AMD vs. NVIDIA GPUs on Linux: Which Ought to You Use?

When choosing a fast graphics card, there are two main options: AMD and Nvidia.

There are several factors that distinguish them. Windows speed is all about speed – Nvidia GPUs (graphics processing units) are usually faster than AMD. However, there are other things to consider in Linux.

But what should you choose for Linux – an AMD or Nvidia GPU?

Is Intel Graphics the Best Choice for Linux?

Before comparing AMD and Nvidia, you should consider the key alternative.

The only graphics card provider you can be absolutely sure of is the integrated graphics from Intel. Although they may not be that fast, Intel's integrated graphics have improved significantly

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. They are also very battery-friendly compared to Nvidia or AMD graphics cards.

Intel support is available immediately, with Linux drivers being fully open source. Many games are also playable, if not as well as with dedicated graphics cards. You can also rest assured that Wayland will work if you want to test it as it is open source.

GPU driver: Proprietary vs. Open source

There are two types of drivers that you can install to make your graphics card work, namely proprietary drivers or open source. Both have good and bad aspects, but they differ when you use an Nvidia or AMD graphics card.

Photo credit: Stefan Ledwina via Flickr.

For the best results, the proprietary drivers are always better. However, if you have a philosophical objection to proprietary drivers, the open source alternatives are more attractive.

Should you use Nvidia graphics cards for Linux?

While there are open source and proprietary Nvidia drivers for Linux, proprietary drivers perform best. Nouveau, the open source driver for Nvidia cards, delivers worse overall results than its proprietary counterpart.

Much of the work done by Nouveau is done through reverse engineering of the proprietary Nvidia driver. Similar to the Wine project, a new Windows environment is created to run programs such as Microsoft Office on Linux

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. Basically, developers look at them Results of a program and work backwards from there.

This has its disadvantages, especially in terms of speed and compatibility. Proprietary Nvidia drivers are much faster than Nouveau drivers, especially with newer graphics cards.

Another disadvantage is that Art Nouveau lacks something that the proprietary driver has: lock again. This allows the GPU to work harder and therefore work faster (at the cost of more power). Unfortunately, only a few Nvidia GPUs

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can use this with Art Nouveau installed, none of them are very new.

The speed difference is particularly significant with newer graphics cards. Some benchmarks show that the proprietary drivers can work up to nine times faster than their open source counterparts.

Nouveau is easy for drawing your desktop, but playing still has a lot to do.

Is AMD the best graphics card option for Linux?

For the most part, it doesn't matter which drivers you install for AMD graphics cards. They are well supported across the board, although using open source drivers is the preferred method. In fact, there are many cases where the open source drivers (AMDGPU for newer maps and Radeon for older ones), are on par with their own colleagues or even faster!

Compared to the open source driver from Nvidia, newer graphics cards are better supported. This is partly due to AMD's support for the open source community, which provides documentation and personnel for driver development.

Although AMD open source drivers are decent in all areas, their performance is still noticeably slower than when using an Nvidia graphics card with proprietary drivers.

AMD vs Nvidia: which one is best for switching graphics?

Almost all laptops and desktop PCs are delivered with integrated Intel graphics. Discrete GPUs from Nvidia and AMD are optional extras for laptops, but can be added manually on desktops.

Graphics switching is the ability of a computer to select the GPU to use. The Intel GPU is selected for basic tasks such as surfing the Internet and word processing. The discrete GPU is used for games, video editing and the like.

Proprietary and open source Nvidia and AMD drivers for Linux all support graphics switching.

Does AMD or Nvidia support Wayland?

The Wayland display server is an integral part of Linux development and is available on most major Linux desktops.

AMD and Intel graphics both work with Wayland using open source and proprietary drivers. Nvidia is a different story.

While development is expected by 2021, Nvidia's proprietary driver will only work with Wayland's implementation of GNOME.

Which Linux graphics card does Wayland support?

Compositors for Wayland require a special API (Application Programming Interface).

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, implemented by the graphics driver. The most common API currently used is called GBM (Generic Buffer Management). As long as you use an open source driver (AMDGPU / Radeon / Nouveau), Wayland works.

It looks different because Nvidia's proprietary driver uses a different API (EGLStreams). Many compositors do not support this GNOME desktop

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be the main exception. Wayland does not support the open source alternative either.

Which is the best graphics card for Linux: Intel, AMD or Nvidia?

For Linux desktop computers, the selection is much easier.

Nvidia cards are more expensive than AMD and have a performance advantage. However, using AMD guarantees superior compatibility and a choice of reliable drivers, whether open source or proprietary.

The same applies to Intel, although this solution is slower.

If you need Wayland support, AMD and Intel are the most reliable options. Otherwise, use Nvidia. It hasn't had a good relationship with Linux over the years, but the growth of Linux games is changing that.

Made your decision? Here's how to install proprietary graphics drivers on Linux

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