It’s easy to forget that the entire effort of bringing Linux apps to Chromebooks is just over a year old. The whole process has caught on and progressed so quickly that it is easy to get impatient for new features and needed abilities to arrive. Two big things still needed for Linux on Chrome OS are microphone support and GPU acceleration.
While we’re still patiently waiting on further news around microphone support (it is being worked on), GPU acceleration has become a feature that we know is right around the corner and it has been harder and harder to sit back and wait for it as the days go by.
Fortunately, it seems we won’t be waiting much longer at all.
Right now, in Chrome OS 76 (currently in Dev Channel), there is a simple flag that can enable the GPU for Linux apps and the impact and effect is very significant. This flag showed up in May and it wasn’t clear early on whether or not it was effectively making games run smoother or not. We’re unsure whether or not recent updates have changed this, but in a test run a few days before the latest Dev Channel update borked the entire Linux container on Chrome OS, you can see a marked difference in performance.
In the video below, you are seeing a game called Open Arena running on the Pixelbook without GPU acceleration and then with it turned on via the flag. The results speak for themselves.
Not only is the GPU accelerated version better: it is actually playable. I also installed Steam and ran Counter Strike Source with almost all the settings cranked up and had almost no issues with graphic performance. Right now, there’s an issue with the mouse not staying confined to the window when in a game, but that looks to be a deeper issue with gaming and Linux in general, so we’ll have to see if we can figure out a way to get that all sorted.
For now it is very encouraging that the early stages of GPU support for Linux apps can perform this well on a Chromebook. This means that running simpler games will be completely possible, but it also means that things like photo and video editors will perform at a much better clip once full GPU support is in place for all users.