35-Way NVIDIA/AMD Proprietary Linux Graphics Driver Comparison
Here are GPU thermal and system power consumption data that was recorded across the entire testing process for all of the OpenGL tech demos and Linux games executed.
Of the 35 graphics cards tested on the latest proprietary Linux graphics drivers, the GPU with the lowest average temperature was the Radeon HD 6770 and GeForce GT 740 at 44 Celsius. The hottest graphics card during this OpenGL Linux testing experience was the Radeon R9 290 with an average temp of 79 degrees and peak of 93 Celsius.
The most power hungry graphics card was the Radeon R9 290 with an average draw of 238 Watts and a peak of 356 Watts. The GeForce GTX 780 Ti came in with an average of 265 Watts and a max of 360 Watts. The least power hungry NVIDIA graphics card on average was the GeForce GT 610 (72 Watts) while on the AMD side it was the Radeon HD 6450 (56 Watts).
In last week's testing of 65 GPUs on the open-source Linux drivers, the winner overall was the AMD Radeon graphics cards: they were the least problematic (though several Radeon GPUs still ran into different problems) and they delivered the best performance (including generally the performance-per-Watt). The open-source NVIDIA performance meanwhile was crippled by the Nouveau driver with its current lack of proper re-clocking / dynamic power management support, which leads the GeForce GPUs to running at very low clock speeds. The NVIDIA cards on Nouveau also more frequently ran into problems with either visual rendering issues, Nouveau DRM errors, and other problems.
While AMD is generally the better offering when it comes to open-source Linux drivers given that Nouveau is community-driven independent of NVIDIA Corp, with the proprietary drivers the tables are turned. The NVIDIA proprietary Linux graphics driver was consistently delivering better performance. In some tests the Radeon R9 290 Hawaii graphics card on Catalyst was running around the performance level of the GeForce GTX 770 (a ~$70+ cheaper graphics card) and in the worse case around the speed of a GTX 760. In the games that were more CPU-limited, the Catalyst performance was tapping out at measurably lower frame-rates than where the NVIDIA performance ended. The performance-per-Watt of the graphics cards on the binary blobs were also generally more favorable towards NVIDIA; the GTX 750 Maxwell cards were delivering great results and I'm so anxious to see Maxwell in a high-end NVIDIA graphics card on Linux.
Outside of these OpenGL test results, the NVIDIA proprietary drivers tend to have better maintained legacy drivers, the NVIDIA drivers more quickly support new X.Org Server and Linux kernel releases, and generally the consensus among both Linux gamers and developers is that there's far less bugs with the NVIDIA driver than AMD Catalyst. The AMD Catalyst driver though has been improving quite a bit in recent months given all the commercial game studios now pushing Linux games, but it's still not to match NVIDIA's Linux dominance when it comes to proprietary drivers. I'll be back with more tests in the weeks and months ahead to see how future Catalyst drivers combat NVIDIA in this space and as well how the open-source drivers evolve. Coming up later this month are also some updated 4K Ultra HD Linux gaming benchmarks and other interesting graphics card tests.
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