Running Steam on Ubuntu MATE

A couple of weeks ago Phoronix published an article comparing the Steam performance on various flavours of Ubuntu 16.04. This article made me very sad because, using the default settings, Ubuntu MATE didn’t appear to fair that well. I was also somewhat surprised, what with Ubuntu MATE sharing a good deal in common with the other flavours and being a fairly light-weight operating system. While I’m not a big gamer, I’ve always been very satisfied with Steam performance on Ubuntu MATE.

What we need here is a gamer. A gaming enthusiast who knows how to run a benchmark. A Linux gamer. Enter Pedro Mateus from Linux Game Cast.

Steam on Ubuntu MATE

Pedro ran the benchmarks he is most familar with on his Steam Box by simply replacing the SSD with one that had Ubuntu MATE 16.04 installed. Pedro also tested all the available compositor options available in Ubuntu MATE, afterall, we’ve included a number of compositor options to suit different use cases. This is the hardware, software and configuration used:

All benchmarks were run at 1920x1080. The table below shows the average frames per second for each benchmark. The colouring of the average frames per second denotes how much, if any, screen tearing was visible.

  • Bad tearing

  • Noticeable tearing

  • No noticeable tearing

Benchmark No compositor Software compositor Compton Compiz
Unigine HeavenExtreme 25.5 25.1 25.0 24.9
Unigine HeavenBasic 88.1 84.6 84.4 84.0
The Talos PrincipleOpenGL 70.4 68.5 70.3 69.8
The Talos PrincipleVulkan 97.1 89.9 96.9 95.1


So what do we learn from the benchmarks above?

  • The Ubuntu MATE default Window Manager is Marco (Software compositor). This explains why the Phoronix benchmarks didn’t show Ubuntu MATE in the best light, since it can be the lowest performing option for gaming.
    • Perhaps Marco needs some logic to Unredirect Fullscreen Windows.
  • Using Compton or Compiz provides tear free gaming.
  • Compton (slightly) out performs Compiz.
  • Perdro tells me that when running Ubuntu MATE with Compton the average frames per second is about 2 FPS lower than SteamOS on the same hardware.
    • This seems reasonable given that Ubuntu MATE is a general purpose desktop operating system and SteamOS is purpose built for gaming.
  • Vulkan is the cat’s pyjamas!

From the benchmarks Pedro Mateus conducted we can recommend that to get the optimum gaming experience on Ubuntu MATE you should use Compton, which can be enable via MATE Tweak, and that Ubuntu MATE gaming performance is just about on par with SteamOS.


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