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The best Linux distros for gaming in 2021

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For newer Linux users or people looking to switch, it can be a minefield to try and find accurate and up to date info on what Linux distro to game with. Here to help. What is the best Linux distribution for gaming? It's actually not a tough question.

With how far Linux has come in only the last 2 years, you can play a seriously large amount of games now. Sadly, there's some (quite a lot actually) places out there that seem to slap a new date on old crusty articles and give really bad Linux gaming advice. Most of the people writing these types of articles elsewhere clearly don't use Linux - I do, and I have done for around 15 years now.

Let's start off with what not to do shall we? First off, don't bother with SteamOS from Valve. Currently, it's out of date and has been for some time now. It hasn't been properly updated since 2019! Valve are not working on it but they might return one day. Anyone suggesting it likely has no idea what they're talking about and any website listing it is junk.

Next: Ubuntu GamePack or any "specialized" Linux gaming distribution. You can throw almost all of those types in the trash. They really don't do anything normal Linux distributions don't do already and they can often introduce their own special bugs. I consider them like the old discs you would find in the bargain bin in a local PC store. You really don't need them, don't waste your precious time.

So what to actually install at the end of 2020 and in 2021 to game on Linux?

The answer is actually really simple, it's not a long list and you have two really easy choices: Ubuntu or Pop!_OS. With their LTS versions (Long Term Support), you can use them as a safe bet for years.

Ubuntu 20.04 running SteamPictured - Ubuntu 20.04 running Steam on my laptop.

Why those? Well, Ubuntu is almost always the most widely used Linux distribution by normal desktop users. On Steam, it has always been on top as the most used distribution by gamers - there's an obvious reason for that too — it works. It's what I always recommend to newer users because it's like a warm cuddly Linux blanket. It's easy to find answers for, and it's not complicated to use. As for Pop!_OS, it's based on Ubuntu and since System76 sell desktop Linux hardware with it you can be sure it's also well tested.

If you do want a specialized distribution, perhaps for a console like experience that SteamOS was supposed to offer then take a look at ChimeraOS. It offers up a good big-screen experience for Steam. 

Apart from that, everything you need can be easily installed directly on Ubuntu. Steam for the biggest library of Linux compatible games and for the Steam Play Proton compatibility layer for playing Windows games on Linux, Minigalaxy for GOG games, RetroArch for emulation, has their own client too for lots of indie gems and the Lutris game manager for everything else. It's really easy to get going too, on Ubuntu you just need to open up Ubuntu Software and search for Steam and it does it for you.

Don't make it complicated for yourself. I say all this as an Arch Linux user, which is a bit of a long-running joke about you always knowing who an Arch user is as they will tell you - and oops, I just fell into it. I'm saying it for good reason though! I have been through Arch Linux, Manjaro, Fedora and more and I still consider Ubuntu to be the number 1 Linux distribution for getting going quickly especially if you're not too comfortable yet. 

Keep in mind that just as macOS and Windows do have plenty of issues, so does Linux. Don't expect perfection, be prepared to learn a bit and do things differently. If you need help, we have plenty of resources available for you. We have: a Forum, a Discord, IRC, Matrix, Telegram. You will find answers across there, with the Forum being the best way because search engines pick up answers from forums and do not from social chats like Discord.

Lastly - have fun and keep on gaming on Linux

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I am the owner of GamingOnLinux. After discovering Linux back in the days of Mandrake in 2003, I constantly came back to check on the progress of Linux until Ubuntu appeared on the scene and it helped me to really love it. You can reach me easily by emailing GamingOnLinux directly.
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Breizh Dec 15, 2020
I think that Manjaro can progressively replace Ubuntu (and not only for gaming) since it’s more stable than a few years ago. And that’s already what we can see (<troll>for example here: </troll>)

Because of some Ubuntu choices (like Snap enforcing recently), and because of the 6 months or 2 years upgrade vs rolling, I now recommend Manjaro for new users.

Last edited by Breizh on 15 December 2020 at 9:54 am UTC
3zekiel Dec 15, 2020
Actually, I'd say Fedora is now about as straight forward as can be for Gaming + you get SeLinux which for new/ non tech users might prove useful sooner than later.
The one grief I have is they don't enable flathub by default, and most guides out there to get simple stuff running (spotify) sucks as they are clearly written by non fedora users. In many cases they recommend installing snap on Fedora which is completely dumb... Where you really just need to enable flathub/3rd party repos (Installer will ask you if you want to enable at first launch) and you are done. Steam is in the repos, latest nvidia drivers too.

Also, out of what I install for non tech users, pop os is better than ubuntu seems: I had colleagues complain about ubuntu snap taking ages to start, switched them to Pop OS, now they are fully happy. Thx to Pop OS for not being morons and use flatpak instead of outdated canonical only stuff... So I would really recommend dropping / phasing out Ubuntu now in recommendations, as Pop OS offers same simplicity, full compat for .deb packages (PPA) but much cleaner experience overall. Because you don't want new users waiting 2 minutes for their first app launch, it really gives them a bad impression in my experience. Especially to non tech users. And that's not what you want, you want first impression to be real good. Flatpak/ pure deb gives you that. You also get the automatic Tiler for gnome for more tech savvy users.
AsciiWolf Dec 15, 2020
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Just make sure to install Steam on Ubuntu from Valve website and not distribution repository. The distro one is outdated and problematic, even on 20.10. It will hopefully be in a better shape in 22.04.
FauconNoir Dec 15, 2020
Why everyone is talking about Pop!_OS ? What is so cool about it compared to others like Ubuntu or Manjaro for example ?
Odisej Dec 15, 2020
My experience with Ubuntu 20.04 was not great. Steam was not working out of the box and such. I wanted to love it (Ubuntu is the distro that helped me get into Linux so many years ago) but gave up. Did not try Pop though.

I had less problems with Manjaro - the ease of adding stuff is unmatched as AUR has all you want. Latest Lutris, gamemode settings, small tweaks here and there ... I really enjoy it.

Have been using Manjaro for three, four years now for work and entertainment and had only one problem recently on one of the computers using Nvidia as the drivers v440 did not play well with the latest kernel.

On the other hand sometimes it's incredibly easy to setup some unconventional combination: like making Dolphin Emulator to use Switch's joycons - it took me 5 minutes. I don't know how long it would take on Ubuntu or Pop but I doubt it would be this fast.

So, if somebody would ask for my advice I would recommend Manjaro.

Just an opinion.

Last edited by Odisej on 15 December 2020 at 10:56 am UTC
Eike Dec 15, 2020
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Quoting: AsciiWolfJust make sure to install Steam on Ubuntu from Valve website and not distribution repository. The distro one is outdated and problematic, even on 20.10. It will hopefully be in a better shape in 22.04.

This is the opposite I'm recommending everybody in the Steam forums (for any distribution). Because the distribution makers have the same package and more knowledge of their distribution than the user or even Valve. Is this claim based on anything?
Eike Dec 15, 2020
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Quoting: OdisejMy experience with Ubuntu 10.04 was not great. Steam was not working out of the box and such.

Steam for Linux wasn't really in shape back in 2010 though. ;)
fagnerln Dec 15, 2020
The problem in recommend some distro to play games is that it's common to see people with similar systems and hardware with different issues on protondb and winehq. I hope that Valve can make Pressure Vessel working flawlessly.
Aldwin Dec 15, 2020
Another benefit to Ubuntu is it's easy to install flavours. I run Kubuntu on my main/gaming desktop, which uses the KDE desktop that I prefer, and my kids gaming machine runs Lubuntu which runs smoothly on its older hardware.
legluondunet Dec 15, 2020
For me, the best distro is the distro that:
- first point and the most important in my eyes: it is a distribution that is forgotten, the fewest possible bugs, stable, secured, pleasant to use and on which I am productive.
- regularly maintained
- follow the standard so that when you install an application or game, its behavior is the same as that of another Linux distribution

And I'm using Ubuntu-like distros BTW ;)

Last edited by legluondunet on 15 December 2020 at 10:45 am UTC
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