Steam Big Picture mode

Valve’s SteamOS Linux distribution, designed to mimic the functionality of consoles in the home theatre PC environment, is still going from strength to strength, with Valve recently launching Steam Machines, the Steam Link, and the Steam controller, making the latter two available for purchase from the Steam Store overseas starting 10 November 2015. However, not all of Valve’s hardware partners are ready for the switch, particularly AMD. AMD has had particular trouble with getting up the performance of their GCN architecture for Linux games, and with the Steam Machines launch on the horizon, Phoronix ran a massive 22-card GPU performance test to see how things were going. As expected, it’s exactly the kind of train smash AMD can’t afford to have advertised right now.

Phoronix’s editor Michael Larabel ran 22 cards from both NVIDIA and AMD to see which of the two companies did the best in a round of benchmarks done in AAA games. After all, that’s what will be the major draw for SteamOS – the platform simply won’t be as interesting without a bevvy of high-ranking publishers and developers supporting it. The games tested were BioShock Infinite, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, DiRT Showdown, Metro 2033 Redux, and Metro Last Light Redux. These are all games you can buy and run on most Linux distributions today, although I wouldn’t try it on some of the bleeding edge distros just yet.


The results more or less speak for themselves. AMD’s position is not very good, even though performance is more then playable. While the scores for the older HD6000 cards are pretty much in line with expectations, it boggles the mind that a Geforce GTX 950 manages to get almost twice the performance. The other odd thing is that it appears that both graphics companies have a problem with resource utilisation – for AMD, it’s not having enough performance compared to the resources put to running the game. For NVIDIA, it’s the same problem, but at a much higher level, where things aren’t so dire. It will be interesting to see how NVIDIA works around this for newer games and for games running on the Vulkan API, because this is an issue for most of the games that Phoronix tested.


Where things swap around is in Phoronix’s 4K tests of a similar set of games, with the addition of Team Fortress 2. Here we see performance charts ending up almost exactly as expected, with AMD taking the top two spots (not something you’ll ever see in a Windows-based benchmark, I can assure you). While Team Fortress 2 and Half-Life 2 run fairly well, other Source-based games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Left 4 Dead 2 have known performance issues on AMD’s graphics cards, which is down to AMD having outdated performance profiles for those games. All of these issues need to be sorted out soon for AMD to be considered in future Steam Machines or Linux builds, and even NVIDIA has their work cut out for them, though I’m certain they really don’t care where gaming on Linux goes at this point.

Check out the benchmarks for the 22-card roundup and the 4K tests on Phoronix and let us know what you think. I’ve personally gotten myself to the point where I could switch to Linux for almost everything else, but I’m still tethered to Windows for my gaming. With sites like Phoronix putting the pressure on AMD and NVIDIA to change their driver development strategies, and with both companies paying more attention to open-source APIs like Vulkan, perhaps this will all change in 2016.

Source: Phoronix (22-card comparison, 4K comparison)

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