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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 Currently, it's out of date and has been for some time now.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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126 comments
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pb 15 Dec, 2020
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/
inlinuxdude 15 Dec, 2020
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 recommend GamerOS for this use-case. It is more stable for me than SteamOS ever was, plus it has some nifty extra features..
KijBeta 15 Dec, 2020
I've been using PopOS for 2 years, and have not had any issues since 19.04 with the Nvidia driver issue.
I don't really play "new" games, either because I'm cheap, or because I wait for the first round of patches and hype to pass, before making a judgement on if it's worth the money.
The defaults have been reasonable, and everything works with little configuration and no trouble.
The most use my terminal has gotten is installing Glorious Egg roll version, setup RGB control, and managing my VPN.
I like that it just works, and allows me to do my basic work, research, and play games.
I'm not a "Linux Fan", I'm just a computer user that values my time and privacy
undeadbydawn 16 Dec, 2020
Quoting: FauconNoirWhy everyone is talking about Pop!_OS ? What is so cool about it compared to others like Ubuntu or Manjaro for example ?
System76 make a point of working directly with Nvidia and Valve to ensure Pop! is as good as it's possible to get gaming wise, and have been responsible for solving some serious issues.

I don't use Pop cos I hate Gnome, but I absolutely would recommend it above anything else for a beginner.

Manjaro is fine if you're not comfortable with Arch, but is being developed by idiots to the extent I gave up on it and moved to Salient - which I love with a fiery passion.
gardotd426 16 Dec, 2020
This article seriously, seriously needs editing.

Ubuntu/Pop OS are fantastic. IF YOU DON'T HAVE NEW HARDWARE. This is supposed to be for new users that aren't experts. Okay, so then why are you relegating a HUGE chunk (probably 10-20%) of them to figuring out PPAs or compiling from source, running custom kernels, booting the iso with nomodeset because their driver isn't supported yet, etc.

EVERY list of this variety by definition should always contain at least one stable release distribution and one rolling release distribution. I don't care if it's Manjaro, Endeavour, ArcoLinux, Garuda, whatever, but you can't just say "use Ubuntu no matter what" and act like you've done any kind of service. You actually just did the same exact type of harm you wrote this article in response to. Anyone with an Ampere GPU, a Zen 3 CPU, an RDNA 2 GPU, etc. will have a baaaaaaad time following your advice. The same was the case when RDNA 1 and Zen 2 came out, and the same will be true for all other future hardware launches. New hardware needs rolling releases to work, unless you want to compile from source, use custom kernels, are comfortable in TTY's, etc.

Please fix this.
prosoor 16 Dec, 2020
Kubuntu and nothing else for 8 years already.
I tried Ubuntu but I didn't like the GUI, and is less customizable than KDE.
And I heard Ubuntu calls back home to Cannocial, Kubuntu doesn't. I don't know if that is true, but sounds plausible.

My experience with Arch-based is that they easy break after regular updates. Who use them should do regular backups. Don't keep important data.
RPM-based Linuxes in my opinion are good and stable and secure, but for server usage, and not for desktop clients.
About Gentoo and some less common like Mandriva or even weirder package system I should rather not. I have no time even to read about them, less to try them.


Last edited by prosoor on 16 December 2020 at 1:43 am UTC
Phlebiac 16 Dec, 2020
Quoting: pb
Quoting: pbI'm gaming on SteamOS 2, but eagerly waiting for SteamOS 3.
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

Don't forget that Valve has an aversion to the number 3. ;-)
Redface 16 Dec, 2020
Quoting: Phlebiac
Quoting: pb
Quoting: pbI'm gaming on SteamOS 2, but eagerly waiting for SteamOS 3.
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

Don't forget that Valve has an aversion to the number 3. ;-)
And then there is also Valve Time
Liam Dawe 16 Dec, 2020
Quoting: gardotd426This article seriously, seriously needs editing.
No it does not. What you're talking about is completely out of scope for the article and would be an entirely different article.
tuubi 16 Dec, 2020
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.
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