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AMD is working on a new Linux graphics driver to catch up with Nvidia

Chris Hoffman | Aug. 5, 2015
Driver woes have held Radeon graphics cards back on Linux, but AMD's hoping its forthcoming software can give it an edge.

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There's no doubt about it: AMD's Linux graphics drivers are behind Nvidia's, something that will start mattering a lot more when Valve's first Linux-based Steam Machines start hitting the market this November.

AMD hasn't turned the ship around yet, and big-name games are still only supporting Nvidia hardware when they launch on Linux. But AMD hasn't been sitting on its hands. AMD's developers are working on a new Linux driver architecture that will result in better open-source drivers, too--eventually.

How has AMD been doing?

Before we dive into that, though, let's recap what's happened since out last look at the subject of Linux graphics drivers.

Nvidia is still maintaining its lead over AMD on Linux, and new games still target Nvidia hardware. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor recently launched on Linux thanks to Feral Interactive, but it only officially supports Nvidia graphics cards. The official FAQ says you'll experience poor performance if you attempt to run it on an AMD graphics card.

Phoronix recently discovered you can boost the performance of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive on Linux when you're using an AMD graphics card just by renaming the "csgo_linux" binary to "hl2_linux". This will give you as much as a 40 percent graphics boost. The AMD Catalyst driver has application profiles designed for Source engine games, but AMD's developers haven't bothered adding csgo_linux to the application profiles--despite Counter-Strike: Global Offensive having been out for a year at this point.

Application profiles are commonly used across operating systems and drivers, so this is normal. What looks bad for AMD here is how slow it's been to maintain these application profiles when compared to Nvidia on Linux and even AMD's own profiles on Windows.

It's not all bad for AMD users. AMD released Catalyst 15.5 Linux in early June. Phoronix ran some benchmarks and put it bluntly: "Metro Last Light Redux and Metro 2033 Redux no longer run like garbage on AMD Linux." That's an improvement, but the AMD Catalyst graphics drivers are still behind Nvidia's. And that was the only game that noticeably improved in performance with the new drivers.

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AMD's new graphics driver architecture

Currently, there are two main AMD graphics drivers on Linux. There's the open-source "Radeon" driver and the closed-source "Catalyst" driver. As with Nvidia's drivers, the open-source driver is fine for just using a graphical desktop with AMD graphics cards, but you'll want the closed-source driver to get maximum gaming performance.


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