Will Linux be better for gaming than Windows?

Windows still reigns supreme on PCs in terms of market share, but the chairs are being cut: Chromebooks have been a cheap (and safe!) option for years. Also Valve, the company behind game platform Steam and games such as DOTA and Counter-Strike, is not sitting still. In the background, Valve is hard at work getting Linux ready for gaming. Does this have the potential to rock the PC market, or is this another one of the many flop theories dubbed '20XX will be the year of Linux on the desktop'?

The discussion about the best gaming platform is almost always about the differences between the well-known consoles (Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, etc.) and a computer with Windows. Linux is, if we are to believe the Steam Hardware Survey, a niche operating system for gamers that barely one percent use. The open source operating system has obvious advantages, but why isn't it catching on yet? And could that change soon?

01 Learning to use Linux

One of the most common arguments for ignoring Linux is the ease of use of Windows or macOS. The workflow of Windows and macOS is different, but these operating systems have evolved into a system whose basic functions are clear and easy to use. Linux, on the other hand, raises questions before installation begins: which distribution should I use? Ubuntu is the most popular with many tutorials readily available, but for novice Linux gamers, SteamOS is a good alternative. Ubuntu, despite the nice interface, still has a small learning curve before gamers can get started. While this may put some off, it's worth it for the more experienced computer users. SteamOS is a lot simpler to use. Games can be installed immediately after logging in and everything available on the platform will work without any problems.

Gaming on macOS

Besides Linux and Windows, macOS is of course also a popular operating system. Unfortunately, this OS is only available for Apple computers, which severely limits the choice of hardware. Apple's current offering is of little interest to the avid gamer. The Mac Pro is equipped with AMD FirePro: graphics cards aimed at professional use. Also, the AMD Radeon Pro cards in the iMacs and MacBooks are not intended for games. In addition, the game selection is very small and the compact devices are not built for long gaming sessions.

02 Hardware Support

Linux has long had a bad name for its limited hardware support and lousy drivers, but those days are over. Both AMD and Nvidia regularly come up with updates and the latest hardware can now be used on Linux from day one. Laptop users with an Intel i-gpu can enjoy modern drivers, but be careful with sleep mode and hibernate when closing the laptop. Many distributions and hardware combinations do not work well with the hibernate function, which can cause data loss.

The audio drivers that used to cause problems are now excellent. In fact, by using open source audio drivers, there are many more possibilities than in Windows. Echo reduction and similar features can sometimes cause problems, but for the popular Linux distributions, there is enough information online to solve that.

03 The correct drivers

After installing a Linux distribution, there are still a few things that need to be done before you can start gaming. Linux is an open source operating system and that actually includes open source drivers, but whether this is sensible depends on the hardware used. AMD officially supports the open source drivers and their performance is also excellent, but this is not the case with Nvidia. Open source drivers are available from Nouveau, but they are reverse engineered from the closed source Nvidia driver. Despite the good work of the Nouveau community, the performance level of the closed source drivers is much higher. The difference is certainly great with new graphics cards, but graphics cards from a few generations back also perform better on the official Nvidia drivers.

Ubuntu will automatically install the open source drivers from both brands, but to ensure the latest updates, use the following AMD command:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:oibaf/graphics-drivers

sudo apt update

The easiest way to install official Nvidia drivers is with the following commands:

sudo apt-get purge nvidia*

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:graphics-drivers

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get install nvidia-driver-410

04 Native Linux Games

The game offer for Linux was very limited until a few years ago, but Valve is taking big steps to improve the offer. Steam, Valve's digital distribution platform, currently offers more than 4,000 games that are suitable for Linux. This includes the well-known games such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Sid Meier's Civilization, but also hundreds of indie games from small developers. If a game was previously purchased for Windows, it does not need to be purchased again for Linux.

GOG.com is another great provider of games available for Linux. Unlike Steam, GOG.com is entirely based on a website. So no additional program needs to be installed in addition to the purchased games. It is also possible to transfer games purchased in Steam to GOG via GOG Connect.

Many well-known Linux distributions also have their own software repositories that also offer games. For example, Ubuntu has its own Ubuntu Software Center in which a large number of well-known and lesser-known games are available. The same goes for other distributions like Linux Mint.

05 Windows games in Linux

The range of Linux games may be expanding rapidly, but most major titles are only available for Windows. Once again, Valve comes to the rescue with a new feature within the Linux variant of Steam: Steam Play. Steam Play uses a modified version of Wine: an open source program that allows Windows software to be used in a Linux environment. This feature is only available in beta and will therefore need to be activated separately. To activate it, click in Steam on steam and go to Settings. In the tab Account can you under the heading Beta participation click on Change. A new window will open, choose Steam BetaUpdate. After you click OK clicked Steam will have to restart and update before Steam Play becomes available. To activate Steam Play, open again Settings, where under the new tab steam play put a check next to Enable Steam Play for supported titles. This will make available the Windows games that have been tested by Valve. With the checkmark Enable Steam Play for all titles all Windows games will be available in Steam, but you can regularly run into bugs or very low frame rates.


Wine (Wine Is Not an Emulator) is an open source program that allows software for Windows to be used in Linux and macOS. It works with the Win16, Win32 and Win64 api and can also be used for DirectX games. DirectX 12 support will take a while, but Wine is an effective solution for all previous variants. However, Wine is not the solution for all games, because in many cases you will encounter a lot of bugs and problems. If the game works, chances are the frame rate will be 10 to 80 percent lower than in Windows. There are many databases available online where users keep track of how Wine works on a game-by-game basis, but different hardware configurations can lead to different results.

06 Lower frame rate

Unfortunately, there is not all good news for Linux. While drivers are getting better, distribution platforms are expanding, and games are increasingly being developed for Linux, performance is still an issue. Benchmarks with a system with an Nvidia Geforce GTX 1070 and an AMD Radeon RX 480 show a clear picture: games run (much) better in Windows, see the table. In all cases, the games were tested with the highest graphics settings and a resolution of 1440 × 2560 pixels. Of the games tested, Sid Meier's Civilization VI was the worst, in Ubuntu both graphics cards did not reach half the framerate in Windows. Metro Last Light Redux and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive did great, the RX 480 even managed to get a higher frame rate in Ubuntu in Metro. Unfortunately, there were other flaws in the Linux variant of Metro Last Light Redux. For example, the graphics settings are limited to one general low-high choice and it is not even possible to adjust the resolution in-game. For advanced settings, it is necessary to user.cfg-file modified with cryptic variables for each option.

07 Still just Windows?

Microsoft Windows has a wider range of games, is easier to use and almost always performs better… so why are people still choosing Linux? The easiest answer is of course the price: Linux is free, while a Windows license costs at least 100 euros per computer. That's not all, though: there's something to be said for open source software, which can – in theory – deliver a better experience. After all, closed source software is released purely for profit, while open source stands for freedom and versatility.

Paying for extra 'downloadable content' (dlc) at the launch of a game is not included, because a smart guy would immediately release a variant without the paywall. In addition, open source software leads to new innovations much faster. Programmers don't have to reinvent the wheel for basic functionality and can add their own ideas to an existing project. This allows simple ideas to be put into practice faster, resulting in better software.

08 Open source is the future

With such a large open source community, it will be impossible for technology companies to compete with their closed source software in the future. Already there are few start-ups that are trying to bring closed source software to the market. After all, there will always be an open source variant that, with the help of the community, surpasses the closed source software. Companies will therefore have to look for a new business model in which open source is embraced and technological progress is paramount.

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