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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 Currently, it's out of date and has been for some time now.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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Mountain Man 27 Dec, 2020
Quoting: soulsourceThere is an important piece of information missing regarding Ubuntu: People should imho only use LTS versions. The non-LTS versions are horribly unstable (bordering being completely unusable), and will only lead to frustration.
This is not true based on my experience. I update my Kubuntu install every six months when a new version is released and have never had a problem.
Mountain Man 27 Dec, 2020
Quoting: prosoorAbout 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.
I used Gentoo many years ago when I had more free time to invest in maintaining my system. Since everything is compiled from source code, the initial install was an all day (and overnight) affair. Even something as simple as installing an office suite could take several hours to download and compile the source code. Of course this was on an older, slower single core CPU, so things may not be as painful these days, but I really didn't mind it at the time until I was in the middle of a college course, and a routine update completely broke my system (not an uncommon occurrence for Gentoo). Since I didn't have the time to recompile an entire Linux install from scratch, I used Kubuntu as a temporary solution to get back up and running quickly and was so pleased with how fast and easy it was that I've never looked back.
soulsource 27 Dec, 2020
Quoting: Mountain Man
Quoting: prosoorAbout 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.
I used Gentoo many years ago when I had more free time to invest in maintaining my system. Since everything is compiled from source code, the initial install was an all day (and overnight) affair. Even something as simple as installing an office suite could take several hours to download and compile the source code. Of course this was on an older, slower single core CPU, so things may not be as painful these days, but I really didn't mind it at the time until I was in the middle of a college course, and a routine update completely broke my system (not an uncommon occurrence for Gentoo). Since I didn't have the time to recompile an entire Linux install from scratch, I used Kubuntu as a temporary solution to get back up and running quickly and was so pleased with how fast and easy it was that I've never looked back.

Strange, my experience was the exact opposite. Ubuntu was rather great, until they started shipping Unity. Then it became comparable to Windows 95 regarding stability - frequent crashes. The LTS versions remained somewhat usable, though still noticeably worse than any Ubuntu version before, but the non-LTS versions turned into a crash-fest, with the X11 session dying every second minute or so.
That drove me away towards Debian, and I never looked back.
Since 2016 I'm running Gentoo - mostly because I wanted to try it and got stuck because its Rolling Release scheme never required a re-install, so I had no incentive to switch ever since. Gentoo has been an extremely smooth ride for me - except some minor things that could be fixed by a simple package downgrade.
(To be honest, I had one more involved issue with Gentoo, but that was because I had some ~arch - untested - packages unmasked, so it was clearly a user error.)
Mountain Man 27 Dec, 2020
Quoting: soulsourceStrange, my experience was the exact opposite. Ubuntu was rather great, until they started shipping Unity.
I've always used Kubuntu. Maybe it's not Ubuntu itself that was unstable but Unity.

Admittedly, my experience with Gentoo is a decade behind me, and I understand the distro isn't as Wild West as it used to be. I just remember whenever there was a major upgrade of critical components, it always felt like rolling the dice whether or not your system would work afterwards.
Vortex_Acherontic 29 Dec, 2020
I know experience seems to differ but anything Ubuntu based was always paired with issues over issues for me I did not had on my favorite distribution at all and that by being an experienced Linux user for over a decade (close to 20 years soon).

I would not suggest them as "the best" Linux distros for gaming. In fact you can randomly pick one of the major distros and you're good to go.


Last edited by Vortex_Acherontic on 29 December 2020 at 12:13 am UTC
slaapliedje 29 Dec, 2020
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Quoting: FauconNoirWhy everyone is talking about Pop!_OS ? What is so cool about it compared to others like Ubuntu or Manjaro for example ?
Because it's ubuntu that doesn't suck (removes snaps and other ridiculous things that Ubuntu does).

Still no one gives love to the mother of them all, Debian...
whizse 29 Dec, 2020
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Quoting: slaapliedjeStill no one gives love to the mother of them all, Debian...
It's a long term relationship, 18 years or so. We no longer feel the need to be demonstrative.
slaapliedje 29 Dec, 2020
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Quoting: whizse
Quoting: slaapliedjeStill no one gives love to the mother of them all, Debian...
It's a long term relationship, 18 years or so. We no longer feel the need to be demonstrative.
This is true. With the exception of my move to 64bit, I still have the same running install of Debian on my server as I have since... 2000? Sure I've swapped out hardware many times, but it's the same install updated every time a new stable is released.
KohlyKohl 30 Dec, 2020
Quoting: BreizhI think that Manjaro can progressively replace Ubuntu (and not only for gaming) since it’s more stable than a few years ago. And that’s already what we can see (<troll>for example here: https://www.gamingonlinux.com/index.php?module=statistics&view=trends#LinuxDistributionsSplit-top </troll>)

Because of some Ubuntu choices (like Snap enforcing recently), and because of the 6 months or 2 years upgrade vs rolling, I now recommend Manjaro for new users.

Manjaro 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.
einherjar 31 Dec, 2020
Thanks 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.


Last edited by einherjar on 31 December 2020 at 12:10 pm UTC
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