Microsoft Windows has always been the defining platform for gaming, surpassing Mac OS at almost every turn. Usually, when you think of PC gaming, your first thought is usually Windows. What about Linux?
Linux was not originally the most game-friendly operating system. Usually due to lack of hardware support, especially when it comes to video cards. Fast forward to today and Linux has become a lot more popular in recent years with a wide variety of distributions, now more playable than ever.
A lot of developers have been interested in making games available not only for the big two, but also for Linux. As long as you have the right distribution, playing on a Linux machine can be just as enjoyable. The question arises: “Which Linux distribution is the best for gaming?”
What is the best Linux distribution for games?
When we said that developers are good at pushing Linux to the gaming market, we weren’t kidding. There are literally thousands of different games available for Linux. While you can turn any Linux distribution into a gaming machine, there are already many programs designed specifically for gaming.
Each of these distros already have everything set up for gaming, so you don’t spend countless hours setting everything up. Instead, you can start the game immediately. The challenge is deciding which Linux distribution is best for gaming.
We’ve rounded up five of the Linux distributions currently available for gaming. You can determine which one you value the most by taking a look and deciding for yourself what is best for you.
Game Drift LinuxÂ
For those familiar with Ubuntu but new to Linux gaming, Game Drift Linux (GDL) is the ideal distribution. GDL hit the scene back in 2011 and created the very first Linux game store that has both open source and commercial games.
The partnership with Codeweavers allowed the distribution to use Codeweaver CrossOver technology right in the store. This gave users the ability to choose from over 1200 different Windows games that could be downloaded with a single click.
GDL can run on most PCs, although games may contain additional system requirements to play. While it may be one of the most complete gaming Linux distributions available, due to the popularity and availability of PlayOnLinux, GDL is no longer supported.
It is built on Ubuntu, so the community support is still very high even when running on its own.
Lakka is a lightweight version of Linux based on LibreELEC media center software that can turn your PC into a retro gaming console. It supports almost all keyboards as well as wireless console controllers such as PS3, PS4 and Xbox 360.
Lakka is the best Linux gaming distro for retro gamers, using RetroArch to enable a frontend emulator built directly into the system. For copyright reasons, Lakka is not allowed to ship with pre-installed games. To play, you need ISO images, a CD with the game itself, or pre-compiled ROMs of arcade games.
This distribution is also very flexible with the ability to install on a variety of hardware, including x86 computers, Raspberry Pi, and more. The user interface is easy to navigate and the underlying systems are actually based on Kodi
If you live in a retro gaming style, Lakka provides a console experience with emulators that allow you to keep all your favorite games in one place.
Sparky Linux is a Linux distribution for gaming based on Debian. It contains features such as the Lutris gaming platform, as well as a web browser installation tool to play games online.
GameOver Edition also includes APTus Gamer, which lets you download various game emulators to play retro and old console games. You will even find pre-installed gaming apps like Wine, PlayOnLinux, and Steam. This means that all die-hard Steam users will benefit a lot from this distro as the games are supported in large numbers.
The OpenBox GUI is powerful enough, but not as sophisticated as the others available. Avid Linux users can fix this problem by downloading a different user interface of course.
Sparky is not one of the most well-known or used Linux distributions for gaming, and thus support is somewhat limited. While finding help on their official forums is quick and easy, the community is fairly small. This means that when it comes to solving issues, you are mostly on your own.
Ubuntu GamePack is provided to you by the same developers as UALinux It comes with two emulators preinstalled – DOSBox and DosEmu – and gives you two different systems for playing Linux – Steam and Lutris Gaming Platform. These features allow you to download and install over a hundred games.
In addition, Ubuntu GamePack includes Wine and PlayOnLinux, making it easy to play the games you already own. This is to make the distribution more appealing as, like Lakka, there are no precompiled games in it. The distribution also supports Adobe Flash and Java, so you can play online games, and provides tremendous hardware support for graphics cards, controllers, and more.
Based on the most popular Ubuntu distribution, it is ideal for anyone who can easily get started with an installation. If you don’t mind the resource-intensiveness of Ubuntu, Ubuntu GamePack is one of the best Linux distributions for gaming.
Another Debian based distribution specially designed to run the Steam Valve platform. SteamOS is probably the closest Linux distribution to a real gaming console. The distribution focuses on games.
SteamOS was originally developed for the Steam Machine Unfortunately Valve saw fit to remove them from the official store, but continues to provide limited support for the Linux distribution.
This distribution is available for installation only and is available for 64-bit machines. It also requires a fair amount of resources – 200GB of free hard drive space and an Nvidia, AMD (Radeon 8500 and newer) or Intel GPU. By default, you will find ready-made drivers to support a huge variety of video cards and controllers / joysticks. It also uses many different proprietary drivers, which means SteamOS is not completely open source.
The real catch is that SteamOS can only be used for Steam games. Services like PlayOnLinux or Wine are not available to users when using SteamOS. You can work around this issue by using Home Streaming, which allows you to connect your SteamOS machine to another computer on your network. This allows the game to be streamed to that computer.
SteamOS suffers from a Linux distribution with high system requirements and a lack of fully open source code. That said, Linux gamers looking for smooth Steam Store integration to play on Steam will find the best Linux distribution to play on SteamOS.
Do you know of any other gaming Linux distributions not mentioned here? Let us know about them in the comments below.