matt Hartley

      “Another annoying thing in linux: Installing a new software. In Ubuntu, it is very easy if you are able to find in the synaptic. But, what if you can’t find the software you nedd in synaptic!? Well, not very user friendly right!? ”

      That’s half true, at best. And that is being kind.

      Skype, TeamViewer (bundles itself with WINE), MoneyDance (just double click the executable), Dropbox, various Google software titles, etc. The idea of ‘you need to compile stuff’ is dated and simply false with newbie friendly distros.

      And if that doesn’t cover it, chances are, the PPAs will. With PPAs, this is generally better suited for those who wish to get the latest and greatest software versions.

      I’m first to admit that there are many people who simply aren’t cut out for Linux, as it is a bit more technical to use. But this idea that if it’s not in the repos, that it must be compiled is VASTLY overstated. And that’s not even considering lesser known stuff like

      As for the popularity of one OS vs the other, yes I agree that Windows is going to come out on top for the foreseeable future.

  • ‘Tis Moi

    Ubuntu may be the Linux “darling”- but it isn’t the smoothest distro, imho. If you want smooth & yet retain your CLI for those who wish it, you should be using Linux Mint (Ubuntu polished). I’ve been using it for about two years now. I’m still running version 9 (supported until next year)- but am about to change & upgrade/update to 13 (Mate). You also have the “bleeding edge” version, Cinnamon, which is more attractive to some users.

    As far as programs & installing- beyond a right-click of a Windows .exe to allow it to run in Wine, the only other thing I do on occasion is copy/paste a new repository address into the Synaptic package manager- hardly a chore to click three times & copy/paste?

    I, for one, absolutely am enthralled & thrilled that there are sooooo many great programs sitting inside of the software manager- ready to go (search the built-in software manager, click,”install”).

    I have a wireless HP printer- which runs flawlessly, a wireless headset/mic (el-cheapo off ebay), that runs flawlessly, a Logitech webcam, that runs flawlessly- actually, I have not had one peripheral give me grief yet. It’s almost enough to make me forget how awful my experience was running Windows….but not quite.

    By comparison, Windows feels like an intrusive slog through the tar-fields. To each, their own. BTW~ has anyone here read this? M$ wants to appropriate pseudo-ownership of the upcoming OEM hardware that YOU purchase. It just gets better & better. You WILL run Windows 8- because you won’t have any other option- at least on a tablet or laptop:

    Plenty of other articles out there. The issue is that M$ acts as though it’s “up to the OEM”, when, in fact, M$ has a lot of power to “convince” them otherwise…

  • Giovanne

    Source: Linux Team.

    Nothing else to say.