A Linux gaming distro, as the name suggests, is tailored for avid gamers. As such it usually comes bundled with games to play, as well as drivers for graphics cards, games controllers and so forth.
There aren’t many Linux distros specifically made for gaming. This isn’t because Linux users dislike games, but rather it’s due to the fact that most modern Linux distros support virtually every type of recent graphics card anyway. As such, any regular Linux distro can easily be turned into a ‘game station’.
Despite this, some distros continue to churn out special gaming editions which provide hundreds of games right off the bat, and the means to install even more with additional software such as PlayOnLinux, Wine and Steam.
Gaming in Linux has evolved a lot in the past few years. Now, you have dozens of distros pre-optimized for gaming and gamers.
How to choose the best Linux distro for gaming
Before we start listing out the best distros, you’d still need to choose one of them. Here are a few guidelines you can use to help you choose the right one for you:
- Any Linux distro can be used for gaming. You can install Linux games on any distro or you can use tools like PlayOnLinux, Wine, Steam and a bunch of other emulators. At the end of the day, it all boils down to which one you personally prefer. Try them out. Use a live CD (flash drive) image and test it out without even installing it. Watch some videos, check some screenshots, read some reviews…
The main feature that matters when choosing a distro for gaming is support for drivers. Most distros support the latest (and even oldest) hardware out of the box. Even if they don’t, you can still manually find and install the driver yourself on any distro. If you’re really unsure, you can just google some info for your hardware and see if the distro supports it out of the box.
- Second most important feature is update frequency. Is it a rolling release distro like Manjaro (very frequent updates without a schedule, always the latest software)? Or is it a point release distro like Ubuntu (scheduled updates, not always the latest software). If you prefer to always use the latest versions of any software and apps, go with a rolling release distro. That way, you’ll always get the latest driver updates and you’ll most likely already have the latest drivers for your new GPU/CPU. If you’d like to stick with what you know and use a more stable OS, go with a point release distro.
- Previous Linux experience should also be a deciding factor. Have you used a Linux VPS before? Which distro did you use for your server? If it was Ubuntu, then you should choose the desktop version of Ubuntu since you’ll be more familiar with it. If you’ve used CentOS for your server, go with a Fedora-based distro for gaming. Did you use an LXDE distro? Go with a gaming distro that uses LXDE.
There’s a reason why SteamOS is always the first on every Linux gaming distro list. It’s designed with gaming in mind. It comes pre-installed with Steam and it’s based on Debian. SteamOS is built, designed and maintained by Valve.
SteamOS is probably the closest Linux distro to an actual games console. Technically, you could install additional software using the Debian Jessie repositories, but this operating system’s main emphasis is on gaming.
SteamOS can only be used to play Steam games. Users can’t benefit from Play on Linux or Wine when running SteamOS. However, the unique in-home streaming feature lets you connect the machine running SteamOS to another computer on the network, allowing you to stream a game to that PC. Unlike most Linux distros, not all of SteamOS is open source software.
SteamOS hardware requirements
However, if you have an older machine, SteamOS is not recommended, as it has quite a lot of hardware requirements:
- Intel or AMD 64-bit capable processor
- 4GB or more RAM
- 250GB or larger disk
- NVIDIA, Intel, or AMD graphics card
SteamOS facts and features
Linux and Steam for gamers.
- Steam is preinstalled out of the box
- Ready to play games without needing to install any additional software
- Free and open source (apart from Steam itself, which is proprietary)
- Support for many graphic cards, controllers and other gaming-related hardware
Visit their official website for download/installation instructions and FAQ:https://store.steampowered.com/steamos/
2. Ubuntu GamePack
It’s not the default Ubuntu, but it’s a distro based on Ubuntu. You can still use the default Ubuntu and install Play on Linux, Wine and Steam or any other game you’d want to, but it would not be as optimized for gaming as Ubuntu GamePack is.
Ubuntu GamePack hardware requirements
Quite similar to the default Ubuntu, this distro requires:
- 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.
Ubuntu GamePack facts and features
Ubuntu for gamers.
- Pre-installed with Lutris, PlayOnLinux, Wine, and Steam
- Great hardware drivers support
- Low(er) hardware requirements
- Free and open source OS
- Supports Flash and Java (great for online, browser-based games)
Like Lakka, Ubuntu GamePack doesn’t come with any games, but as it includes both Wine and Play on Linux, you won’t have any trouble getting your existing games running. The distro also supports Adobe Flash and Java so you can play online games too.The current version of Ubuntu GamePack (2018.06) is based on Ubuntu 16.04. There’s both a 32-bit and a 64-bit version; each are around 2.5GB in size.
If you’re already familiar with Ubuntu, go with this distro.
Visit their official website for download/installation instructions
3. SparkyLinux – GameOver Edition
SparkyLinux is a Linux distribution created on the “testing” branch of Debian. It uses the LXDE desktop environment and it has everything you’d need already pre-installed.
SparkyLinux – GameOver Edition hardware requirements
A very lightweight distro.
- CPU i586 / amd64
- 256 MB of RAM memory (some games need more than that – 500-1000MB recommended)
- 20 GB of space for installation on a hard drive (30GB recommended)
- So just about any old PC/laptop can run it without any issues.
SparkyLinux – GameOver Edition facts and features
Ready out of the box.
- Has everything you’d need pre-installed out of the box. Wine, Play On Linux, Steam etc.
- Many open source Linux games pre-installed
- Emulators and tools for easily installing emulators
- Free and open source
- If you’ve used an LXDE Linux distro before and you want everything pre-installed, go withSparkyLinux – GameOver Edition.
Visit their official website for download/installation instructions FAQ:https://sparkylinux.org/download/#special
Lakka is a lightweight Linux distribution that transforms a small computer into a full blown retrogaming console.
Although it’s based on Linux (kernel), it doesn’t have any desktop environment and you can’t really use it for anything other than turning a computer into a retro gaming console.
by the way,Lakka is the easiest way to setup emulators on a Raspberry Pi.
Lakka hardware requirements
You can turn any computer into a console since Lakka doesn’t have a lot of requirements. You can even use a Raspberry Pi to run Lakka. It’s a very lightweight OS that can run on just about anything.
Lakka facts and features
For retro gamers.
- Pre-installed and optimized with various emulators
- Very lightweight with minimum hardware requirements
- Beautiful, easy-to-use UI
- Free and open source with various retro games to choose from
Visit their official website for download/installation instructions
SuperGamer is a Linux distro with an optimized XFCE interface based on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS and Linux Lite, this distro is optimized for everyday use along with tweaks via its creator Darin VanCoevering. Older releases were based upon Vector Linux and PCLinuxOS. While older version included games that were open source and demos, the newest release does not. You can easily install Steam, GOG Games, and The Humble Bundle to customize your gaming computer. We would encourage you to support, if you can, the platform you choose. We aim to provide the best overall XFCE based distro with a balance for older and newer hardware. Speed and a lightness of this distro is the main goal along with ease of use.
The new v4 of SuperGamer was recently released and no longer includes some open source games pre-installed, but you can easily install them, or install an app like Steam. The distro is optimized for gaming and ready to use via a live DVD/USB. It’s a great distro for testing out a machine.
SuperGamer hardware requirements
The distro is based on Ubuntu 16.04 and Linux Lite and only works with 64bit.
- Intel/AMD CPU (64 bit recommended). ARM-based processors won’t work
- 1.5GB RAM Minimum
- 2GB+ DVD/Flash Drive
- ATI, NVidia or Intel GPU suitable for games
- Ready to use, no installation needed.
SuperGamer facts and features
A live Linux gaming distro.
- Based on Ubuntu 18.04 and Linux Lite.
- Free and open source.
- Optimized for gaming.
Visit their official website for download/installation instructions and support via their forums
6. Game Drift Linux
Game Drift Linux was first released in 2011. It created the first Linux ‘app store’, and more than 1,200 Windows games were made available via a deal with Codeweavers. This allowed the distro to include the Codeweaver CrossOver technology in its store.
The Games Store features both open source and commercial titles. Users can download and install popular games such as Savage 2, Second Life, and Amnesia, as well as older games like AssaultCube and Frets on Fire.
Game Drift Linux runs on most PCs. However, certain games may have additional system requirements. The distro recommends a minimum of a 1-2GHz processor, 1-2GB of system memory, 4GB of disk space and an AMD, Nvidia or Intel graphics solution suitable for gaming.
Bear in mind that there isn’t as much demand for a dedicated distro like Game Drift Linux due to the availability of PlayOnLinux and Stream, so the distro is no longer being maintained.