Editorial: Using NVIDIA On Linux For The First Time In 10 Years

Written by Eric Griffith in Display Drivers on 26 November 2016 at 09:27 AM EST. Page 1 of 2. 128 Comments.

Anyone who read any number of my reviews from a few years ago, when I interned here at Phoronix, should know that I have been a fan of AMD and their open source efforts for a very long time. I remember the years of trying to get Catalyst to work under Arch or Fedora, usually only to have it blow up in my face. I remember the struggle holding back kernel and X server updates, hoping that none of those updates contained security fixes that were pertinent to me.

And then AMD announced their open source efforts, and it all got magically better and everything was perfect, right? Well not quite. It did get better, yes, but not perfect. Certain cards would regress quite regularly, there were any number of inefficiencies in the driver that would cripple high end cards, and certain features (such as reclocking) took far too long to get into people’s hands. Even today, simple features like HDMI Audio are held up behind the massive DAL patch set for the latest cards.

While all this was happening, Nvidia continued to quietly plug away at their own card, and their own driver. They didn’t -really- support Nouveau, at least not in the way that people want, instead choosing to focus on their closed source stack. And, if the last few years of benchmarks from Phoronix are any indicator, they were quite successful at getting their driver working well.

If you are reading this article, on this website, I can safely assume two things about you: You use Linux, and you probably play games. That won’t cover everyone, but it will cover enough of you. I know that I certainly fit into that stereotype. And like so many others, my solution to gaming was dual booting*; I had Windows 10 for my gaming needs, and Linux for when I wanted to get real work done.

Could I have gotten real work done on Windows? Absolutely, but I didn’t want to. Could I have gamed on Linux? Eeeeeeh? Kind of. I had an R9 290, which is a decently powerful card, but the drivers weren’t quite up to scratch. Certain games worked well, certain ones only worked on absolute minimum settings, and certain games just blew up in my face any time I would run them, or at least they did for a very long time post-launch. Shadows of Mordor, I am looking at you.

And then Michael made a very gracious offer. During a conversation he offered to send an RX 480 or a GTX 1060 my way in order for me to test out either A) the new AMDGPU driver, or B) to see how the other half lives. I opted for the 1060. I wanted to see how the other half lived, was the grass truly greener? In some ways yes. In some ways no. (See for more details via GTX 1060 vs. RX 480 - The ~$200 GPU Decision For Linux Gamers – a very polarizing decision with more than 150 comments so far.)

Given that Fedora is my preferred Linux distribution, and there is special attention being paid to the Nvidia driver situation this cycle, all of my testing was done there.

So what is the default situation like for the user of an Nvidia 1060? Not so great under Nouveau. Without the signed firmware being available to the open source developers, you are left with a minimum-resolution desktop and no 3D acceleration of any kind-- a bit of an issue for the default Gnome 3 desktop.

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