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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 Currently, it's out of date and has been for some time now.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.

Pictured - 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. 

Even our own GamingOnLinux livestreamer uses plain Ubuntu! Ps. follow us on Twitch

If you do want a specialized distribution, perhaps for a console like experience that SteamOS was supposed to offer then take a look at GamerOS. Despite the naff naming, 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, itch.io 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

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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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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113 comments
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slaapliedje 31 Dec, 2020
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Quoting: einherjarThanks that you did not recommend Manjaro to beginners.

My son is actually switching back to Kubuntu.

Within 2 month he has to reinstall the 2nd time, because Manjaro does not start after an update is made.

"enjoy the simplicity" ???

LOL!

I am using Linux since 1998 and can not remember when (or even if ever) I had such an issue the last time with Ubuntu, Kubuntu or openSuse.
There was a period of time I'd recommend Ubuntu for beginners, but after having witness it completely trash someone's partitions (it looked like the drive was failing, but the drive was fine, Ubuntu just ate the install), I have just been setting up Debian Stable for people with backports enabled and that works very stable and doesn't break in weird ways, it's just the initial set up needs a little bit more work to be as smooth.

Then again the only steps I usually do are to set up plymouth, make sure the firmware blobs are installed for the hardware, and fix apt to have deb-multimedia, non-free, contrib.
Loun 1 Jan
For beginners, I usually recommend either Linux Mint or Zorin OS. I installed Zorin OS Lite on my mother's computer, it's butter smooth, she loves it !

But this article shows exactly that, as a beginner, don't make things more difficult if you want to switch to Linux, the mainstream distros (most notably Ubuntu) are completely sufficient.
samurro 2 Jan
Quoting: tuubi
Quoting: gardotd426New hardware needs rolling releases to work, unless you want to compile from source, use custom kernels, are comfortable in TTY's, etc.
No. You just need drivers (kernel, possibly Mesa) that support your hardware. If you can easily get those from a PPA or other optional repository, why would you need a rolling distro? You might have plenty of other valid reasons to prefer Arch, but they aren't likely to enhance your gaming in any meaningful way.

Sorry but thats simply untrue. Rolling releases is the way to go instead of adding ridicolous amounts of extra repositories, esp for a beginner, thats a very negative habit.

For a complete Linux beginner obviously Ubuntu is a neat starting place. Still I would also recommend against anything Ubuntu like.


Last edited by samurro on 2 January 2021 at 7:57 pm UTC
tuubi 2 Jan
Quoting: samurro
Quoting: tuubi
Quoting: gardotd426New hardware needs rolling releases to work, unless you want to compile from source, use custom kernels, are comfortable in TTY's, etc.
No. You just need drivers (kernel, possibly Mesa) that support your hardware. If you can easily get those from a PPA or other optional repository, why would you need a rolling distro? You might have plenty of other valid reasons to prefer Arch, but they aren't likely to enhance your gaming in any meaningful way.

Sorry but thats simply untrue. Rolling releases is the way to go instead of adding ridicolous amounts of extra repositories, esp for a beginner, thats a very negative habit.

For a complete Linux beginner obviously Ubuntu is a neat starting place. Still I would also recommend against anything Ubuntu like.

Ridiculous amounts or repositories? You find it hard to count to two? Because you won't need more than that if you just need a new kernel and GPU drivers.

Nothing untrue about what I said.
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Quoting: tuubi
Quoting: samurro
Quoting: tuubi
Quoting: gardotd426New hardware needs rolling releases to work, unless you want to compile from source, use custom kernels, are comfortable in TTY's, etc.
No. You just need drivers (kernel, possibly Mesa) that support your hardware. If you can easily get those from a PPA or other optional repository, why would you need a rolling distro? You might have plenty of other valid reasons to prefer Arch, but they aren't likely to enhance your gaming in any meaningful way.

Sorry but thats simply untrue. Rolling releases is the way to go instead of adding ridicolous amounts of extra repositories, esp for a beginner, thats a very negative habit.

For a complete Linux beginner obviously Ubuntu is a neat starting place. Still I would also recommend against anything Ubuntu like.

Ridiculous amounts or repositories? You find it hard to count to two? Because you won't need more than that if you just need a new kernel and GPU drivers.

Nothing untrue about what I said.
The problem is and has always been that those repositories are third party and don't always get updated in time or get abandoned.
This is why Snap and Flatpak are a thing as well, to try to get newer versions into Linux without having to resort to a rolling release.
Granted I just run Debian Sid on most of my desktops for the rolling release, which gives me a lot of benefits. :)
dvd 2 Jan
Quoting: slaapliedje
Quoting: einherjarThanks that you did not recommend Manjaro to beginners.

My son is actually switching back to Kubuntu.

Within 2 month he has to reinstall the 2nd time, because Manjaro does not start after an update is made.

"enjoy the simplicity" ???

LOL!

I am using Linux since 1998 and can not remember when (or even if ever) I had such an issue the last time with Ubuntu, Kubuntu or openSuse.
There was a period of time I'd recommend Ubuntu for beginners, but after having witness it completely trash someone's partitions (it looked like the drive was failing, but the drive was fine, Ubuntu just ate the install), I have just been setting up Debian Stable for people with backports enabled and that works very stable and doesn't break in weird ways, it's just the initial set up needs a little bit more work to be as smooth.

Then again the only steps I usually do are to set up plymouth, make sure the firmware blobs are installed for the hardware, and fix apt to have deb-multimedia, non-free, contrib.

I went the same way for my mom's computer, it's a very good setup unless you need very new packages very fast for some reason.
Breizh 5 Jan
Quoting: KohlyKohlManjaro for new users? Really? They purposely break important packages for various reasons. Recently, they even broke the Steam package. This was the final straw for me and why I moved back to KDE Neon.

If you want to recommend a bad user experience for new users then by all means recommend Manjaro. If you want new users to have a positive experience then recommend Ubuntu.

I already did and for now, concerned users are satisfied, with no problems. On the other hand, Ubuntu with Gnome is more and more slow, Snap is enforced with the problems of disk space, integration (locale and theme are often broken), and Ubuntu have still the same eternal problems of drivers that I never had on Manjaro.

In the worst case, Xubuntu have the advantage to be faster, and you can easily remove Snap (the standard Ubuntu use Snap even for the software center or the calculator…). Or Linux Mint. But Manjaro still the best, even more since the packages break you mention are now rare (I talk only about the main versions : XFCE and KDE (never tried the Gnome version). Community versions are still often broken…).


Last edited by Breizh on 5 January 2021 at 10:27 am UTC
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Quoting: Breizh
Quoting: KohlyKohlManjaro for new users? Really? They purposely break important packages for various reasons. Recently, they even broke the Steam package. This was the final straw for me and why I moved back to KDE Neon.

If you want to recommend a bad user experience for new users then by all means recommend Manjaro. If you want new users to have a positive experience then recommend Ubuntu.

I already did and for now, concerned users are satisfied, with no problems. On the other hand, Ubuntu with Gnome is more and more slow, Snap is enforced with the problems of disk space, integration (locale and theme are often broken), and Ubuntu have still the same eternal problems of drivers that I never had on Manjaro.

In the worst case, Xubuntu have the advantage to be faster, and you can easily remove Snap (the standard Ubuntu use Snap even for the software center or the calculator…). Or Linux Mint. But Manjaro still the best, even more since the packages break you mention are now rare (I talk only about the main versions : XFCE and KDE (never tried the Gnome version). Community versions are still often broken…).
Snap is the reason I recommend either Debian or Pop_OS.
KohlyKohl 9 Jan
Quoting: Breizh
Quoting: KohlyKohlManjaro for new users? Really? They purposely break important packages for various reasons. Recently, they even broke the Steam package. This was the final straw for me and why I moved back to KDE Neon.

If you want to recommend a bad user experience for new users then by all means recommend Manjaro. If you want new users to have a positive experience then recommend Ubuntu.

I already did and for now, concerned users are satisfied, with no problems. On the other hand, Ubuntu with Gnome is more and more slow, Snap is enforced with the problems of disk space, integration (locale and theme are often broken), and Ubuntu have still the same eternal problems of drivers that I never had on Manjaro.

In the worst case, Xubuntu have the advantage to be faster, and you can easily remove Snap (the standard Ubuntu use Snap even for the software center or the calculator…). Or Linux Mint. But Manjaro still the best, even more since the packages break you mention are now rare (I talk only about the main versions : XFCE and KDE (never tried the Gnome version). Community versions are still often broken…).

I used the KDE version and it broke all the time for me. I didn't even use the AUR and packages would still break all the time. The worst part of this? The developers knowingly broke packages and didn't care.

In my experience, and I've been doing this since '93, if you recommend a distro like Manjaro to new users they will eventually run into the problems that I did. And when they do, they will go back to Windows because they will not know how to fix the problem (When the package manager broke on me earlier this year it took me 3 days to fix it properly an no new user is going to want to do this).

All distros have issues but in my experience every single person I've had install Ubuntu has stayed with it and not gone back to Windows. I cannot say the same for other distros.
slaapliedje 11 Jan
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Quoting: KohlyKohl
Quoting: Breizh
Quoting: KohlyKohlManjaro for new users? Really? They purposely break important packages for various reasons. Recently, they even broke the Steam package. This was the final straw for me and why I moved back to KDE Neon.

If you want to recommend a bad user experience for new users then by all means recommend Manjaro. If you want new users to have a positive experience then recommend Ubuntu.

I already did and for now, concerned users are satisfied, with no problems. On the other hand, Ubuntu with Gnome is more and more slow, Snap is enforced with the problems of disk space, integration (locale and theme are often broken), and Ubuntu have still the same eternal problems of drivers that I never had on Manjaro.

In the worst case, Xubuntu have the advantage to be faster, and you can easily remove Snap (the standard Ubuntu use Snap even for the software center or the calculator…). Or Linux Mint. But Manjaro still the best, even more since the packages break you mention are now rare (I talk only about the main versions : XFCE and KDE (never tried the Gnome version). Community versions are still often broken…).

I used the KDE version and it broke all the time for me. I didn't even use the AUR and packages would still break all the time. The worst part of this? The developers knowingly broke packages and didn't care.

In my experience, and I've been doing this since '93, if you recommend a distro like Manjaro to new users they will eventually run into the problems that I did. And when they do, they will go back to Windows because they will not know how to fix the problem (When the package manager broke on me earlier this year it took me 3 days to fix it properly an no new user is going to want to do this).

All distros have issues but in my experience every single person I've had install Ubuntu has stayed with it and not gone back to Windows. I cannot say the same for other distros.
Pop_OS is the new Ubuntu. Ubuntu has too much of the NIH syndrome, and keep trying to foist their own stuff onto their users. Redhat does the same thing, the big difference though is that RH has the man power to make sure (or at least try their best) that the tech is stable. Canonical doesn't really have the people to go off and do their own thing and keep it supported and upgraded.
Arch Linux is great (I haven't ran Manjaro longer than to say it has a nice installer for Arch). There have been a few breaks, but they usually have the fix on their website as they are happening.
Ubuntu's history of starting something new, or specifically trying to compete with others has mostly failed, and they have gone back to just using what everyone else uses.
Ha, remember the backlash they got for suggesting they were going to drop 32bit support?
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