1. Computers
  2. Display Drivers
  3. Graphics Cards
  4. Memory
  5. Motherboards
  6. Processors
  7. Software
  8. Storage
  9. Operating Systems


Facebook RSS Twitter Twitter Google Plus


Phoronix Test Suite

OpenBenchmarking Benchmarking Platform
Phoromatic Test Orchestration

Will NVIDIA Optimus Inevitably Come To Linux?

NVIDIA

Published on 25 April 2011 08:05 AM EDT
Written by Michael Larabel in NVIDIA
14 Comments

Aside from political issues surrounding open vs. closed-source (graphics) drivers on Linux, the proprietary NVIDIA Linux driver is widely liked. The proprietary NVIDIA Linux driver is relatively bug/trouble-free, has a performance parity to the Windows driver, supports new hardware right away, and has a near feature parity to the Windows driver. There's not much more you could ask for from a closed-source driver, aside from a few missing features. One of the missing features that's been widely talked about as of late has been Optimus.

NVIDIA's Optimus Technology is currently a notebook technology designed to extend the battery life of the device while still delivering an optimal graphics experience. Optimus works by automatic switching of notebook GPUs: between a low-end low-power IGP and a high-performance GPU. This is dependent upon the needed graphics resources and power source. Switching is done seamlessly and transparently.

While NVIDIA Optimus sounds like something neat and useful for mobile users, it's not supported under Linux. The technology is relatively new, but NVIDIA last year said they had no plans at that time to support it under Linux.

Why don't they bring Optimus to Linux? Well, they haven't given a public explanation, but this is technology is currently only found on a small number of notebooks right now, none of which have SKUs with Linux as a default OS option. As long as it stays a mobile technology, it will be up to one of NVIDIA's customers (as in the IHV) to request/demand the support. It's high-hanging fruit.

Supporting Optimus under Linux wouldn't also be a straight and easy port of their Windows driver code, but to provide the same experience as achieved under Windows, would require extensive changes to the X.Org Server. The old X Server code doesn't handle dynamic GPU changes too well, etc, and is a current sore spot for all drivers. Someone could step up and make the necessary improvements -- even NVIDIA themselves, as they do commit server changes upstream when necessary -- or wait a few years for the Wayland Display Server. Wayland should play better in these areas with the needs of today rather than decades ago.

They could also get by without any X.Org Server changes if they made their implementation work like that of vga_switcheroo or AMD PowerXpress whereby the X.Org Server is restarted when switching to/from the IGP and discrete GPU.

Those in the open-source world could also attempt to support Optimus under Linux via reverse-engineering and the Nouveau driver. However, so far those efforts haven't panned out. There's the vga_switcheroo support in the mainline code that supports some open-source drivers on some hardware with GPU/IGP switching, but that's not for Optimus. Currently supported by the switcheroo are those using a hardware switch and not NVIDIA's Optimus implementation. Right now there is no support for Optimus under Linux with either the open or closed-source drivers.

Related to this though, last year Red Hat's David Airlie created the open-source PRIME proof-of-concept that allowed a secondary GPU to render 3D applications onto the screen of the first GPU that was connected to a display.

This work though has yet to be merged mainline as much more work still would require beforehand, since the work is invasive and touches not only the X Server but also the DRI2 protocol, the drivers, and the Graphics Execution Manager since memory objects are to be passed between drivers/GPUs.

Why talk about Optimus again under Linux today? Over the past few days we've heard a few references to Synergy, which is rumored to be NVIDIA's desktop equivalent of Optimus. NVIDIA's expected to launch this updated Optimus-based technology in just over a month at Computex Taipei. Synergy will allow the user to switch between the integrated graphics on their motherboard (and CPU in the case of Intel Sandy Bridge) and their discrete PCI-E NVIDIA graphics card.

There's no changing of the monitor cable to the other output or anything along those lines, but it's meant to be completely seamless just like its mobile version. While there is no battery life to worry about, the GPU switching will be handled based upon the running application(s) and their graphics requirements.

For supporting NVIDIA Synergy under Linux, it will still be difficult just like Optimus is now, especially if their goal is to have the switching be done seamlessly and in real-time. There's the X.Org Server changes needed and the NVIDIA blob would effectively need to handle and play with the Intel DRM driver and GEM (they'll also need to end up playing with this Linux kernel memory API in some form when they eventually support Wayland) for it to work in a manner like it does under Windows. This wouldn't be an easy feat.

However, if the Optimus-based technology continues to take off and Synergy even becomes somewhat common, NVIDIA will likely end up needing to support it under Linux in some manner. It will be interesting to see how NVIDIA handles the situation once it reaches the desktop.

About The Author
Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the web-site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience and being the largest web-site devoted to Linux hardware reviews, particularly for products relevant to Linux gamers and enthusiasts but also commonly reviewing servers/workstations and embedded Linux devices. Michael has written more than 10,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics hardware drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated testing software. He can be followed via and or contacted via .
Latest Linux News
  1. Pinos Is For Linux Video What PulseAudio Is For Audio
  2. Crossing 200,000 Benchmark Results Posted On LinuxBenchmarking.com
  3. New Mesa Vec4 Backend For Intel, Supports Their NIR Goals
  4. "PulseVideo" Coming To Complement PulseAudio?
  5. Premium Users Now Can Experience Our New Site
  6. XFS Will Get DAX Support In The Linux 4.2 Kernel
  7. X.Org Server Lands More Mode-Setting/GLAMOR Improvements, But No Sign Of 1.18
  8. Linux Mint 17.2 Officially Released With Cinnamon/MATE Flavors
  9. Fedora For MIPS Is Now Out In Testing, Supports The Creator CI20
  10. KDE Plasma 5.3.2 Fixes Shutdown Scripts, Few Dozen Other Bugs
Latest Articles & Reviews
  1. How KDE VDG Is Trying To Make Open-Source Software Beautiful
  2. Attempting To Try Out BCache On The Linux 4.1 Kernel
  3. CompuLab's Fitlet Is A Very Tiny, Fanless, Linux PC With AMD A10 Micro
  4. AMD A10-7870K Godavari: RadeonSI Gallium3D vs. Catalyst Linux Drivers
Most Viewed News This Week
  1. Kubuntu 15.10 Could Be The End Of The Road
  2. Linus Is Looking Forward To Merging KDBUS, But Not Convinced By Performance
  3. NVIDIA Starts Supplying Open-Source Hardware Reference Headers
  4. KDBUS Won't Be Pushed Until The Linux 4.3 Kernel
  5. Linux 4.2 Kernel Gets Port To New Processor Architecture
  6. The Staging Pull For Linux 4.2: "Big, Really Big"
  7. The State & Complications Of Porting The Unity Editor To Linux
  8. SteamOS "Brewmaster" Is Valve's New Debian 8.1 Based Version