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The best Linux distribution for gaming in 2023

By - | Views: 85,075

Back in 2020 I pointed out what were the best Linux distributions for gaming, so here's the current state and what you should go for in 2023.

The thing is: not a lot has changed since my last article. Linux is still a minefield of many different distributions for people, and it can be very confusing. There's a lot of articles out there recommending really random and outdated distributions in lists too, so here's the real thing.

Without getting bogged down into packaging issues, and just giving you the basics of "this will work just fine" — go and install Ubuntu. People will (and I expect them to) argue for others, and people are free to, but a lot of people suggest other distributions for the wrong reasons. Manjaro has too many problems both technical and management, Arch can and will break things if you don't know exactly what you're doing, Fedora is messy with NVIDIA drivers and SELinux on Fedora is a nuisance and so on. Ubuntu is still to this day, the most simple distribution of Linux to install and get gaming.

Ubuntu isn't perfect by a long shot, but it remains as my number 1 choice to suggest to people both new and old to get into Linux and get gaming. It's one of the most used on desktop by any statistic you can find, which also means troubleshooting it is generally easier too.

With the Ubuntu LTS (long term support) releases, you also get support for at least 5 years, so you don't have the hassle and potential breakage of major system internal updates for quite a long time.

Valve's own stats show Ubuntu as one of the most popular too and it has been the same since Steam came to Linux.

As a user of Fedora myself, take it from me if you're in any way new to Linux: just go with Ubuntu. If you ever decide you "really know Linux now", then you can think about using something else. Don't make it difficult for yourself.

How might this change in future?

Well, Valve are here with the Steam Deck and SteamOS. Eventually, Valve will release SteamOS 3 so anyone can download it and install it. That might end up being a good pick, but right now it's not on the table as it's not released and anyone making their own version of it (like HoloISO and others) are too small to recommend serious use of them.

If you need help and support, specifically for Linux and also Steam Deck gaming, you can try asking in our Forum, Discord, IRC and Telegram.

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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UnixOutlaw 2 Dec, 2022
25+ year Linux user (Slackware 3) - UNIX even longer... I also use MacOS... I don't use Windows (unless forced to in my job - mostly to RDP to Windows server jumphosts, to then fire up a terminal window to a Linux or UNIX server [yeah - still do some Solaris support])...

I use Ubuntu on my Desktop Gaming system (AMD Radeon GPU, Ryzen 7), 22.04. I also have a Ryzen 5 Thinkpad with Vega 8 running Ubuntu 22.10. I did have Fedora on there, but when RPMFusion didn't / couldn't install a decent version of MPV (my preferred video player on MacOS and Linux) - I wiped it and installed Ubuntu 22.10. Will probably try out SteamOS 3.x when Valve make it available to non-SteamDeck users (I'm in Australia, no SteamDeck here, and I'm not going to jump through hoops just to get one - but - I do want one).

My main use for Linux is the power of the shell, the same reason I use MacOS. It's my job. Whatever gets me up and running with Git and ZSH and a shell and terminal emulator, and where steam is only "sudo apt install steam" - is my choice - Ubuntu does this for me with the minimum of fuss...

I've done a bit of distrohopping, tried various alternative DE's - but ALWAYS end up back at Ubuntu with Gnome... It's the closest UX in my experience to MacOS (I always move the window control widgets to the left too ).
emphy 2 Dec, 2022
It's anecdotal, but for me the more recent lts editions of ubuntu have had an increase in papercuts (even after a fresh install), like the lock screen locking up (heh) and thinkpad trackpad drivers not being installed properly. Solvable issues, but they were not there in 18.04 and are not the sort of issues that newcomers would want to deal with.

Strangely enough (given that it is based on ubuntu), mint didn't have those problems.

Last edited by emphy on 2 December 2022 at 3:08 am UTC
rezzafri 2 Dec, 2022
I'm currently at the stage where I can't understand how a newbie feels, so 100% agree with Liam...
citral 2 Dec, 2022
Quoting: udekmp69Fedora Silverblue, OpenSUSE MicroOS, and VanillaOS have a lot of potential for Linux newbies. It's for those who want to have a reliable and stable system that gets automatic updates that also has the ability to rollback from a bad update without losing any data. With Distrobox, you basically have access to every package manager that can run inside of a contained environment. Also, with all 3 of these distros I mentioned, you can still layer the default package manager if you need any extra system tools to be part of your system as well.

For the gaming aspect: make an Arch Linux distrobox container. Install Steam and Lutris, and use Mesa-git (if you're on AMD) inside the container. You now have a bleeding edge container just for Steam and Lutris while your base system can still run stable Mesa. Don't want to use Distrobox? Flatpak Steam, Lutris (and whatever other GUI wine frontend/prefix manager you use) is there as a fallback.

Seriously underrated distros that I never see get recommended. You have the best of both worlds --- stability and versatility! In a couple of years I can see them improving to the point where they will be much easier to work with than any traditional Linux desktop distro.

You completely lost any newbie here.

Last edited by citral on 2 December 2022 at 4:37 am UTC
mr-victory 2 Dec, 2022
Quoting: pleasereadthemanualIf you're wondering why H.265/HEVC (and now VVC) never got much adoption compared to its predecessor, this is why.
I converted all of my videos to H265 back then with VLC and saved around %80-95 disk space. Do you think I should convert them to AV1, would I reclaim even more disk space? I don't care about patents because both Arch Linux and VLC just ignore their existence and ship all the codecs.
Blender-sama 2 Dec, 2022
Quoting: Liam DaweI won't ever recommend people use something like Nobara. Regardless of who runs it, the point is pointing people towards tiny random distributions that could vanish at any point is not going to help Linux and Linux Gaming in the long run. If I'm going to put my reputation on a recommendation for a distribution, it's going to be one with a long history of support and good backing. Hopefully that makes sense.

Nobara user here. 🙂 I was about to recommend Nobara but your point is absolutely valid. Nevertheless I have to say that my experience with it is very good. I tried Ubuntu and POP.OS with both I had problems with gaming.
Abedsbrother 2 Dec, 2022
Quoting: iiari
Quoting: AbedsbrotherUsually run RebornOS (Arch) but am currently preparing to give Nobara a try. As time has passed, am less interested in cutting edge and more interested in stability (being a Patient Gamer helps).
Good to hear Reborn OS is still around. I was on it a few years ago but was very hesitant to put all my eggs (especially my work laptop) in the basket of a fringe, "one man" distro. When the at the time college aged (I think) founder/dev was openly pondering in the forums about whether he'd be able to keep everything going during his upcoming compsci grad school, I moved on. Is he still the primary driver or is there a larger team?

Anyway, there were always some good ideas at Reborn. Glad to hear it's still going.
No idea how many people are currently running ReBorn, but its webpage recently got overhauled around the same time there was a large update with a new post-install configuration app called ReBorn OS Fire.
Brokatt 2 Dec, 2022
I fully agree with Liam. If I were to recommend a distro to gamer, i.e. a person that maybe doesn't have time or interest to tinker with the underpinnings of a distro, it would be Ubuntu or Kubuntu depending on preference. I have tried installing PopOS on my laptop but the installation fails. I did run Manjaro but it has some strange UI quirks and after a while updates broke. I'm done distro hopping and spending more time tinkering with the distro than actually usining it. In the future this recommendation may change to SteamOS but right now if you only have a couple of hours a week to game and wants something that "just works" everytime - go with Ubuntu/Kubuntu.
vox 2 Dec, 2022
Quoting: tonyrhI really don't get people supporting Manjaro: ok, you are not good enough to install Arch but why Manjaro?
Apart from their various security screwups over the years, and that shady thing with Asahi, their approach to packages management and the AUR is weird... also they hold packages back for two weeks for no actual reason.
Why people don't use something like archinstall or EndeveourOS instead of Manjaro?

This is tangential, but I thought that it's interesting to explore, so here's my couple of cents.

I'm somewhat lazy in regards to tinkering/fixing/modifying stuff on my home system despite being a programmer for many years. I have a couple of things that I care about that I modify/patch (the dreaded "on release, not press" xkb bug that is 18 years old and will never be fixed), and that's basically locks me in the Arch territory, Ubuntu may have some PPA with this xserver patch still, but I'm not sure now. Also it locks me in the X11 dinosaur-land forever, because it's not even considered a bug in Wayland projects. Sorry for this tangent, but I need to cry about it, even programmers have feelings.

So I'm lazy, but I may have a slight obsession with doing something right and proper as you can see. Because this xkb thing is not right and a travesty of a protocol. As is some Manjaro's team moves that are critiqued everywhere around the globe (some of that you've already pointed out). So it sets me up for a move to Arch-proper or any other derivative, naturally, and I thought about it multiple times. The thing is - I'm not sure that I will get much more by doing this move, besides some new headaches and pains along the way. I will move definitely if Manjaro's team will do some major f-up that will really piss me off, but not in the near future I believe.

Also, trying to answer this question from a different perspective: I think there's a PR problem going on. Manjaro is positioned as a newbie friendly distro with some caveats. They are very effective with their collaborations (in Arm space for example) and their PR. Arch is not only shouts everywhere that it's not newbie friendly, it somewhat prides itself in that. Installing Arch is a rite of passage of some sort and the absolute majority of people will stay far-far away from this, of course. Do you want to experience a nice meal in a restaurant, even if there's some comments that this restaurant's management and courses may be dodgy or not as good as they seem, or maybe you want to experience the thrill of hunting a wild boar that may break your leg and bite your hand off if you're not up to task? The average user is not ready for the hunt. He's already sold on the idea that Manjaro is a packaged meal while Arch is Gentoo in disguise with poisoned darts and spike traps from Prince of Persia. Something like that.

Also, I think that it may be more productive to ask this question in another way: why is it, given that Manjaro's team are such amateurs, their distribution got so popular? How did they managed to secure the backing, sponsorships, maintainers and users? What could be learned from them?
HxE 2 Dec, 2022
I've seen Ubuntu users complaining about 32bit libraries not being preinstalled, so that one alone demotes that distro from "the best gaming distro that just works". And really, what makes it the best one? Out of 3 distros I tried this year - Ubuntu, Arch and Manjaro, I enjoyed Manjaro + KDE the most.

Manjaro provided the most complete desktop experience for me out of the box (doesn't need as much supplementary packages installation as Arch, for example thumbnailers for certain image formats, it needs almost no tweaks to customize it for my needs), it has convenient GUI tools: package management, good hardware detection, kernel management, a bit more stable than Arch, and still gets fresh features relatively in time. If Manjaro has "funny" incidents, like they forget to refresh digital certificates or signature keys, I rather deal with that, than playing russian roulette when updating software on Arch or neverending installing packages of missing functionality that I take for granted in other distros.

By the way, what makes a distro good for gaming specifically? I guess Wine/Proton, appropriate drivers and other software, relatively fresh kernels are offered by the most of the distros, and modern kernels don't really need customization to get good framerates. However, I believe rolling distros are better for gaming as linux gaming is rapidly maturing and you want to get new stuff as soon as possible. But wait until linux gaming matures a bit more, and you will be happy with fixed release distros, although many of them are semi-rolling.

Last edited by HxE on 2 December 2022 at 10:18 am UTC
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