No, hell didn’t freeze over and April Fool’s Day has long passed. Nvidia has indeed announced its move to an open source Linux GPU core for its latest and greatest graphics cards. Previously open-source GPU anything was AMD’s preserve, but from now on you can go on GitHub and download the Nvidia kernel modules source code from the Nvidia Open GPU Kernel Modules repo.
The green team call it “a significant step toward improving the experience of using NVIDIA GPUs on Linux, for tighter integration with the operating system, and for developers to debug, integrate, and contribute back.” And, as someone who’s bounced around various Linux distros hard in the past, I’ll join the chorus of people who say it’s time.
I’ve mostly struggled in the past because I couldn’t get my modern Nvidia graphics cards to work with such exotic things as a desktop environment or a multi-monitor setup. Not to mention playing games. With this recent change, however, it means developers and distribution vendors will be better able to tightly integrate driver support into their software.
It used to be a bit of a dice game.
You had to use Nvidia’s proprietary drivers, which had a one-size-fits-all approach to distro support, which it certainly wasn’t. You know, adapt to all.
So, is this the Nvidia panacea for gaming under Linux? I spoke with Jonni Bidwell, technical writer for the first Linux publication, FormatLinuxexplaining why this happened and what this announcement will actually mean to the end user.
“It’s definitely a good start,” he tells me. “They have a huge range of hardware (most of the older stuff is now only supported through the reverse-engineered Nouveau driver) and they’ve chosen to open up the bits for the newer models. I’d say they did this because a lot of machine learning is already geared towards Nvidia and CUDA (Leela chess zero, the open source chess neural network, for example, doesn’t work very well with AMD and OpenCL).
“Having a fully open stack is easier to debug and develop. And hopefully no more graphics after a kernel update because something broke.”
Does this mean that with better Nvidia driver support we will get better performance in games? Unfortunately, probably not, at least not right away.
“They say the drivers are ‘alpha quality’ for end users at the moment,” says Bidwell. “But this decision will surely help the game to some degree, although I doubt ‘open’ would immediately translate to ‘moar fps.’ pilots, and it will be easier for aspiring pilot developers to do the reverse.
“Modules haven’t been accepted into the kernel yet, and there’s likely to be some back and forth with that. Once they’re integrated, it’ll be a while before they’re picked up by distributions General public.”
Besides the increased importance of machine learning and the fact that Linux is prevalent in data center and supercomputer environments, Nvidia’s openness will also be at least partly due to competition.
“Nvidia has always been a black sheep for Linux,” says Bidwell, “because at this point their driver is really the only proprietary driver regular users have to deal with. So much to gain parity with AMD’s open driver strategy, which was also great news when it was announced.
This is indeed an important time for the Linux cause, and for Linux gaming. This year may not be exactly “the year of Linux gaming” as a true Windows alternative, but with Nvidia opening up, the success of the Steam Deck, and the potential for Valve’s SteamOS 3.0 and its Proton technology, things certainly go further. possible in this regard.