Long gone are the times when gaming on Linux was next to impossible. In fact, gaming on Linux has grown quite stable in recent years.
Although there are hundreds of Linux distros, all with different ideals and for various purposes, distros made for the sole purpose of gaming are not very common. But, of course, there are some really great options available. We are going to list the best Linux gaming distributions today.
These distros are equipped with various drivers, emulators, and software for a convenient gaming experience, so you can just install them and get the gaming going.
Best Linux Gaming OS
Just for clarification, this list of the best gaming Linux distributions is no particular order.
1. Steam OS
Base: Debian 8 (codenamed Debian Jessie)
Desktop Environment: GNOME, optimized for easy access with Keyboard and Joystick.
Package Format: deb
Steam OS supports various graphics cards and joysticks/gamepads. If, by chance, a driver for your hardware is not included out-of-box, you can always manually set that up.
- Processor: Intel or AMD 64-bit capable processor
- Memory: 4GB or more RAM
- Hard Drive: 200GB or larger disk
- Video Card: NVIDIA graphics card / AMD graphics card (RADEON 8500 and later) / Intel graphics
- Additional: USB port for installation, UEFI Firmware (recommended)
- Soothing User Interface
- Supports various graphics cards
- Compatible with various joysticks/gamepads
- Huge collection of games from built-in Steam game store
- High-end hardware requirements
- Only Steam games available out-of-box
If you are a hardcore Steam fan and own a machine that meets the requirements, Steam OS is without a doubt for you.
batocera.linux is an impressive Linux distro for retro games. You can play retro games from Atari, Super Nintendo, SEGA, Dreamcast, some GameBoy Advance games, and a lot more. However, you need to own the games in order to play them.
You do not need to install the OS by partitioning your hard drive, you just need a USB stick and you can boot directly from it to play the games you own. It also comes with Kodia Media Center integrated, so that you can switch to watching movies when you get bored of games.
- Supports Nvidia graphics cards (you need to enable this feature by referring the forum)
- Does not require modifications to your hard disk
- Raspberry Pi and Odroid supported
- Kodi Media Center integrated
- Only retro games
- Limited software support for Raspberry Pi and Odroid
Linux Console is a very lightweight, youth-focused Linux distro to install on your PC, gaming console, or servers to play games. It does support a lot of addictive games, like hedgewars and pinball.
You can also install games like Cuphead, by following the official instructions on their website. In addition, you can use it via a Live USB stick or through VMware/VirtualBox.
- Tailored for children
- Actively developed to also support office software, graphics software, emulators and more.
- Not a platform for a hardcore gamer
Game Drift Linux is optimized to give the best possible gaming experience on Linux. It provides out-of-box support for Linux and popular Windows games.
Desktop Environment: MATE
Package Format: deb
Game Drift has its own Game Store filled with various open-source games, as well as commercial high quality Linux games. More games are being added regularly. The Game Store supports one-click installation.
The distro takes advantages of CrossOver technology for running Windows games. You can play more than 1200 Windows games directly within Game Drift. You will also be able to run various other Windows software with CrossOver.
Hardware Requirements (Recommended)
- Processor: 1-2 GHz processor (32 or 64 bit)
- Memory: 1-2 GB memory
- Hard Drive: 4 GB hard disk drive for Game Drift Linux (excluding games)
- Video Card: ATI, Nvidia or Intel graphics adapter
- Additional: LAN/Internet
- Dedicated Game Store
- Windows games supported
- CrossOver is not free (you’ll need to buy an activation key)
If you want Windows games support and can afford to spend some money buying CrossOver, Game Drift Linux is a good choice.
5. Lakka OS
Lakka OS is completely different from the distros we have discussed so far. This is a lightweight Linux distro that transforms a computer into full-blown game console.
Desktop Environment: RetroArch
Lakka OS is able to emulate a wide variety of consoles. It brings all these console emulators under the gorgeous front end of RetroArch.
All the emulators are compiled with the best optimizations possible and so Lakka OS runs the games more smoothly than the normal emulators. Most games will require very few hardware resource, except for the Playstation or Xbox games.
The key features of Lakka OS are multiplayer, savestates, shaders, netplay, rewind, and support for wireless joypads.
- Totally lightweight
- Beautiful user interface
- All in one console emulator
- Various hardware supported
- Automatic joypad recognition
- Various useful features for gaming
- No support for Linux, Steam, or Windows games
If you are a hardcore console gamer and have a machine you want to dedicate, Lakka OS is for you without any doubt.
Fedora Games spin is the perfect example of Fedora’s ability to run games.
Desktop Environment: Xfce
Package Format: RPM
Fedora Games Spin comes with thousands of Linux games. Quoting the official site:
The included games span several genres, from first-person shooters to real-time and turn-based strategy games to puzzle games.
None of Steam client, Wine, or PlayOnLinux are installed by default. If you want Steam and Windows games support, you need to manually install those via the package manager. Some preinstalled games also need additional data to be downloaded before playing.
- Thousand of Linux games preinstalled
- Stable, fast, and light
- No out-of-box support for Steam or Windows games
- Proprietary drivers are not preinstalled
- Not for hardcore gamers
Though this distro is not the very best for gaming, if you are a Fedora lover you might give this one a try.
Ubuntu GamePack is a gaming distro that provides a guarantee to lunch about six thousand Linux and Windows games. It was developed with the intention to fill the gap in game availability between Linux and Windows.
Desktop Environment: Unity
Package Format: deb
Ubuntu GamePack does not include any games out-of-box. Rather, it opens the door for running Linux, Steam, Windows, and various consoles’ games on your machine.
Steam client, Lutris, Wine, and PlayOnLinux come preinstalled with Ubuntu GamePack. Lutris is an open gaming platform for managing console, Linux, Steam, and Windows games.
It also supports Adobe Flash and Oracle Java, so playing online games will not be a problem.
Ubuntu GamePack also provides a dedicated repository with a collection of hundreds of games.
- Pre-installed Lutris
- Compatible for playing online games
- Linux, Steam, Windows, and console games supported
- Might seem a bit slow
mGAMe (previously known as Manjaro Gaming) is a distro designed for gamers with the awesomeness of Manjaro. If you are a regular It’s F.O.S.S. reader, you know about this one already. We introduced this Gaming distro a while back. In case you missed it, here’s the article: Manjaro Gaming.
Desktop Environment: Xfce
mGAMe automatically installs the necessary drivers for popular graphics cards. It also provides various tweaks for optimal gaming experience.
mGAMe comes with various open source software for things often needed by gamers, like video editing, game video recording and streaming, chatting, taking screenshots, etc.
A long list of console emulators comes preinstalled with mGAMe. For running Windows games, Wine and PlayOnLinux are included. But if you want to play Steam games, you have to manually install the Steam client, which is a big deal in Arch Linux based distributions as Steam is not officially supported.
- Preinstalled tools for gamers
- Wide range of console emulators included
- Not suitable for hardcore gamers
mGAMe is a relatively new addition to this genre of Linux distro. But if you are a Manjaro fan, you can try it out.
9. Sparky Linux GameOver Edition
Sparky Linux Gameover Edition is another great distro for gaming.
Desktop Environment: LXDE
Package Format: deb
Sparky Linux GameOver Edition comes with a special tool called APTus Gamer. It features an easy way to install various consoles, emulators, and other tools for gamers. A long list of emulators is available through APTus Gamer.
A large number of Linux open source games come preinstalled with this distro. Moreover, it also comes with Steam client. Also, for Windows Games, Wine and PlayOnLinux are bundled with Sparky Linux GameOver Edition.
It also provides a utility to help with installing proprietary drivers, and an easy way to install multimedia codecs.
- Steam games supported
- Windows games supported via Wine and PlayOnLinux
- Sparky APTus Gamer tool
- Stable release
If you want a stable Linux distro for gaming that supports a wide range of games from different platforms, just try this one out.
Play Linux [Discontinued]
Play Linux is another approach towards Gaming on Linux that comes with Steam and PlayOnLinux preinstalled.
Desktop Environment: Nebula
Package Format: deb
Nebula is light and customizable. A customizer application is included for wide control over the look and feel of Play Linux. Play Linux also detects the CPU load and disables unnecessary features, like composite windows manager, temporarily while you are busy gaming.
The unique feature Play Linux offers is an integrated AutoGPU installer. It automatically configures and installs your graphics drivers so that you don’t need to waste any time doing it.
- Simple and light distro
- Steam support
- Preinstalled PlayOnLinux (for running Windows games)
- Automatic graphics driver installation
- Still in beta version
- Might not be suitable for hardcore gaming
If you want a gaming distro that is also compatible for ordinary desktop usage, you can choose this one.
That’s all we’ve got for the best Linux system for gaming. The next time someone asks, “which Linux operating system is best for gaming?” don’t forget to share this article with them. :)
Have you tried any of these distros? Which one of these particularly caught you eye? Let us know!