Now that Valve honcho Gabe Newell is predicting the end of all things with the release of Windows 8, they’ve been concentrating their efforts on Linux. We’ve been hearing for a while now that Valve’s digital games distribution platform, Steam, would be coming to Linux, but with a recent update on Valve’s Linux blog, they claim that their games run faster on Ubuntu than they do on Windows 7.
Though Steam coming to Linux is a boon for any gamer who prefers free or open source operating systems, any OS X gamer will immediately note that just because Steam is on an operating system doesn’t necessarily mean games will then follow. Steam doesn’t make games compatible, it just makes pre-existing games available in one singular client. Granted, if Steam is available on an operating system, it does raise the chance of a developer bringing their game to said operating system, so Linux gamers have a little something to look forward to.
According to a post on the Valve Linux blog, something else Linux gamers have to look forward to is that Valve games run faster on Linux than they do on Windows 7. Valve tested the performance of Left 4 Dead 2 on the 64-bit Windows 7 and the 32-bit Ubuntu 12.04. The hardware, an Intel Core i7 3930k CPU, an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 video card, and 32 GB of RAM, was the same on both operating system tests.
When the team first tested the game on their Windows setup, they found that they managed 270.6 frames per second. When they first tested the game on Ubuntu, they amusingly only managed 6 frames per second. They assured us that this is typical of any game ported to a new operating system upon its first test. After making Linux compatibility tweaks, including changing their memory allocator to use more Linux-appropriate functions, and improving driver compatibility and reducing driver issues, the team managed to pump out 303.4 frames per second, over thirty more frames per second than their Windows 7 test.
The reason for the speed bump in Ubuntu? Ubuntu uses OpenGL, whereas Windows 7 uses Direct3D. Valve said they found “a few additional microseconds overhead per batch” in Direct3D under Windows 7, which adds up. These extra microseconds don’t appear in OpenGL under Windows either, so it’s not that Linux, specifically as an operating system, is just better for running Valve games. It’s just that Windows employs the use of Direct3D, and Direct3D on Windows doesn’t generate the better results that OpenGL on Linux does when Valve is not only working their butts off to make games run better on Linux, but working directly with hardware manufacturers to help eek out as much performance as possible.
However, as far as the casual end-user who simply installs games without making their own tweaks is concerned, Valve can get their games to run faster on Ubuntu than on Windows 7.
(via Valve Linux Blog)