Home / Linux / Valve’s Latest Linux Gaming Work Is Boosting AMD Vulkan Performance By Up To 44 Percent

Valve’s Latest Linux Gaming Work Is Boosting AMD Vulkan Performance By Up To 44 Percent

Valve recently announced that it was independently developing its own open ource shader compiler (called “ACO”) for Linux to act as an alternative for the existing LLVM compiler. Now, I realize that’s already a ton of technical jargon and an acronym or two you may not be intimately familiar with. But here’s the takeaway: even in its infancy, this new shader compiler is resulting in a 44% framerate boost on certain AMD graphics cards — and in one particular DX11 game, it’s even beating Windows even though the title isn’t natively playable on Linux.

Vulkan gaming (such as Steam Proton) is about to get even better

Valve

I won’t get too far into the weeds here, but if you’re using Radeon graphics to play Vulkan games on Linux (which includes running with Steam Play), you’re probably using the open-source Mesa drivers with RADV (the Radeon Vulkan driver) and the LLVM shader compiler. Valve’s recent announcement of its own shader compiler alternative contains an explanation why the company feels it’s needed:

“The AMD OpenGL and Vulkan drivers currently use a shader compiler that is part of the upstream LLVM project. That project is massive, and has many different goals, with online compilation of game shaders only being one of them. That can result in development tradeoffs, where improving gaming-specific functionality is harder than it otherwise would, or where gaming-specific features would often accidentally get broken by LLVM developers working on other things. In particular, shader compilation speed is one such example: it’s not really a critical factor in most other scenarios, just a nice-to-have. But for gaming, compile time is critical, and slow shader compilation can result in near-unplayable stutter.” (Emphasis mine)

Here’s a chart Valve published demonstrating its early performance gains (full system specs are available here):

Phoronix has also shown both framerate improvements, reduced loading times and reduced stutter in a heaping helping of benchmarks, but Valve developer Pierre-Loup Griffais recently emailed me a fascinating result that originated from DXVK developer Philip Rebohle. And it’s definitely a mic drop moment.

It centers around the game NieR: Automata, which works well under Linux via Steam Play using Valve’s Proton. The three images below depict the game running at 1440p with maximum quality settings, on a Ryzen 7 2700X and Radeon RX 480 system. In the tests, Valve compared the framerates in the same scene using Windows (DirectX 11), RADV + LLVM, and RADV + ACO.

You can view all 3 of these screenshots on Imgur.

NieR: Automata | RADV + LLVM

Philip Rebohle / Valve

NieR: Automata | RADV + ACO

Philip Rebohle / Valve

NieR: Automata | Windows 10

Philip Rebohle / Valve

In a nutshell, what you’re looking at is a comparison between the existing solution baked into the kernel and Valve’s fledgling shader compiler, created exclusively for gaming and to benefit Vulkan workloads.

You’ll notice in this particular test environment that the jump from LLVM to Valve’s ACO delivers a 44% framerate boost, and it even lands 12% higher than native Windows performance, which is nothing short of incredible.

Valve is hoping that the community can help test this new addition to the open source graphics landscape, and possibly expose more examples just like this one. If you want to get involved, head to this Steam Community forum post.


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