HomeTechnologyNewsNvidia releases open source Linux GPU drivers, with a catch

Nvidia releases open source Linux GPU drivers, with a catch

Michael Vi / Shutterstock.com

Gaming on Linux has always been a bit more complicated than on Windows (or game consoles), and one reason is Nvidia’s poor driver support on Linux. That is now changing, although it is not clear how much the situation will improve.

Nvidia announced Wednesday that it has released its Linux graphics kernel modules as open source software, under a dual GPL/MIT license. In other words, now anyone can review Nvidia’s code, and developers can submit fixes and new features to improve drivers. Canonical (Ubuntu Linux developers), SUSE and Red Hat (Fedora Linux developers) applauded Nvidia’s decision to finally open up its Linux graphics drivers.

Nvidia said in its blog post: “In this open source version, support for GeForce and Workstation GPUs is alpha quality. GeForce and Workstation users can use this driver on NVIDIA Turing and NVIDIA Ampere Architecture GPUs to run Linux desktops and use features like multi-display, G-SYNC, and NVIDIA RTX ray tracing on Vulkan and NVIDIA OptiX.

Why open source matters

So why is this so important? Well, Nvidia graphics cards have never played well with Linux PCs. Intel and AMD maintain open source graphics drivers for their products, which can then be included in the standard Linux kernel. The bottom line is that if you have a gaming PC with a Radeon GPU or a laptop with Intel Xe graphics, everything it just works on Linux. Since the code is available for anyone to view and modify, graphics from Intel and AMD work best with the latest changes in the Linux ecosystem, such as the emerging Wayland display server.

Unlike AMD and Intel, Nvidia did not open source your drivers (before now). The proprietary driver package sometimes needs to be installed separately, and since Nvidia is the only one with access to the code, the drivers are not compatible with Wayland and other newer Linux features. Linux developers created the open source Nouveau driver as an alternative, but it generally offers worse performance than Nvidia’s software, as it is essentially a reverse engineering project.

In a nutshell, Linux PCs with Nvidia graphics cards have had to choose between two bad options for years: a closed source driver with bugs and missing features, or an open source driver with worse performance. In theory, Nvidia’s open source drivers should be the best of both worlds.

the catches

That’s all good news, but there are some reasons to temper your enthusiasm. Hector Martin, the lead developer of Asahi Linux, shared on a series of tweets