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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 Currently, it's out of date and has been for some time now.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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126 comments
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scirocco 16 Jan
Quoting: pb
Quoting: Redface
Quoting: pbI'm gaming on SteamOS 2, but eagerly waiting for SteamOS 3.

I liked SteamOS too for the PC I have connected to the TV, but it has got no updates including security updates since summer 2019, so I gave up on it. I doubt SteamOS 3.0 will ever be releases, and if then how can we trusty Valve to not also drop support on that without any announcement?

I trust it will, or maybe they will skip a number or release SteamOS 4 (because 3 was already in the works but they scrapped it - https://repo.steampowered.com/steamos/dists/clockwerk/). I seem to recall they planned to base the new version on another distro, perhaps Arch? There is certainly something going on here: https://repo.steampowered.com/arch/

Sadly its a ppa for gamescope their new display manager, and its based on wayland so it will not be usable for the majority of gamers since Nvidia is the most popular gaming graphics cards according to steam statistics.
slaapliedje 17 Jan
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Quoting: sciroccoManjaro Xfce provides the best gaming performance out of the box atm, atleast on my hardware. And being arch based its easy to keep it up to date with the latest software for best performance, and installing a custom kernel for performance in games like Xanmod-cacule is easy. And Ubuntu and pop OS uses snaps and flatpaks which makes them a very bad experience for a new user to linux, they dont follow system theme and crash alot and dont flat out start and brake very often.
Pop_os uses neither by default. Which is why it is on my laptop. They also have a more integrated way of dealing with nvidia hybrid crap than any other distro I have tried.

I was however debating if I should set up Arch on my newly built 'for the big tv' setup, maybe put Gamehub on there along with Steam and Launchbox / big box.
Kuduzkehpan 24 Jan
I strongly recommend KDE NEON as it follows;

1) Neon is a rolling release of "K Desktop Environments"
2) Based on most supported and app rich and secure distro as its Latest UBUNTU LTS. (stable speedy for regular user and they dont give a shit about intermediate stability and speed)
3) KDE is more user friendly and faster than anyother DE. for whom moving from "mac os" or "windows". (yes u cant suggest gnome to anyone with "you cant put an icon on desktop" argument)
Quoting: KuduzkehpanI strongly recommend KDE NEON as it follows;

1) Neon is a rolling release of "K Desktop Environments"
2) Based on most supported and app rich and secure distro as its Latest UBUNTU LTS. (stable speedy for regular user and they dont give a shit about intermediate stability and speed)
3) KDE is more user friendly and faster than anyother DE. for whom moving from "mac os" or "windows". (yes u cant suggest gnome to anyone with "you cant put an icon on desktop" argument)
I'm sure KDE is good, but Mate and Cinnamon make pretty dashed good migration-from-Windows environments. Not sure about Mac--I don't know Mac well, every time I've tried to do something on a Mac I found it a confusing headache, so I don't know what kind of DE would give Mac users what they like/expect.
slaapliedje 24 Jan
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Quoting: KuduzkehpanI strongly recommend KDE NEON as it follows;

1) Neon is a rolling release of "K Desktop Environments"
2) Based on most supported and app rich and secure distro as its Latest UBUNTU LTS. (stable speedy for regular user and they dont give a shit about intermediate stability and speed)
3) KDE is more user friendly and faster than anyother DE. for whom moving from "mac os" or "windows". (yes u cant suggest gnome to anyone with "you cant put an icon on desktop" argument)
You can put an icon on the desktop. But frankly I hate desktop icons. I like a pretty wallpaper if I'm not running anything. Most of the time I have tons of windows open though so desktop icons are pointless anyhow. Being able to hit a key, search for an application to launch and then hit enter (or maybe arrow keys if you have multiple matches) is so very convenient to my work flow, it's crazy. Other than that gnome just stays out of your way, like a good DE should do.

The third part really is based on opinion rather than fact. Some DEs are more friendly and there definitely are ones that are faster, but it depends on what 'faster' means. Like is it faster to launch applications (the reason behind a DE), faster to whip open the control panel and find / change a setting? Or just moving windows around?
slaapliedje 24 Jan
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Quoting: Purple Library Guy
Quoting: KuduzkehpanI strongly recommend KDE NEON as it follows;

1) Neon is a rolling release of "K Desktop Environments"
2) Based on most supported and app rich and secure distro as its Latest UBUNTU LTS. (stable speedy for regular user and they dont give a shit about intermediate stability and speed)
3) KDE is more user friendly and faster than anyother DE. for whom moving from "mac os" or "windows". (yes u cant suggest gnome to anyone with "you cant put an icon on desktop" argument)
I'm sure KDE is good, but Mate and Cinnamon make pretty dashed good migration-from-Windows environments. Not sure about Mac--I don't know Mac well, every time I've tried to do something on a Mac I found it a confusing headache, so I don't know what kind of DE would give Mac users what they like/expect.
Way back when I first saw Mac OSX on PPC systems, I thought the dock was neat and it was 'pretty' compared to the bland Windows. But actually using the system just ends up infuriating me. As it acts like it wants to be a Linux / Unix system, but with the closed bits and annoying 'log into icloud' pop ups all the time, I just can't use it.

Well any desktop / application that constantly asks me to sign in tends to piss me off. Like last night I was setting up Win10 as a game box for the living room (mainly because Launchbox is still a pain under Wine) and the nvidia drivers asking me to sign in... really? I have to sign into a driver utility now? What the hell is the purpose of that? At least MS still allows me to skip logging into a MS account.

But this is why I use Linux in all it's various forms. Signing into things is a choice, not forced upon you or nagged until you give in. Unlike Android which you pretty much are required to have a gmail account, regardless if you never intend to actually use it for email.
Xetal 1 Feb
For me personally, openSUSE Tumbleweed is the best gaming distro.
Also in general I find openSUSE a very good Linux distro.
gojul 15 Feb
Debian stable with backports works also extremely well, you should give it a bet (especially since Ubuntu is Debian-based although now it's very different from Debian due to its bloat.
Anders1232 15 Feb
I'm an user of Debian testing for years. It works nicely for games. I use steam from the Debian repository without problems. For lutris I get their latest release on their github to use and it works nicely.

My use case: my hardware is not in bleeding edge side of force, and I do love stability.
slaapliedje 15 Feb
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Quoting: gojulDebian stable with backports works also extremely well, you should give it a bet (especially since Ubuntu is Debian-based although now it's very different from Debian due to its bloat.
Sounds like Bullseye is moving along nicely and will become stable in the next few months, so there is that.

Though that usually means the unstable branch will earn it's name. It's usually in that transition from Testing -> Stable where unstable gets the flood of experimental packages into it.

Fun story about that was the recent libgcrypt vulnerability, which for some reason people had flagged Debian as being vulnerable, even though they had A) already patched the version in experimental, and B) who would grab such a library from experimental anyhow?

Either way, Debian is a fantastic Distribution for just about anything, gaming included. You just need to know the secret sauce to setting it up.

 
dpkg --add-architecture i386
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