8 Best Linux Distributions for Gaming in 2019

There was a time when you had to go with Microsoft Windows if you wanted to play games. But, as always, times have changed. Linux, the free and open source operating system is more popular today than it has ever been. Sure, it still has a long way to go before it hopes to replace Microsoft Windows or Apple’s macOS as the top operating system, but more and more people are beginning to recognize the power and usefulness of Linux every day, even for gaming.

There are thousands of games available for Linux, and once you add to that count all of the different classic emulators, Windows games and the Steam Store, there are probably more games available for Linux than any other platform.

Of course, to run the games, you will need the right Linux distribution to do it. While you can transform any Linux distribution into a Linux gaming machine, there are several Linux distros out there that are designed specifically for gaming. These distributions come with everything you need for gaming so you don’t have to spend hours setting up your system just to play your favorite game. Let’s look at the eight best Linux distributions for gaming, and decide yourself which one will be right for you and your gaming needs.

1. Steam OS

Base: Debian
Desktop Environment: Gnome
Package Format: DEB

Originally designed for the Steam Machine, Valve has also made the Linux-based operating system available for download as well, but with limited support. Out of the box you will find drivers ready to go to support a huge variety of video cards and controllers/joysticks.

Combine that with its smooth integration with the Steam Store and Steam games built for Linux, and you have a Linux operating system that is perfect for gaming.However, the setup can be difficult for anyone that has never used Linux before, and the hardware requirements are somewhat higher compared to other Linux distributions.

It also uses many different proprietary drivers, which may annoy some open source purists. But, if you can get through the initial setup process, you will be hard pressed to find a better Linux distribution designed for gaming.

Pros

  • Smooth user interface
  • Supports many different graphics cards
  • Huge controller/joystick support
  • Out of the box compatibility with the Steam Store

Cons

  • High-end hardware requirements
  • Only works with Steam games out of the box
  • Manual setup may be difficult for non-technical users

Hardware Requirements

  • Intel or AMD 64-bit processor
  • 4GB RAM or more
  • 250GB or larger hard drive
  • USB port or DVD drive for installation

Bottom Line

If you are a fan of Steam and want to play your favorite games on a box you setup, then this is by far the best option. Just make sure your machine meets the admittedly high system requirements.

2. Sparky Linux Gameover Edition

Base: Debian
Desktop Environment: Openbox
Package Format: DEB

Sparky Linux Gameover Edition may not be as well known as some distros of Linux, but in terms of gaming features, it’s hard to beat. This Linux distribution comes with tools that support multiple types of emulation so you can play all sorts of games right after you complete your install.

If you are Steam user, you will quickly find easy support for your favorite Steam games, much like Steam OS. It even includes Wine and PlayOnLinux so you can install and run your favorite Windows games. It even provides a utility to help you find the best drivers for your hardware so you get the best performance out of your Linux gaming machine.

But, Sparky Linux isn’t for everyone. It uses the OpenBox graphical interface which, while powerful, isn’t quite as polished and pretty as some of the other graphical interfaces out there. Of course, you can choose to use something different, but that will require a little Linux know how to get it done.

Support is also somewhat limited. Yes you can find help on their official forums and the developers are pretty responsive, but because this distro isn’t as popular, the community of support is simply smaller. That means you could be left to figure things out for yourself.

Pros

  • Support for Steam Games
  • Wine and PlayOnLinux for Windows games
  • Multiple emulation support

Cons

  • Interface not as pretty
  • Limited online support

Hardware Requirements

  • Intel or AMD 64-bit processor
  • 256MB or more RAM
  • 20GB or larger hard drive
  • USB port or DVD drive for installation

Bottom Line

If you want a system that supports a wide assortment of Linux games right out of the box, and don’t mind that the interface isn’t quite as pretty as other options, then this is the best distribution for you.

3. Ubuntu GamePack

Base: Ubuntu
Desktop Environment: Unity/Gnome
Package Format: DEB

While Ubuntu may not be the king of Linux distributions today, I believe it’s hard to argue that it’s not the most recognized distro in the world. Ubuntu GamePack is not Ubuntu, but an independent distribution that is based on Ubuntu. As such if you have ever used Ubuntu, and if you’ve ever tried Linux I bet you have, Ubuntu GamePack will feel very familiar.

It comes with Steam, Lutris, Wine and PlayOnLinux installed from the get go so it will support thousands of games across a multitude of platforms. Add to that the great hardware support for video cards, controllers, and more, and you have a Linux distro that is perfect for any gamer out there.

Of course, it’s not perfect. Because it’s based on Ubuntu, you will have many of the same annoyances that such as ads for services and Amazon integration built in that caused many to flee from the distribution in the first place.

Ubuntu is also known for being a little more resource heavy compared to other distributions. While Ubuntu GamePack has optimized it to be more efficient, it’s a safe bet that it will still take a little more power for this distro to perform at its very best.

Pros

  • Familiar and advanced interface
  • Support for Steam, Lutris, Wine and PlayOnLinux out of the box
  • Huge support for a variety of hardware
  • Amazing support from large community

Cons

  • System requirements on the high side
  • Ads on the desktop much like vanilla Ubuntu

Hardware Requirements

  • 2 GHz or more processor (64-bit recommended)
  • 1GB RAM or more
  • 9GB disk (the more the better)
  • VGA capable of 1024×768 screen resolution. Intel HD graphics/AMD Radeon 8500 for Steam games and any other GPU for other games.

Bottom Line

Ubuntu is one of the most popular distributions out there and is one of the easiest to use, making the GamePack version perfect for anyone new to Linux. But, the Unity interface and the sheer number of features make this one much more resource heavy compared to other entries on this list.

4. Fedora Games Spin

Best Linux Distributions for Gaming

Base: Fedora
Desktop Environment: Xfce
Package Format: RPM

Fedora is another popular distribution and one of the longest lasting as one of the test beds for the commercial Linux Distribution, Red Hat Linux. Fedora has a history of being bleeding edge when it comes to its technology, and as such sometimes you may run into bugs that you won’t see on other distributions.

For its Games Spin edition, Fedora has chosen to use the Xfce desktop, which is much lighter weight compared to Gnome 3. However, the underlying technology is still Fedora, making it one of the most powerful and advanced operating systems on this list.

One of the nicest features of this distribution is the sheer number of games it comes with by default. There are thousands of games available to you, and while it still only scratches the surface of what’s out there for Linux, you will have more than enough to get you started.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with drivers for the latest hardware or support for Steam, Wine and PlayOnLinux out of the box, so you will have to add this software after the installation.

Pros

  • Powerful and advanced technology
  • Includes a lot of games to get you started
  • Great support from the community

Cons

  • No third party drivers are included for the latest hardware
  • Wine, Steam and PlayOnLinux aren’t installed by default

Hardware Requirements

  • 2 GHz or more processor (64-bit recommended)
  • 1GB RAM or more
  • 10GB disk (the more the better)
  • Intel HD graphics/AMD Radeon 8500 for Steam games and any other GPU for other games.

Bottom Line

Fedora Games Spin is a rock solid operating system built on tried and true technology and includes a graphical interface that is lighter and faster than the default GUI included in most versions of Fedora. But if you are looking for Steam games or Windows games, it will require a little more work to get it ready.

5. Game Drift Linux

Base: Ubuntu
Desktop Environment: Mate
Package Format: DEB

Game Drift Linux is one of the most complete Linux distributions for gaming that I have seen. Right out of the box it comes with everything you need to start gaming. It even includes its very own Games Store featuring only high quality games that all can be installed with just one click.

The distribution is based on Ubuntu, so community support is very high and the operating itself is very stable. It also includes support for over 1,200 Windows games with CrossOver technology, but this software must be purchased in order to use it after you have completed the installation of the distribution.

While this distribution has been optimized for gamers, and everything just works, it is based on Ubuntu so the hardware requirements are higher than some distributions. But it does run Mate as it’s graphical interface, so it will be more efficient compared to Unity or Gnome 3.

Game Drift Linux is one of the most complete and feature-rich distributions out there and can provide you  with an easy to use, complete user experience with its one click installations and huge support for Windows games.

Pros

  • Built-in games store with easy installation
  • Support for many Windows games
  • 4 GB hard disk drive for Game Drift Linux (excluding games)
  • ATI, NVidia or Intel graphics adapter suitable for games

Cons

  • CrossOver must be purchased after installation
  • Not as lightweight as other Linux distributions

Hardware Requirements

  • 1-2 GHz processor (32 or 64 bit)
  • 1-2 GB RAM
  • 4 GB hard disk drive for Game Drift Linux (excluding games)
  • ATI, NVidia or Intel graphics adapter suitable for games

Bottom Line

Game Drift Linux is built upon the ever stable Ubuntu, and includes all the software and technology you need for a complete gaming experience, but for the best experience, you will have to spend a little money for CrossOver, which often goes against everything Linux represents.

6. Lakka

Base: OpenELEC
Desktop Environment: Custom Environment
Package Format: Not Applicable

Next on our list comes the definitive Linux distribution for retro gamers. If you love playing classic games on older platforms such as Atari, NES, Sega Genesis, and more, and you have an extra machine sitting around collecting dust, then Lakka is perfect for you.

With a wide range of emulators built into the system, and the ability to install on a variety of hardware, including x86 PCs, the Raspberry Pi, and more, Lakka is a highly flexible distribution designed for classic gaming at its best. The UI is clean and clear, and the underlying systems are actually based on Kodi, formerly known as XBMC, so the interface is polished and runs perfectly for any gamer who loves playing the classics.

Pros

  • Support for a wide variety of hardware
  • Emulators come pre-installed
  • Beautiful UI
  • Out of the box compatibility with the Steam Store

Cons

  • Not a full version of Linux
  • Limited support for modern games
  • Manual setup may be difficult for non-technical users

Hardware Requirements

  • Varies based on device and what you want to run

Bottom Line

If you are a retro gamer and want to create a console like experience while having all your emulators and games in one place, then Lakka is the distro for you. If you need your machine to double as a full computer or you want to run more modern games as well, you should look elsewhere.

7. Solus

Base: None
Desktop Environment: Budgie
Package Format: eopkg Package Manager

Solus may not be as well known as some of the others on this list, but don’t discount it. Built from the ground up, Solus doesn’t rely on any other distribution for package management or updates. It’s completely independent of all the big players. While not as lightweight as some of the others on this list, it’s by no means the beefiest, either.

Solus comes with the Budgie desktop, which is a relatively new and unique desktop environment on Linux. Its look is amazing and it comes with many modern operating system features such as a notification center that many of us have come to expect from an operating system in 2018.

Pros

  • Built as a unique Linux distribution not dependent on others
  • Modern OS features included such as notifications
  • Beautiful UI
  • Gaming functionality built-in without additional software installation

Cons

  • A little resource heavy
  • Relatively unknown compared to big Linux players

Hardware Requirements

  • Intel/AMD CPU (64 bit recommended)
  • 2GB RAM Minimum, 4GB+ recommended
  • 10GB+ storage
  • ATI, NVidia or Intel GPU suitable for games

Bottom Line

Solus is the perfect Linux distribution for anyone who is tired of the big players in the Linux world and wants to try an operating system that is feature-rich and fully functional for both gaming and regular usage.

Read: 18 Best Linux Games | Premium and Open Source

8. Manjaro Gaming Edition (mGAMe)

Base: Arch Linux
Desktop Environment: Xfce
Package Format: Pacman

Another great Linux distribution for retro gamers, Manjaro Gaming Edition gives users a lot more than Lakka. Featuring a full desktop powered by the lightweight, yet feature-rich Xfce desktop, users will be able to use this retro powerhouse as a full desktop, and all the software you will need for daily computing are readily available.

But there is more to Manjaro than just retro gaming. It includes support for Steam, though it isn’t installed out of the box. However, pretty much everything else you will need is there. This includes software features such as PlayOnLinux, Wine, and much more.

Pros

  • Pre-installed emulators and gaming software
  • Xfce lightweight yet modern in design
  • Steam easily installed
  • Rolling release of updates so you are always up to date

Cons

  • Steam must be installed manually
  • Some software may require manual installation because of repository support

Hardware Requirements

  • At least 1GHz processor
  • At least 1GB RAM
  • At Least 30GB storage
  • ATI, NVidia or Intel GPU suitable for games and HD

Bottom Line

If you want an OS that does things a little different, but comes with everything you need for both work and play, Manjaro Gaming Edition is tough to beat.

Parting Thoughts

There has never been a better time for gaming on Linux. Today there are so many great games for the platform that you will never run out of something to play. Combine that with all the emulators available that will allow you to run the best PC games, classic games for old consoles, and more, and it becomes pretty clear that gaming on Linux is a great option for gamers.

Read: 15 Useful and Lightweight Linux Distros For Your Old System

These distributions represent some of the best Linux distributions for gaming on Linux. All of these distros come with everything you need to get started on your Linux gaming journey and bring with them all the technology and features to play games from almost anywhere. Whether you are gaming on a laptop or a desktop, one of these Linux distributions will be perfect for you so you can enjoy almost every type of game you can imagine on a free and open source platform that is rock solid and stable.

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  • the most widely known OS based on the Linux kernel is Google’s AndroidOS, although it is used only on smartphones and tablets, not on PCs. On PCs, the most popular are the likes of Ubuntu, CentOS, Debian, openSUSE, Arch Linux, Fedora, Valve’s SteamOS, and many more, all of which are entirely free and built upon by various developers.

    Ultimately, however, Linux is aimed more towards professional users and enthusiasts due to its powerful features, flexibility, and lower hardware requirements as compared to Windows. That said, the interface could seldom be called “user-friendly” and Linux-compatible software is not exactly in high supply.