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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 Currently, it's out of date and has been for some time now.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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DefaultX-od 16 Dec, 2020
Quoting: dvd
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.

And I want to add even more to all of what I just said. Like person decides "Cheez I've had enough with that stupid Windows crap, I need to find something else", person need MS office, he googles "Linux distros for life", and on every article there is "Manjaro no snaps only joy", he decides "Well ok let it be manjaro", then he/she/whatever googles Manjaro and there are different DE, next google request which DE is better and everyone say "KDE", he/she/whatever thinks oh great looks familiar. Installation complete! Next google search how to run MS office on Linux, and let's say it's crossover, because it's the easiest way. He/She/Whatever installs MS office, and can't figure it out "Why I cant control office windows?", and everyone "You need to make Kwin script, cheers I love my Manjaro KDE it's the best"
tfk 16 Dec, 2020
At last an accurate article on this topic!

Why do I type this?

https://youtu.be/vTC32AQR0O0

I surely hope this page will be well indexed...
yokem55 16 Dec, 2020
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[quote=soulsource]
Quoting: MicromegasYeah, personally I am using Gentoo, which is for me also right at the sweet spot between stability and usability. The stability of the stable packages is amazing, in my opinion much better than what any Ubuntu release since 2012 offered, while untested packages (~arch) can be enabled on a per-package basis, allowing easy installation of the very latest graphics drivers and such.
However I would certainly NOT recommend Gentoo to a beginning Linux user - it's either for people who want to spin their own distribution based on it (*cough* ChromeOS *cough*), server admins who want 100% control over which version of which library/program is installed, or tech enthusiasts.

I'll add one more use case for Gentoo - its a great distro for learning how all the components of a linux distro fit together. The install process walks you through manually partitioning and formating your disk, compiling your kernel, setting up your fstab, bootloader, networking etc. And that just gets you to a VT prompt on boot. Want a gui? Well, you'll go through all the different bits to make that happen - setting up your graphics drivers, X, a display manager, and whatever desktop shell you want to roll with.

Yes, its a ton of work, and it definitely isn't for everyone. But you'll have a vastly better understanding of what's going on under the hood so when you use a distro that does all this for you, you can be better prepared to solve problems that come up.
tuubi 17 Dec, 2020
Quoting: yokem55I'll add one more use case for Gentoo - its a great distro for learning how all the components of a linux distro fit together. The install process walks you through manually partitioning and formating your disk, compiling your kernel, setting up your fstab, bootloader, networking etc. And that just gets you to a VT prompt on boot. Want a gui? Well, you'll go through all the different bits to make that happen - setting up your graphics drivers, X, a display manager, and whatever desktop shell you want to roll with.

Yes, its a ton of work, and it definitely isn't for everyone. But you'll have a vastly better understanding of what's going on under the hood so when you use a distro that does all this for you, you can be better prepared to solve problems that come up.
This is why I loved using it as my main distro for a few years somewhere back in the early 2000s. You know, when installing it was even less streamlined. :P

I mean compiling all that stuff with my Athlon Thunderbird 750 took ages, and I had to print out pages and pages of installation manual because I didn't have any other Internet capable devices, but it was all worth it. Portage was and is also a lovely package management system.

Then, when I found other things to occupy my time than tinkering with my system, I moved on to other distros. :)
NoSt 17 Dec, 2020
Quoting: RoosterSo why would you say Ubuntu is safer choice for new users than Endeavour or Endless OS?
Most of my reasons are actually the same Liam mentioned in this article:
1) There is a lot more info out there to help you solve whatever problem you may face (e.g. AskUbuntu is a great resource that helped me a lot in my early Linux days).
2) Almost everything a beginner level user may need is already in the official repositories.
3) Most of the game developers or porters (Feral Interactive, for instance) ONLY officially support Ubuntu. So, if you have any problem running a game, you can expect to be able to contact them and get a response.

Don't take me wrong: I love EndeavourOS, but I won't recommend it to new users. I showed it to my wife, who has been using Linux for several years now, and she prefers to stick with Linux Mint and Ubuntu.
joseph_carter 18 Dec, 2020
It's hard to argue Pop! because they work so hard to make the latest hardware Just Work as quickly as possible, and they'll update their stuff while patches are sitting in everyone else's review queues.

Ubuntu's a fair choice because it's so widely used, which is great for new users. But they probably aren't going to have support for the absolute latest hardware you might be using, whereas Pop! will. Manjaro is about as good as Pop! for current hardware compatibility, but … I'd still say it's a slightly more advanced choice. I say slightly, because Manjaro is basically Arch but polished for people who more or less just want it to work.

I use Mint, which hews pretty close to Ubuntu LTS (for better and worse), but has their own Cinnamon desktop which will probably feel more friendly to Windows/Mac users. It tends to be a little lighter than Ubuntu with Gnome, but at the expense of the visuals. What Mint has going for it though is the really polished user experience. In places, it's better than Windows/Mac, and the Mint team seem committed to that.

But in the end … it kinda doesn't matter what you use, as long as it's relatively current and you're comfortable with it. I love Debian, but would never recommend it for gaming. But if you're comfortable with it, it has support for your hardware (because your hardware is old or because you're running Debian sid and know how to fix things when they break), it's gonna be a great gaming experience for you in 2021.

Linux gaming is again reaching a point where your distribution just doesn't matter IMO. That's a good thing.
14 19 Dec, 2020
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I do not recommend Ubuntu for new users. I disagree with that. Surprised how much of a "mic drop" tone the article had about it. Of course people are going to argue. Pop! would probably alright. My first choice for newbs is Mint with two thumbs up. Tech savvy person? Manjaro with a thumb and a half up.

I read nearly all comments up to this point and there were a lot of explanations given, so I don't need to repeat them. I hearted the ones I liked. Whatever distros you may convince your normies to try out, it's on you to help them out.
ghiuma 21 Dec, 2020
It has nothing to do with the discussion, do you recommend a PC controller for Linux? I have a Nacon gc 200 wl and it often disconnects by itself, I also have a ps5 controller but it still doesn't work with all Steam games ... help !!!
tuubi 21 Dec, 2020
Quoting: ghiumaIt has nothing to do with the discussion, do you recommend a PC controller for Linux? I have a Nacon gc 200 wl and it often disconnects by itself, I also have a ps5 controller but it still doesn't work with all Steam games ... help !!!
You're right that this is the wrong place for an unrelated question, but start a new thread in the forums and I'll be happy to give you my recommendation.
Mountain Man 27 Dec, 2020
Been using Kubuntu for years and have never had a significant problem with it.
Quoting: Liam Dawe
Quoting: TheSHEEEPWhat is "naff" naming?
https://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/radio/specials/1453_uptodate3/page15.shtml

Another source https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=naff and so on. Pretty common where I am from, I forget that English slang can be an acquired taste. Basically, naff = a bit rubbish.

One of the strangest turn of phrases I've encountered is "it's the dog's bollocks". I still don't know if that's a good thing, or a bad thing.
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