5 of the most popular Linux gaming distros

Note: Our most popular Linux gaming distros round-up has been fully updated. This feature was first published in May 2015.

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 Play on Linux, Wine and Steam.

So without further ado, we'll move on to highlight five of the very best gaming distros.

The Fedora Project produces several "spins" which are alternate versions of the distro, offering tools and software components chosen for a specific purpose. 

The Games Spin of Fedora features a vast collection of games spread across different genres such as arcade, sports, strategy, adventure, action, etc. Although not every game is included, Fedora tries to incorporate the best from each genre (see a full list of available titles here). 

The 3.8GB ISO can run off a Live USB, or alternatively be installed to disk, like regular Fedora. You can also install additional games from the repos using the YumEx application. The distro doesn't ship with Steam, Wine or Play on Linux pre-installed, but these can be installed from the software repositories to access even more games.

Fedora Games Spin is ideal for those looking to quickly try popular titles such as SuperTuxKart, The Battle for Wesnoth, Freeciv, Warzone 2100 and many more.

Lakka is a lightweight version of Linux which can turn your computer into a retro games console. It's built on top of media centre software LibreELEC, and the most recent version 2.0 makes use of RetroArch 1.5.0 to emulate a huge number of consoles.

Lakka is available as a bootable USB image for Linux and there's also a Raspberry Pi version.

This distro supports most keyboards as well as wireless PS3 and PS4 controllers, along with Xbox 360 controllers if you have the proprietary dongle. RetroArch boasts a very handy autoconfig feature which should mean that most controllers will work out of the box without you having to manually map keys. The Lakka documentation also has some excellent walkthroughs for more unusual setups. 

For copyright reasons, the OS ships without any games preinstalled. You'll need to obtain legal copies of either ISO images of game CDs you own or precompiled ROM files of arcade games. Check out the Internet Archive which contains some public domain ROMS.

Sparky Linux is a Debian-based distribution that puts out several releases based on different desktops such as XFCE and MATE. Even-numbered releases of Sparky Linux are accompanied by a special edition of the distro. The Sparky Linux 4.5 ‘GameOver’ edition is the latest such release.

The DVD release clocks in at 3.85GB and is chock full of applications and games. The distro also has a number of tools such as APTus Gamer, which can download and install all available game emulators.

A large number of games are also pre-installed across genres such as arcade, action, sports, and so on, is an added bonus. Play on Linux, Wine and the Steam installer are also included.

Ubuntu GamePack comes from Ukrainian developers UALinux. In addition to proprietary codecs and drivers, the distro provides two different systems for you to enjoy gaming on Linux – Steam and the Lutris Gaming Platform. With these you can access and install hundreds of games on your Ubuntu machine.

UALinux claims that its distro provides access to thousands of games and applications for Windows and DOS. The emulators DOSBox and DosEmu are preinstalled, as is the more fully-fledged Windows emulator Crossover. 

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 is based on Ubuntu 16.04. There's both a 32-bit and a 64-bit version; each are around 2GB in size.

This Debian-based distro (recently updated to the latest Debian 8 release) has been specifically designed to run Valve's Steam platform, and comes pre-installed on the firm’s Steam Machine games console. 

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.

The install-only distro is available for 64-bit machines and works best with at least 4GB of RAM. It also needs around 200GB of free space on your hard drive and an Nvidia graphics card. If you're handy with computers, consider building your own Steam Machine

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.

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