Should You Use the Proprietary Video Driver on Linux?

As Linux users, there is something that we need to accept. There’s absolutely terrible graphics card support on Linux. Sure, there’s always been some kind of drivers that users could take advantage of, but for the most part they aren’t the best.

Suffice it to say the GPU drivers on Linux still could use some work. And this is an issue that we see with both the open source drivers as well as drivers that come directly from GPU manufacturers themselves.

You have the open source graphics drivers (for AMD, Intel and Nvidia respectively), and these drivers support basically any card out. Most Linux distributions configure these types of drivers for you right when you install your system.

Along with that you have proprietary video drivers. You know, the ones that come directly from the company that makes your graphics cards. These proprietary drivers are only really limited to AMD and Nvidia as Intel only releases ones that are open source.

As a completely new Linux user, you might be wondering to yourself “which one do you use?”

The open source drivers are great. They work and do their job fairly well – for the most part. If all you plan on doing is light video gaming and general computer usage, then the open source GPU drivers work fairly well.

The main advantage that the open source video drivers have here is ease of installation. To get these kinds of drivers up and running, the most you’d have to do is install a few packages and you’re done.

Choose which driver to use on your Linux distro.

Only a handful of Linux distributions make current versions of proprietary graphical drivers this easy to install. More often than not, you’ll have to use a driver installation tool (like on Ubuntu) or even follow a moderately long and sometimes complex wiki page to get your closed source GPU drivers up and running (like on Arch Linux).

Arch Linux NVIDIA Wiki page.

For new users, that seems painful. I know that some people will claim that “it’s not that hard to get the proprietary ones working,” but the simple fact is that the open source drivers are just easier to get going. This makes them better in this respect.

Most Linux mainstream distributions automatically configure the open source drivers right away during the installation. It’s a very painless process which is arguably the best route to go for everyday casual Linux users.

If the only thing you see yourself doing on your installation of Linux involves browsing the web, watching videos, and maybe playing a few games here or there, but nothing really resource-heavy or advanced, then the open source drivers are perfectly fine.

While the open source video drivers are very impressive for what they are, they’ll never help you get the most out of your hardware like a freshly baked GPU driver from Nvidia or AMD can. There’s a reason for this.

ATI Catalyst Control Center.

As useful as their free counterparts are, the ones that are closed source win out in functionality. Why? Free software developers don’t have direct access to GPUs like manufacturers do, so their drivers are inherently limited to a point.

If you’re a gamer, there’s no question what drivers are the best choice. With the proprietary GPU drivers on your system, you’ll easily be able to play resource intensive video games.

Closed source NVIDIA drivers on Linux.

Closed source drivers aren’t just a good choice for gamers, but overall, they’re a great way to go for other visually intensive things too. Do you model stuff in Blender? Are you a video editor? Do you love dual monitors? If so, you’d be doing the right thing by choosing non-free drivers. They’ll work much better for what you want to do.

If, however, you’re not the type of user that does anything visually intense and really doesn’t care that much about getting that extra push from your graphics card, just stick with the open source drivers. It’s much less of a hassle and gives you just about the same result.

I’m of the opinion that both closed and open source GPU drivers on Linux serve their own unique purposes. The proprietary ones work great for those looking to get the absolute most out of their machines. The open source ones work great for casual users who will probably never do anything incredibly visually intense and just want to get things done as easily as possible. In the end, both each have their faults and gains.

What type of driver do you prefer on Linux? Tell us below!