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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