The Best Linux Distros for Gaming

You heard all the charges. Gaming on Linux is crazy, isn’t it? Players should use a Windows PC and be done with it. Linux is all terminal commands and Firefox stuff. Valve would like to speak with you. After all, the Valve Steam Deck runs on Linux. Steam is available on Linux, with over 6,000 titles available. Many game developers have also started creating for Linux systems.

However, you can’t get all the same games as on a PC. Popular shooters such as Halo and Rainbow Six Siege does not work under Linux. None of the EA games run on Linux, so forget about most sports titles. Hardcore gamers may find gaming on Linux a lesson in frustration.

Casual gamers, on the other hand, should be fine. Linux distros are slick, smooth and intuitive interfaces with a lot of benefits. For starters, they’re free. They don’t track you or advertise you like Windows, Chrome OS and macOS do. Best of all, they’re lightweight and easy to use. Older computers can suddenly feel like new again.

So which Linux distros are best for gaming? Luckily, there are several to choose from. Let’s dive into it.

Ubuntu

Screenshot of Ubuntu 22.04 Jammy Jellysfish with a dark menu in the lower left corner
image courtesy of Canonical Ubuntu 22.04 Courtesy of Canonical Ubuntu 22.04

Ubuntu is one of the most popular Linux distributions on the planet. 4% of all computers install Ubuntu, placing it right behind MacOS and Chrome OS.

As a result, Ubuntu is the best Linux distro for gaming, if only because it has the most titles available right out of the box. You can install Steam directly from the Ubuntu Universe repository without having to dance the Internet. It is the same as the App Store or the Windows Store. Click on Install and off you go play games.

Many open source games are also available in the Ubuntu Universe and Ubuntu Multiverse repositories. And if something you want isn’t there, you can search for it on the internet or on GitHub. Other game libraries available for Ubuntu are GameHub and Lutris, which allow you to play some Windows games on Linux.

The best part of gaming on Ubuntu is the community built around the operating system. You can get help with all your questions and chances are you will find answers to all the problems you are having. The Ubuntu Community will give you all the help you need.

Mint Linux

Mint Linux is an Ubuntu-based Linux distribution with a Windows twist. For people used to Windows, Mint is the best Linux distro for gaming. Everything is easy to find and much of the navigation is the same as in Windows.

Since Linux Mint is built from Ubuntu, it shares many of the same repositories, allowing you to easily install games. Steam is readily available.

You will also be surrounded by a massive Linux Mint Communitya bit like with Ubuntu.

Felt

Best Linux Distros

Felt is one of the most successful Linux distributions. Based on the GNOME 3 shell (like Ubuntu), it features smooth animations and easy to use repositories. This makes it ideal for games as it gets out of the way.

The thing about Fedora is that the entire operating system is built around easy repository access. You’ll have to search for the right repositories (there are plenty with Fedora), but you’ll find what you want. For example, Steam is available in the RPM Fusion community repository.

This one is a little trickier to use than Ubuntu because you have to search a bit more to find the right places to download your games, but the concept is the same. Additionally, there is a decent sized community to help you when you encounter difficulties.

Elementary operating system

Elementary operating system is another Ubuntu-based distro, but they’ve opted for a MacOS appearance. Many consider Elementary OS to be one of the prettiest Linux distros out there, so if aesthetics are your thing, this is the one for you.

Luckily, it’s also great for gaming. You can find games in the Elementary OS’s default repository, called AppCenter, but you won’t find many game titles here. They are trying to be Apple, after all. Instead, you’ll need to head to the Steam Store website + Linux and download it from there. It is the same with other stores such as GameHub.

Ubuntu Game Pack

world of tanks a tank sitting in a warehouse

Despite its name, Ubuntu Game Pack is a standalone Linux distribution designed for gaming. This is Ubuntu and uses the GNOME 3 shell similarly to Ubuntu, but it is developed by a Ukrainian company called User and Linux rather than Canonical.

The GNOME shell used in Ubuntu Game Pack is heavily modified from its Ubuntu cousin. The operating system also includes support for Flash and Java and has a custom optimizer to help your graphics card handle more complex graphics better.

The best thing about Ubuntu Game Pack is that the entire operating system is built around gaming. You have easy access to the repository of Steam, Lutris, PlayOnLinux, Game Jolt, itch.io, and more . You can also pay a monthly fee for Cross Over, a premium Linux app that lets you play Windows PC games on Linux.

Pop!_OS

A black Pop!_OS home screen with a white menu and an open calendar
image courtesy of System76

Pop!_OS is a custom Linux distribution created by computer manufacturer System76. The system is a custom interface layered on top of Ubuntu, which makes it nice to look at but with all the power of Ubuntu behind it.

Gamers will appreciate Pop!_OS because it allows them to run graphics directly from the GPU in a menu. No command line in the terminal is required. Players can also download Steam and Lutris directly from the Pop! app store.

Pop!_OS includes Nvidia drivers right out of the box.

Lakkah

A vintage monitor with the Lakka logo sitting in a basket of Easter eggs

What if you don’t care for all the modern AAA titles and prefer to sit back and enjoy the retro games? If that is the case, Lakkah is the best Linux distro for you.

It’s a barebones distro that turns your old PC into a retro gaming console. You don’t even need a PC. It works great on Raspberry Pi.

Lakka is based on Libretro and uses a custom RetroArch shell for its front end. You can buy a proprietary dongle from Lakka and use PlayStation and Xbox controllers with the OS. You don’t get any games with Lakka, but you can easily install games from ISO images or ROM files.

Manjaro

Best Linux Distros

Manjaro is another non-Ubuntu distribution, and it is based on Arch Linux. However, it transforms this clunky and unintuitive distro into a beautiful and fluid operating system that happens to be ideal for gamers.

Manjaro is reminiscent of Windows, with an application menu at the bottom left and information at the bottom right. It also has a huge repository full of software and games. Even better, Steam comes pre-installed. Just login to your account and start downloading games.

The distribution also includes automatic hardware detection, which tells it which components you have and automatically installs the correct drivers. Arch Linux receives continuous updates throughout the year, and this applies to Manjaro, so it always stays on the cutting edge of technology.

Although it can be a bit difficult to use compared to Ubuntu, anyone who isn’t a fan of GNOME 3 will find Manjaro a great alternative for game distributions. Learn some command line prompts, ask the huge Manjaro Community questions, and you’ll be fine.

What is the best distro for you?

There are many Linux distros to choose from. The best distro for games depends a lot on your preferences. Do you prefer an easy to use and simple interface? Do you prefer a Windows-like environment or a MacOS-like system? Don’t forget independent developers like Pop!_OS and Lakka. They are doing something good with Linux.

No matter which one you choose, the best Linux distro for gaming is the one that gives you the most access to your games with the fewest hassles. All of these distros do, to some extent.

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Steven L. Nielsen