NVIDIA helping Valve with SteamOS development

Valve's announcement that it is developing a Linux-based operating system called SteamOS generated a lot of press on Monday, but so far the company has offered little in the way of details. Today, NVIDIA revealed that it has been working with Valve on the development of the operating system, which is expected to be released "soon."

In a blog post, NVIDIA senior technical evangelist Mark Smith stated:

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.

Smith added that both NVIDIA and Valve "strongly believe in the importance of open-platform innovation" and that they are committed in their offer of providing a "cutting-edge visual experience" for games while using SteamOS.

NVIDIA is the first third-party company that has confirmed it is working with Valve on SteamOS. Today, Valve announced that Steam Machines, with SteamOS installed, will be released by a number of companies in 2014. Today's announcement likely means that some of those Steam Machines will have hardware components made by NVIDIA inside.

Source: NVIDIA | Image via Valve

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Considering the numerous questions I had regarding driver support for SteamOS, this is great news. I think people--myself included--are doubtful because we know it's all based on Linux, which has a really bad reputation when it comes to high-end graphics drivers.

But I've had a very positive experience with the GTX 670; it's been rock-solid for more than a year in my PC and it's also super easy to customize. So this gives me hope in SteamOS.

An open console platform. It's a pretty interesting move! Being able to build your own console with the hardware you want it to have. Should be interesting to watch the price for pre-built systems, being based on free software and with no Windows tax.

They can also follow the technology curve far better than a PS4 or XB1, since these consoles can always be built on the very latest hardware, not relying on waiting for new "generations" to happen.

I thought nVidia was the one who got a lot of crap for not supporting Linux? Didn't Linus Torvald give them the finger even?

Either way, getting more support for Linux going, on a new platform overall seems pretty interesting. Lord knows we could use more competition between Windows and OSX.

They have excellent Drivers for Linux, they just aren't open which ****es Linus Torvald off. There are apparently Open Source ones, but they suck.

WolfSilverLone said,
something tells me steam didn't have a choose but to use Nvida.. Why ATI/AMD Drivers are non existent and sucks for linux

AMD drivers are actually quite good.

ichi said,

AMD drivers are actually quite good.


Actually they're pretty much ****, they recently completely broke all compatibility with all newer versions of Xorg.
Either they didn't test before releasing or more likely - they didn't care.

n_K said,

Actually they're pretty much ****, they recently completely broke all compatibility with all newer versions of Xorg.
Either they didn't test before releasing or more likely - they didn't care.

Yes, they lagged a lot with support for xserver 1.13 (if that's what you meant).
Performance wise though (at least going by the phoronix benchmarks) they do fine.

ichi said,

Yes, they lagged a lot with support for xserver 1.13 (if that's what you meant).
Performance wise though (at least going by the phoronix benchmarks) they do fine.


Lagged but offer good performance? If they're incompatible with Xorg, they have NO performance because you can't use them, and ATI STILL cannot be arsed to fix it, arch wiki quote;
'As of April 26, 2013, Catalyst packages are no longer offered in the official repositories. In the past, Catalyst has been dropped from official Arch support because of dissatisfaction with the quality and speed of development. This time, it's the incompatibility with Xorg 1.14. '

astropheed said,
They have excellent Drivers for Linux, they just aren't open which ****es Linus Torvald off. There are apparently Open Source ones, but they suck.

The reason they weren't open, as they had to create an entire proprietary wrapper and new layer for the video subsystem and drivers. If Linux had 'proper' video driver support in the kernel, this would not be needed.

Linus can complain all he wants, but it is failings of Linux's kernel and video driver support that pushed them to create their own driver technologies.

Mobius Enigma said,

The reason they weren't open, as they had to create an entire proprietary wrapper and new layer for the video subsystem and drivers. If Linux had 'proper' video driver support in the kernel, this would not be needed.

Linus can complain all he wants, but it is failings of Linux's kernel and video driver support that pushed them to create their own driver technologies.

They created the wrapper because the kernel doesn't allow proprietary modules. It's a workaround the license incompatibility, not a technical issue.

An issue that's not present in any of the other available drivers that are open source, so no, the Linux kernel has nothing to do with nvidia releasing closed drivers only.

AMD's Mantle announcement seems more interesting. It completely bypasses DirectX/OpenGL and lets developers access the GPU on a lower level like on consoles. If Steam partnered with AMD and added Mantle support to Steam OS I'm guessing it would be a lot simpler for devs to port multi-platform games and get the best performance.

I didn't really care about Mantle. The only thing that grabbed my interest is TrueAudio. To the point that I'm now committed to upgrade my HD 7950 to R9 290x on release... if it's not going to cost over 500 bucks.

giantpotato said,
AMD's Mantle announcement seems more interesting. It completely bypasses DirectX/OpenGL and lets developers access the GPU on a lower level like on consoles. If Steam partnered with AMD and added Mantle support to Steam OS I'm guessing it would be a lot simpler for devs to port multi-platform games and get the best performance.

Saying Mantle bypasses DirectX/OpenGL is a tad misleading, all three are graphics APIs and all do the same thing.

Pupik said,
I didn't really care about Mantle. The only thing that grabbed my interest is TrueAudio. To the point that I'm now committed to upgrade my HD 7950 to R9 290x on release... if it's not going to cost over 500 bucks.

I'm pretty sure they announced the price is $600?

torrentthief said,

I'm pretty sure they announced the price is $600?

AMD yet to announce the price for R9 290X for some reason. And yeah they're speculations that it's going to get tagged for $600, but I hope they're wrong.

giantpotato said,
AMD's Mantle announcement seems more interesting. It completely bypasses DirectX/OpenGL and lets developers access the GPU on a lower level like on consoles. If Steam partnered with AMD and added Mantle support to Steam OS I'm guessing it would be a lot simpler for devs to port multi-platform games and get the best performance.

Just to be clear about Mantle...

It is a low level API... It means it is very CPU/GPU specific, so even iterations in the AMD product lines have the potential to easily break game code. The whole idea of an upper level API was to remove compatibility issues, so a game could run on NVidia, AMD, Intel, etc without concern for the underlying GPU.

Being a low level API, it still needs some upper level API assistance and support, and as Mantle is currently designed this specifically relies on DirectX and specifically needs Windows.

Low level GPU access can be a great boost in various areas of performance, especially when coupled with a CPU API set, which is what Mantle does. (The majority of PC bottlenecks is the CPU getting things to the GPU fast enough, not the GPU itself being too slow.)

Is mantle a great idea? Maybe, but games designed with low level APIs mean they are highly tied to hardware specifics. Just like a console. This means you will buy CPU ABC and GPU ABC and if you ever change the game will stop working.

This introduces the risk of far more instability and other performance issues even when you have CPU ABC and GPU ABC as there is memory, chipsets, and other factors that could create hiccups, timing issues, and flat out prevent the code from running properly.


There was a time, not long ago, where games were written to specific CPUs, specific GPUs, and even specific Sound Cards, that era was a mess of incompatibility, crashing, and crossing your fingers to hope your computer would run the game. (And there were fewer CPU/GPU/MB options then.)

Along came WinG and DirectX to give up a bit of raw GPU/CPU performance to ensure that games just worked on the majority of hardware. (OpenGL eventually followed with gaming support with pressure from the non-Windows OSS world.)


It appears that even with Mantle trying to provide 'a bit' of abstraction, it will still require a very specific AMD CPU and specific AMD GPU.

So if you like Intel CPUs or NVidia GPUs or AMD falls behind Intel or Nvidia with slow options, to play the game you will have to keep an AMD system around - JUST LIKE A CONSOLE.


GPU specific technologies have been tried before and just don't get far because the developers get tired of dealing with instability and performance variance between brands. They also don't like investing a ton of money into a game that will only run on less than 5% of the computers that meet the hardware requirements.


Where Mantle 'might' work well is in porting Xbox One titles to the PC. Using Mantle and DX11.2, developers have a chance to get closer to the gaming performance of the Xbox One, where developers are already using Microsoft's lower level API DirectX superset that works much like Mantle.

However, even in this best case scenario for porting, the game is only going to run on such a specific line of CPUs/GPUs from AMD, the developers are more likely to just port over to DX11.2 and allow the game to play on any CPU/GPU combination that Windows supports.

The other 'win' scenario would be for Microsoft to step in and adapt Mantle as a new low level DirectX technology that would work with the specifics of both AMD and NVidia and Intel hardware, providing the APIs to 'consistent' technologies like how the ALUs work, instead of just the higher level DirectX API framework that is more 'conceptual' than exposing pure hardware functionality.

I don't think steambox is going to be as awesome as xbox one or even ps4. maybe they catchup with next generation if everything goes well and sony and microsoft let them play. sorry they are late.

Nvidia is hardly missing out; they've got their hands full in other projects. Between them and AMD, there's plenty of business to go around.

vcfan said,
NVidia missed out on next gen consoles,and all they got was valve. awesome.

nVidia decided to focus on developing high-end graphics hardware rather than mass producing low-end console components. And don't forget that it's investments by both nVidia and AMD that have allowed consoles to become what they are. Your comment comes across as rather petty.

theyarecomingforyou said,

nVidia decided to focus on developing high-end graphics hardware rather than mass producing low-end console components. And don't forget that it's investments by both nVidia and AMD that have allowed consoles to become what they are. Your comment comes across as rather petty.

You do realize AMD isn't 'mass producing' components?

NVidia's 'console' investment was letting Microsoft redesign their GPU, create a user shader language, etc, and then use the technology in their PC GPU line, while asking Microsoft for more money.

(I don't have love for either company, they both have done some rather dubious things in the industry when they felt they had control.)

Christ, people here seem to have serious problems resisting the urge to troll every non-Microsoft piece of news posted.