Introduction by Jarred

A few months back, I wrote an article looking at battery life on a couple of laptops using several different OSes. Windows XP, Vista, and 7 were the main focus, but I decided to test battery life on Linux running Ubuntu as well. Naturally, the Linux community wasn't happy to see their OS place last in the battery life results. One of the readers actually took the time to offer his help in getting a Linux OS configured "properly", and we started work.

Eventually, we abandoned the follow-up article as I had other pressing matters to get to and troubleshooting Linux from half a continent away is difficult (plus we started with the NV52, and ATI support under Linux is still lacking), but I offered Christopher the chance to write a couple pilot Linux articles for our site. He had shown a much better knowledge of Linux and I figured getting someone passionate about the OS was our best bet. (I'll let Christopher tell you what he does for his "real job" if he so desires.)

As a side note, with Anand's call for more writers, this sort of passion for any technology is what we like to see. Show us you know what you're talking about and you care about the technology, and there's a good chance we can use your skills.

With that out of the way, here's Christopher's first Linux article where he provides a concrete look at something few have ever attempted: Windows Gaming on Linux.

Over the past few years, there has been a common question on the Linux vs. Windows desktop front: does the Linux desktop have the ability to play various major release games, and if so what is the performance difference between the two? Linux is commonly overlooked as a viable gaming platform in most communities. Our intention today is to shed some light on what does and does not work inside Linux, as well as give solid performance data for those looking for another option in the gaming world. Each OS has areas where it shows superiority over the other, but for the sake of staying true to the purpose of this article we will only be focusing on the game performance/functionality differences.

Unfortunately there are very few game releases that support running inside Linux natively. To combat this issue there are a few Linux projects that will allow Linux users to run Windows applications - note that we did not say "emulate Windows". We have selected three Linux projects in order to complete our initial round of testing. Our open source project selection "Wine" is a free, easily downloadable project that is created to support both Windows games and applications. The second selection, "Cedega", is a closed source implementation of Wine focused on gaming. The final selection is Crossover Games which like Cedega is a closed source implementation of Wine allowing for enhanced usability and gameplay over Wine.

Some are probably asking at this point, what is Wine? The Wine project was started in 1993 to allow Windows applications to be run under Linux. Wine takes the Windows API (Application Programming Interface) and implements it in the Linux user space. Since Wine is running in user space and is not a part of the Linux Kernel, it relies on the wineserver daemon to provide your basic Windows kernel functionality as well as other various tasks of X integration.

As a quick recap, there are two basic goals we want to complete in this article. First we want to compare performance and functionality of games between Linux and Windows. Second, we will look at the performance and functionality differences of Wine/Cedega/Crossover Games.

Wine Projects: Which Vintage?
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  • niva - Monday, January 4, 2010 - link

    This is not true. Most games these days are designed for windows almost from the ground up. Most graphic engines, to speak of your argument, are optimized for dx and d3d which is Windows. The opengl branches get very little attention because of the smaller user base. Look, even id software seems to be dropping opengl in the future, at least I heard rumors of this.

    Windows has won the gaming front hard. They don't seem to be paying much attention to it so there is a chance new platforms like the iPhone could take over at some point with different apis.
  • CastleFox - Friday, April 9, 2010 - link

    I have been searching all around the internet for linux gaming coverage. I have had success with WINE myself but I know for the higher end games it can be more of a struggle. I hope to see more Linux coverage soon
  • Setsunayaki - Wednesday, May 12, 2010 - link

    I've done linux gaming for many years...

    The reason I switched to Linux years ago for some gaming was because I was part of a highly oppresive shooter community. The community was small and used everything from IP tracing tools to disrupt your privacy and threaten you over MSN. These people also attempted to create modifications that would scan your computer in search of any modifications your were working on, along with a lot of information being transmitted.

    Linux allowed me to control the access levels a lot closer, and it also helped me make a better gaming server using Wine due to how Windows XP was an OS from 2001, while the Linux version I was using was far more reliable and its netcoding was a lot better.

    The key thing to Linux is Nvidia Cards. Forget ATI. Sure, ATI may have the performance crown due to the price crown...but when you factor in the best video card for cross-OS performance you will find that Nvidia Cards win in Linux, Mac and for the most part challenge ATI cards well on Windows as well....making Nvidia the leader it truly is (as much as I love ATI/AMD)...

    Once I had Linux setup, I found myself that although my framerate was lower than Windows PC Gaming, I still had over 60 FPS which is one really needs and some overhead in my favorite games and due to the netcoding, I had lower ping in every game I played vs Windows based PCs possibly due to the fact Linux is about networking and its netcoding and processor scheduling was far better.
  • olbrannon - Friday, September 17, 2010 - link
  • SniperSlap - Tuesday, October 12, 2010 - link

    First off, I didn't see anything about World of Warcraft or any other games running in OpenGL mode. Let's keep in mind that the difference in performance between WINE and Windows is mostly due to the fact that WINE will always be playing catch-up to DirectX. When games are run using their OpenGL renderers, I've noticed a bold increase in performance when running under Linux. This is largely due to the fact that Linux makes use of internal resources more effectively, conducts HDD access more efficiently and overall is much leaner.

    Second, I'd really like to see the comparison between nvidia and AMD video drivers soon. On top of that, in the same review, I'd like some looks at how AMD is planning on improving support and performance in Linux.
    My understanding is that they've made some pushes in this regard somewhat recently, but still have a long way to go. The biggest concerns with AMD drivers that I have isn't strictly about performance. It's also over the quality of the drivers and userspace utilities. In the past, I've seen far too many obscure quirks when using AMD/ATI video cards under Linux. From full-screen rendering literally being upside-down when output over digital DVI (but right-side-up on analog dsub!), right the way to inexplicably poor performance.

    AMD needs to iron out all these quirks and strange situations which will have people going and disabling this, or tweaking that in their WINE settings. They need to take a page from nvidia and rally around the standards and smooth out the architecture and lifecycle of their drivers.

    Which brings me to my third "hope"... I'd like to see any review of nvidia and AMD drivers also look at how the drivers get themselves into the system. Compare the different ways the drivers are modeled. A kernel module? Or is it DRI? What userspace garbage will nvidia or AMD pollute our systems with, and how bad is the interface?

    I recently got an AMD video card and am thoroughly impressed with it. But I'm using it on a Windows system and don't have high hopes that my life will ever be as easy under Linux with AMD as it is with nvidia.
    Any review of linux drivers and 3D will have to be quite comprehensive. We're talking a 10+ page article! ;)
  • Yfrwlf - Wednesday, January 19, 2011 - link

    "We have some other Linux articles in the pipeline as well. In retrospect, we should have started with something a little less daunting, as gaming and Linux was plagued by more problems than other aspects of the OS."

    Gaming and Linux? WINDOWS gaming INSIDE of Linux. The fact that you can do that is AMAZING. Can you play Linux games inside Windows?? lol

    Then the title: "Linux Gaming: Are We There Yet?" Wow. Just, wow. That's the most deceptive article title ever.

    Windows gaming in Linux: Are We There Yet?
    Answer: No, and never will be, as playing perpetual catch-up to Microsoft and DirectX will be just that, perpetual.

    Linux Gaming: Are We There Yet?
    Answer: Mostly, since games made for Linux mostly work on Linux, barring some games that aren't packaged well and don't include everything in the archive/installer. In that case, you can run into dependency hell. This is largely the fault of Linux STILL not having a good open standard (cross-distro, otherwise not a standard) for Linux programs. However, things which are packaged right and contain everything within the archive are fine.

    The number of Linux game titles has been increasing at a faster rate recently due to the increase in adoption, but of course Linux is behind Mac, and both are way behind Windows in quantity. That being said, most anything that is made for Mac as well as Windows should run perfectly in Wine, because usually the Mac version is simply the Windows binary wrapped in a Wine (or Cider, as it is known on Mac) wrapper. (Mac IS Unix after all, too, specifically BSD, so it's basically the same thing as Linux anyway.)

    So, message to AnandTech: How about write up some fair articles about Linux gaming. Some things in this were good, and Linux definitely has problems and sore areas still, but the way you presented this article, like gaming on Linux WAS running Windows games, is stupid as it is always going to be more difficult and a bit silly for anyone to be trying to run one platform's games on a different platform. The best you'll be able to ever hope for, more than likely, is to be able to flawlessly run older programs. Wine is excellent for that, as using Linux + Wine it allows you to run some old Windows programs which aren't based on DOS (otherwise, you can use DOSbox). Some of those programs won't even run on modern Windows machines any more, so Wine can give you a lot of flexibility in running old Windows programs while still running a modern OS. THAT is what Wine is mainly good for, running WoW, and Diablo II, and other games especially those that are OpenGL-compliant and/or have Mac versions, but Wine being the solution for Windows gaming? That is, and will always be, laughable. Microsoft will help ensure that's always the case for as long as they're big enough.

    The best solution for Linux gamers is more Linux games, not more Windows games in Linux. That's what your articles should be focusing on, the biggest games coming, and which have already come, to Linux.

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