PC Gaming on Ubuntu Linux

PC Gaming on Ubuntu Linux

By Nick Intorre

In this article I’m going to be talking about PC gaming with Ubuntu Linux. I will discuss several areas that at the end I hope will give you a better understanding of PC gaming on a Linux based OS and how it compares to traditional Windows PC gaming that you may be considering moving away from or to try something different. While I will give examples and basic instructions within Ubuntu. This article is not meant to a full guide on using Ubuntu, and as such, if there are sections that you have trouble understanding or want more help or information, askubuntu.com is a great place for help with specific problems or questions you may have with the OS. That being said, let’s get started!

Ubuntu Linux Logo

Why Game on Ubuntu Linux

Gaming on an Ubuntu PC is not that much different in the end than gaming on a Windows based PC. So what would be some reasons to switch from Windows to Ubuntu for gaming? As some of you may know, Linux is more secure than Windows. Hands down. In all my years of using Linux, never has it been compromised by a hacker or virus. It’s something you just don’t have to worry about anymore.  Ubuntu is also on a rolling release schedule, that is, a new updated version is available every 6 months. LTS (Long Term Support) versions have updates available for 5 years after the release.

Linux can do everything a Windows PC can do. I have installed Ubuntu, in its many versions over the years on many, many PCs and servers. While some of the older versions of Ubuntu (older than v8.04) had some features to be desired, Ubuntu is now at a point where I feel it can actually replace a Windows PC if you are ready to make the switch. Everything you use now is either available as a Linux version or something comparable and functions identical usually are available. Office, graphics, email, music, media players, web browsers and games are available.

Hardware support for Ubuntu is second to none. In all of my installs of Ubuntu, just with the install disk, I was able to install the OS, partition the hard drive and have all, sound, network (Ethernet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth), card readers, printers, and graphics with little to no configuration. It just works. If you have a PC or laptop from a big name manufacturer and it shipped with Windows 8 and you are less than pleased, you may consider installing Ubuntu.

It’s free. Linux has and always will be a free OS. If you are building a new PC, you can consider using Ubuntu as it will cost you nothing to install, update and use.

Finally, for the end of this section: why Ubuntu? Well, the answer is simple. It is very well supported and most popular distro of Linux that has a huge catalog of software readily available, and as of this writing, the only distro with official support from Valve for Steam (Ubuntu 12.04LTS).

Ubuntu Hardware Support

As I mentioned before, hardware support for Ubuntu, and other Linux distros in general are very good. However, because we are going to be using the PC for gaming, I wanted to touch on a few areas first.

General things apply across the board, no matter what OS you are using, be it Windows or Ubuntu. You want at a minimum, 4 GB of RAM. The more the better. If you have more, you will need a 64-bit OS to take advantage of the larger amount of RAM. Ubuntu comes in 32 and 64-bit versions available. Most new computers, will want to use the 64-bit version.

The next area when it comes to gaming is the graphics card. The whole reason we are here is to play PC games. So what graphics cards are best for PC gaming on Ubuntu? Both Nvidia and ATi/AMD cards are well supported with drivers and function under Ubuntu. I recommend your personal preference on brand. Because we are gaming, get what you can afford.

Sound drivers are well supported as well. If you have a multi-channel set up, Ubuntu can be configured to work with this and output 5.1 and 7.1 sound for example.

As for the CPU, the CPU support is the same between Intel and AMD. Choose your preferred brand.

Remember, in the end Ubuntu is flexible. Whether you have an Intel CPU and ATi graphics or vice versa, Ubuntu will be able to be installed and take advantage of the available hardware.

Software Needed for Ubuntu Gaming

So now that we understand some reasons we would want to switch to Ubuntu and some of the hardware requirements it’s time to jump into the software and explain how the gaming process works on Ubuntu.

Let’s start with the obvious. Steam from Valve. No doubt if you consider yourself a PC gamer, you have some of your gaming collection through Steam.  In this section, we’ll go over install Steam in Ubuntu and using to play games. Let’s go over requirements for Steam on Ubuntu first.

According to Valve:

  • 1 GHz Pentium 4 or AMD Opteron with 512 megabytes of RAM and 5 gigabytes of hard drive space, or better
  • Broadband Internet connection
  • Ubuntu Linux, fully updated (12.04 LTS at the time of this article)
  • Latest graphics display driver
  • NVIDIA driver support – For recent cards (ie. 8xx series), you will need to install 310.x. For older cards, driver 304.x supports the NVIDIA 6 and 7 GPU series. To access these drivers, first update your cache and then install the specific driver you need from the list in Additional Drivers.
  • AMD driver support – For recent cards (ie. 5xxx series and above), we recommend installing the 12.11 driver. For older cards, Catalyst 13.1 Legacy supports the HD 2400 Pro card and is the latest for the 2 and 4 GPU series.
  • Intel HD 3000/4000 driver support – you will need to use the latest Mesa drivers, Mesa 9 or later.

Remember, the above requirements are meant to be used as minimum requirements for Steam. Some games will require more in the way of hardware.

In many tests, games running under Ubuntu run just as fast, if not faster in some cases than the same games running under Windows.

Once you have installed Ubuntu and are at the desktop, the easiest and direct approach to install Steam is to use the Ubuntu Software Center (USC). Click the USC icon from the Unity Launcher. Once the software center has started, just do a search for Steam. It will then give you the option to install. Click install, enter your admin password, and once it’s finished, you will then be able to run Steam.

Another easy method to install Steam is to download the .deb installer file from Steampowered.com. Once the file is downloaded, it is placed in the downloads folder. You may then double click it to open it in the software center and install. If the first method to install fails or hangs, download the .deb file and install manually through the USC.

Once Steam has been installed, click the Ubuntu button at the top of the Unity Launcher. Search for Steam. You should then see the familiar logo. Click and drag the Steam icon to the Unity Launcher to create a quick launch shortcut, or you can drag it to the desktop if you prefer.

Click in the Steam icon to launch Steam. You will be presented to login to your Steam account or register if you do not have one.

Just a heads up to everyone considering moving from Windows to Ubuntu, remember, not every game on Steam is available to run natively in Ubuntu. More are added every day and the list keeps growing. However, don’t be surprised if one of your games does not have a Linux version available. Some developers are converting games to Linux and may be available soon. Steam has its own dedicated section for Linux games and Steam indicates with an OS icon which OS the game in question can be played on. If you already have games purchased that are in your Library on Steam, click on Linux games, and any games that can run on Linux will be displayed.

I also want to briefly touch on another application that is used to play Windows games on Linux. Unfortunately this is a little more complex and so I recommend only trying this after you feel comfortable using Ubuntu.

WINE is available through the USC. To install, start the USC, do a search for WINE and install.

WINE is a compatibility layer. It duplicates functions of Windows by providing alternative implementations of the DLLs that Windows programs call, and a process to substitute for the Windows NT kernel. This method of duplication differs from other methods that might also be considered emulation, such as a Virtual Machine. What this means, WINE attempts to run a Windows .exe within Ubuntu with no other software. WINE HQ maintains a list of programs/games that currently work with WINE: http://appdb.winehq.org/

Also worth pointing out if you are planning on using WINE, I recommend doing a search in the USC for PlayOnLinux.

PlayOnLinux is a graphical front-end for the Wine software compatibility layer which aims to simplify the installation of Windows-based applications and games on Linux. The system provides wrapper shell scripts with a .pol filename extension that specify the configuration of Wine needed in order to install and run a particular application. If you decide to use WINE, I advise to use PlayOnLinux, as it also functions a game launcher to keep your Windows games organized and easily launched to play. PlayOnLinux allows users to install some of the most popular Windows applications, such as Apple iTunes, Safari, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Internet Explorer, AutoCAD, .NET Framework 2.0, Fireworks MX, Flash MX, and many others.

Final Thoughts

Ubuntu has been on a journey itself since 2004 when it was initially released. Now, nearly a decade later, Ubuntu is finally in a position to start to challenge the traditional PC gaming market. As more people are introduced to Ubuntu and gaming, support and games available will only grow for it.

Ubuntu aims to be simple to use and easy to understand. Its gaming capabilities has come a long way as well. As being an alternative to Windows, Ubuntu, although it may not be able to run every game currently, is worth looking into if you are looking for something different or are not happy with newer versions of Windows.

Those looking into switching from Windows to Ubuntu will be able to find a wealth of information available online on how to make the transition as painless as possible; everything from downloading and burning a Live CD/Flash Drive to migrating files and data and other advanced topics are available.

This concludes my guide on Ubuntu PC gaming. We like to hear your comments! Thanks for reading!


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  1. Joe

    It’s nice to see the idea of Linux gaming starting to be taken seriously. Having said that, there’s nothing new or interesting in this piece–it’s all very generic (no individual games, hardware, or other tips are mentioned). It’s basically “hey everyone, Ubuntu exists, it’s good, and you can use it for gaming.” That’s not a bad thing, but I was expecting more substance.

  2. ET3D

    I was happy to see a Linux gaming article, but I’m somewhat disappointed after reading it. There are a couple of hints, but it’s mainly an advocacy article. I would have preferred something which helped deal with issues gamers switching from Windows might face, whether getting native Linux versions of games or using Wine, even just installing drivers. Someone coming from Windows would stumble on these, and I would have loved an article detailing setting up a Linux gaming system and getting a couple of high profile games to run.

    Personally, I tried Linux a couple of times over the years, always ended up disappointed by lack of compatibility, difficulty of installing drivers and getting games to run over Wine. I imagine things are better now, but I also imagine that it would still not be trivial.

  3. Argos

    Just wanted to thank you for this article.This really did breath new life into my interest for Linux. I look forward to experimenting with a dual boot on the new machine I’ll be buying this year.

  4. Dave

    You should seriously, seriously consider using an editor and/or proof-reader. Good content, but good grief man…

  5. Mikeyzman

    I like the article, but you failed to mention on major problem with gaming in Ubuntu, and its not Ubuntu’s fault. Its the fact that most PC games are made ONLY for DirectX. ITs a shame, for a while there, the studios were supporting both but Microsoft eventually chocked the free world out, and put a big wet blanket on OpenGL. What this means for Linux gaming is there is little to no support (none that I know of) for DX games, so anything you want to play in Linux better have OGL support.

    But good article, it shines the light on the fact that the linux world is getting much much brighter as far as gaming goes. I think that as this bubble gets bigger, and more polished OS like Mint and Ubuntu start getting more noobs to dive in, then maybe we’ll get that support back. But getting STEAM onboard was a big big big win for the -ux world (er, linux that is.)

  6. michaelv180

    Not a terrible article, but like others have said, there’s not too much here, and bias is rampant. A few items of interest:

    -As of the date of the article, 12.04LTS was the only release supported, but not more than four days later, Steam includes 14.04LTS support (which was just released). It might not be a bad idea to install the current version now instead of the older one, although it’s not a huge deal.
    -In all his years of using Linux, never has it been compromised by a hacker or virus…is inaccurate. Linux has been hacked and compromised by viruses in the past few years. His boxes maybe not, but Linux, yes. It *is* something you have to worry about, although not as much as Windows. Why overstate facts?
    -Hardware support for Ubuntu is great, but not second to none. Cutting edge devices will not have drivers as fast as Windows, though it has much better support for older devices. This is an issue for people buying new NUCs, BRIX PROs, and multi-function wireless cards. It’s not Ubuntu’s fault, but some of these devices need updates worked into the kernel (Realtek is horrible about collaboration). It’s not a huge problem since it’s a very small percentage of users, but overstatements eat credibility.
    -Gamepad hardware can still be problematic. Always do-able, but sometimes takes some working.

    Despite all that, Ubuntu is more than good for gaming. Some commandline-fu is needed very rarely and is easy to find with an online search, but it’s a great system. For those hating Windows 8/8.1, heck yes, give it a go. For those okay with Windows, I’d still say it’s a good call to try Ubuntu. More so if MS switches to an OS subscription model in the near future.

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