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Thinking about buying a Thinkpad, thoughts on gaming with Nvidia/Optimus?
jay commented on 22 November 2017 at 6:51 pm UTC

I currently have a System76 Ratel Pro desktop with a cheap Nvidia card. I also have two S76 laptops, a last-gen Galago Pro, and a two generations old Lemur both with integrated graphics. I primarily do all my gaming on my desktop. However, I don't really want to be tethered to my desktop anymore, and I'm thinking of going laptop-only. My problem though is that while the games I play are generally low-end, my laptops won't run some of the games in my library. For example, Cities: Skylines runs sluggish, and Divinity Original Sin Enhanced Edition won't run at all (it won't even launch on integrated graphics).

I'm thinking about buying a T-series Thinkpad laptop with Nvidia graphics. The idea is that Thinkpad's support docking stations (System76 machines don't) so I can use the machine at my desk docked to a monitor and all my accessories, or portably as a laptop.

My question is how well gaming would work on such a laptop. Maybe I can get some experiences, or thoughts. My requirements are not extreme, since I don't play any high-end games. But I think Thinkpads are still using Optimus if I'm not mistaken, and I'm not sure how that would work with Steam. Thinkpads I've seen on eBay have around 2GB in video ram, which is probably enough but I do understand that laptop GPU's are not even close to those on desktops. My distribution is currently Ubuntu 17.10.

Avehicle7887 commented on 22 November 2017 at 8:24 pm UTC

Chiming in to say I'm curious how this works too, for months I've been saying I'll get a gaming laptop but I always step back and say "I'll wait for Raven Ridge APU".

Shmerl commented on 23 November 2017 at 4:41 am UTC

Avoid Optimus. Nvidia is a mess.

Julius commented on 23 November 2017 at 8:04 am UTC

Having had several Nvidia Optimus gaming Laptops over the years (2x Asus & 1x Tuxedo running with Mint or Kubuntu), I have to say that it really isn't that bad as some people claim. It basically works fine, thus isn't as convenient as under Windows.

I could imaging that docking stations might be somewhat unsatisfactory though, as external monitors over HDMI are sometimes a bit flaky (in my experience they sometime require a reboot to work properly).

You have basically two options:

1. Use the official Nvidia prime switching (https://github.com/andrebrait/prime-indicator makes it a bit more convenient), that works 100% of the time, but requires logging out to switch graphics. Admittedly this is more inconvenient than it sounds at first (I also don't dual boot into Wintendo as that is inconvenient as hell), but if you use your laptop primarily stationary/plugged in, you can just keep the Nvidia GPU on and it will work the same as on your desktop.

2. Use the Bumblebee "hack" that allows dynamic switching (most conveniently by modifying the launch parameters in Steam). I used this for many years and it really does good work in hiding the rather complex background work it does, but it isn't really maintained anyone, has always been a bit of a pain to set up and preserve on distro updates, and only works in 95% of the games or so (and doesn't work with Vulkan at all).

These days I would recommend option 1 and just live with the slight inconvenience.

That said, I also think that right now it might be worth waiting a bit for these AMD Raven Ridge APUs or those new Intel/AMD hybrid chips to hit the Laptop market. They should be out for the xmas sales or early next year. Not so much because Nvidia Optimus isn't working, but because the AMD open source drivers are likely the smoother experience in the long run (and are worth supporting on the Freedom aspect alone).

P.S.: Tried updating the Mesa drivers on that Intel Laptop you have? I have this little Intel based GPDWin and with Mesa 17.3 it runs games quite well. Admittedly not the quite the same category.

jay commented on 24 November 2017 at 12:11 am UTC

Thanks for the replies. It sounds like it may not be as easy as I was hoping. I was hoping I would run something like "optirun steam" or something like that and just let steam take advantage of the nvidia GPU. I may just decide to abandon this idea altogether. Perhaps a newer CPU would handle Cities Skylines better, my current laptop (previous gen) seems to have a lot of trouble running it (fan goes crazy, performance is slow). Perhaps Divinity Original Sin will support Intel graphics at some point. I also thought about an external GPU, but I am pretty sure I'd have to reboot every time I want to use it.

Another idea that I was thinking about was making my gaming desktop headless and just running steam in-home streaming. I tested this and it works very well, surprisingly. However, my son has a steam account and as far as I can tell, there is no way to change user easily (either by streaming directly, or using a steam link) so it would be difficult to switch accounts between his and mine.

Julius commented on 24 November 2017 at 4:18 am UTC

jayI was hoping I would run something like "optirun steam" or something like that and just let steam take advantage of the nvidia GPU.

With Bumblebee it would work like that. You can even configure it on a per game basis in Steam. But see my comments above.
I also forgot to add that Bumblebee will not work with Wayland... but that seems to be not really suitable for gaming yet anyways (especially on Nvidia).

MaCroX95 commented on 24 November 2017 at 6:58 am UTC

Don't go for optimus is all I can say, O have a laptop that is optimus and I never managed to get HDMI sound working (I'm not a linix newbie).I don't claim that all optimus setups jave such issues bit this technology is a mess and is a gamble for features. Also gaming and laptop will always be like "you need to make a compromise somewhere, either on battery or the performance/overheating issues.

But that's just my opinion do whatever you think is best for you

jay commented on 27 November 2017 at 3:41 am UTC

I think I'll avoid Optimus for now. The two games I mentioned not running well is a bummer but it's not the end of the world, I guess.

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