Actual noob when it comes to gaming on Linux... a few questions.

I have an old, formely top of the line laptop that still can run the games I enjoy at very high settings despite being from 2014 now.

I still intend to keep a smaller windows partition for the games i REALLY like that I CANNOT get to work, according to the Interwebz (looking at you, Fallout 4 and Mass Effect franchise).

  1. How, in general, do I enable NVIDIAs drivers for games?

  2. PlayOnLinux seems to be the way to go in general. I assume it installs with all the most common needed things?

1 - depends on how you want to do it. PRIME will give the best performance with a bit more config and a slight hit to battery. It can apparently be set up rather easily by using something like optimus-switch. In which case you toggle it off and on. If you use Bumblebee then you run anything you want to use the nvidia with primusrun %command%. Just look around the forums/wiki and you will see the things. [in the case of steam you add to game launch options, NOT primusrun steam]

2 - I think most people find lutris to be the best these days. But both lutris and POL are really just wine frontends and wrapped configs for certain software.

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This a topic for a book...

Anyway, we can't advise too much without any specifics. What is your hardware? Hybrid GPU or not?

Playonlinux is the thing of a past. Now you use Steam and Lutris. Please check this series of videos but be careful, because some of the showed stuff is on Ubuntu based systems so when it comes to drivers, actual install commands, ignore it, those work different on arch-based distros:

If you have hybrid GPU I can advise optimus-manager but... this is more complicated to setup. Installing of a package is not enough and you must manually configure some files. First, backup your system before messing with drivers, preferably use timeshift.

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Hybrid. Old cards, old computer (Geforce 860m). i7 processor, 8 cores three generations old. I am mostly an RPG person so the reason I am looking for something newer this fall is well... it's dying, physically (keyboard starting to go, all USB ports on the right side doesn't work anymore).

For hybrid this is complicated. By default Manjaro installs Bumblebee but this has some drawbacks like: lower performance (bigger overhead) and no Vulkan support.

You have few alternatives to Bumblebee:

  • install nvidia-xrun (supports vulkan but has still some overhead but smaller due to running another DE on top of base DE), there is a guide for it on this forum, look for it
  • manually configure Prime, then nvidia will be used for all desktop, but this will drain power, eat battery faster and make laptop heat more then on intel - this is fine during gaming but pointless on other tasks
  • use optimus-manager or some alternative solution (don't remember the name, someone here will give it anyway) but this is tricky to setup, you need to read the documentation very carefully and follow the steps religiously. Optimus-manager allows you to switch between intel and nvidia session whenever you need one.

All of that stuff was discussed here gozillion of times, just use the search function on the forum.

Remember always backup first (preferably with timeshift) before you start messing with the system. Think twice or a few times before you do something and take notices so you could trace back what you did and revert it if you screw something.

Basically in short:

  • you already have Steam on Manjaro and needed dependencies
  • install wine-staging
  • install lutris
  • install winetricks from repo and protontricks from AUR
  • follow the video to install additional packages to have gameode which is named feral gameode, on Manjaro it is enough to install needed packages and the option will become switchable (by default it's grayed out)
  • create system backup
  • then setup drivers to have full performance, probably optimus-manager or similar solution.
  • learn how to enable Steam Play for all window titles and how to tweak games with parameter
  • for details of each windows game and what tweaks are needed, check: http://protondb.com/
  • learn how to use Lutris

Each of those steps are huge topics on their own.

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Thank you.
At this point I will rework my partitions anyway, so yeah, timeshift... but complete reinstall then get the config files back. As for the rest... I think I start with primusrun and see how we go from there.

Primusrun (Bumblebee) is fine, I used it for years but you won't be able to use Vulkan through Steam Play (Proton) or Lutris. On other hand, maybe you don't need to worry about it since the laptop is old and not so efficient in gaming, so bumblebee may be OK for the most part. Basically if you don't intend to run any DX11 games, you should be fine.

As I said I will keep Windows on my 512Gb drive. Should be enough to hold the games I really like that I can't get to run.

The other one you are looking for is this
(and its supposedly pretty straight-forward)

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Ah, thanks. I knew the name is similar but couldn't recall it.

@Beardedgeek72, so once again, optimus-manager or optimus-switch.

Optimus manager caused a lot of headache on Manjaro in the past, but the newest version should fix it if you follow carefully installation documentation on Manjaro (there are some extra steps to be done compared to Arch). It also has a neat tray utility to see GPU mode and switch it easily. In case this doesn't work, optimus-switch may be a good alternative although it may be not so advanced, however from what I heard, people don't complain about it.

Here is how optimus-manager with tray utility looks like:

Screenshot_20190521_210222

It seems lutris also supports DXVK, during start it asked me to install a few packages therefore.

it's not that old, you cant expect 60fps on high settings but still entirely playable. i have an 6th gen i5 4-core with a 960m and i'm surprised at just how well newer games play.

if battery life is not a main priority go with prime, it's really not hard at all to setup, neither is optimus-switch, which is prime with the added benefit of being able to easily switch to an intel only setup and nvidia powered down, no pretty tray icon but it works reliably and it's human readable bash script. actually if your using gnome @loradona98 made a tray widget for it.

having "older" hardware is all the more reason to not use bumblebee.

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Why is that? Is it outdated?

Yes and no.
Yes, because it was slowly developing and missed all the stuff that changed over the years. No, because there is a new version, not sure if it's out yet. It is or will be vastly improved but compared to Lutris, it still doesn't offer as much potential. It doesn't have dxvk, gamemode and other good stuff. Basically all you could do with playonlinux can be done in lutris and so much more. In certain situation POL can still be usable thou. However, a new translation layer is coming: the one translating DX9 to Vulkan and its development is going fast. Finally older games will not be so slow, so Mass Effect 1 or Skyrim will be given a new life: less bugs and highly improved performance. Now DX9 games, although old, can be laggy, while DX11 game like Witcher3 is outperforming them.

In such pace, dxvk and similar projects will be the core of the gaming, both in Proton and in Lutris and given the fact that POL offered only wine versions which mostly translate to OpenGL which is inefficient, obsolete and buggy, I don't see it being used anymore, unless they add those new X something to Vulkan translation layers.

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Depends on the game of course.
Overwatch, 1080p frame locked at 60.3 fps? No problem. But Blizzard does good with graphics and optimizing. Sims 4? ...Around 40 FPS because well... Not Blizzard.

Thanks for the detailed answer. I recently played Quake 4 and Prey via Proton, which worked fine and I think is max dx9 (although maybe they use OpenGL?). But I guess performance can be improved, especially on lower end systems.

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lutris can take care of everything from an easy to use interface, POL not so much. lutris can install tons of different wine versions, protonified versions also. so between lutris and the ability to use the steam app to launch non-steam games using the latest versions of proton, i see no use for POL but who knows, i didnt know they were working on a new release until @michaldybczak just mentioned it.

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Here is the info about that release I mentioned:

https://www.playonlinux.com/en/news.html

And I quote:

We plan to support proton

So maybe they will catch up. However, many months have passed and I haven't heard anything new from their camp. They surely take their time... so I'm unsure if they really can deliver.

At this stage I'm not sure if there is a point of developing POL anymore. They should join Lutris team and help them out. Less reinventing wheel...

i can honestly say playonlinux never once solved an issue for me whereas lutris/winetricks/protontricks has consistently, not to mention all the runners lutris supports and how easily the install scripts are to use, the simplicity of changing from 1 wine version to another, or dxvk version also to find that optimal combo that works best.

idk, i use it for both steam/nonsteam games so i can use the latest proton versions which have gotten much better recently. tomb raider, rise of the tomb raider, witcher 1+2+3, borderlands goty and presequel all work great with high settings on my meager 960m