Valve: Linux runs our games faster than Windows 7

Despite spending years optimizing games for the Windows platform, Valve get its flagship Left 4 Dead 2 title running faster on Linux.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

While the most important sector for Microsoft as far as Windows revenue is concerned, is the enterprise market, but it's not the most influential. The sector that drives the greatest innovation, and which offers the OEMs the best chance of selling hardware with a decent profit margin is the gaming sector.  And with a major player now making noises about embracing Linux, Microsoft a needs to be worried.


Video game development and online distribution company Valve doesn't like Windows 8. The company's co-founder and managing director Gabe Newell called the new operating system "a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space," and is looking to Linux as a hedging strategy in case Windows 8 disrupts the success of the Valve gaming portal.

Newell believes that the roadblock keeping gamers away from adopting Linux as their operating system of choice is a lack of games for the platform, so his company plans to bring a selection of titles -- including the popular Left 4 Dead 2 -- in an attempt to lure gamers to the free and open source platform.

Well, in another blow to the Windows platform, Valve has posted benchmark data that shows how the Linux platform Ubuntu is better at playing the Left 4 Dead 2 title than Windows 7.

On a system running an Intel Core i7 3930k CPU, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 graphics card, and 32GB of RAM -- yes, that's GBs! -- the company squeezed 270.6 FPS (Frames Per Second) from the Windows 7 Service Pack 1 64-bit and a whopping 315 FPS on Ubuntu 12.04 32-bit. This translates into a 16.7% increase in performance, or a 14.3% decrease in the time taken to render frames.

According to Valve, when the company started the experiment they struggled to get 6 FPS on Linux.

"That the Linux version runs faster than the Windows version (270.6) seems a little counter-intuitive," writes the Valve Linux team, "given the greater amount of time we have spent on the Windows version. However, it does speak to the underlying efficiency of the kernel and OpenGL".

Valve has also been working with big names in the graphics industry to improve drivers.

"We’ve been working with NVIDIA, AMD, and Intel to improve graphic driver performance on Linux. They have all been great to work with and have been very committed to having engineers on-site working with our engineers, carefully analyzing the data we see".

It seems that Valve is serious about Linux and it throwing a lot of resources at the platform.

If there's one thing that hardcore gamers covet more than anything, it's performance. This is a category of user that will spend crazy money and do even crazier things to squeeze as much performance out of a game as possible. These people buy "Extreme Edition" processors, kit their PCs out with dual high-end GPUs, and install elaborate cooling systems.

These are the kind of people who would switch to Linux in a heartbeat.

Microsoft should be worried about this. While the gamer market is relatively small -- thanks in recent years to the popularity of consoles -- it's an incredibly influential one, and, if Valve and other publishers start offering games for the platform, it could force the hand of the large OEMs to offer Linux-based gaming PCs.

OEMs will follow the money, and hardcore gamers never seem short of a few thousand bucks to spend on new systems.

Hardcore gaming could give Linux the credibility is needs to gain traction in the consumer market.

It starts with gaming PCs, and then it moves on to general-purpose PCs -- and by then Microsoft could be having to dig itself out of a deep hole.

OK, so Ubuntu can run Left 4 Dead 2, but can it run Crysis?

Image source: Valve.

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