AMD/nVidia: The Share of Free and Proprietary Drivers

Following our survey conducted back in the end of March 2017, we have collected a wealth of information regarding the usage pattern of Linux gamers from the Reddit communities (hopefully a representative sample of the larger Linux gaming audience). You can refer to last year’s survey results from 2016, and a couple of recent articles about the 2017 survey results (the wheels used by Linux gamers, or the top 20 games Linux gamers want to see ported). This time we will focus on the GPU market, and first, here are some figures about the share of each GPU Brand:
typegpu

Not surprising to see nVidia still well ahead of the pack – the situation has hardly changed versus a year ago (March 2016) in terms of market share.

More interesting is the usage of Free Software drivers vs Proprietary Drivers for each brand.
Among nVidia users, 97% choose Proprietary drivers and only 3% use Free Software drivers like Nouveau. Hardly surprising numbers but it shows that Nouveau is clearly having a hard time catch any adoption. Not that nVidia is not helping at all the Nouveau developers, with numerous measures making it harder to reverse-engineer. What’s more interesting is the AMD picture (in red):

freedrivers

Among Linux AMD gamers, as you can the situation is almost the reverse of nVidia’s. 90% of them use Free Software drivers, and only 10% use Proprietary ones. Mesa has grown from leaps and bounds since the past few years, and it’s apparently what most AMD gamers use nowadays. I must admit I did not expect that figure to be so high, but then again Feral among others is mainly supporting the Mesa drivers when it comes to their ports (for example Dirt Rally).

Now, for nVidia users, the lack of adoption of Nouveau could be linked to the fact that they have not tried recently to use it… so we had an additional question to check when was the last time they did try Nouveau out.

whentestedfreenv

Sure enough, the majority (64%) has not tried Nouveau any recently (more than one year ago at least) and that group is constituted by 20% of nVidia gamers who have never tried Nouveau at all. Of course, it could be a chicken and egg problem: folks don’t hear anything good about Nouveau, so they don’t try it out… or they try it out, but come off disappointed and never consider it again.

Well there you have it. Personally I’d like to support the Mesa efforts by purchasing an AMD card, but it’s true that the performance is still somewhat lacking on the very high end of the spectrum (nVidia still reigns with the 1070 and 1080 offering…). But AMD with their new hardware, and Valve with their support of Mesa drivers, are helping to make life better for Linux gamers, so there could be less and less reasons to stay on nVidia in the future.

Obviously it’s a small market, but finally seeing some real choice and competition in hardware is a breeze of fresh air.


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3 Comments

  1. I would be curious if there tends to be a philosophical difference of opinion between AMD and NVIDIA users. In terms of generalities, the trend over the last decade or so seems to be that as a percentage, there are more recent Linux converts who prioritize free (gratis) over free (libre). If a majority of Linux users in the late 90s to early 2000s had favored gratis over libre, and a gratis version of Adobe Photoshop had been available for Linux, GIMP might have gained much less traction by this point than it has.

    When it comes to supporting open source, there has often been a tradeoff between convenience and conviction that is encountered at some point, and this can also impact the choice of hardware.

  2. I’m a proprietary nvidia user. Nouveau would be useless for me because it still doesn’t support setting the clock frequency of “newer” cards (anything that’s not outdated years ago). Is this not true? I have a 970 now.

    FWIW, if nvidia and amd keeps this up my next card is likely amd

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