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Linux users have a wealth of open-source software at their fingertips. But sometimes, proprietary software is required. It might be something like running Microsoft Word How to Install and Use Microsoft Office on Linux (And Its Shortcomings) How to Install and Use Microsoft Office on Linux (And Its Shortcomings) Your PC runs Linux. How on earth are you going to install Microsoft Office, and use it without running into problems? Read More — which is a bit unnecessary given the quality of LibreOffice Is LibreOffice Worthy of the Office Crown? Is LibreOffice Worthy of the Office Crown? LibreOffice is the king of free office suites. It's unlikely to replace Microsoft Office in a business environment, but it's an excellent alternative for casual users. Here's what's new in LibreOffice 5.1. Read More — or it could be a proprietary driver.

99% of your hardware will run with open-source drivers, but graphics drivers are another story.

Diehard Linux users will accuse you of sacrilege for even thinking about running proprietary drivers. However, if you’re keen on Linux gaming, then they are pretty much required.

Why Do You Need Proprietary Graphics Drivers?

Almost all Linux distributions ship with open-source drivers. These are provided so that your hardware works out of the box. Install Linux, and use your PC’s hardware as you always had.

When it comes to graphics drivers, however, the situation is somewhat different. Open-source graphics drivers will (in most cases) let you run the operating system and perform basic tasks, but when it comes to gaming (and perhaps image/video editing and other heavy lifting) failure can occur.

How To Install Proprietary Graphics Drivers In Ubuntu, Fedora, & Mint [Linux] muo linux gfxdrivers videocard
Image credit: Stefan Ledwina via Flickr.

The result is that AMD and Nvidia graphics systems can run at a reasonable level with open-source drivers, but need proprietary drivers — those produced by AMD and Nvidia, respectively — to enjoy the power the brands promise. (Intel graphics drivers are already open-source and included with the Linux kernel).

Getting proprietary drivers, also known as “restricted” driver, used to be tricky or fiddly, but these days it’s straightforward. Here, we look at installing proprietary graphics drivers on three popular distros: Ubuntu, Linux Mint, and Fedora.

(Proprietary drivers for other hardware devices — such as wireless network interface cards — are also often available.)

Pre-Installing Proprietary Graphics Drivers

Installing proprietary graphics drivers has become far simpler in recent years. Previously, you may have had to run some specialist software or go looking for the drivers and install them manually. Happily, you can now simply install them as you install your Linux operating system (a feature available in most popular distros).

To do this, just work your way through the installation process, paying close attention to the boxes that pop up. Towards the end of installation, you’ll find a dialogue box concerning graphics drivers. This box requires your action, and gives you the choice of installing proprietary graphics drivers or open-source drivers.

Choosing the proprietary drivers option will save you the bother of installing them later. Fortunately, this isn’t too tricky.

Ubuntu

To find proprietary drivers in Ubuntu, open the menu, type “drivers,” and select Additional Drivers. Upon opening, the system will run a quick scan. This will find out if your system has hardware that would benefit from having proprietary drivers installed. It is here that you will find proprietary drivers.

How To Install Proprietary Graphics Drivers In Ubuntu, Fedora, & Mint [Linux] muo linux gfxdrivers ubuntu

It can be tricky to make the right decision as to which drivers to choose, so opt for the defaults (usually the most recent). This method is far more straightforward than using the command line, which can result in problems. Rather than risk system stability (and even your graphics card itself), it is safer to use the Additional Drivers utility.

Although you may not be instructed to, it’s often useful to restart your computer after installing a graphics driver. Once rebooted, your Linux system should be ready to offer an enhanced graphics experience!

Fedora

If you’re running a Fedora system with an Nvidia video card, things are a little trickier. This is because the default repositories for Fedora only list open-source software.

You’ll need to begin by checking your video card details:

lspci | grep -i VGA

If you see details for an Nvidia card, head to the RPM Fusion site and install the free and nonfree packages for your version of Fedora. This should be done via the Firefox browser, using PackageKit to install the packages.

How To Install Proprietary Graphics Drivers In Ubuntu, Fedora, & Mint [Linux] muo linux gfxdrivers fedora

It’s also possible to use the command line to install these packages with a single command:

sudo dnf install https://download1.rpmfusion.org/free/fedora/rpmfusion-free-release-$(rpm -E %fedora).noarch.rpm https://download1.rpmfusion.org/nonfree/fedora/rpmfusion-nonfree-release-$(rpm -E %fedora).noarch.rpm

Once installed, these packages will add repository information that you can use to search and install the drivers for your card. For Nvidia cards, search for kmod-nvidia. Remember to reboot your PC after this.

Have an AMD card? If so, the AMDGPU driver is automatically enabled for newer hardware. Older devices, meanwhile, will have to rely on the Catalyst driver, which is no longer maintained.

Linux Mint

The main version of Linux Mint is based on the most recent Ubuntu release 5 Reasons Why Ubuntu 16.10 Yakkety Yak Is Worth a Look 5 Reasons Why Ubuntu 16.10 Yakkety Yak Is Worth a Look A year on from Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, a new version has been released. But is the interim release, Ubuntu 16.10 Yakkety Yak, even worth installing? Or should you stick with your current Ubuntu version? Read More , and the path to installing restricted/proprietary drivers is the same. However, be aware that there are several variants of Mint 5 Flavors of Linux Mint 18 You Can Try Today 5 Flavors of Linux Mint 18 You Can Try Today Linux Mint is a distro that has roots in Ubuntu but lots of changes that make it worthwhile. In this article, we explore the five flavors of desktop environment that you can try. Read More so you might find that you need to check the correct procedure to get this working.

For “mainstream” Mint, open Menu > Administration > Driver Manager, where you’ll find the drivers that you can install.

How To Install Proprietary Graphics Drivers In Ubuntu, Fedora, & Mint [Linux] muo linux gfxdrivers mint cinnamon

The resulting Driver Manager screen will be laid out in a similar way to the Additional Drivers screen in Ubuntu. Make your choice, click OK, and reboot.

In the case of Nvidia cards, you might be offered several versions of what appears to be the same driver. The one you should select will be named something like nvidia-[recent_version]. If it doesn’t work so well, however, you may have to try the nvidia[recent_version]-updates driver instead.

When Proprietary Drivers Don’t Help

You might have noticed reading the above that you’ve been dealing mostly with Nvidia drivers. Happily, when it comes to AMD video cards, these are (mostly) supported with open-source versions of the Radeon drivers. Better still, they’re incorporated into the Linux kernel. You can find out more about the AMD’s open-source program on their development website.

However, there are occasions when proprietary drivers don’t help. Although rare, if you’ve bought a brand-new graphics card Nvidia Graphics Cards: Which One Is Right for You? Nvidia Graphics Cards: Which One Is Right for You? Nvidia graphics cards are the most popular for a reason. But which model should you buy and why? We explain the jargon, the cards, and their performance. Read More , it is unlikely to work with the most recent drivers. In such cases, the best option is to rely on the most recent driver available.

And in all cases, in the event of failure, rely purely on the built-in Intel graphics processor until you’re able to resolve the problem.

Want to Enjoy Gaming and Multimedia on Linux? You Need Proprietary Drivers!

While the prospect of open-source graphics drivers that are of the same quality as the proprietary drivers is attractive, it probably won’t ever happen. Although weaker and older graphics cards are usually 100% supported by open-source drivers, high-end, newer models are not.

As such, proprietary drivers are a vital aspect of gaming on Linux.

Do you prefer open-source or proprietary graphics drivers? Do you think proprietary drivers should be open-source? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments!

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  1. Peter
    April 20, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    Whoever is maintaining this article should make an update. I recently used Kubuntu with an ATI Radeon graphics card and not only I have the default Radeon drivers in the System Settings -> Device Configuration, I also have 2 propriety drivers from ATI installed that I can use already installed and listed in the Drivers list. Of course, the system is set to use the one that is defined as "recommended" and my new graphics card works like a charm. The whole article and the comments are totally out of date. If you can't provide and update to this article why not take it down or rewrite it?
    Ubuntu has change dramatically over the past few years and it's not nice to present information that is simply out of date.

  2. Sue
    September 6, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    Hi Danny,

    There's just one problem -- my screen goes black in the middle of installing -any- GUI on Ubuntu Server 12.04. I think it needs the drivers before installing the GUI. Any ideas how I can load those with access only to a command prompt?

    Thanks,
    Sue in Colorado

    • Tina
      September 15, 2012 at 4:37 am

      Sue,

      In case you are still looking for a solution, may I recommend asking a question at MakeUseOf Answers. This is a quick way to receive some ideas.

  3. Igor Rizvi?
    August 1, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    Good think the default drivers work like a charm since the day one :)

  4. Shehan Nirmal
    May 31, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    It makes me angry when I cannot install my nVidia graphics card drivers on Ubuntu... So I changed my Ubuntu to Hanthana Linux... A fedora distro... It works great with any VGA card.

  5. Rey Aetar
    April 15, 2012 at 10:58 am

    it would be nice if an article is posted on how to install proprietary drivers from packages available in the manufacturers web site its relly a headche installing those manually

  6. Trevor L
    April 15, 2012 at 12:37 am

    It would be really nice if card manufacturers supported their products on Linux just a little bit more than they do now. I have no problems with them wanting to keep their code private but I do want my video card to work without the rigamarole of installing proprietary drivers. I just finally got my hybrid graphics running under arch, the only issue I have now is HDMI audio.

    • Danny Stieben
      April 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm

      I agree. It's not that it's hard to get it to work under Linux, they just don't care as much.

  7. barney
    April 14, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    I'll probably get burned for saying it, but the driver(s) issue is why I treat Linux as a toy. It's fun to play with it, but when I have serious work to do, I revert to Windows. Linux is too fractured to have mainstream vendor support. If I have new hardware (or software) that will not function in Linux, then I have to go where it will function in order to get my job(s) done. I have not the skills, nor time to acquire them, to compensate for inadequate drivers of any sort - nor should I have to have them. That's the responsibility of the OS and the vendor(s).

    • Danny Stieben
      April 15, 2012 at 6:55 pm

      I know that Linux seems fragmented with all of the different distributions, but they all have at least one thing in common: the Linux kernel. And as far as I understand it, they just need to make it work with the kernel, and it will automatically work with all distributions.

      • Anna Summers
        October 18, 2016 at 6:38 pm

        That's the great thing about modular architecture! Maybe someone should tell the hardware manufacturer's that before they have pissed off any more of their prospective customers.

    • Anna Summers
      October 18, 2016 at 6:29 pm

      Agree 100%

    • Anna Summers
      October 18, 2016 at 6:36 pm

      Agree 100%. As new Linux user, I'm building a Linux machine. I put AMD in my old one, the new one will have Intel, because Intel plays nice with Linux. After what I've read here, nVidia is now also on my no-fly list; I will be buying Radeon instead.

      Wake up manufacturers - you are losing sales by not providing Linux drivers for your hardware; and that loss will only expand in the future. I will not be disposed in the future to buy hardware from a manufacturer who dissed me today by being slow to provide full-function Linux drivers for their products.

      • Hector
        August 31, 2017 at 2:30 pm

        I'll add on to that, as I have done ever since it was a requirement to get Linux to work in the first place: I won't buy a graphics card from a manufacturer who won't open source their drivers completely, or at least open their hardware design for other programmers who want to make open source drivers!