Recently, Valve announced they’ve found great success in porting Left 4 Dead 2 and Steam to Linux. Not only is the game running, but they’re getting higher frame rates on their test benches with Linux and OpenGL as compared to the same hardware running in Direct3D in Windows 7.
As a starting benchmark, their Windows test system pulled 270.6 fps. Directly ported, without optimizations, the Linux version of L4D2 pulled a successful but miserable 6 fps. So they tweaked the Linux version, optimizing the client and drivers with the help of AMD, NVIDIA, and Intel engineers to hit an impressive 315 fps. In a matter of weeks, the team surpassed the performance offered by the Windows version—a product that’s had years of optimizations. It’s an impressive feat to be sure.
The tweaks and improvements found in the optimization of L4D2 in Linux aren’t just sitting locked in code repositories in Valveland, either. They instead submitted the optimizations to the involved companies’ public driver repositories so that the entire Linux community could benefit from their findings. Not too shabby.
All isn’t lost in Windows land, though. After proving the hardware was capable of more performance, the team re-approached Windows 7 drivers and wrung another few frames out, bringing their new Windows 7 benchmark number to 303.4 fps.
What does it all mean?
A few things really. We know Valve is committed to making Steam on Linux a Real Deal™. They’ve found that Linux performance for the Source engine can meet or exceed that of Windows 7, and in doing so are opening a door for bringing their popular engine of credit card destruction, the Steam Store, to a free and open platform. It will be a shot-in-the-arm for Linux, an OS relegated to the land of enterprise, servers, and neckbeards.
More performance is a compelling reason to get gamers to adopt something, especially when that performance comes for free. Will gaming hobbyists adopt Linux and provide it with an influx of new users? Possibly. And with an influx of users, the barrier to entry for Linux will be lowered substantially as the demand for ease of use increases.
But something more than just getting gamers to use Linux may be afoot. We know Valve is looking at consoles. In March, The Verge reported Valve was working on a console. Doug Lombardi, Valve’s marketing director, pushed off the reports as speculation and fanboy wet dreams. But we know Valve always has something up their sleeve. This is pure speculation, but the prospect of using Linux as the OS for a Valve console is certainly within the realm of possibility. They could make a stripped-down distro built for Steam games that brings all the Steam Store’s capabilities to a console. Let’s call this proposed Linux distro Gabenix.
Gabenix could offer everything a console needs. Graphics, internet connectivity, storage—all with the additional ability to run on x86 hardware if users wanted to build their own system. By adding additional support for a diverse array of video cards and network adapters, they’d be able to provide a free gaming OS to anyone who wants it. In the process, they’d lock in customers for their game distribution service empire. Again, it’s all speculation—but it’s possible.
Speculation aside, congrats to the Valve Linux team with their recent small success in making Linux suck less for gamers. We appreciate your efforts to make gaming more democratic, where players can choose their operating system based on its merits and not its limitations.
From one Linux user to another: We’re excited to see what comes of all this.