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Faster zombies! Valve say that Left 4 Dead 2 runs better on Linux than on Windows


Everybody knows that one factor in creating a good gaming experience is throughput. Ask me what one factor in creating a good gaming experience is and before you even finish the question I’ll be on my feet, slapping whatever it is you’re holding out of your hands and bellowing “throughput”. So when the Valve Linux blog writes that “one factor in creating a good gaming experience is throughput”, I’m all like “yes, obviously” before quickly scanning the rest of the article to find out what that means. Turns out that it means Valve have managed to get Left 4 Dead 2 running faster in Linux than it does in Windows. Only about 4% faster, sure, but that’s impressive considering how early into Linux development Valve are.

Not only does Valve’s Linux work in tweaking Left 4 Dead 2 improve their own games, but it benefits Linux gaming as a whole by improving the public graphics drivers. Valve explain: “The third category [of performance improvement, optimising the graphics driver] is especially interesting because it involves working with hardware manufacturers to identify issues in their drivers and, as a result, improving the public driver which benefits all games. Identifying driver stalls and adding multithreading support in the driver are two examples of changes that were the result of this teamwork.”

This recent interest in Linux development comes alongside Gabe Newell’s fresh anti-Windows sentiment, in which he branded Windows 8 “a catastrophe”. This shift makes Valve easily one of the most exciting Linux developers on the planet right now -it’s not difficult to envisage the open OS becoming the spiritual home of the Source engine at some point down the line. But it’s hardly the case that the Windows builds are being neglected. On the contrary, it seems the Linux devs are making both versions more efficient.
“Left 4 Dead 2 is running at 315 FPS on Linux,” reveals the Valve Linux blog. “That the Linux version runs faster than the Windows version (270.6) seems a little counter-intuitive, 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. Interestingly, in the process of working with hardware vendors we also sped up the OpenGL implementation on Windows. Left 4 Dead 2 is now running at 303.4 FPS with that configuration.”

Is it the case that Linux is simply better for gaming? Not quite. The post goes on to identify some “microsecond overheads per batch” in Direct3D that don’t exist in OpenGL, and ponders how it might take the improvements they’ve made to Linux zombies and apply them to Windows zombies. Read all about it on the Valve Linux blog. For further reading, take a look at comments that follow the post – they’ve been moderated by Valve to ensure they’re constructive, interesting, thoughtfuland scientific.