Getting Started With Gaming On Linux is an ongoing series that we will be publishing as a guide for individuals that may be interested in getting on-board with Valve’s push for Linux Gaming – previous entries in the series will be linked at the end of the article, and it is highly recommended that you read any previous articles first, before continuing on with the guide.
With that being said; we bring to you the second part of our guide; Hardware.
So you’ve decided which Linux distro that you want to install – and you either don’t know what hardware will work well with Linux or are assembling an entirely new rig that will need to support Linux out of the box. Maybe you have a gaming rig that you want to refashion as a steambox – and you need to know exactly what you’d need to do so that the transition that you’re making will be seamless. Choosing the right Linux distribution is undoubtedly on the right track – but if there’s one thing that has more of an effect on your Linux experience – the hardware that you will be using for your build.
And with that in mind; once again, you can knock out a few choices because of compatibility. Anything above an R9 270 should be avoided in regards to AMD – as performance quickly hits a frustrating bottleneck using AMD’s fglrx drivers, and the RadeonSI open-source drivers have similar issues, while not supporting OpenGL 4.x features quite yet. Stronger AMD cards may be easier to recommend in the future; but if you want a high-end Linux Gaming rig, then you unfortunately have to go with an nVidia card. Beyond much better performance, sometimes AMD’s drivers will also prevent some games from working in the first place – PixelJunk Shooter and Natural Selection II come to mind. In fact, I should clarify a point that I made in the previous article; although distro specific problems can and do happen on occasion, the driver specific problems that occur on AMD cards are much more widespread. Part of it may have to do with market share – but at least some of it has to do with absolutely horrible drivers as well. Sometimes it can take literally months for AMD to update their closed-source drivers – fglrx – to fix an issue that it may have with the Linux display server x11. A recent example that I have personally experienced was months of me being unable to run a Dolphin Emulator session without having my computer crash to the login screen.
So needless to say – If you’re going to be serious about Linux, we can only recommend nVidia’s options for now. Their drivers are usually on par with the windows equivalents, and compatibility is well-maintained – you won’t have major Linux updates being held back because nVidia’s driver doesn’t support the latest updates. Beyond GPU’s both CPU manufacturers have great support, so if you want to go AMD or Intel with your CPU is entirely dependent on preference. However, unless you’re looking to use some obscure programs that require PCi-passthrough for certain performance levels in VM’s, there is little reason for you to use AMD’s offerings in a gaming build.
Instead, the main problem will arise from network drivers – and unfortunately that’s going to be something that you’ll have to research for yourself. The situation for some newer hardware changes all the time, so it may be pertinent for you to google the name of your motherboards network adapter and “linux driver” to ensure that they work. Most of the time you won’t have any issues, but some Qualcomm network adapters may require some configuration – though if you’re using a newer Linux Distro like Ubuntu 14.10 then it’s likely that the driver will come pre-installed. In regards to everything else, you shouldn’t have any issues… it may take a few google searches to configure an Xbox 360 controller or other peripherals, but most accessories will already have a driver in your distro’s repositories. Either way, unless you have some really obscure item, there shouldn’t be that much of a problem to get it working on your system.
So in summary for this entry – if you’re looking for a new rig, go with nVidia and make sure the motherboard you’re buying won’t have any issues with network support (it probably won’t).
Once again, if you have any questions or comments – feel free to post them in the comments below. Next time we’ll be sharing some information on dual-booting, along with more information regarding managing your Linux system in general!