System Requirements

Contents

Short version

  • Operating system:

    GNU Linux is strongly recommended. Also works on Microsoft Windows (Intel), but will be much less well supported by the developers and may have restrictions in functionality, reliability, performance and precision for some features, compared to Psychtoolbox running on a modern Linux distribution. Especially multi-display setups under Windows are highly problematic! Use on Apple Mac OS X is still supported but strongly discouraged if you need any kind of reliable timing for visual stimulus presentation or trustworthy visual stimulation at all, due to the large number of bugs in the Apple operating system.

  • Runtime environment:

    64-Bit Matlab version 7.14 (R2012a) or later, and GNU Octave version 3.8 or later version on Linux, and 64-Bit Octave version 4.2 on OS X and on MS-Windows.

  • Graphics card:

    Recommended are OpenGL 2.1 (or better) capable GPUs from AMD or NVidia. AMD GPUs are somewhat preferrable to NVidia GPUs on Linux and OSX, as they allow use of high quality open-source graphics drivers on Linux, and of additional useful PTB features for vision science on both Linux and OSX. Modern Intel HD-Series graphics cards should work reliably for medium complexity workloads on Linux. Current OpenGL-3/4 GPUs may expose additional useful features. The absolute minimum requirement is OpenGL-1.2 support, but functionality and performance will be very limited with such old GPUs.

    Try to avoid PC laptops with hybrid-graphics, e.g., with NVidia Optimus or AMD Enduro technology! Under MS-Windows the visual onset timing of the high performance gpu will likely be wrong on most such laptops and there is no known way to fix this with software workarounds, so you might be restricted to the integrated low performance gpu. At least Intel integrated gpus are often very buggy under MS-Windows, so you would be out of luck. The behavior on Linux is generally better: Many Laptops will work reliably with the high performance gpu and the open-source graphics drivers when combined with an Intel integrated gpu, e.g., models with older NVidia graphics cards and most AMD graphics cards. The most recent gpu models from NVidia are more difficult to set up and somewhat inflexible to use, restricting such Optimus setups to single-display visual stimulation only if the proprietary graphics drivers are in use. The combination of AMD integrated gpu + AMD discrete gpu currently doesn’t work well at all. At least the lower performance integrated AMD graphics chips should work as a reliable fallback in such a scenario on Linux though. Read “help HybridGraphics”, which provides up to date info.

  • Sound card:

    On Linux and OS X, any card supported by the operating system should work well, as well as built-in sound chips. On Windows, an ASIO capable audio card is absolutely required for research grade timing precision and low-latency.

Operating systems

Linux

GNU/Linux is fully supported on Intel compatible PCs and suitable Apple Macintosh computers under

  • Matlab 64-bit, version 7.14 - R2012a and later versions.
  • GNU Octave 64-bit, versions 3.8 and 4.0 (and 4.2 with some restrictions).
  • Additionally, Psychtoolbox from NeuroDebian supports 32-Bit and 64-Bit releases of whatever version of GNU Octave ships by default with your distribution, e.g., also Octave 3.6, 3.4 or 3.2 on older distributions, or Octave 4.2 on recent distributions.

Psychtoolbox testing and development occurs mainly on the most recent Ubuntu Linux LTS releases or flavors of them like e.g., KUbuntu, XUbuntu, LUbuntu …

NeuroDebian tests and supports PTB also on Debian GNU/Linux. According to user reports, Psychtoolbox seems to work reasonably well on Linux Mint, Arch Linux, Gentoo, and Fedora 24/25. We can’t provide much support on other distros than Ubuntu LTS flavors due to lack of time and resources.

It is recommended to stick to the latest long-term support (LTS) Ubuntu release, currently 16.04.3-LTS, if you want the most well tested setup. However, use of Ubuntu 17.10 might be an option if you need support for the latest computer hardware.

Psychtoolbox also works with GNU Octave on the RaspberryPi 2B and later at least with the Debian flavor Raspbian.

The NeuroDebian project is an effort to provide convenient access to neuroscience-related software on the Debian and Ubuntu Linux distributions. The NeuroDebian APT archives include a Psychtoolbox snapshot release, which has been packaged to be ready-to-use with GNU Octave.

Recently NeuroDebian has begun to curate open-source packages for Matlab as well, and since provides two sets of packages, one for Octave (“octave-psychtoolbox-3”) and one for Matlab (“matlab-psychtoolbox-3”).

For details on these options, see the Linux installation instructions.

We generally recommend Linux as the operating system of choice for demanding experimental setups, which require the highest timing precision, precision for color or luminance displays, general performance and flexibility. Our support for fixing bugs and other issues on other operating systems than Linux will be very limited. We strongly discourage use of Apple macOS for anything but entertainment and education purposes.

Apple Macintosh

Psychtoolbox is also being developed and tested under Apple Mac OS X. Psychtoolbox should “work” in principle on

  • 64-bit Matlab on OS X 10.11 “El Capitan” and later. Tested with R2012a.
  • 64-bit Octave v4.2 on OS X 10.11 “El Capitan” and later. As of 2016, you will need to get Octave 4.2 from a package manager like HomeBrew or MacPorts, as standalone binary installers are not available yet.

Limited testing currently only happens on the latest version of OS X 10.12 “macOS Sierra” with 64-Bit Octave 4.2, and with 64-bit Matlab R2012a. This is the only somewhat supported version of OS X at this point in time. macOS is the most buggy and hazardous operating system you could use for visual stimulation, or DAQ digital/analog i/o, so running real data collection using macOS will likely bring you a world of pain (and possibly irreproducible research).

The current toolbox version 3.0.14 releases do not work under OS X 10.10 or earlier anymore. The last working version on OS X 10.10 was v3.0.13. The last version that worked on OS X 10.9 and 10.8 was v3.0.12. The last version that worked on OS X 10.7 and 10.6 was v3.0.11. The last version that worked on OS X 10.5 and 10.4 and also with 32-Bit versions of Matlab was v3.0.10. Those old and unsupported versions of Psychtoolbox can be downloaded by specifying the special flavor parameter Psychtoolbox-3.0.13 or Psychtoolbox-3.0.12 or Psychtoolbox-3.0.11 or Psychtoolbox-3.0.10 in our DownloadPsychtoolbox downloader script.

The PowerPC platform is no longer supported by the version 3.0.10 Psychtoolbox. If you need to use a PowerPC machine, stick to version 3.0.9.

In general, only operating system versions 10.4 “Tiger” and 10.6 “Snow Leopard” seemed to be relatively unproblematic in use, i.e., most of the many operating system bugs we found now have workarounds implemented in Psychtoolbox. 10.5 “Leopard” was a rather buggy operating system, especially for multi-display stimulus presentation and stereoscopic stimulus presentation. 10.7 “Lion” and later mostly has restrictions in the precision for visual stimulus timestamping due to various bugs in the operating system. Please install the Psychtoolbox kernel driver to help resolve at least some of these issues on AMD and NVidia graphics cards (see PsychtoolboxKernelDriver or >> help PsychtoolboxKernelDriver).

Windows

Psychtoolbox should work on

If you choose to use Matlab, you may need to install Microsoft Visual C runtime libraries to make it work, specifically vcredist_x64.exe. The installer should give you instructions on how to do that if necessary.

Psychtoolbox-3 still runs under Microsoft Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1, but we don’t actively test for compatibility with any system but Windows 10 and won’t provide any bug fixes or troubleshooting help for any issues that can’t be shown to be also present on Windows 10. Specifically, moving away from Windows XP, Vista and Windows 8/8.1 is strongly recommended. Windows 7 should continue to work without major problems at this point in time, but we don’t frequently test for this.

We do aim to keep the toolbox working under these and future versions of Windows, but full support for all features is a lower priority for us than Linux.

As of October 1, 2016, Windows-7 and Windows-10 have been tested for basic compatibility with PTB-3. Precise sound presentation requires a native ASIO sound card and specific careful configuration. Test of visual stimulus presentation on 3 test setups showed somewhat mixed results, especially dual display presentation and presentation timing were rather disappointing. In general Windows 7 seems to be workable for pure single display setups, fragile on any multi-display setup. Windows 10 seems to be also workable for single display stimulation on a dual display setup, ie. one display for the operator and its GUI, one display for visual stimulation, provided it is properly configured, e.g., the visual stimulus monitor selected as “main monitor” or “primary display”, and either no HiDPI displays or careful configuration of such a setup with HiDPI displays.

We cannot however recommend Window 7 at all for dual-display stereo stimulus presentation or for tasks with a need for high visual timing precision. For some caveats with respect to Vista and later see our FAQ entry about Vista and Windows-7. These problems are even worse with Windows 8, although no systematic testing has been performed by us so far.

Generally we recommend switching to a modern version of Linux, e.g., a flavor of Ubuntu 16.04-LTS.

Additional software

Multimedia engine: GStreamer 1.x required

Installation of GStreamer version 1.0 or later is mandatory for movie playback, movie recording, video capture and video recording. Multimedia functions won’t work on Windows or OSX without GStreamer being installed. If you want to use Psychtoolbox with GNU Octave on Windows you will have to install GStreamer first, even if you do not need any multimedia functions, or Psychtoolbox won’t work.

Caution: Various Matlab versions on Microsoft Windows show instable behavior with GStreamer unless they are used without the Graphical user interface and Java, ie. in “matlab.exe -nojvm” mode.

On Linux you also need GStreamer, but GStreamer is a de-facto standard component that ships with all modern Linux distributions.

See GStreamer (or >> help GStreamer) for installation instructions for the different systems.

Microsoft Kinect support on Linux and OSX: libfreenect-0.5 required

For use of your PsychKinect / PsychKinectCore driver on Linux or OSX, at least version 0.5 of libfreenect is needed. See >> help InstallKinect for instructions.

Basic hardware requirements

  • Intel PCs: Any Intel-compatible PC that is capable of running the 64-bit versions of Microsoft Windows Windows-7/Windows-10, or the 32-bit or 64-bit versions of GNU/Linux.

  • Intel Macs: Any Intel-based Macintosh computer that is capable of running 64-Bit OS X 10.11 “El Capitan” or later, or 32/64 Bit GNU/Linux. However: At this point in time, most NVidia graphics cards have broken visual stimulation timing under macOS. Most AMD graphics cards under OS X 10.12 and later have broken visual stimulation timing under macOS, and Intel graphics chips also seem to have trouble under at least macOS 10.13 “High Sierra”. So for visual stimulation there essentially doesn’t exist any supported Apple hardware that would work acceptably under macOS. The hardware may perform fine under Linux though.

  • RaspberryPi models 2B and 3 under the most recent Raspbian operating system. The RaspberryPi 2B is actively tested for compatibility and works well for not too demanding visual and auditory stimulation tasks, USB i/o and digitial i/o via the programmable GPIO pins. The Pi model 3 is not tested yet, but expected to work just as well as the model 2B.

  • The Psychtoolbox distributed by the Debian project also supports other processor architectures, e.g., PowerPC, ARM, MIPS, Sun UltraSparc, IBM S/360 and some others. However, only the Intel and ARM RaspberryPi builds receive testing and support from us at this time.

Graphics hardware requirements

Basic Psychtoolbox functions should work on any OpenGL 1.2 capable graphics card with at least 16 MB of video ram (VRAM), with the mentioned operating system specific restrictions in mind, ie., somewhat broken on Windows multi-display and almost completely broken on macOS. Fast stimulus drawing and use of the more advanced features requires recent graphics hardware. However, we do strongly recommend at least OpenGL 2.1 capable graphics hardware for full functionality and good performance. For optimal performance and functionality on Linux we recommend AMD or Intel graphics over NVidia graphics, due to the high quality open-source drivers for AMD and Intel graphics.

In general, you should not try to skimp on the GPU, as performance of your stimulus script and the types of visual stimuli you can create with ease will depend much more on the horse power and features of your GPU than on the performance of your CPU.

If you want to use all Psychtoolbox features at full performance and precision, make sure to get a recent Direct3D 10 or 11 capable (a.k.a. OpenGL 3 or 4 capable) graphics card from AMD or NVidia. Almost all cards of the NVidia GeForce 8 series and later (e.g., 8600, 8800, 9600, 9800, GTX 280 etc.), as well as all cards of the AMD/ATI Radeon HD series and later (HD 2400, 2600, 3000 series, 4000 series, etc.) and their corresponding counterparts from the NVidia Quadro series and ATI FireGL / FirePro line of cards are technically state-of-the-art and Psychtoolbox can take full advantage of their features.

The latest generation of integrated Intel HD graphics cards, e.g., Intel HD 2000, HD 3000, as found in many modern “Intel Core” processors, provide decent functionality, accuracy and performance for not too demanding tasks on Linux. Use on other operating systems than Linux will usually go much less well. These cards are OpenGL-3 / Direct3D-10 compliant. Numeric precision is on par with recent NVidia or AMD cards for most (but not all) accuracy tests that have been executed on a Intel HD card under Linux. Absolute graphics performance is of course significantly lower than that of current discrete NVidia or AMD cards. But for not too demanding visual stimulation paradigms, these cards are now somewhat suitable.

Older Intel graphics cards are problematic for all but the most trivial visual stimulation tasks: While the Intel GMA X3100 series cards and similar are also Direct3D 10 compliant in theory, in practice they suffer from limitations. Users of Intel-based Macs should be aware that some Macs (e.g., old Intel Mac Book) use a built-in Intel GMA graphics adaptor. The GPUs of the GMA-950 series are known to have very low graphics performance and a very restricted feature set. They are cheap and sub-standard by any definition. See this Wikipedia article for further information.

Products from Matrox, Via and S3 or from other niche vendors are not recommended. As Matrox and S3 seem to have mostly retreated from the 3D graphics market, most of their products are not a good choice for OpenGL based applications like Psychtoolbox. Even the products that nominally claim to support hardware accelerated OpenGL, have a pretty limited feature set and performance.

For dual-display work (e.g., binocular stereo stimulation), we strongly recommend using dual-head or multi-head graphics adapters (i.e., one card with two or more output connectors) instead of multiple separate adapters. We expect dual/multi-head single-card performance to be higher and the likelihood of graphics driver bugs to be lower. While separate cards may work, we do not guarantee this and do not provide any support for troubleshooting. Note that stereo work may benefit from the display synchrony provided by some of the dual-head cards. Synchrony is usually hard to achieve with separate cards. We also recommend to avoid Mac OS X and MS-Windows for dual display real-time stimulus presentation. Apple seems to be mostly incapable of or uninterested in implementing decent support for high performance, tear-free dual display support. For static stimuli or use as a control monitor, OS X may be good enough. MS-Windows has equally severe trouble with multi-display visual stimulation, and often even for single-display stimulation on a multi-display setup.