Nvidia Working With Valve, Linux Community For SteamOS

By Nathan Grayson on September 26th, 2013 at 10:00 am.

Nvidia‘s history of Linux support has been – to put it very, very lightly – rocky at best, but apparently that’s all about to change. The hardware manufacturer is now throwing its considerable weight behind both SteamOS and Linux as a whole, even going so far as to promise it’ll release documentation on its GPUs to the Linux community so as to help ease compatibility issues. Meanwhile, the meaner, greener side of the graphicsability wars boasts of engineers “embedded at Valve” to hammer SteamOS into rip-roaring, console-busting shape. Which, I suppose, makes sense, given that AMD is supplying innards for both Microsoft and Sony.

On the Linux side of things, Nvidia’s Andy Ritger offered the company’s services to open source driver developer Nouveau. Now, this is quite an about-face for the company Linux creator Linus Torvalds recently called “the single worst company we have ever dealt with” – perhaps nearly too good to be true – but here it is nonetheless:

“NVIDIA is releasing public documentation on certain aspects of our GPUs, with the intent to address areas that impact the out-of-the-box usability of NVIDIA GPUs with Nouveau. We intend to provide more documentation over time, and guidance in additional areas as we are able. A few of us who work on NVIDIA’s proprietary Linux GPU driver will pay attention to nouveau at lists.freedesktop.org and try to chime in when we can.”

Usage of some fairly non-committal language aside, it’s an encouraging shift (or whiplash-inducing, fire-spurting 180) in attitude. But why? Well, odds are, Nvidia’s partnership with Valve to get SteamOS up to speed has something to do with it. Nvidia’s Mark Smith explained in a blog post:

“Engineers from Valve and NVIDIA have spent a lot of time collaborating on a common goal for SteamOS: to deliver an open-platform gaming experience with superior performance and uncompromising visuals directly on the big screen.  NVIDIA engineers embedded at Valve collaborated on improving driver performance for OpenGL; optimizing performance on NVIDIA GPUs; and helping to port Valve’s award-winning content library to SteamOS; and tuning SteamOS to lower latency, or lag, between the controller and onscreen action.”

All of which sound like very good things! Only time will tell if the big N is on board for the long haul, but – worst-case scenario – some support is still absolutely better than none. So yeah, Valve’s vision of a Linux-based future for Steam is looking less and less like a bunch of hot air. But is this what you, average PC gamer with a home and multiple rooms and 0.90 children, want?

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123 Comments »

  1. GenBanks says:

    Steambox vs. Console seems to be shapping up to be roughly analogous to Android vs iOS…

    • bstard says:

      I wonder if all the restrictive BS of the consoles stays the way it is now that there’s some serious competition stepping up.

      • Baines says:

        Mind, PC has its own restrictive BS, as least Steam does. Steam’s library sharing program, which people praise as giving PC gamers more rights, is lifted almost directly from Microsoft’s failed Xbox One sharing program, which was seen as taking away rights from console gamers.

        (Steam’s version is in some ways more restrictive than what Microsoft offered, but also in some ways less restrictive. Steam’s version prevents anyone from playing anything in your library while you are playing, while Microsoft was on a per-game basis. On the other hand, to appease publishers Microsoft allowed publishers to opt their titles out of the sharing program.)

        • Shodex says:

          The big difference between Steam’s DRM and Xbone’s DRM is the format. The Xbone restricted you from giving your disc to as many friends as you want and letting them play it, Steam also restricts this but for a different reason. If I give you my copy of Halo 3, I cannot play Halo 3. When you give it to somebody else, you cannot play Halo 3. There is only one copy in circulation. With digital downloads, who’s to say 400 people aren’t all playing the same copy? This is why DRM exists. I wholeheartedly support DRM free sources like the Humble Indie Bundles and GOG.com, but both of those sites are loaded with people sharing their games to everyone. Try torrenting an old game, you’ll get the GOG version.

          If I give my disc to a friend, his console should be able to play it. But I can understand why a non-physical game would be copy protected.

          • Emeraude says:

            The big difference between Steam’s DRM and Xbone’s DRM is the format.

            Not really for those of us that buy retail/day one. If anything Steam (and its copycats) is overkill, disc check on start up was more than sufficient (and yes, it was cracked, but so are Steam games).
            Worse, Steam makes it so that what should be, if anything, a due – patching – now forces you to use a third party DRM platform.

        • Deadly Sinner says:

          And if you get a PC, or even a Steam Machine, you are in no way obligated to use Steam. If you get a console, you are forced to use whatever the console manufacturer gives you.

          • ShEsHy says:

            I call bullshit. Go out and buy 5 random current games, I guarantee at least 3 of them will require you to install Steam.

          • Contrafibularity says:

            Sheshy, surely you mean 5 current AAA games. Not exactly a random sampling.

        • welverin says:

          Microsoft’s family sharing may well have had a time limit attached to it, which would have made it little more than a curiosity.

    • bluebomberman says:

      Bit of an oversimplification, isn’t it? Apple’s much more profitable with iOS than Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo are with living room consoles. All the great hardware and software design that you need for smartphones and tablets is significantly less valuable in a home console often hidden out of view and with little time spent outside of the game itself. And Apple sits far apart from non-Android competitors; the same can’t be said with Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft in the bloody console wars.

      Making this out to be another Android vs. iOS runs the risk of ignoring significant differences.

      • GameCat says:

        Consoles & PCs – making great games since forever.
        Android & iOS – making simple casual F2P games that are less fun than cleaning your room.

        • Cinek says:

          Yea. Like X-Com. Totally unfun on iPad.
          *facepalm*

          • InternetBatman says:

            Or Waking Mars. Or Shadowrun Returns (which released on tablets today).

          • Koozer says:

            They really are the exceptions. I would love a list of say the top 5 games for Android or iOS that are not also on PC.

          • Shodex says:

            This is stupid. They aren’t exceptions, they’re actual examples that disprove the point. There are good mobile games. Whether or not they are on PC also is irrelevant, that’s backpedaling. There is an infinite amount of stupid casual PC games. Even Angry Birds is a knock-off of a flash game. Does this make the PC a casual platform, or are they just ‘exceptions’?

            All platforms have a plethora of games for different audiences, don’t play games not intended for you and judge the entire market as a result.

    • Njordsk says:

      Excepts consoles are in the living rooms for decades.

    • GenBanks says:

      I meant that more in a ‘open(er) platform vs closed ecosystem’ kind of way. With hardware vendors sort of taking sides too.

      • suibhne says:

        Except the hardware vendors, in the case of Android, are actively scheming against the platform’s open potential and against the interests of customers. Motivations seem rather different here, and so is the overall business model.

        • Damien Stark says:

          To be fair, you and I have no idea yet of the motivations of the hardware vendors.

          Valve is only providing the initial reference models, with the expectation that other vendors (Asus? Dell? Razer?) will make the main boxes for sale. We honestly can’t rule out the possibility of Asus pre-loading some Asus-shell like Samsung does on their Android phones…

          I’d like to be more optimistic, and odds are the hardware will be more accessible to “rooting”, but I wouldn’t go making assumptions about the motives of companies which haven’t even been announced yet…

  2. O-2-L says:

    nVidia? Of all the companies nVidia! is helping in linux development.
    I just find that hard to believe.

    • bluebomberman says:

      They had little financial incentive to do so before SteamOS.

      When in doubt, follow the money trail.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      Well, they’re not doing it for any altruistic reasons, they are hedging their bets in case this Linux thing* really gets going this time. If they take significant losses over the coming console generation to ATI in the PC marketplace, they could doom themselves.

      * How I imagine Nvidia execs describe it.

      • LionsPhil says:

        I suspect the actual engineers are probably for the most part quite sincere and willing, and quite possibly one of the biggest driving forces behind it, but the problems are convincing the management that a) it’s worth spending time on vs. all the other activities which have more direct and obvious business benefits and b) it’s not throwing away valuable intellectual property or opening themselves to any additional liability.

        • Sheng-ji says:

          I suspect you are exactly right!

        • Devan says:

          Well put LionsPhil.
          I actually attended a “Porting your game to Linux” presentation by NVidia/Valve at GDC this year and it was a very positive session. I think the engineers are engaged and interested in these challenges and it’s exciting to see so much progress being pushed forward by the big names.

          That said, I am not super familiar with all of the hullabaloo about NVidia and Linux but IIRC it had a lot to do with their insistence on proprietary drivers and not so much a lack of support. The article above doesn’t really touch on that, but it sounds like NVidia hasn’t really changed its direction on that. I’m still glad this is happening though and I hope it helps pave the way for more developers to publish their PC games on Linux.

      • Grey Poupon says:

        If AMD’s Mantle is all they claim it is, Nvidia really needs to push this sort of stuff a lot. But then again, when are these things all they advertise them to be.

      • Buffer117 says:

        This is a smart move for nVidia, AMD is supplying the console tech and while nVidea may be winning the PC graphics war they need to look at other ways to gain long term profitability. If SteamOS is a success and is optimized for nVidea, they not only have a large number of initial sales of their tech but they also have a base of potentially (eventually!) 100,000s to millions of consumers who own an upgrade-able piece of hardware that they know will run better on nVidea. nVidea has every reason to push this initiative and see that its a success and its a relief to me to see such a big player in the PC world is behind Valve as it was all a bit quiet on the partner front. Anyone be surprised if intel makes a similar announcement? or is nVidea making some sort of CPU for the steambox?

        • Sheng-ji says:

          NVidias streaming technology with the shield seems like a natural fit and I wouldn’t be surprised if the streaming tech in the SteamOS is derived from if not exactly the same. I suspect NVidia are fairly heavily involved given the timing of this announcement.

      • Rise / Run says:

        I’d wager that the GPU supercomputer market also plays a role in the decision as well, as a lot of those systems are running a unix variant of some sort. Sure, the use of the chipset is different (clearly openGL support is moot in that context), but an open source driver would be very, very helpful in that market.

    • phuzz says:

      Well, they have definitely release some documentation which is useful to the people writing the open-source nVidia drivers.
      Thing is, they already release a closed source driver for linux, which, most of the time, works very well.
      If the Steambox is going to use an nVidia chipset, why would they need open source drivers? As long as their closed source driver runs fine on the Steambox (and if nVidia have access to the hardware, why wouldn’t it?) what do they get out of improving the open source driver?
      All I can think of is: goodwill (kinda useful, but not necessarily profit enhancing), a few sales to linux users who refuse to use closed source drivers, and potentially, help from the open source community in developing their drivers.

      • LionsPhil says:

        They can hope that the Linux community will help take over some of the load of Linux driver development, and thus reduce their own internal costs for doing so.

        In fact, with Xorg replacements Mir and Wayland looming, and the kernel a constant source of thrash*, it’s possible they’re dreaming of saying “look, you guys do whatever the hell you want with your software stack; here’s what you need to do to poke the hardware”.

        * Last I knew/remember—and it’s been a while, so this may be inaccurate and outdated—the proprietary nVidia drivers worked by the kernel driver more-or-less just granting direct hardware access to their OpenGL shared library, which poked straight to hardware from userspace**. This wasn’t hugely popular since it ignore attempts to establish any abstraction layers between them, but IIRC nVidia’s position at the time was that those were not adaquately stable/fast/designed along the right concepts to fit their needs.
        ** This might be roughly what DirectX does, since the whole “direct” part was historically “cuts as short as path as we can get away with down to the hardware”. That one’s pure speculation, though.

      • Shodex says:

        There are already a lot of people working hard on making an open source driver for Nvidia cards, but it’s a long way off. In theory, Nvidia making their own open source drivers would bag those people on their own development team for no cost.

    • varangian says:

      Well if you factor in that MS and Sony are both going with AMD derived chips for the next set of consoles and that MS is doing little or nothing, beyond the occasional fine sounding words that turn out to mean nothing, to promote PC gaming then it makes sense. Nvidia are still stronger than AMD in the PC world if the Steam h/w survey is to be believed so it’s in their interest to stay in the game for the Steambox. Perversely it’s AMD who might start dragging their heels – they seem to have been better than Nvidia with Linux support, though that’s not difficult – as if the Steambox is a hit that might cut the console sales from which they’ll make money.

    • FionaSarah says:

      It got to a point in the last few years where AMD made it clear they didn’t give a shit and NVidia gave a bit of a shit. AMD’s proprietry drivers arevile, whereas NVidia’s are pretty well servicable. The open source drivers for both are useless for 3D support, so if you play games NVidia is pretty much the only choice these days.

      I’m really happy to hear they’re going to work more closely with nouveau. The open source drivers being the optimal ones is like a dream come true.

      • newprince says:

        What on Earth are you talking about? NVidia is far from the only choice. It’s more accurately 1 choice of 2.

        • airmikee99 says:

          He’s talking about the content of the article above. Since you didn’t read said article, I’ll sum it up for you: Nvidia is working with Valve and the Linux community to support SteamOS.

          Does it make more sense why Nvidia is the only real choice for Linux gaming?

          • newprince says:

            No, it still doesn’t. AMD is still a choice for Linux gaming, and by all accounts are also working toward SteamOS. Read something outside this article and you’d know that.

          • airmikee99 says:

            RE: newprince

            Not counting beta drivers,

            The last Windows AMD drivers were 13.9, released September 18, 2013.
            The last Linux AMD drivers were 13.4, released May 29, 2013.

            The last Windows nVidia drivers were 327, released September 19, 2013.
            The last Linux nVidia drivers were 325, released August 5, 2013.

            One is lagging six weeks behind, the other is lagging 14 weeks behind, go ahead and figure out which is which.

          • newprince says:

            Re: SnarkMaster

            You see, pointing out driver builds by date is kind of silly, as it does not completely indicate quality of said drivers. Rather, it has more to do with the amount of work that has to go into the non-proprietary drivers. But, going beyond that and looking toward the future, we have this, this . Finally, AMD drivers for Linux have steadily improved over the past year. Which is why, as I said earlier, NVidia is not now, and will not be in the future, the “only choice”.

            It’s weird how you accuse me of not reading today’s article, when you seem to be operating on information from half a year ago.

          • airmikee99 says:

            RE: Dumbshit

            Really? Looking information up on AMDs and Nvidia’s websites dated this month means I’m operating on info 6 months old? I’ll just go ahead and block you now, I’m starting to feel like I’m picking on the handicapped.

          • Devan says:

            Cool it airmike, personal attacks are unwarranted.

            In any case, I have an AMD card and I use it to play games on Linux and I’m pretty happy with it. There’s definitely more than one choice and it’s important for us consumers that the competition continues.

  3. Gap Gen says:

    I wonder if this means that Nvidia Optimus will work on Linux without having to run it by hand on the command line. Although actually at this point, I’m happy enough using the command line.

    • GameCat says:

      I wonder if it will make NVidia Optimus work at all.
      This technology is probably the biggest piece of crap I’ve ever seen in PC gaming.
      To everyone who wants to buy gaming laptop – do not ever buy these with NVidia Optimus.

      • Gap Gen says:

        Ha, it works fine with the manual switch on Linux (basically you type “optirun myProgram” and it runs with the dedicated GPU). So maybe this is a case where something the community has bodged together works better than the official release. But sure, I can imagine it’s hard to balance something like that to work automatically.

        • FionaSarah says:

          It’s tempremental as all hell.

          • Gap Gen says:

            Yeah, I’m happy enough telling only certain applications to run with it, although if I gamed more on my Ubuntu machine it could be an annoyance to manually edit the command line call every time I installed a Steam game. And certainly if the computer made a hash of switching GPUs it’d be better just to do it by hand from time to time.

          • solidsquid says:

            From what a friend of mine tells me, the Optimus automatic switching only works if you’re using DirectX. If you’re using OpenGL for anything the software has to explicitly tell it to initialize the Nvidia card, as otherwise you end up with problems where it can’t identify the display driver to use

      • Low Life says:

        I don’t have a gaming laptop, but a laptop I can play games with, and I haven’t really had any problems with Optimus. The only thing I had to do was changing a setting in their control panel so that all 3D applications run on the Nvidia GPU instead of just the ones their software recognized.

      • Solidstate89 says:

        Works fine on my Precision laptop. Works fantastically actually. I can’t imagine the idiot that would want to use a laptop these days without switchable graphics Ala Optimus (nVidia) or Enduro (AMD).

  4. Tei says:

    Linus Torvalds want to continue evolving the Linux Kernel. This mean doing sometimes huge internal changes to optimize it. This sometimes result in that the API that the Kernel provide to drivers change. Or how these drivers function may change. The kernel devs, or other people, can make these changes if the driver source code is available. They don’t need the factory creator of the hardware for that, if the driver source code is available.

    Companies like Nvidia are very reluctant to provide the source code of drivers. They are scared that this may give some insight how the hardware work, ..perhaps a lame fear. The other risk is more real, having the source code available allow idiots to raise patent attacks. There are companies that the only source of income is frivolous demands of patents. These are the patent trolls. These people have stupid generic retard stuff patented, so broad it include everything. This will not be a problem with good patent laws, but in USA the patent system is a circus designed to make money for lawyers.

    • LionsPhil says:

      “Stable ABIs are hard and I want to thrash around freely and solve the problems with tremendous amounts of manual labour” is not good engineering. It’s an easy way to cause driver rot for everything except the subset of devices which are owned by kernel developers or the employers of kernel developers.

      • Gap Gen says:

        It’s hard to maintain a stable interface (and I’ve seen large projects that don’t seem to even try all that hard), and granted it’s hard to balance adding content with managing bloat (hello C++), but in the end an OS like Linux probably can’t afford to mess about too much. Ubuntu is getting to the point where it’s pretty damn stable, and it’d be a shame to undermine that.

      • Brosepholis says:

        The GNU ecosystem is intentionally set up to push developers towards an open source model. Hence this ABI nonsense. The result is, of course, that backwards compatibility of hardware and software is nonexistant on Linux.

        • Gap Gen says:

          I’m never quite sure about GPL stuff. I mean, I like stuff to be open source, but at the same time if I want to use a library and it’s GPL I have this nagging fear at the back of my mind that at some point I’ll have to replace it because I want to do something else and I’m trapped with something that makes demands on how I use my code.

          • Beelzebud says:

            The only problems you’d have is if you used a GPL library, tried to sell your program that relies on it, without your app also being GPL.

            I see nothing wrong with that. If you want to sell proprietary software, and not share the code, you’re free too, but you don’t get to rely on the work of others without also sharing.

          • Gap Gen says:

            Well, there may well be other licenses where you could ask the authors if they’d accept a fee for using their work in commercial code (although I suppose they could always re-license their code). I’m not entirely sure how licenses talk to each other, e.g. how you’d go about licensing code that uses code from GPL and BSD, but this is down to my own ignorance rather than any real issue, I’d imagine.

          • Rikard Peterson says:

            Not only selling. Sharing in any way.

        • LionsPhil says:

          Yup.

          We are not here to give users what they want.
          We are here to spread freedom.
          Richard Stallman

          Unfortunately the loony-bin side do hold some sway with the whole mentality of the place, that it’s OK to say “be prepared to patch and recompile to keep things running, or GTFO”.

        • thomir says:

          The GNU ecosystem is intentionally set up to push developers towards an open source model. Hence this ABI nonsense.

          Umm, wut? Those two things have nothing to do with each other at all. You must maintain a stable ABI between components regardless of the components’ license.

      • Tei says:

        Linus having/wanting to change the Kernel API (I have no idea why people call that ABI) is one of the problems, but is not the biggest problems.

        Linus don’t want mysterious binary blobs. Nvidia may feel they need mysterious binary blobs. What Nvidia really wants is to make money, but releasing the source code of drivers may result on frivolous lawsuits that cost money. What Linus really want is to make the Linux kernel a always modern, always updated, every version better than older versions. Binary blobs are a problem for that, because you can’t change with binary blobs, you have to live with them, and with the mysterious problems that may create.

        Linus could have a good day, and Nvidia could have a good day, these two can meet in a good day, and still disagree, because the difference is essential and binary. Something else must change for this to be possible.

        Or we could continue with the current status quo. That in a good day, Nvidia release a updated driver binary blob, and the source code for a old driver, and the documentation for a medium one. And in a good day, Linus don’t change the kernel in a way that break drivers. And in a bad day, your Ubuntu don’t boot to native resolution in gnome, because after the update the nvidia.blob.bin can’t be loaded.

        I imagine Valve and SteamOS will avoid all this dementia, by updating kernel and drivers at the same time. So users of SteamOS will not see a new kernel update until theres a nvidia and ati stable driver for it.
        Really, this is a general Linux problem, but don’t need to be a SteamOS problem, because the distro admins ( Valve and Nvidia) can just upgrade in a lazy way wen the roadblocks are removed.

        • LionsPhil says:

          API (I have no idea why people call that ABI)

          Because those are different things. One is source compatibility; one is binary. If you need to work with others who are not working open-source (i.e. are developing a platform you expect to be useful in the Real World), you need to maintain binary compatibility.

          Note how drivers on Windows continue to work for years-wide ranges of versions. Microsoft do make breaking points occasionally: 9X to XP, XP to Vista/7, but it’s not every five blasted minutes. Mock Win32 (and other userland foibles like Windows 8′s UI) all you like, but the NT kernel underneath is absolutely a modern, “evolving” system. This is not impossible. It just takes engineers who care about people other than themselves and those in their immediate ideological bubble.

          • Rise / Run says:

            While I use linux for all my work, and frankly prefer it in many ways, I must also say, quite resoundingly, “This.”

  5. MeestaNob says:

    I hope Valve can convince nVidia to open up PhysX to all gamers, not just nVidia owners.

    • The Dark One says:

      I don’t know about Physx, but Valve has made progress with another (seemingly) proprietary technology: the streaming technology in SteamOS will support AMD cards even though it started out as part of Nvidia’s Shield project.

    • Gargenville says:

      ‘hey nVidia you guys bought PhysX for millions of dollars to get your hands on their IP right? How about giving it away to the competition?’

      • Apocalypse says:

        Works fine for TressFX and AMD.
        But I admit it works that fine for AMD because it runs better on their hardware, because the current AMD hardware is compute heavy.

        Still PhysisX is unwanted technology anyway, it does not run even on nivida hardare if you have an amd GPU and there are better open solutions available anyway. Giving away the engine for free is pointless, and valve never wanted to use it anyway. they have already paid for havoc. ;-)

      • Cinek says:

        Don’t expect gamers to understand business. *eyerolls*

    • SuicideKing says:

      Well Nvidia’s opening up PhysX to Sony’s PS4, so i think things may change there too.

  6. K33L3R says:

    I think this is damn good news, SteamOS/Box is the kind of change the industry needs, having Nvidia supporting it makes it even better

    • Cinek says:

      “SteamOS/Box is the kind of change the industry needs” – does it? How? How suddenly we all need every PC game being optimized for Xbox controllers and played in living room on one pre-configured PC (cause that’s the only combination that guarantees everything working fine with SteamOS and nVidia drivers).
      If I’d want to buy a console – I would get a console, not a half-assed PC that pretends to be a console.

      • Stevostin says:

        It’s the key question, isn’t it ? We can all agree than some dedication to gaming in a platform would benefit to PC games but it has to remain mouse and keyboard first gaming.

        Two things entice me to be optimistic:
        1) Valve present & future is closely tied to DOTA2, which is and will stay more important than all potential HL3, the more “paddable” license they have. They alos have CS as a core “mouse+keyb” ref.

        2) it will be dead easy to ge a mouse and a pc on it via USB. Actually it will probably be included as a standard in steam machines.

        oh an 3) what they say:

        “Am I going to be using a mouse and a keyboard in the living-room?
        If you want. But Steam and SteamOS work well with gamepads, too. Stay tuned, though – we have some more to say very soon on the topic of input.”

        Wait & see then.

        • Cinek says:

          “but it has to remain mouse and keyboard first gaming. ” – it has to remain a gaming with whatever accessories are appropriate. NOT gaming where everything is tailored for Xbox controllers and controllers along.
          Strength of PC is in a freedom of hardware choice – SteamOS looks for me like a best path to get rid of that. (and not only in a matter of controllers)

          • Emeraude says:

            Strength of PC is in a freedom of hardware choice.

            This can’t be stressed enough. What matters the breadth of choices offered by the platform – because it remains open. The fact that you can tailor your experience to your wants/needs.

            Not some almost fetishistic focus on one control scheme over the others.

        • Baines says:

          What if their “more to say” turns out to be their own SteamOS game pad, as an alternative to Microsoft’s? Because you know what gaming really needs is another controller that is nearly identical to every other controller released in the last ten years, except not quite compatible with any other platform released in the last ten years.

          • cunningmunki says:

            You’d be surprised how many wireless, dedicated PC controllers there are on the market…

            One.

      • bj says:

        It’s less about controllers and standardized hardware than the open software with no restrictions for users and developers alike. Consoles perform so much better than a similarly priced PC because they’ve been designed from the ground up to be efficient for games, and developers are given the freedom to program right down to the metal.

        Having the same sort of low-level access on a PC while retaining the scalability and end-user freedom would be a massive step forward from where we currently are. The PCI bus is still a big bottleneck, but if we were able to do more with the GPU without having to do everything via the CPU then it would be much less of a problem.

        AMD is working on something just like that, with Dice updating Battlefield 4 with it in December. It’ll be great to see how much of a difference it makes, and I hope Valve and Nvidia are taking a similar approach.

      • Shodex says:

        Then buy a console, nobody is stopping you. I own a PS3 and love it, and I’ll buy a PS4 too. When you get your console you should go the PlayStation route and try out Naughty Dog’s Uncharted games as well as their The Last of Us. Excellent exclusives.

        However there lies the problem, you’ll have to buy new games. I have 200+ games on my Steam account, most of which have console equivalents. I really want to lay back and play Saint’s Row IV on my TV with the surround sound pumped up, and a lot of games also play better with a controller as unlike the KB+M the controller is meant for games.

        I want to play my games downstairs in the family room, but I don’t want my computer downstairs in the family room. How can I play Saint’s Row IV on my TV without moving my PC and without buying a copy for my PS3? Steam Machine.

        • Emeraude says:

          You don’t need to move your PC from wherever it is to also use it in your living room, if you connect things properly.

          • Shodex says:

            Fine, you’re right. But the Steam Machine is a more elegant solution than an HDMI cable running two floors down to the basement.

      • K33L3R says:

        I mean it will shake up the currently complacent efforts by MS, Sony and Nintendo, I like the idea of something a little different on the market, it encourages competition which in turn benefits the consumer
        Personally I’m not getting the Box, I have a PC I’m more than happy with, but an OS with gaming in mind has me very interested

    • cunningmunki says:

      I agree, and it’s what I’d hoped for. I’ve never been an NVidia fan, but the Shield offered clear proof of their support for Valve. AMD and Nvidia seem to have finally picked sides, and I’ll be selling my AMD card and buying Nvidia forthwith!

      Forget next generation consoles, and forget the concept of a Steam ‘console’; 2014 will usher in the next generation of PCs.

  7. jrodman says:

    So far, Nvivdia’s releases are of things everyone pretty much knew already. We’ll see how useful they are in the future.

  8. smokiespliff says:

    In order to give nVidia some kind of credit here – when I began using linux in 2007 I had an ATI something-or-other and I found the propriety drivers to be horrible to use. Since then i have only used nVidia cards purely because their linux support was better. Maybe not in an open-source ideal world but I’m not a purist and that doesn’t matter to me.

    Perhaps things have changed since then, but certainly in my (limited) experience nVidia have proved to be better in the linux space than AMD/ATI have, on a purely usability level.

    • SKapsniak says:

      As I understand it:

      Nvidia have (significantly) better closed source drivers than AMD, because their closed source driver team is just better/has more manpower for Linux.
      AMD have (significantly) better open source drivers than Nvidia because AMD release much more documentation and code that outside open source people can use than Nvidia.
      Intel have the best open source drivers, but they don’t (I think!) have a closed source driver, so their open source driver gets all the effort.
      In general the closed source drivers are (significantly) faster then the open source drivers.
      Closed source drivers may not work at all with older graphics cards.
      Open source drivers may not work at all with newer graphics cards.
      Closed source drivers may not work at all with up to date (aka bleeding edge) versions of the rest of the Linux software stack.

      Also, NVidia and AMD interpret the OpenGL spec differently in subtle ways, and since most people code high performance OpenGL on Nvidia, you’ll find more code in the wild that works fine on Nvidia but breaks on AMD.

      • FionaSarah says:

        > Closed source drivers may not work at all with older graphics cards.

        Man it’s worse than that, AMD keep actively dropping support and block cards older than a few years. It’s horrible.

        • LionsPhil says:

          nVidia have done the same, in sync with various Linux breakages. It’s too long ago to remember now, but my trusty old GeForce 4 box can never have Linux updated again, because that would drag in a new version of X, which will not load the legacy nVidia drivers. The non-legacy nVidia drivers do not support the card.

          (Obviously this was a “problem” I hit a long time ago; at the time I think the card was only ~two generations out of date.)

        • Beelzebud says:

          The oldest card they still support is the 5700 series. Frankly if you’re using something older, the legacy driver works fine. It’s not like new drivers are going to make your 5 year old card suddenly gain performance.

  9. InternetBatman says:

    It’s good to see Valve already having an effect on the market (really they have been for a while). If they could get middleware providers (particularly the audio guys) that would be a major coup. Or if they could fix audio, which I haven’t had problems with, but every single person on the internet seems to.

    • FionaSarah says:

      The problem with audio is that no one can really decide what is best for everyone, none of it is perfect and only ALSA is really supported across the board even though it’s preeeeetty crap. With different sound servers and different sound drivers and levels of compatability layers for all them, combined with software itself only supporting some of them, it’s just a mess.

      I am part of the problem though, I just give up and use ALSA.

      • Wisq says:

        I haven’t used sound servers in a long time. Really, the only thing sound servers solved were a) sound across the network and b) multiple applications using a single sound card that doesn’t have multi-channel hardware.

        I don’t need (a) these days, and I sidestep (b) by actually using a decent sound card instead of shitty on-motherboard sound.

        I’m not sure what the status of ALSA’s “dmix” plugin is, but I think if you set it up correctly, you can have multiple applications talking to the sound card and being mixed together seamlessly in software. (You know, like how every other OS has done it for as long as I can remember.) The whole “first app that opens the soundcard blocks every other app” thing is ridiculous, and if people are still suffering from that, then that’s a big “WTF, still?” from me.

        Really, sound servers should just go away and die, IMO, or be relegated to cross-network sound only. Ideally by having machine X set up an ALSA plugin that sends to machine Y’s sound server, so that sound programs don’t have to care about what sound server you’re using; they just support ALSA output and let ALSA do the rest.

        Windows and Mac solved this decades ago. Mac has cross-network audio down to an art. Linux really needs to come out of the stone ages and just automatically insert dmix on any hardware that can’t natively support multiple outputs at a time.

  10. Arglebargle says:

    Nvidia worse to work with than Creative?? I’m really surprised. Didn’t think that was possible.

    Smart move to go onboard with the SteamOS. The next three to five year console generation will automatically be set up to work with AMD due to the hardware.

  11. stahlwerk says:

    nouveau and radeon are the way forward, although I fear there will be many a kick and many a scream along the way, from all sides (NV/AMD, GPU Vendors, VALVE, Developers, Users).

  12. Solidstate89 says:

    nVidia’s drivers for Linux have always been top notch compared to the competition. The issue those zealots at the FSF have always had was that their drivers weren’t open source. This documentation only helps Nouveau drivers, it doesn’t really change much of nVidia’s driver commitment to Linux.

  13. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    What manner of demonic sigil or alien hieroglyph is the title picture?

    • Gap Gen says:

      I think one of the steps towards installing the latest drivers requires that you pronounce the symbol in the tongue of the Ancient Ones. You may grow a few tentacles, but that’s boilerplate stuff that you can ignore / put a loose-fitting sweater over.

      • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

        cthulhu@r’lyeh:~> tar -xjf ph’nglui_mglw’nafh.tar.bz2

        • Gap Gen says:

          Actually you can probably just call “sudo apt-get install libph’nglui_mglw’nafh-dev”, normally the packaging in Ubuntu version Egregious Eldritch Horror and above is pretty good.

          Although I hear if you believe, you’ll get an unrecoverable kernel panic and be forced to reinstall completely first.

  14. cunningmunki says:

    There’s that mention of a “controller” again. *crosses fingers, closes eyes tightly* Please, please, please…

    • cunningmunki says:

      1. Valve Corporation (“Valve”, “We”, “Us” or “Our”) has developed and produced prototypes of entertainment system hardware and software, including a set-top box running custom software and a game controller (collectively: “Beta Products”)

      Squee

  15. SuicideKing says:

    Two more interesting things.

    One, AMD’s introducing their Mantle API, that can bypass DirectX on the PC, and rumours suggest it may make it open source.
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/7371/understanding-amds-mantle-a-lowlevel-graphics-api-for-gcn

    The other thing is Nvidia confirming Steam game streaming on Shield:
    http://shield.nvidia.com/user-guide/how-to-connect-shield-to-pc/

    • Deadly Sinner says:

      Console efficiency on PC power. Considering AMD is on all of the consoles and from my understanding seems to be using the same technology, this could work out very well for AMD. If it’s not too hard to port over from consoles, it could be like PhysX, except actually used.

      I wonder if nVidia figured that AMD would do something like this and put their weight behind Linux as a result. If Mantle support becomes standard procedure on Windows, there’s no way nVidia could compete, unless they are able to license the relevant technologies from AMD. If Linux gaming takes off due to the Steam machine, Mantle will probably be rendered useless by lack of support.

  16. fdisk says:

    This whole announcement reeks of “Oh shit, AMD just announced their new line, they own the console market, quick announce something to get our name out there and still be relevant!”

    NVIDIA dropped the ball when they shifted all their focus to mobile with Tegra; there’s still a future there but currently their revenue from it is not what they thought. AMD in the meant time picked up that ball and sweeped all three major consoles from right under their legs; not to mention AMD will probably be as present on SteamOS and SteamBoxes as NVIDIA is since “working with Valve” doesn’t mean exclusive.

    This is an announcement about nothing just to get their name out there; the only thing left for NVIDIA at this point to get ahead of the game once again is either Maxwell turning out to be a crazy step up in performance (Which at this point it won’t be happening until June, optimistically since they will initially release on 28nm instead of the originally planned 20nm) or if this whole audio thing backfires for AMD which we should know by the end of this year.

    It’s not the first time NVIDIA has been against the ropes, but they need to play it right to get ahead of AMD once again.

    • uh20 says:

      omtimistically, they are not just giving their name out, they are attemping to install themselves into next generations market, as they already lost most of this years revenue.

      mobile tegra (as long as intels integrated dont rip it to shreds) may well be a thing some day, as well as the work they are doing here.

  17. Wedge says:

    So does this mean SteamOS is useless if I have it on a system with an AMD GPU? =/

  18. uh20 says:

    i have been following this topic for about a month as it goes on phoronix (those commenters are crazy over there)

    the lazy-form of why they care so much about this is that they were already flung out the window for every other thing.
    windows is appealing to casual computing, and the 3 console manufacturers are not interested (and never have really been) into building with nvidia.

    since last christmas, it can be fairly assumed they already decided on this strategy to install themselves into this developing market (and also even talked with valve as they were developing)

    so, with a “few” chaps i can assume, they have been slowly building up more linux support, streaming support is obviously next on the checklist, but what else could they be whipping up?

  19. Keyrock says:

    I think they’re setting up Tegra to power Steam Machines in the future. I bet a lot of the work they did with Valve also entailed getting SteamOS and games working on ARM, and, by extension, Tegra. Heck, Tegra 5 will even be using Kepler for its GPU, so any work they do optimizing for Kepler GPUs (GeForce 6xx and 7xx) will help Tegra 5 out too.

  20. newprince says:

    Man. Looking back, Valve timed all these moves and announcements perfectly. NVidia is all of a sudden hungry again in the PC market, something that was unthinkable a couple years ago. AMD is always hungry because they are on the verge of collapse. The new consoles aren’t out yet, allowing the ideas and possibilities to float in everyone’s heads for a while, and not allowing the usual console gamer to say “I don’t care, PCs are expensive and I suck at hardware” like they always do. With Steam Hardware, they could think about making the switch very easily.

    I just have concerns about if they can pull it all off. I look forward to SteamOS and streaming games from my PC, but I’m still curious to see if this will bring more people to PC gaming.

  21. huldu says:

    Just doesn’t make any sense to me. From what I gathered reading about this yesterday they will have multiple hardware configurations and what not. That just sounds like a PC, what’s the point of that? What makes a console stand out is that they’re always the same and games are built to that specific hardware. With this steambox that just doesn’t seem to be the case so I ask myself… what’s the point?

    • airmikee99 says:

      The removal of Windows from the PC gaming landscape and its replacement with a Linux based OS is the biggest point.

      Connecting the Steam Machine to a desktop PC to stream games across the house being another point.

      Having a fully functioning Steam client on a machine that’s cheaper than a full blown PC, with more options and control than a console is another point.

      Did you even read the article yesterday?

      • fish99 says:

        Windows isn’t getting removed anytime soon though since you still need a Windows PC to stream the >90% of games that don’t run on Linux from. And price is up in the air.

        TBH if they let you use their streaming software from windows->windows you could just build your own cheap HTPC instead.

        There’s also questions about whether the average wi-fi can handle a 1080p high bit rate stream (especially when people start downloading stuff), whether the PQ will be good with the inevitable compression, and whether it’ll introduce noticeable lag. I know our wi-fi is barely good enough to play WoW on.

        • airmikee99 says:

          Making a machine capable of handling PC games without Windows on it is as close to a Windows-free game landscape as we can get right now. As Valve works to get more games working on SteamOS, Windows will become less necessary. No one is saying it will happen over night, but this is a step in the right direction toward that end goal.

          Why would I want to build another computer to put near the TV using Windows (that won’t be free), when I’ll be able to buy a cheap Steam Machine with SteamOS (that will be free) very soon?

          If your Wi-Fi can’t handle WoW, then your Wi-Fi sucks. My Wi-Fi can handle Netflix for my brother, whatever stupid game my other roommate plays (currently LoL), and whatever game I’m playing (currently either STO, SW:ToR, or MWO) at the same time. And are you talking about Wi-Fi in the sense of your router or your actual internet service? If you can’t play WoW because of your router or internet, you need a new router or ISP.

          • fish99 says:

            Well a windows PC for streaming to would presumably have more functionality than a SteamBox, or maybe you already own a HTPC and don’t want to spend more money, but point taken. It’s a restriction that doesn’t have to exist though, it’s Valve saying their streaming client software has to be on SteamOS, rather than just letting you run both server and client on windows. It’s not a big deal though.

            As for my wi-fi, it does indeed suck (the actual router and network cards, not the ISP). For whatever reason we have some bad deadspots.

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