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  • nVidia Prime offloading coming to Linux laptops

    Posted on Ascaris Comment on the AskWoody Lounge

    Home Forums AskWoody support Non-Windows operating systems Linux – all distros nVidia Prime offloading coming to Linux laptops

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        For those that don’t know, many Windows laptops with a discrete nVidia GPU use Optimus technology to preserve battery life.  During ordinary tasks with relatively low graphical demands, the integrated Intel GPU is used, while the nVidia is switched off.  The Intel is much more power-efficient than the nVidia, so the battery life is on par with devices that don’t have a discrete GPU.

        That’s great for web browsing, using office applications, etc., but when you are running in AC power and you want to run something more demanding than the Intel GPU can handle, like a game, the Intel GPU is able to offload the rendering duties to the nVidia card.  The nVidia renders the frames and sends them across the otherwise mostly unused PCI express lanes from the nVidia GPU to the CPU (which also contains the integrated GPU).  The integrated Intel GPU simply has to display the frames that were rendered by the nVidia GPU, which it can do with ease.

        This setup has never worked as well in Linux as in Windows.  The Bumblebee project aims to get as close to the Windows way of handling the offloading as possible, but it’s long been regarded as fiddly and difficult to get working.  Eventually, nVidia added “Prime” support to their proprietary nVidia Linux drivers, which allowed the nVidia Prime GPU to function without Bumblebee, but it couldn’t offload to the nVidia as in Windows.  In order to switch the GPU, it was necessary to log off and then on again.

        My Dell G3 gaming laptop is currently set up that way.  I mostly use it plugged in to AC power, so I just leave the nVidia GPU enabled.  If I were to use it on battery (not for gaming… that would drag the battery down to zero in very short time), I would switch it to the Intel.  It’s doable, but less convenient than on Windows.

        That’s soon to change.  The latest nVidia driver, v435 (now in beta), enables offloading to the nVidia GPU when used with a compatible version of Xorg.  The necessary changes to make Xorg work have already been checked in, so it’s just a matter of time until it is rolled out to a distro near you (or sooner, if you want to use a PPA).  I don’t know whether it will support switching based on load or if it will be necessary to assign the specific applications to run on the nVidia GPU (which is an option in Windows), but either way, it’s a whole lot more convenient than switching the GPU option and then logging out and back in.

        For the time being, only the newest GPUs will receive the full benefit of the changes.  Older-generation GPUs (like my G3’s Pascal-based 1050ti) will switch, but will not be powered completely off, so the power usage will be higher than it would otherwise be, but I am sure this will be addressed soon.

        It’s nice to see nVidia paying some attention to Linux.  It would be even better if nVidia would cooperate with the open-source devs and make the open drivers as good as the open AMD drivers have become… come on, nVidia!

        Gaming on Linux is improving by leaps and bounds now, after years of disappointingly slow progress.  DXVK and WINE, both now supported by Steam (and wrapped back in to Steam’s own fork of WINE, known as Proton), and it has made playing many Windows games with little or no performance hit (compared to Windows) possible.  I play a number of Windows games in Linux, and they work flawlessly.  Hopefully game devs will at least consider making their games WINE or Proton compatible if they’re not willing to go all the way and make a native Linux version.  Given that WINE and Proton are meant to make Windows games work in Linux without modification, it should be a much lower bar for game devs to make sure their games work in WINE.  There are a lot of gamers who would like to get away from Windows, and gaming in Linux is looking like a real thing and not just a punch line these days!

        Group "L" (KDE Neon User Edition 5.18.5).

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