22 NVIDIA and AMD Cards Get Tested On SteamOS For Gaming Performance – GeForce Leads The Way, R9 Fury Slower Than GTX 950 Due To Poor Drivers


For years, NVIDIA and AMD have worked hard to optimize performance of their graphics cards in various OS (Operation Systems) and AAA gaming titles. In December 2013, Valve released their own OS known as Steam OS which was a Linux based operating system built on the core foundation of Debian 7 and the OS itself was aimed at PC gamers, providing ease of use, better accessibility to games and focused towards gamers who like playing inside their living rooms.

22 NVIDIA and AMD Cards Put To The Test in SteamOS - Team Green Takes The Lead By a Massive Margin

When SteamOS launched, it was a public release but in Beta state. That it still is but it is being updated from time to time, adding enhancements to the UI, improving performance and providing a more robust experience. Since the OS is Linux based, we have seen a majority of hardware manufacturers are optimizing their products to be well suited for the new OS. The task is quite important for CPU and GPU makers but more critical for GPU makers as Linux is well-optimized on the CPU side but still needed work on the GPU side. The GPU side pushed their focus to Linux when a mass migration of PC users installed SteamOS on their platform as soon as the OS launched. Looking at the influx of PC gamers, GPU vendors went in action to optimize gaming performance on SteamOS as they did if before on Windows and OSX platforms.

Phoronix, a well-known technology website that primarily focuses on Linux hardware has assembled a vast test setup to determine the current state of gaming performance on SteamOS. In late June, Valve announced their latest SteamOS 2.0 version codenamed Brewmaster based on the latest Debian 8.1 stable release. A few days ago, the 2.40 version was also released with additional patches but overall, both versions are somewhat similar when comparing core features. Phoronix did a really well job by pitting 22 NVIDIA and AMD cards against each other to get to know what kind of performance numbers that both vendors are pumping out with their current and older GPU releases. The NVIDIA cards were tested with the GeForce 352.30 and AMD cards were tested on the Catalyst 15.9 driver since that is what the SteamOS 2.0 Brewmaster currently allows. Do note that 15.9 is the latest driver available for AMD hardware while NVIDIA has launched GeForce 358.50 that adds significant performance improvements. Following is a list of cards that were tested, they range from Kepler to Maxwell on the NVIDIA front and HD 6000 series up to the Radeon R9 Fury on the AMD front.

  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460 768MB
  • eVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550 Ti 1024MB
  • Zotac NVIDIA GeForce GT 610 1024MB
  • MSI NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 1024MB
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 2048MB
  • eVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750 1024MB
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750 Ti 2048MB
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 2048MB
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Ti 3072MB
  • eVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 950 2048MB
  • eVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 2048MB
  • eVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 4096MB
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 4096MB
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6144MB
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX TITAN X 12288MB
  • Sapphire AMD Radeon HD 6570 512MB
  • Sapphire AMD Radeon HD 6870 1024MB
  • Sapphire AMD Radeon HD 6950 2048MB
  • XFX AMD Radeon HD 7950 3072MB
  • XFX AMD Radeon R9 285 2048MB
  • XFX AMD Radeon R9 290 4096MB
  • Sapphire AMD Radeon R9 Fury 4096MB

AMD and NVIDIA Gaming Performance in SteamOS 2.0:

Images Courtesy/Credits: Phoronix

The testing starts  with the title Bioshock Infinite which is a game that was well optimized for AMD hardware but in OpenGL on Linux, we see a opposite trend with team GeForce taking twice the FPS lead over the cards from red team. At 1080P, the game becomes CPU bound with most of the Kepler and Maxwell cards running around 130 FPS. The Red team cards such as the R9 Fury and R9 290 are bottlenecked much earlier with just total of 70 FPS in the game. Even cards such as GTX 750 and GTX 460 perform faster than the R9 Fury which has more impressive hardware specifications but poor optimization for Linux over at team AMD has to be blamed.

The next game is Counter-Strike: Global Offensive where the red team cards such as the R9 Fury and R9 285 show better performance than the previous title but even then the R9 Fury cannot overtake the GeForce GTX 950 (153 FPS vs 158 FPS) while the flagship GeForce cards are in their own league with FPS range within 200 FPS. AMD sponsored Dirt Showdown is the next game in testing which shows the same results but this time we see an odd Radeon HD 7950 which performs faster than the rest of the GCN based cards including Tonga and Fiji showing that the game is well optimized for first generation GCN cards. Next titles such as Metro 2033 and Metro Last Light (Redux editions) destroy AMD cards against the GeForce offerings with GeForce cards running in the 130/150 FPS range while GCN gets crunched down to 70/90 FPS.

For NVIDIA, they have an evident lead over AMD cards but some anomalies still exist which is mostly due to better optimization for Kepler based cards in older Linux titles such as Bioshock Infinite (Console Port) and we see some instances where CPU becomes the bottleneck and several high-end cards show performance parity (GTX 680 on par with Titan X). There's still room for improvement on NVIDIA's side but users owning NVIDIA hardware enjoy decent frame rates over the AMD counterparts.

Could Vulkan API Be The Savior of AMD in Linux Gaming?

Even two years after launch, AMD cards have shown poor driver optimization in Linux based OpenGL gaming otherwise AMD users might want to stay away from SteamOS or any Linux based platforms for gaming  as it isn't well optimized for them at the moment. Khronos Group announced their Vulkan API few months ago that has been regarded as the successor to OpenGL. Vulkan aims to be bigger and better than what it once was. It is the only low level API that supports every single platform in existence. A big advantage of Vulkan over OpenGL is that it possesses a multi-core friendly architecture. Where OpenGL APIs did not allow a generation of graphic commands in parallel to command execution, Vulkan happily allows multiple command buffers in parallel. AMD who has put a lot of emphasis on Mantle API in the past may just leverage performance when the Vulkan API hits the market since both share the same foundation and Vulkan has cross platform support (Windows 7/8/10, Linux, Android) along with Cross-Vendor support (NVIDIA, AMD, Intel, Qualcomm, Imagination Technologies, ARM, Samsung, Broadcom, Vivanate.

Even Valve has said the Vulkan is the right way forward as said by Valve's San Ginsburg in his speech from SIGGRAPH 2015. Dan Ginsburg, who has taken care of porting the Source 2 engine to Vulkan, didn’t tiptoe around the elephant in the room, Microsoft’s DirectX 12. In fact, he openly said that Vulkan is the right way forward and there is not much reason to create a DX12 backend when developers can use Khronos Group’s API right away; here’s a transcription of the most relevant parts:

Since hosting the first Vulkan face-to-face meeting last year, we’ve been really pleased with the progress of the API and we think it’s the right way forward for powering the next generation of high performance games.

Here’s why we think Vulkan is the future. Unless you are aggressive enough to be shipping a DX12 game this year, I would argue that there is really not much reason to ever create a DX12 back end for your game. And the reason for that is that Vulkan will cover you on Windows 10 on the same class of hardware and so much more from all these other platforms and IHVs that we’ve heard from. Metal is single platform, single vendor, and Vulkan; we are gonna have support for not only Windows 10 but Windows 7, Windows 8, we’re gonna have it on Android and all of the IHVs are making great progress on drivers, I think we’re going to see super rapid adoption. If you’re developing a game for next generation APIs, I think it’s clear that Vulkan is the best choice and we’re very pleased with the progress and the state of the API. We think it’s gonna power the next generation of games for years to come.

Moreover, we all know that Valve as a company has been trying to push OpenGL & Linux support in the last few years, in an effort to oppose Microsoft’s near monopoly on Windows; however, they haven’t had any real success so far and presently there is no reason to believe Vulkan will suddenly turn the tide. Of course, the battle for the leading next generation APIs between DirectX12, Metal and Vulkan has just begun, but we can see who’s already in pole position and it’s not Vulkan right now. Still, what gamers really care for is to get the promised performance boost and that can be achieved through constant driver optimization and robust use of the next generation APIs that are now available in the market. AMD will definitely try to enhance their graphics performance with Vulkan on the market and NVIDIA is already focusing to extend their established lead with the new APIs.