10 Reasons To Consider The NVIDIA GeForce RTX 20 Series On Linux
Written by Michael Larabel in NVIDIA on 6 September 2018 at 02:23 PM EDT. 60 Comments
NVIDIA --
As promised, following my 10 Reasons Linux Gamers Might Want To Pass On The NVIDIA RTX 20 Series, here are ten reasons on the opposite side for considering these new Turing graphics cards for Linux.

While the main selling point of the new NVIDIA GeForce RTX 20 series hardware is ray-tracing with RTX, which Linux games probably won't see for some time -- natively with the pending Vulkan ray-tracing extensions or mapped to those extensions from any yet-to-be-written Wine portability code for emulated Windows games -- there still are many reasons to consider the GeForce RTX 2070 / 2080 / 2080 Ti graphics cards if you are a dedicated Linux user.

The ten most pressing reasons to consider prior to getting my hands on the Turing hardware would be:

- The fastest desktop GPU performance in 2018. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 series already runs exceptionally well on Linux for gaming and compute purposes. In my most recent NVIDIA vs. AMD Linux gaming benchmarks from the end of August, the Radeon RX Vega 64 is currently coming just in line with the GeForce GTX 1070 on the newest drivers under Ubuntu in most scenarios... AMD will not have any high-end replacement to the Radeon RX Vega 64 on the desktop side this year, leaving the RTX 20 series just more headroom to make ahead of the competition.

- While their official drivers are closed-source unlike the competition from Intel and AMD, their Linux drivers have proven most reliable for the better part of two decades. The AMD Linux driver quality has improved vastly over the past few years, but for those not caring about the driver's code license, the NVIDIA drivers have always "just worked" (barring the occasional bug or Linux distribution oddity) while offering close to the same performance under Linux and Windows (barring any overhead caused by the Linux game ports) and offering nearly the same feature-set under both operating systems. Since my previous article, I've at least been able to now confirm that there will indeed be Turing support on launch-day where as previously there was some cause for concern compared to previous generations.

- Ray-tracing is [most likely] the future. While I am sad there won't be any RTX enjoyment under Linux on day-one, I've been very much looking forward to ray-tracing in games for years... I think it was an Intel demo done many years ago of a ray-traced experiment with Enemy Territory: Quake Wars that really got me mesmerized at the time and longing for the point at which it would be viable. There will be Linux games or applications to inevitably support it and may be quite exciting as well if supported by the Blender 3D modeling software and other popular Linux applications, just not something to get excited about this month.

- RTX 20 has Tensor cores. Turing features the tensor cores enhanced over Volta. In addition to being useful for ray-tracing, the tensor cores are incredibly beneficial for deep learning / AI and similar areas. A lot of that training work is done on Linux boxes.

- CUDA still reigns supreme. While the Turing performance over Pascal in non-RTX games is still a matter of debate until being able to see independent results on their performance, the additions to Turing should undoubtedly help the CUDA/GPGPU performance. If you want the best GPU compute potential on the desktop cards, the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti is set to deliver. While AMD with their GPUOpen initiative continues making progress on their ROCm stack and ability to port CUDA code for their hardware, deep learning / AI researchers remain deeply seated on the NVIDIA side with the current software ecosystem.

- The cards should be great with OpenCL-Next. Even if you aren't a fan of CUDA and while right now NVIDIA's drivers expose only OpenCL 1.2, OpenCL-Next is in the works. With that next revision to OpenCL that should be out in 2019, we should finally see NVIDIA offer full support for that version with it expected to drop the SVM requirement that's been blocking their CL 2.0 support. NVIDIA obviously partakes in that Khronos working group and we'll likely see the full potential of OpenCL-Next available on Turing come next year.

- NVIDIA does make open-source contributions in some areas. While it's a pity they don't have a fully open-source and working driver, they do make some open-source contributions where it makes sense from a business standpoint and where there is sufficient customer demand -- such as the decent Nouveau support on the Tegra front. Among their recent open-source efforts have been NVDLA, some hardware reference headers, the basis for Qt 3D Studio, the MDL SDK, etc. Their Linux developers have also made improvements to the X.Org Server and related components that do benefit all Linux desktop users as well as engaging in other areas like being a sponsor of the X.Org XDC conference. There is a lot of open-source/communal work done by their Linux developers where they tend to not receive sufficient recognition.

- It will be great for VR. With the HTC Vive on the GTX 1080 series the performance under Linux overall is good, but still room for more performance. The RTX 20 series will offer much more potential for a good Linux VR experience while acknowledging there aren't too many quality VR Linux titles right now... The RTX hardware also has a VirtualLink/USB-C connector for future VR head-mounted displays, hoping they will be Linux-friendly. The SteamVR Linux experience from the get-go has worked with NVIDIA's Linux driver while only this year has the open-source driver stack for Radeon really gotten into shape.

- Great Vulkan support. While the independent open-source RADV driver has become a very capable driver over the past two years and is often competing or outperforming with the official AMD Vulkan driver, NVIDIA's Vulkan driver support has been in great shape since launch day. On the AMDVLK driver side, which is AMD's official open-source Vulkan driver, they continue doing weekly code drops and overall that driver largely works well but RADV seems to work better with more Linux games. The AMDGPU-PRO Vulkan driver meanwhile that is derived from the AMDVLK code-base but still using AMD's closed-source shader compiler back-end, it has worked out well and performant since the Vulkan 1.0 introduction, but AMDGPU-PRO is limited to working nicely on a few enterprise Linux distributions with no official support outside of that. So if you just care about Vulkan development on Linux, the NVIDIA driver and their frequent Vulkan betas have tended to "just work" without issues from the start.

- Better power efficiency over Vega. In our many power consumption and performance-per-Watt comparisons of the Pascal and Vega cards, NVIDIA always comes out well ahead -- to the point of the RX Vega cards usually being in line with NVIDIA's older Maxwell cards or worse in some scenarios. While the Turing GPUs are a big die and only on at 12nm, even if the performance-per-Watt was only to do slightly better than Pascal, it's still much better than Vega.

Well, what side of the fence are you on for the GeForce RTX 20 under Linux? Let us know in the forums... Of course, the real decider will be the Linux benchmark results and overall Linux support state, which we'll be delivering as always once available. If you appreciate my daily Linux benchmarking and hardware reviews over the past 14 years, consider showing your support by going premium.
About The Author
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Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 10,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter or contacted via MichaelLarabel.com.

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