I have an elderly laptop with a GeForce 9300M graphics chip. I don't game on it, but I want a smooth desktop experience with Unity. In my situation specifically, are the open source drivers better than the proprietary Nvidia ones? Or is the only reason for the open source drivers to exist them being open source? I'm also writing OpenCL applications. Can I use my GeForces stream processors for OpenCL with the open source drivers?

Update: by better, I mean in terms of reliability, energy efficiency and performance on the Desktop, in GPU computing, and out of curiosity also in gaming.

  • This is a tough question as it asks for opinions rather than straight facts. I use open source drivers, although not the ones from Canonical, and find them quite dependable. I believe that the proprietary drivers may be faster and more power efficient, but I have seen several questions related to the proprietary drivers breaking during upgrades. Sep 29, 2014 at 20:02
  • I updated the question so that it doesn't feel like an opinion question anymore. Feel free to edit it if you think it can be improved further. Sep 29, 2014 at 20:07
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    One cautionary note, having read through a couple of the answers below. Make sure that you know how to uninstall the proprietary drivers before you install them. Occasionally they do not function on some systems... Sep 29, 2014 at 20:15

2 Answers 2


Most of the open source drivers you'll find may produce better graphical output than the proprietary do. Sometimes you won't even notice a difference. And sometimes an open source driver works much worse than the proprietary one. I will not make a general recommendation on which to use, but here are some cases, in which certain drivers are better than others:

  • If you have a nVidia card with Optimus, you should install the open source driver from the Bumblebee Project. This is the only driver supporting Optimus on Linux. you should either install the open source driver from the Bumblebee Project, or any nVidia proprietary driver, but not the Xorg driver, as it currently doesn't support discrete graphics.
  • If you want to use CUDA (nVidia's stuff for executing functions on the GPU), you should use the proprietary driver.
  • If you want to use OpenCL (something like CUDA, developed by Khronos), you have to use the proprietary driver.

If none of these applies to you, it's up to you which driver you use. If you don't have any problems with the current driver, I wouldn't change it. You never know whether another one will even work at all. However, if you want to take the risk, try the drivers suggested in Software & UpdatesAdditional Drivers and find out which one works best.

  • Thanks, I guess the lack of opencl support is what makes the open source drivers unusable for me in particular, which is a shame, because I tried them on unity and they subjectively feel a bit smoother. Sep 29, 2014 at 20:37
  • Gamng will show a difference, though.
    – Kaz Wolfe
    Sep 29, 2014 at 20:52
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    This is useful info, +1. Could you add a reference for your claims?
    – terdon
    Sep 29, 2014 at 20:59
  • This is very useful: APU claims in particular. I have APU for sometime, but don't even know there is any performance improvement potential. As I have tried fglrx before, but failed miserably: ending with reinstalling entire OS again. will try again :-).
    – Peter Teoh
    Jan 22, 2015 at 10:25

My understanding is that the nVidia drivers are significantly better at 3D acceleration and shading, but are about the same as the open source drivers for 2D applications.

See this comparison for some concrete benchmarks. Proprietary (usually) beats open source in terms of performance. That being said, upgrading is significantly easier and more streamlined using the open source.

See the nouveau Feature Matrix for more specific information (your card would use the "NV50" family of drivers). According to that table, OpenCL support for your card is "Stalled".

  • my rather oldish thinkad works much better with open source driver than with the one from nvidia. I don't know about raw performance in 3D, but generally it feels more stable and reliable when it comes to day to day tasks like close/open lid, sleep/wake up, run VM etc.
    – webduvet
    Apr 12, 2022 at 20:21

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