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AMD vs Nvidia: Which Is More Popular Among Linux Users?

AMD vs Nvidia
(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Linux might only make up a very small portion of the operating system market share (about 1-2% depending on who you ask), but it’s a dedicated minority, filled with loyalists who are willing to stick with the OS despite compatibility issues thanks to its heavy customizability and open-source nature. In other words, people who use Linux tend to be pretty versed in tech. That’s probably why Boiling Steam, a site dedicated to gaming on Linux, thought it might be illuminating to do some research into what type of hardware Linux users prefer. In the AMD vs Nvidia debate, we finally have some numbers on what the most discerning tech wizards prefer...as well as which manufacturers better serve their unique needs.

These numbers come from ProtonDB, which is a site that tracks game compatibility with Proton, Steam’s built-in solution for running games on Linux. The idea of the site is to report how well certain games run on Linux or what features might need tweaking to work properly on the OS. But because users report their system specs as part of their reports, it’s also possible to use the site to glean which components are most popular among gaming-minded Linux users.

Boiling Steam admits that its data is limited- ProtonDB is really the only reliable source here, as other options like the Steam Hardware Survey aren’t granular enough to be reliable. But still, the site's analysis (compiled from over 111,000 reports) is an interesting bird’s-eye view of the Linux gaming scene.

Before getting to the AMD vs Nvidia debate, let’s start with Boiling Steam’s CPU charts. The site’s analysis goes back 2 years, and in that time, it seems like AMD’s grown from being the CPU choice for roughly 27% of the ProtonDB user base to the CPU choice for almost 50%. Intel takes up the other 50%, of course, though Boiling Steam recognizes that AMD’s penchant for matching Intel’s single-core performance and providing more cores at a lower cost might soon tip the scales in its favor.

As for GPUs, AMD is also on the rise there, but Nvidia still holds a noticeable majority. In January of 2019, AMD was the GPU choice for 25% of the ProtonDB user base, with that percentage rising to 37.5% in January of this year. Nvidia still dominates the rest, which Boiling Steam credits to the company’s early successes in ray tracing and DLSS compared to AMD.

Perhaps most interesting, however, is how this data comes together. According to Boiling Steam, “If you own an Intel CPU, you are far, far more likely to have a[n] Nvidia GPU as well.” Meanwhile, “If you own an AMD CPU, there’s a good chance (50/50) you have an AMD GPU as well, and even more so if you use very specific [Linux] distros (Arch, Gentoo, Slack, KdeNeon, Fedora, Deepin, Void…)”

In other words, AMD fans are likely to go all-in with AMD on their systems. And, well...it seems like the geekier someone is, the more likely they are to prefer AMD.

None of this is too surprising going off general fan community conversation -- you don’t have many gifs featuring Nvidia’s Jensen Huang transforming into a giant robot floating around online, but you do for AMD’s Lisa Su. Still, having concrete numbers to point to is great, plus this also shows a promising trend for AMD on Linux going forward.

“For Linux, if you were ever interested in gaming with decent performance, an Intel + Nvidia combo was pretty much required until recently,” Boiling Steam writes. “Intel, for the best single thread performance on CPUs, and Nvidia both for their excellent proprietary drivers and better hardware/pricing overall.”

However, as AMD’s made strides in recent years to provide comparable performance to Intel and Nvidia at a lower cost, that’s no longer the case, which promises a strong future for Linux users who are also AMD fans. It's a future that’s only made stronger by AMD’s recent efforts to have its CPUs and GPUs work together using “Smart Access Memory.” So far, Smart Access Memory has maintained feature parity on Linux and Windows, which is always a strong sign of a company’s commitment to Linux users.

Going forward, then, it’s possible that AMD might steal even more of Intel and Nvidia’s Linux market share, as it both continues to improve its technology overall as well as support its unique features beyond just Windows.

For more of Boiling Steam’s analysis, and to see its charts, visit Boilingsteam.com.

  • Phaaze88
    Every time I see Linux + Nvidia in the same subject, I can't help but remember that one line from Linus Torvalds...
    XD
    Reply
  • bdcrlsn
    That's interesting because I've never been able to get Nvidia's drivers working on Linux, especially lately. This is the roadblock keeping me from a Linux gaming build.
    Reply
  • ezst036
    Admin said:
    Boiling Steam's recent ProtonDB analysis has compiled over 100,000 Linux gaming builds to see whether AMD or Nvidia is more popular among Linux users.

    AMD vs Nvidia: Which Is More Popular Among Linux Users? : Read more

    If it wasnt for the shortages on the rx6800s I would have already built a new steam gaming linux box.

    The fact that I can just plug a card in and it just works means that a few extra frames with the nvidia card really isn't worth the headache or my time. I want the automagic.
    Reply
  • Krotow
    Phaaze88 said:
    Every time I see Linux + Nvidia in the same subject, I can't help but remember that one line from Linus Torvalds...
    XD

    While DirectStorage, DLSS 2.0 and adequate hardware video encoding is not in option in AMD GPUs, GTFO. Linus may rant if he want :)

    ezst036 said:
    The fact that I can just plug a card in and it just works means that a few extra frames with the nvidia card really isn't worth the headache or my time. I want the automagic.

    No lazy way in Linux even for AMD geeks. You still at least must switch to AMD/Nvidia proprietary drivers in Driver Manager.

    Particularly now after monitor upgrade I got big issue with Linux gaming - lack of HDR in Linux. Mixed dark/bright spaces in games are better distinguishable in HDR. I hope Wayland developers will succeed here soon.
    Reply
  • Phaaze88
    Krotow said:
    DirectStorage
    Neat. Looking forward to see if it does anything... or they screw it up. It's Windows.

    Krotow said:
    DLSS 2.0
    Still niche. Nvidia needs to expand this and RT far more than what they're doing now, not just aiming for the latest and Nvidia-sponsored titles. None of the games I play so far support either.
    Is that my fault? Not really. Everyone's got their preferences.

    Krotow said:
    adequate hardware video encoding is not in option in AMD GPUs
    Yeah, that does suck.

    Krotow said:
    GTFO
    I don't wanna...
    Reply
  • Mr5oh
    I guess they had to pull numbers from somewhere... However I know I use Linux for everything except gaming. That's the only thing I keep Windows around for. I'd venture to say there are a few more like me that are "forced" to dual boot for this reason as well.

    bdcrlsn said:
    That's interesting because I've never been able to get Nvidia's drivers working on Linux, especially lately. This is the roadblock keeping me from a Linux gaming build.

    What distro are you running? I always download the driver straight from Nvidia and install it manually. Between package managers and such many distros try and make driver installs fairly painless these days.
    Reply
  • mitch074
    Krotow said:
    While DirectStorage, DLSS 2.0 and adequate hardware video encoding is not in option in AMD GPUs, GTFO. Linus may rant if he want :)

    No lazy way in Linux even for AMD geeks. You still at least must switch to AMD/Nvidia proprietary drivers in Driver Manager.

    Particularly now after monitor upgrade I got big issue with Linux gaming - lack of HDR in Linux. Mixed dark/bright spaces in games are better distinguishable in HDR. I hope Wayland developers will succeed here soon.
    AMD hardware encoder worked well with my Polaris 10 card. Quality to size ratio ain't very good compared with CPU encoding so I didn't look further.

    The only proprietary AMD driver for Linux is for certified CAD applications. For any other uses, AMD recommends the open source drivers - in short, right after you're done installing the OS, you can install your game and play.

    True, HDR is still missing under Linux, as X.org just can't handle HDR ; this may be solved when Wayland becomes the default (next year, as Ubuntu is pushing for it). As for RT, last December a Vulkan revision finally delivered on a standardized way to handle it.
    Reply
  • Krotow
    After RTX IO release AMD inevitably will release same feature with whatever name. It will happen, because extremely fast data exchange directly between NVMe drive and GPU VRAM without CPU and system RAM involvement is very tasty feature for game developers (texture and shader loading), data analysts and our nemesis (cryptominers). And API for this feature access will inevitably appear in Linux side as well with support in Wine/Proton. DirectStorage is Microsoft name, in Linux it will have some other name - we don't know it yet, because it is not released. Definitely want to see working and not buggy DLSS 2.0 alternative in AMD GPUs as well. With Linux support in drivers obviously. Competition is good thing here for gaming folks. Still hope that AMD will fix their hardware video encoding artefacts in some day.

    I admit about being out of touch with AMD Linux drivers for like 2 years already. Sold my R9 280 to friend and gave away RX580 to nephew. If AMD Linux drivers now does work out of box then good for AMD (and us). Proper kernel version presence in popular distros seems an issue here. Home computer upgrade to AMD 5800X CPU based system in result required manual kernel upgrade to 5.10 in Linux Mint 20.1.

    Phaaze88: GTFO was mentioned for Mr. Torvalds ;)
    Reply
  • Phaaze88
    @Krotow
    Oh! Sorry about that! :giggle:
    Reply