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5. Various Topics

5.1. Memory Type Range Registers

Starting with Pentium class processors and including Athlon, K6-2 and other CPUs, there are Memory Type Range Registers (MTRR) which control how the processor accesses ranges of memory locations. Basically, it turns many smaller separate writes to the video card into a single write (a burst). This increases efficiency in writing to the video card and can speed up your graphics by 250% or more.

See /usr/src/linux/Documentation/mtrr.txt for details. Note that since this file was written, XFree86 has been patched to automatically detect your video RAM base address and size and set up the MTRRs.

5.2. Milking performance from your system for all it's worth

  • If for some reason you're using X 3.3, follow the instructions given by mtrr.txt (see Section 5.1) to set up your MTRRs. X 4.0 does this automatically for you.

  • If you're playing a game under X, don't run a window manager, and certainly don't run a desktop manager like GNOME or KDE. See Section 4.2 for details.

    Kill all non-essential processes (you'll have to do this as root) by using the startup scripts on your system. On Debian, the startup scripts for run-level 2 are located in /etc/rc2.d/. You can kill a service in an orderly manner by sending its startup script the `stop' command:

        # cd /etc/rc2.d
        # ./ntpd stop
                    
    

    Another (radical) option is to simply put yourself in single-user mode with

        # telinit 1
                    
    

    This will even get rid of getty; your system will only be running whatever is absolutely crucial to its operation. You'll have something like 10 processes running. The downside is that you'll have to play the game as root. But your process table will be a ghost town, and all that extra CPU will go straight to your game.

5.3. About libraries on Linux

A common problem you'll see in gaming is a library file not being found. They're kind of mysterious and have funny names, so we'll go over libraries on Linux for a bit. There are two types of libraries, static and dynamic. When you compile a program, by default, gcc uses dynamic libraries, but you can make gcc use static libraries instead by using the -static switch. Unless you plan on compiling your games from source code, you'll mainly be interested in dynamic libraries.

5.3.1. Dynamic libraries

Dynamic libraries, also called a “shared library”, provide object code for an application while it's running. That is, code gets linked into the executable at run time, as opposed to compile time. They're analagous to the .dll's used by Windows. The program responsible for linking code “on the fly” is called /etc/ld.so, and the dynamic libraries themselves usually end with .so with a version number, like:

    /usr/lib/libSDL.so
    /lib/libm.so.3
                        

When using gcc, you refer to these libraries by shaving off the strings lib, .so and all version numbers. So to use these two libraries, you would pass gcc the -lSDL -lm options. gcc will then `place a memo inside the executable' that says to look at the files /usr/lib/libSDL.so and /lib/libm.so.3 whenever an SDL or math function is used.

5.3.2. Static libraries

In contrast to dynamic libraries which provide code while the application runs, static libraries contain code which gets linked (inserted) into the program while it's being compiled. No code gets inserted at run time; the code is completely self-contained. Static libraries usually end with .a followed by a version number, like:

    /usr/lib/libSDL.a
    /usr/lib/libm.a
                        

The .a files are really an archive of a bunch of .o (object) files archived together, similar to a tar file. You can use the nm to see what functions a static library contains:

    % nm /usr/lib/libm.a
    ...
    e_atan2.o:
    00000000 T __ieee754_atan2
    
    e_atanh.o:
    00000000 T __ieee754_atanh
    00000000 r half
    00000010 r limit
    00000018 r ln2_2
    ...
                        

When using gcc, you refer to these libraries by shaving off the strings “lib”, “.a” and all version numbers. So to use these two libraries, you would pass gcc the -lSDL -lm options. gcc will then `bolt on' code from /usr/lib/SDL.a and /usr/lib/libm.a whenever it sees a math function during the compilation process.

5.3.3. How are library files found

If you compile your own games, your biggest problem with libraries will either be that gcc can't find a static library or perhaps the library doesn't exist on your system. When playing games from binary, your library woes will be either be that ld.so can't find the library or the library doesn't exist on your system. So it makes some sense to talk about how gcc and ld.so go about finding libraries in the first place.

gcc looks for libraries in the ``standard system directories'' plus any directories you specify with the -L option. You can find what these standard system directories are with gcc -print-search-dirs

ld.so looks to a binary hash contained in a file named /etc/ld.so.cache for a list of directories that contain available dynamic libraries. Since it contains binary data, you cannot modify this file directly. However, the file is generated from a text file /etc/ld.so.conf which you can edit. This file contains a list of directories that you want ld.so to search for dynamic libraries. If you want to start putting dynamic libraries in /home/joecool/privatelibs, you'd add this directory to /etc/ld.so.conf. Your change doesn't actually make it into /etc/ld.so.cache until you run ldconfig; once it's run, ld.so will begin to look for libraries in your private directory.

Also, even if you just add extra libraries to your system, you must update ld.so.cache to reflect the presence of the new libraries.

5.3.4. Finding Out What Libraries a Game Depends On

Most commercial Linux games will be dynamically linked against various LGPL libraries, such as OpenAL or SDL. For these examples, Bioware's NeverWinter Nights <http://nwn.bioware.com> will be used.

To find out what libraries a game uses, we can use the "ldd" command. Cd to /usr/games/nwn, or wherever you installed it and take a look at the files. You should see a file called nwmain; this is the actual game binary. Type "ldd nwmain" and you'll see:

   $ ldd nwmain
       linux-gate.so.1 =>  (0xffffe000)
       libm.so.6 => /lib/libm.so.6 (0x40027000)
       libpthread.so.0 => /lib/libpthread.so.0 (0x40049000)
       libGL.so.1 => /usr/lib/libGL.so.1 (0x4009b000)
       libGLU.so.1 => /usr/X11R6/lib/libGLU.so.1 (0x40103000)
       libmss.so.6 => not found
       libSDL-1.2.so.0 => /usr/lib/libSDL-1.2.so.0 (0x40178000)
       libc.so.6 => /lib/libc.so.6 (0x401ff000)
       /lib/ld-linux.so.2 (0x40000000)
       libGLcore.so.1 => /usr/lib/libGLcore.so.1 (0x40319000)
       libnvidia-tls.so.1 => /usr/lib/libnvidia-tls.so.1 (0x409f1000)
       libXext.so.6 => /usr/X11R6/lib/libXext.so.6 (0x409f3000)
       libX11.so.6 => /usr/X11R6/lib/libX11.so.6 (0x40a01000)
       libdl.so.2 => /lib/libdl.so.2 (0x40acd000)
       libstdc++.so.5 => /usr/lib/libstdc++.so.5 (0x40ad1000)
       libgcc_s.so.1 => /usr/lib/libgcc_s.so.1 (0x40b88000)
       libasound.so.2 => /usr/lib/./libasound.so.2 (0x40b90000)
                        

ldd shows all the libraries a dynamic executable relies on, and shows you where they are. It also "pulls in" the dependencies of the dependencies. For instance, while NWN does not itself depend on libnvidia-tls.so, the Nvidia supplied libGL on my system does.

Missing libraries?

In the example above, we can see that nwmain wants libmss.so.6, and the linker cannot find it. Usually, a missing library is a crash waiting to happen. There is one other thing to consider though: The majority of games are actually launched by a "wrapper", a shell script that performs some magic prior to launching the game. In the case of NWN, the wrapper is called nwn. Let's take a look at that now:

   $ less nwn
   #!/bin/sh
   
   # This script runs Neverwinter Nights from the current directory
   
   export SDL_MOUSE_RELATIVE=0
   export SDL_VIDEO_X11_DGAMOUSE=0
   
   # If you do not wish to use the SDL library included in the package, remove
   # ./lib from LD_LIBRARY_PATH
   export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=./lib:./miles:$LD_LIBRARY_PATH
   
   ./nwmain $@
                        

This script sets up some environment variables, then launches the game binary with whatever command line options we added. The relevant part here is the environment variable called "LD_LIBRARY_PATH". This is a way of adding to the linkers search path. Try copying the line to your shell and seeing what happens when you re-run ldd.

   $ export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=./lib:./miles:$LD_LIBRARY_PATH
   $ ldd nwmain
       linux-gate.so.1 =>  (0xffffe000)
       libm.so.6 => /lib/libm.so.6 (0x40027000)
       libpthread.so.0 => /lib/libpthread.so.0 (0x40049000)
       libGL.so.1 => /usr/lib/libGL.so.1 (0x4009b000)
       libGLU.so.1 => /usr/X11R6/lib/libGLU.so.1 (0x40103000)
       libmss.so.6 => ./miles/libmss.so.6 (0x40178000)
       libSDL-1.2.so.0 => ./lib/libSDL-1.2.so.0 (0x401ec000)
       libc.so.6 => /lib/libc.so.6 (0x4025e000)
       /lib/ld-linux.so.2 (0x40000000)
       libGLcore.so.1 => /usr/lib/libGLcore.so.1 (0x40378000)
       libnvidia-tls.so.1 => /usr/lib/libnvidia-tls.so.1 (0x40a50000)
       libXext.so.6 => /usr/X11R6/lib/libXext.so.6 (0x40a52000)
       libX11.so.6 => /usr/X11R6/lib/libX11.so.6 (0x40a60000)
       libdl.so.2 => /lib/libdl.so.2 (0x40b2c000)
       libstdc++.so.5 => /usr/lib/libstdc++.so.5 (0x40b30000)
       libgcc_s.so.1 => /usr/lib/libgcc_s.so.1 (0x40be7000)
                        

As you can see, this gives us slighly different results. The NWN library directories have been prepended to the search path, so now the linker can find libmss.so.6 in the "./miles" directory, and also finds the local copy of libSDL first, no longer using the system copy.

There's another benefit of these scripts: they are easily edited to allow you to provide your own copy of a library. Any game-supplied copy of a library such as OpenAL or SDL is likely to be compiled for the lowest common denominator, probably i486 or i686. If you have a Pentium4 or an AthlonXP, you could compile you own version specifically for your processor. The compiler will try to optimise the resulting binary, giving some increase in performance. See the homepage for GCC for more information this at the GCC site.

Making NWN use your system copy is easy. It says so in the wrapper script! Remove "./lib:" from the LD_LIBRARY_PATH line, and you're good to go.

Another nice little trick is for games that use OpenAL for their sound output (e.g. Unreal based games: UT, Postal, Rune, etc.). Since the Open Sound System's (OSS) deprecation in favour of ALSA, all Linux distributions I've seen now ship with ALSA support as default, with OSS support actually being supplied via ALSA's compatability modules. The copies of openal.so distributed with games often do NOT support ALSA, so making the game use a copy compiled yourself will allow you to use ALSA natively.