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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 Currently, it's out of date and has been for some time now.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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About the author -
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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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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.
dvd 16 Dec, 2020
Quoting: fagnerlnThe 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.

I think this is to be expected, since running on wine doesn't mean the program is supported.
llorton 16 Dec, 2020
Debian testing has been my gaming distro of choice.
With an AMD GPU (but obviously not the newest one) it is as simple as it can get.
NoSt 16 Dec, 2020
I agree with Liam's recommendations for newer Linux users. Ubuntu is a pretty safe choice.
For the experienced users, though, the choice of OS or DE is more a matter of personal preference.
E.g. I use Ubuntu and EndeavourOS on my main gaming PC, but I also use plenty of other operating systems, like Solus or Fedora, and I wouldn't deem any of them as not gaming-capable. If you keep your drivers up-to-date, you are good to go.
Still, there are always some games that don't run properly on one OS, but work perfectly on some others (e.g. some Total War games). That's the reason why I have two operating systems installed on my gaming PC.
Rooster 16 Dec, 2020
Quoting: NoStI agree with Liam's recommendations for newer Linux users. Ubuntu is a pretty safe choice.
For the experienced users, though, the choice of OS or DE is more a matter of personal preference.
E.g. I use Ubuntu and EndeavourOS on my main gaming PC, but I also use plenty of other operating systems, like Solus or Fedora, and I wouldn't deem any of them as not gaming-capable. If you keep your drivers up-to-date, you are good to go.
Still, there are always some games that don't run properly on one OS, but work perfectly on some others (e.g. some Total War games). That's the reason why I have two operating systems installed on my gaming PC.

So why would you say Ubuntu is safer choice for new users than Endeavour or Endless OS?

My second distro was Antergos and as a newbie I found it about the same, if not easier (although installing NVIDIA drivers was a pain on it at that time) than Ubuntu. For installing anything I just opened Pamac (AUR enabled) and typed name of the software I needed in search.

About a year and a half ago, I finally killed my Antergos by not installing updates for about half a year, then running full system update including AUR. So I thought, okay, my fault, I knew this could happen, since Antergos is a rolling bleeding edge distro. So I installed Ubuntu 18.04 to see if it gotten any better. I used it only for gaming and yet quite often, even if I wasn't running anything at the moment, the OS just froze over and I had to reboot it with power button. Now I'm running Arch on the same PC and I don't think this ever happened to me again.

So no, from my experience, I would not recommend Ubuntu to anyone, including new users.


Last edited by Rooster on 21 December 2020 at 9:26 am UTC
Solarwing 16 Dec, 2020
Hello to the world again !I'm in a bit loony mood today so I can recommend Winux, a new linux based windows OS which has all the goodies and candies you have always wanted:an operating system which can turn you into jelly in a matter of seconds and you will beg for more goodies from it!It can boost your "rig" into a new level So if you have an old computer from stone age somewhere in your secret cellar, then give it a good and loony new life with Winux. Then you can play all the windows based games like Cyberpunk 2077 with it!Great, isn't it? Yes I know this is off topic slightly and this isn't a joke website. But in real world my opinion Ubuntu is maybe the best alternative alongside with Linux Mint. I would recommend them for the beginners. And finally, Merry Christmas for everyone and may the Christmas Turkey haunt in your dreams!
Vishar 16 Dec, 2020
after years experience witch many distro i can recommend for new users (gamers)
ANY NOT Ubuntu based distro:

if not know when start then try:
Manjaro
Linux Mint
Fedora
(random order here any from those 3 can be select as first to try)
DefaultX-od 16 Dec, 2020
I just can not be silent any more, and I feel the urge to speak up, for all of those who recommend to install something different from Ubuntu/Fedora to a newcomer, what's going on in your heads? Maybe distros don't matter in terms of gaming and some basic things like watching youtube or surfing the web. But could you believe it's more than that? No one would considering to switch to Linux just to play games, because surprise not every game is playable. When an app just double click away like packet tracer for example (Ubuntu/Fedora case), and for Manjaro there is the need for the guide. So that's being said how all of you can recommend something to a newcomer to deal with all of that?
dvd 16 Dec, 2020
Quoting: DefaultX-odI just can not be silent any more, and I feel the urge to speak up, for all of those who recommend to install something different from Ubuntu/Fedora to a newcomer, what's going on in your heads? Maybe distros don't matter in terms of gaming and some basic things like watching youtube or surfing the web. But could you believe it's more than that? No one would considering to switch to Linux just to play games, because surprise not every game is playable. When an app just double click away like packet tracer for example (Ubuntu/Fedora case), and for Manjaro there is the need for the guide. So that's being said how all of you can recommend something to a newcomer to deal with all of that?

I would suggest Debian.
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