Apart from many general-purpose Linux distributions, there exists a crop of distros for specific purposes. Gaming Linux distros too belong to one such category. These distros are specifically built to address your gaming needs, thanks to better hardware support and tons of preinstalled tools.
To help you out, we’ve tested and prepared a list of the best gaming distros for Linux.
Linux distros for gaming – 2017 Edition
1. Steam OS:
For those who don’t know, today, Steam is an online game distribution platform that added more than 1,000 games in 2016 alone. Valve, the company behind Steam, created SteamOS. Steam OS is based on Debian, and it comes with additional Linux kernel tweaks to improve the gaming performance of the OS. Undoubtedly, Steam OS is one of the best Linux gaming distros out there that gamers use. With time, SteamOS has gained popularity as a top Linux gaming solution which is used for creating Steam Boxes.
SteamOS has been chiefly designed for playing games which are available on Steam Store. Coming with GNOME desktop environment, it doesn’t have tons of inbuilt features apart from playing games and web browsing. While the operating system, i.e., Steam OS, is closed source, the actual Steam gaming client is closed source. It supports various GPUs, gamepads, and hardware.
Best Steam OS features for Linux Gaming:
- Built for light performance
- Support for high-end games
- Intuitive UI
- Large collection of games
- Compatible with lots of joysticks/gamepads
The #2 Linux distro in our quest to list the top Linux gaming distros, is Game Drift Linux. Just like other popular Linux distros, it is open source. Derived from Ubuntu, Game Drift Linux is created for hardcore gamers. A relatively newer distribution, it offers a pleasant gaming experience, thanks to its Game Store and CrossOver Games platform. CrossOver lets you access about 1,500 Windows games.
Game Drift Linux gaming operating system features lightweight MATE desktop environment. You can access the main menu and use applications using the taskbar at the bottom of the screen. The overall look of this distro for gameplay will surely look familiar to Windows users.
Best Game Drift Linux features for gaming:
- Its very own game store
- Fast and simple Linux experience
- Installable on USB drive or HDD
Apart from the official Ubuntu spins like Ubuntu MATE, Xubuntu, Kubuntu, Ubuntu Studio, etc., this popular open source operating system has tons of unofficial spins. Ubuntu GamePack is one such spin, which aims to become a great Linux distro for gaming enthusiasts. The creators of Ubuntu GamePack say that they’ve created a distro for providing a guaranteed start of hundreds of games.
Ubuntu GamePack ships with Steam and Lutris gaming platform for delivering games to you with ease. It also comes with PlayOnLinux and Wine clients pre-installed. As a result, you can easily install Windows games and enjoy a great gaming session with your friends. Thanks to the pre-loaded Java and Flash, you also don’t feed many issues playing online games.
Best features of Ubuntu GamePack distro
- Familiar Unity environment
- Preinstalled Steam, Lutris, Wine, PlayOnLinux
- Flash and Java preinstalled
Sparky Linux developers have also released 3 special editions: GameOver, Rescue, and Multimedia. As we are listing the top gaming distributions based on Linux, our focus will be on GameOver. The latest release of the distro features LXDE desktop. It also comes with a large number of preinstalled games and useful scripts. It’s Sparky APTus Gamer feature lets you easily install game consoles, emulator, and other tools.
You get Steam, Wine, PlayOnLinux, and Itch client for Linux. Also, it provides everyday tools needed for computing that you would find in other general-purpose distros. Overall, it’s a great Linux gaming distro for those who wish to run a complete operating system with everything preinstalled.
SparkyLinux GameOver best features for gaming
- Can be run on USB
- Preinstalled Steam, Wine, PlayOnLinux
- Sparky APTus Gamer feature
- LXDE desktop
Apart from Fedora for workstations, the Fedora Project distributes custom variations called Fedora spins or edition. One such edition is Fedora Games Spin which could turn out to be a great gaming operating system for CentOS/Fedora Linux users. This distro comes with thousands of pre-installed Linux games that make it a must try for gamers.
Please note that Fedora Games Spin doesn’t come pre-installed with Steam client on Wine; that shouldn’t be a problem as you can install them via the package manager. Linux gamers can also run this Linux gaming distribution in live mode from DVD media or USB.
Best features of Fedora Games Spin
- Great for users familiar with Fedora
- Tons of preinstalled games
- Lighter than Fedora Workstation version
- Can run in Live mode
Solus is one of the fastest growing Linux distros which is being picked up by many users. Being beginner friendly and visually appealing, it’s often loved by new users. As it’s a rolling distro, Solus gets all the latest updates. But, what’s in it for gamers who love Linux?
Solus comes with Steam integration, which improves the gaming experience. In default mode, Solus disables Steam runtime and uses its own runtime for better performance and integration. One should also note that Solus is an independent Linux distro. This free and open source gaming OS comes with a variety of choice: Budgie, MATE, and GNOME editions.
Best Solus features for Linux gaming
- Different desktop options: Budgie, MATE, GNOME
- Ideal for multi-purpose use
- Visually appealing distro
- Rolling release with latest updates
7. Lakka Linux
Based on OpenELEC Linux distro, Lakka Linux isn’t anything like your regular Linux distribution. If you’re an Arcade or Retro game lover, look no further as Lakka Linux is the answer to all your problems. This top Linux gaming distro has the power to transform your computer into a gaming console.
Talking about the hardware, Lakka Linux supports PC, Raspberry Pi, CuBoxi, HummingBoard, Odroid C1, UDOO, Banana Pi, etc. This lightweight gaming distro supports automatic joystick configuration. Its other features are multiplayer, shader, netplay, rewind, savestates, etc.
Lakka Linux features for gaming
- Easy to use and simple UI
- Lightweight Linux experience
- Tons of retro games to chose from
- Optimized for many emulators
When it was initially launched, Manjaro mGAMe was called Manjaro Gaming. Contrary to what was reported, it isn’t an official Manjaro spin. But, it turns out to be pretty handy if you’re looking for a distro that could answer the demand of gamers. It’s a rolling release distro that comes with all the pre-installed software you need, which includes Steam Lutris, PlayOnLinux, etc.
Powered by Xfce desktop environment, this lightweight gaming operating system comes with the living room mode for doing everything with the help of your keyboard or controller.
Best Manjaro mGAMe features for gaming
- Long list of preinstalled software and emulators
- Lightweight Xfce desktop
- Rolling release distro
- Great for Arch and Manjaro lovers
9. Ubuntu (Honorable mention)
Okay, don’t get surprised to see Ubuntu in the list of best Linux gaming distros. The combination of Steam and Ubuntu is used by numerous gamers to turn their Linux systems into a gaming machine. There are numerous online websites available to download DRM free games. Ubuntu Software Center itself has an entire section of games for enthusiasts.
Which one’s your favorite gaming Linux distro?
Without a doubt, the Linux gaming scenario is improving each year. More of gaming titles are arriving on Linux and gamers are enjoying them on their open source gaming machines. Out of all gaming Linux Distros mentioned above, Steam OS is the most popular.
What’re your choices? Which operating system for Linux gaming do you prefer? Don’t forget to share your views.