I Used Wayland for a Month and This Happened

My desktop without the waifu wallpaper I normally use

Nothing. Thanks for reading!

OK, so that isn't exactly what happened, but it definitely wasn't anything earth-shattering. Like most Linux users, I have been reading and hearing about Wayland for years. To me it was just the mythical future replacement for X11 or Xorg (the windowing system that supports graphical user interfaces on top of Linux), which is now 38 years old. But any actual practical use of it has always seemed distant, even though Wayland has been around for a while now.

Part of the reason it felt distant to me is that I have been a long-time Nvidia user, even though I've gradually come to see how poorly Nvidia's proprietary drivers work on Linux (something that will hopefully change soon). I almost switched to AMD when RDNA 2 cards first launched, but I unfortunately got a lemon and ended up RMAing my Radeon RX 6800 XT. I got a glimpse of how much better it performed with Linux before I ended up going with an RTX 3080 (my apologies to those of you who struggled for the past couple of years to even get one of those cards while I somehow got two).

XFX Merc319 AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT - Say that three times fast!

At any rate, as graphics card prices have finally returned to normal, thanks in large part to the recent crypto crash, I decided to once again grab an RX 6800 XT, this time from XFX instead of directly from AMD. The card is huge, so big that I had to remove drive bays to make it fit, but it's also one of the most quiet modern cards I have tried.

At any rate, Wayland was a no-go for me as an Nvidia user due to the lack of good driver support, but it was the first thing I tried when I got my AMD card installed. Before I go over the results, here are some of the issues I faced using X combined with Nvidia:

  • Compositing that sometimes breaks
  • Composited windows interfering with gaming performance
  • Gsync (variable refresh rate) not working while window compositing was turned on
  • Screen tearing in games
  • Screen tearing in Firefox
  • Certain games that are "deck verified" and work on AMD cards not working at all for Nvidia (Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy comes to mind).
  • Sluggish desktop effects in KDE
  • Driver releases breaking various things. For example, one driver release completely broke DirectX 12 games, which meant I had to downgrade until the next release that fixed it.
Steam Deck Compatibility report for Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy

I am probably leaving some off, but you get the idea. Here is what going with AMD + Wayland fixed:

  • All of the above.

Wayland itself is a compositor protocol, so the desktop environment and/or window manager, KDE Plasma in my case, has it built into its bones. That means no more enabling and disabling compositing to do make various things work. Everything works, and it feels like a cohesive desktop system rather than something pasted on top of one, as compositing in X always felt.

Wayland not only works with variable refresh rates, it insists upon them. In the past month, I have experienced tearing in games and my desktop zero times.

Meanwhile, since KDE developers have essentially been able to build their own Wayland system, everything is smooth and crisp. Of course, a lot of this is due to AMD. When I switch back to X, it's still smooth and crisp. It was just an Nvidia driver problem.

Don't get me wrong. Most of the issues listed above had Nvidia workarounds, but it is so nice to not need any workarounds. Wayland really does "just work."

What Doesn't Work

Did I just say it just works? Well, not quite. To truly benefit from Wayland, an app must be written as a Wayland app. Obviously, some applications have not yet made that transition. Older, abandoned projects may never transition. Fortunately, Wayland has the ability to run an X instance within your current environment, something called XWayland. Most of the time, it works fine, and it is necessary for games, which currently all still rely on X.

Steam Remote Play promotion

What I could not get to work was Steam Remote Play (or in-home streaming). It connects just fine, but on the client TV, phone or other device, I just see a black screen. Apparently, Valve already has a workaround with PipeWire, but every time I tried to run Steam with the "-pipewire" argument, it completely crashed. I'm someone who normally doesn't give up until I find a solution, but I couldn't find one for this. The workaround is to start KDE (X11) when I want to stream to my TV (or mythical Steam Deck, which I still don't own).

The other thing that doesn't work is all the little X tinkering utilities you are probably used to: xev, xinput, xrandr, etc. They simply do not work, and no amount of tinkering will make them work since they are designed for X. As such, you have to get used to doing things differently. For the most part, the screen resolution and refresh rate tools built into KDE Plasma have been sufficient for me, so I have not needed xrandr.

Mouse input was a little trickier for me. KDE doesn't have anything for customizing mouse buttons, and I couldn't use xinput or the xorg.conf configuration file. Wayland uses libinput, and there is quite a lot of documentation available for it. Fortunately, I found an app that worked for me, which is called Input Remapper. With it, I am able to remap the top two buttons on my Kensington trackball (yeah baby, I'm old school) to be copy and paste, since my years as an IT worker doing CTRL+C and CTRL+V have borked my left index finger.

Input Remapper in action

Another thing that doesn't work with Wayland is remote login. One of the cool features of X11 is that you can log in remotely to a desktop and have a full graphical environment, and it isn't like VNC/remote desktop quality. It fully exports the environment to the client machine so it feels basically native rather than like it's streaming. That remote login, however, is not secure and is one of the things Wayland was designed to fix. Since I don't even own a Linux laptop (sad I know), this is not something I have done in years, so I haven't explored any Wayland alternatives, if they even exist.

That's it! Everything else has worked beautifully for me, and I don't see myself going back to Xorg unless something truly horrific happens to Plasma (wayland). For AMD users who run KDE Plasma or another desktop environment that fully supports Wayland (sorry Cinnamon users), Wayland might be ready for prime time. If you have an Nvidia GPU, I can only recommend patience.

Tavis J. Hampton

Tavis J. Hampton

IT worker with a master's in Library and Information Science currently working in the healthcare industry. Passionate about Free and Open Source software.