Sayonara, Windows: Swapping to Linux for my gaming PC

Everything has gone better than expected. So far.

by Robert May on Afternoon Robot

I love Linux. It took a while to love it, but now I've spent about a decade using it every day, I feel like I'm in a good place. I generally know what's going on and how to solve problems, which is a level of experience that has increased in direct proportion to my decrease in Windows knowledge. The last vestige was my gaming PC, because Linux is bad for gaming. Except it actually isn't, not any more.

Valve, Steam, Vulkan, and Proton

Thank you, Valve. Your work on Proton and funding for Vulkan is fantastic, and a gift to the community. Obviously there's a business incentive behind it, in the form of providing an alternative for when Microsoft begins their next Extinguish phase, but the work benefits us all, building off the very long-running and excellent WINE. Valve have also tried to incentivise developers to add native Linux clients, and there's a pretty notable impact on the ecosystem.

By default, if you filter by Linux-compatible games in Steam, you will get a list of games with native clients or, I believe, official Valve support via Proton. However a far larger array of games probably work, and you can enable an option to just give it a go on any game in your library. ProtonDB is a fantastic site that shows current compatibility and bug reports, and you can sign in with your Steam account to browse the compatibility for the games you already own. You can specify a version of Proton to use for each game to help with compatibility, and this has the added benefit of allowing community versions as well. I booted up EVE Online using GloriousEggroll's version yesterday and it works flawlessly.

Lutris

For everything outside of Steam, there's Lutris. The game I play most of the time is Overwatch, and the fact that Lutris supports it really rather well is one of the reasons I swapped.

I've been playing Overwatch for a few years, so I have a good handle on how it runs on my PC. So far, under Lutris, the performance is pretty much identical once the shaders are cached. I have had a small amount of slight stutters after the caches were built, but this appears to be additional items being cached after being seen for the first time, and goes away after you first play on a map.

Why ditch Windows?

There are many reasons to pick an operating system. For me the familiarity and ability to fix things in Linux, more specifically Ubuntu, makes for a strong case. For an anecdote; I bought a USB Bluetooth adapter for this desktop last year. It "only" worked on Windows, but wasn't detected by Windows, required a 500MB driver download, and then still didn't work. I plugged it into the machine running Ubuntu today, and it was immediately detected and works correctly.

Another peeve of mine is that the companies who build software for "gamers" on Windows have all the GUI design skills of a 14 year old discovering Winamp for the first time. The amount of crappy mouse/keyboard/GPU/motherboard software out there is horrendous. Whereas on Linux, we may not have significantly better GUI chops, but at least a lot of software is simple to operate. And there's some great open source alternatives for the nonsense on Windows, like Piper, a generic gaming mouse configurator. For my GPU fan control I actually ended up building my own, which works automatically and so far much better than the official Windows stuff.

Things that aren't quite there yet

EA and Ubisoft games

It will come as no surprise to anyone that these two companies basically stuff any hope of playing their games on Linux. Mostly this is due to the horror show that is EAC. This probably includes Epic games too, but their store is a mess of React errors and assorted nonsense and I cannot physically buy stuff from there, even if I wanted to ignore my moral opposition to their policy of buying exclusives with their Fortnite money.

Luckily most of the games by these two companies are cash-grab crap, and I don't really miss out on much. I can use the PS4 for anything I really want to play, I suppose. Bit sad about The Division 2 but eh.

Star Citizen

This is more of a "I can't believe this even starts up". Amazingly it does actually start, and you can even spawn into a room with graphics on low. The game crashes if I try and leave that room though. I also somehow glitched into running backwards, face-planted into the floor, and my character died after kicking themselves in the back of the head. That could just be standard Star Citizen behaviour though.

RAM usage

Linux tends to like RAM anyway but the addition of ZFS to this system has meant I was regularly bumping against the 16GB I had installed. Thankfully RAM has halved in price this year, so I'm now sporting 32GB.

PC Specs

AMD Ryzen 5 1600 3.2Ghz (overclocked to 3.6Ghz)
32GB DDR4 3000Mhz RAM (albeit running at 2133Mhz because my motherboard is not stable above that with 4 sticks)
ASUS ROG B350-F motherboard
Sapphire Radeon RX 580 Nitro+ 8192MB GDDR5 GPU
256GB Samsung 960 NVMe SSD
2x 120GB SATA SSDs in a ZFS striped pair for game storage

Running Ubuntu 20.04 with Regolith for the GUI, ZFS boot drive and the aforementioned striped pair of old SSDs for additional game storage. This machine is now about 3 years old; I was early in getting back on the current AMD hype-train.

Would I recommend swapping?

Maybe. If you want to play the latest AAA games, then probably not. And you can forget about anything related to Epic, EA, or the Windows store (obviously). But most MMOs, a lot of stuff on Steam, and anything by Blizzard seem to work well, and I'm happy with my swap.