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Usability And Performance Across 9 Distros [Introduction]

Gaming. It’s one of the two main reasons people cite for not making the jump into desktop Linux waters (the other being the notable absence of Adobe creative software). Despite the significant steps Valve and other developers have taken toward Linux being recognized as a first-class citizen when it comes to PC gaming, it’s not quite there yet.

[L-R] Fedora, Pop!_OS, Debian, Solus Project, Manjaro, Linux Mint, elementary OS, Ubuntu, DeepinJason Evangelho

Linux Gaming Report Timeline:

I recently posted a somewhat scathing look at the state of gaming on Linux. It took some folks by surprise. As I said in that piece, I’m a Linux advocate but I’m also a critic.

However, it would be a shame if I wasn’t equally critical of myself. In that piece I applauded the massive selection of available games on the platform and directed my frustration at the state of graphics drivers. I used Ubuntu as my main example and was (fairly) called out for lumping Linux into a single basket based on my experience with one popular distribution.

I looked inward and realized I had to tackle this with a wider lens. So I decided to do some game testing across 9 different Linux distributions.

Yes, there are sites out there like Phoronix which publish excellent and comprehensive benchmarks. But I want to take things a few steps further by paying close attention to the process of getting prepared for gaming.

Where are the drivers and how do you install them? Does Steam work out of the box or is there extra tweaking required? Is it easy to get the AMD Radeon drivers? The Nvidia drivers? Do native games and Steam Play games (using Proton, Valve’s fork of Wine that allows you to install and run Windows-exclusive Steam games on the Linux client) launch and perform reliably? What’s required to get all that accomplished on each distro?

So the 9-way Linux distro gaming shootout was born.

My 3 Goals For This Project:

  1. Meticulously document the installation and setup procedures necessary to achieve stable gaming on Steam (both native and Proton games) across a variety of Linux distributions and desktop environments.
  2. Discover any differences in performance across those Linux distributions, including maximum CPU and GPU temps.
  3. Contribute potentially valuable insights to both the Linux community and distribution developers, with the goal of improving the average user’s gaming experience on Linux.

The Linux Distros Being Tested:

In my opinion these desktop Linux distros provide different user experiences and different desktop environments (Pantheon, Cinnamon, Vanilla Gnome, KDE, Deepin) without being too advanced for the average gamer to use.

My Personal Test Bench:

Each distro will be installed clean, fully updated, tested, then wiped out for the next one. I’ll be using synthetic benchmarks like Unigine Superposition, native games like Rise of the Tomb Raider and DiRT Rally, plus Proton games like F1 2018 and Hitman 2.

Crucially, I will not install 3rd-party “PPAs” (Personal Package Archives) unless absolutely required to get working graphics drivers. I’ll only be using the most up-to-date drivers available within the distribution’s software center.

And to give fair representation to both AMD Radeon and Nvidia GeForce gamers, I’ll be testing each distro with a popular GPU from each company.

Then The Real Fun Begins!

There’ll be an explosion of content here, chronicling the setup process required for each distribution, the gaming performance results, and any recommended tips and tweaks users will need to know about. And, of course, any potential hurdles that get in the way.

It’s my hope that key Linux distro developers as well as casual and veteran Linux users follow along.

I’d love to have you right here for this entire journey, so follow me here at Forbes or on Twitter and let’s get into the weeds!

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