Best Linux Distros for Gaming in 2017


Gaming in Linux has evolved a lot in the past few years. Now, you have dozens of distros pre-optimized for gaming and gamers. We tested all of them and hand-picked the best. There are a few other articles and lists of this type out there, but they don’t really go into detail and they are pretty outdated. This is an up-to-date list with any info you’d need.


Recommended for Linux gamers:

LED Gaming Over-Ear Headset Headphone, Keyboard & Mouse Combo Set With 40mm Speaker Driver, High-Quality Microphone, Multimedia Keys & Window* Key Lock, 4 DPI Levels

*may need additional configs to work with Linux apps.

How to choose the right distro for you

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.

Now, let’s move on to the main part, the best Linux distros for gaming:



SteamOS

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. By default, SteamOS only has Steam installed, but you can activate the “desktop mode” and you’ll get a fully-featured desktop OS where you can run other applications besides Steam and games. It has everything set up out of the box, so you don’t need to install or configure anything to play on Steam, which is why this is the most recommended distro for beginners and Linux gamers.

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:
Download SteamOS


Let’s move on to the next distro on our list:

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)

If you’re already familiar with Ubuntu, go with this distro.

Visit their official website for download/installation instructions and FAQ:
Download Ubuntu GamePack


The second most popular Linux distro used for desktop computers is Fedora. Luckily, Fedora also has a gaming flavor (spin):

Fedora – Games Spin

Fedora – Games Spin has thousands of games already pre-installed and ready to play. It doesn’t support as much hardware as some other distros, and it doesn’t come with Wine/Steam pre-installed, which is why this is not recommended for anyone. However, if you’re already familiar with Fedora or if you like the XFCE desktop environment, this distro would be perfect for you.

Fedora Games Spin hardware requirements

Similar to the Fedora desktop distro:

  • 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.

Fedora Games Spin facts and features

For Fedora users.



  • Has thousands of games already pre-installed
  • Stable, but not with the latest software and doesn’t have pre-installed drivers for all hardware
  • Steam and Wine are not pre-installed
  • Free and open source
  • Uses the XFCE Desktop Environment

If you’ve used Fedora (or CentOS) before, either for a server or for your desktop computer, try this Fedora spin.

Visit their official website for download/installation instructions and FAQ:
Download Fedora – Games Spin


Moving on to the next one:

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 with SparkyLinux – GameOver Edition.

Visit their official website for download/installation instructions and FAQ:

Download SparkyLinux – GameOver Edition


Gaming doesn’t have to be all 2017 and bleeding-edge. You may be into retro games, which is where this distro comes to play:

Lakka

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.

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 and FAQ:
Download Lakka


Want to play Windows games on a Linux distro without too many configurations?

Game Drift Linux

Based on Ubuntu, this distro would be perfect for beginners that previously used Ubuntu. Easy to install and everything works out of the box.

Game Drift Linux hardware requirements

Although not the most lightweight Linux distro for gaming, it doesn’t require much. At least not as much as SteamOS.

  • 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

If you can run Ubuntu desktop, you can run Game Drift Linux.

Game Drift Linux facts and features

You can play A LOT of Windows games on Game Drift Linux. It has all the tools you need pre-installed.

  • Has a game store with free and premium games – all run perfectly on Game Drift Linux. High-quality games only
  • You can play more than 1200 Windows games (due to CrossOver Games technology)
  • The distro itself is free, but you need to purchase an activation key for CrossOver Games in order to play more than 1200 Windows games
  • Based on Ubuntu

The game store is great – a wide choice of quality games that you can install with a single click.

Visit their official website for download/installation instructions and FAQ:

Download Game Drift Linux


Need a full-featured Linux distro for gaming, media, browsing and general use?

Solus

Solus with the Budgie desktop environment

Recently this year, Solus became a rolling release distro, which means that you’ll get the latest software with all the latest updates. Solus looks great, especially with the Budgie desktop environment. It has all the features you need for an OS for gaming/media playback/browsing/general use. There’s an official Steam integration for Solus which will greatly help you with installing and configuring steam on your Linux system. It’s based on the Linux kernel, but it’s independent of any other distro like Ubuntu or Fedora.

Solus hardware requirements

Although not the most lightweight Linux distro for gaming, it doesn’t require much. At least not as much as SteamOS.

  • Intel/AMD CPU (64 bit recommended). ARM-based processors won’t work
  • 2GB RAM Minimum, 4GB+ recommended
  • 10GB+ storage
  • ATI, NVidia or Intel GPU suitable for games

Requires a more powerful machine.

Solus facts and features

Everything built into one modern system.

  • Has different desktop environments to choose from: Budgie, Mate, and GNOME
  • Modern – has notification features
  • Free and open source
  • Can be used for everything – including gaming, browsing, general home use etc. Everything’s set up out of the box
  • Rolling release – you’ll get the latest updates and latest software all the time.

Solus looks great. One of the best looking Linux distros out there today, especially with its flagship desktop environment Budgie.

Visit their official website for download/installation instructions and FAQ:

Download Solus


Want to use the Manjaro (rolling release) distro?

Manjaro Gaming Edition (mGAMe)

mGAMe, which is based on Manjaro, which is based on Arch Linux, is a rolling-release gaming distro with everything you need pre-installed. Steam, PlayOnLinux, Lutris, Minecraft, Editing Tools, and a bunch of other emulators are already installed. You can easily enable the “living room mode” in which case you won’t need a mouse – you can do everything with your controller or keyboard.

mGAMe hardware requirements

Although not the most lightweight Linux distro for gaming, it doesn’t require much. At least not as much as SteamOS.

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

If you don’t have enough hardware requirements to run Solus, but still need a rolling-release distro, go with mGAMe.

mGAMe facts and features

Everything’s pre-installed and ready to play.

  • Pre-installed Software and Emulators list: Audacity, KdenLIVE, Lutris, Minecraft, Minetest, Mumble, OBS Studio, OpenShot, PlayOnLinux, Wine, DeSmuME, Dolphin Emulator (64-Bit only), DOSBox, Fceux, Kega Fusion, PCSXR, PCSX2, PPSSPP, RetroArch, Stella, VBA-M, Yabause, ZSNES…
  • Steam is not pre-installed, you’ll have to install it manually.
  • XFCE desktop environment
  • Rolling release – you’ll get the latest updates and latest software all the time.

A great, more lightweight rolling-release distro for gaming.

Visit their official website for download/installation instructions and FAQ:

Download mGAMe


Which distro do you use? What kind of a Linux gaming setup do you have? Did we miss something? Leave a comment below!

Get a Linux shirt from Amazon:

Share this

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

11 thoughts on “Best Linux Distros for Gaming in 2017

    • Kyle Lyles

      I just dropped Mint after ~5 years. It seems that the Ubuntu based distros have a nasty habit of playing with video drivers. I’ve had to spend hours after (6?) upgrades over the past 5 years. They revert to open source and cause all sorts of problems. I run NVidea for my large monitor and Intel onboard for laptop monitor. Each of these six or more times, the config was swapped out even though I said no to changes.

      No hate here for Mint, just that I use Linux as my sole work OS and don’t have time to fix other people’s mistakes.

  • Miguel Mayol i Tur

    I miss Manjaro or any other arch based one in this mix

    About Stream OS or using big picture, you can add programs as if it where games, so adding some terminal, and or GUI for packet manager, you can add software to the system, and after it to the Steam library with the +.

    It is great to add Lutris, PlayoinLinux’s Steam and or directly some emulators plus Kodi, Firefox, Chrome/ium and some other software and be able to use it with a game controller.

  • Shellcoder

    Gentoo Linux and Steam.
    Using it every day, fast, very stable and not for all users (I mean Gentoo Linux is really more for PowerUsers than usual Ubuntu user)