SteamOS comes with a significant gaming performance hit, claims benchmark report | PCGamesN

SteamOS comes with a significant gaming performance hit, claims benchmark report

SteamOS Windows performance

Valve released their official line of Linux-based Steam Machines this week, and with them the chance to see what an OS tailored specifically for gaming can offer in terms of performance. According to an early report from Ars Technica, though, the outlook's far from rosy. Their benchmark tests uncovered a 21-58% frame rate dip on the same hardware running SteamOS compared with Windows. 

Wanna read more tech? Check out our NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 group test to find out if there's a performance gap between third-party models.

Way back in 2012, Valve claimed that they'd managed to summon a significant performance boost out of an OpenGL-based Linux port of Left 4 Dead 2. For a while at least, it appeared SteamOS gaming was on the right track.

However, Ars Technica's early benchmarking tests show a marked disparity in gaming performance between SteamOS and Windows 10, running on the same hardware.

The latter outperformed SteamOS in all areas of GeekBench, a synthetic benchmark that happens to support both Windows and Linux. However it is, as Ars Technica concede, a "generalised CPU benchmark" and as such not the most illuminating instrument to tell us about gaming performance. 

The more telling results come from running Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor at 1792 x 1120 resolution: Windows 10 posts 34.5 FPS to SteamOS's 14.6 running ultra settings, and 95.5 FPS vs 61.0 on SteamOS running lowest settings. There's work to be done then, clearly.

There are similar results in Metro: Last Light, and even in Source Engine itself. As Ars Technica point out, it's possible that the developers of these titles simply weren't as familiar with Linux and OpenGL environments and thus weren't able to extract equivalent performance levels. However, the Source Engine results, along with several Valve-developed titles, also show performance dips running in SteamOS relative to Windows 10. You would have expected the developers of both the game and OS to have the expertise to support equivalent performances, if it were possible.

It's very, very early days for SteamOS, and it's perhaps a bit unfair to expect stellar performance vs Microsoft's behemoth OS - nontheless, Ars Technica's results are interesting. I'll be keeping an eye on SteamOS's gaming performance numbers in the coming weeks and months. 

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subedii avatarAnAuldWolf avatar1N07 avatarMighty Gaz avatar
subedii Avatar
2 Years ago

I really don't think the test shows that the OS itself is the issue (Ars itself appears to make that distinction in their title by saying "SteamOS Gaming"). Shadow of Mordor in particular was noted for its heavy performance when it hit linux in August:

Not to dismiss the possibility, just that the issue is more likely located with the ports themselves and driver support than the core OS .Top comment there makes a note of this, Nvidia and AMD haven't really had much cause to optimise and it's only recently they've been making any real effort on Linux drivers.

It's still a problem regardless.

What would be interesting would be seeing how this compares to other Linux releases. Personally I'm not likely to use SteamOS, but I am using Mint. In the short term, performance is almost certainly going to be worse than Windows until/unless market share builds up, there's more driver work, and companies get more used to porting games internally.

Having just recently moved onto Linux gaming, it's surprising to me how many times I've seen the "Feral" logo now (linux port house).

AnAuldWolf Avatar
2 Years ago

I couldn't agree more. Also, I find it disingenuous and shady enough to look at Ars' article as though I were The Question considering that they realise that Vulkan is about to land yet they ran this anyway.

As a tech site, they should be aware of the lull before a new technological boom. Everyone's off working on making Vulkan the best thing ever. So even though Linux isn't nearly as bad as they claim, they've also picked the perfect time to actually make it look bad, when the focus is on developing something new rather than maintaining old systems.

That just seems very orchestrated to me. I try not to be incredibly paranoid, but this raises too many alarm bells in my head. Why now? Why in the lull before Vulkan lands? Why not hold off until Vulkan's out? What was the point of this other than filler, even?

Not disparaging PCGamesN, that'd be shooting the messenger, they're just passing it along. But I do wonder about this, I really do. It's just the worst possible time to do this. On purpose?

subedii Avatar
2 Years ago

I don't think there's any sinister motive in the timing, SteamOS just officially "launched".

That said, I wasn't really a fan of their W10 coverage, they pretty much ignored all its privacy issues whilst gushing over it. Even when it came out that W10 sends all this information back _regardless_ of your settings, their response was basically along the lines of "well we don't know _what specifically_ they're sending back, so it's probably OK".

Props on The Question reference. Probably one of my favourite characters from JLU.

Mighty Gaz Avatar
Mighty Gaz(4 hours played)
2 Years ago

There's work to be done, yes. But anyone who thought it would be different is obviously disconnected from reality. It's a new version of linux. yes, based on debian and using much of the same innards, but its still a new OS, and I believe, even though the hardware has been released, the OS itself is still a public beta.

The issue is no doubt related to graphics drivers as linux support has often been awful. Benchmarks prove that game performance on linux suffers greatly when compared to windows. if the games are specifically written for the OS, even allowing for difficulty of porting, you need to conclude the drivers are the issue as the way FPS numbers drop on some games, but not other, less graphically demanding games, seems to rule out other factors.

Middle earth: Shadow of Mordor showing FPS numbers over 100% times better on windows. among many other examples.

So why, I ask you, is the only mention, or even allusion, to a graphics card manufacturer, contained within a sentence that is an obvious insert advertisement thanks to the obvious partnership the site has with nvidia, given all the nvidia showcase posts.

This is starting to become a credibility issue for me. We keep hearing about how great nvidia is, and the directx12 issues they have had with Ashes of the Singularity and their lack of hardware support has been reported far more sympathetically here than on most other sites.

I'm more and more thinking i cant trust what i read here is impartial when it comes to graphics and performance

1N07 Avatar
1N07(10 hours played)
2 Years ago

That's a pretty big difference....

I hope they can get some of it under control with drivers.