With Steam Machines set to begin shipping next month and SteamOS beginning to interest more gamers as an alternative to Windows for building a living room gaming PC, in this article I've carried out a twenty-two graphics card comparison with various NVIDIA GeForce and AMD Radeon GPUs while testing them on the Debian Linux-based SteamOS 2.0 "Brewmaster" operating system using a variety of Steam Linux games.
As it's been almost two years since running some SteamOS graphics benchmarks, it's certainly past due for running a new comparison with SteamOS in much better shape now for public appeal. I did a fresh install of SteamOS 2.0 Brewmaster on a test system (Core i7 5960X, Gigabyte X99, 16GB DDR4 RAM, 240GB OCZ SSD) and then proceeded to load the Phoronix Test Suite on it through the GNOME 3.14 based desktop environment that's hidden behind the default Big Picture Mode.
When pulling in some extra packages from the Debian Wheezy repository, it was possible to get the Phoronix Test Suite running fine on Brewmaster for offering automated benchmarks. In addition to looking at the raw performance results, the Phoronix Test Suite was simultaneously monitoring the GPU's core temperature as well (exposed via the respective driver interfaces) as the overall AC system power draw (via a USB-based WattsUp Power meter). With the power information, the overall system power consumption was recorded for each system + graphics card as well as the factored performance-per-Watt. As another metric, there's also performance-per-dollar benchmark results for the graphics cards tested that you can still easily purchase new; the prices used were obtained from Amazon.com in the US for the particular graphics card model tested and for the reference graphics cards tested their MSRP was used.
This should be a very exciting and unique look at the NVIDIA/AMD SteamOS Linux gaming performance as well as looking at the most power, thermal efficient, and cost effective graphics cards. In this article, only 1080p tests were done given that it remains the most common resolution for TVs. If there's enough interest in seeing these same exact tests done for 4K in the same format, I'm happy to do so. The Steam games tested were limited to those that run properly under Linux with both the AMD and NVIDIA graphics drivers plus can be fully driven automatically via the Phoronix Test Suite. For this testing we were left with BioShock Infinite, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, DiRT Showdown, Metro 2033 Redux, and Metro Last Light Redux.
SteamOS 2.0 Brewmaster uses the NVIDIA 352.30 binary driver currently, which we carried forward with our testing. On the AMD side is still the Catalyst 15.7 driver by default even though Catalyst 15.9 has been around for a month. Since Catalyst 15.9 carries some important fixes for Steam Linux games, I manually switched over to using this newer Catalyst driver release.
The NVIDIA graphics cards tested for this SteamOS comparison included many new and old GPUs. There's every current Maxwell GPU model, several Kepler GPUs, and even some older Fermi cards for those curious how their old systems will work on SteamOS with these Linux games.
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460 768MB
- eVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550 Ti 1024MB
- Zotac NVIDIA GeForce GT 610 1024MB
- MSI NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 1024MB
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 2048MB
- eVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750 1024MB
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750 Ti 2048MB
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 2048MB
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Ti 3072MB
- eVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 950 2048MB
- eVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 2048MB
- eVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 4096MB
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 4096MB
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6144MB
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX TITAN X 12288MB
It's a nice selection of 15 NVIDIA graphics cards for this SteamOS comparison. On the AMD side, the comparison is much more limited due to the AMD cards in my possession. As AMD hasn't been sending out graphics card samples to Phoronix in the past few years, most of the Radeon hardware tested on Phoronix are cards I purchased retail. So there's a smaller assortment compared to being seeded with every GeForce model thanks to NVIDIA's more apparent interest in Linux. Aside from the smaller selection, some cards couldn't be tested like the Radeon R7 370 and Radeon R9 270X as they ran into mode-setting issues with the Catalyst 15.9 driver. So for the AMD side I was just left:
- Sapphire AMD Radeon HD 6570 512MB
- Sapphire AMD Radeon HD 6870 1024MB
- Sapphire AMD Radeon HD 6950 2048MB
- XFX AMD Radeon HD 7950 3072MB
- XFX AMD Radeon R9 285 2048MB
- XFX AMD Radeon R9 290 4096MB
- Sapphire AMD Radeon R9 Fury 4096MB
So this comes down to a large AMD vs. NVIDIA graphics card comparison on SteamOS 2.0 while using Catalyst 15.9 and NVIDIA 352.30 with the various OpenGL Linux games on Steam plus looking at the system power consumption, cost analysis, and thermal data too.
If you'd like to support all of the work that I do single-handedly at Phoronix.com for Linux hardware testing and benchmarking, please consider subscribing to Phoronix Premium or making a PayPal tip so that this work may continue (and I can buy more AMD GPUs...). Phoronix Premium access gets you an ad-free experience plus viewing large articles (such as this one!) all on a single page. Additionally, with enough support, happy to carry out this same comparison again at 4K plus run any other interesting Steam Linux follow-ups.