How to Improve Gaming Performance on Linux

While Linux is not commonly thought of as a platform that’s ideal for gaming, this is gradually changing as more developers decide to support it and a growing number of players choose to run it in place of Windows.

If you are outside of Microsoft’s OS ecosystem and you still want to dive into the latest and greatest titles, performance can still be a problem, and a combination of factors may be at play.

With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you boost frame rates and squeeze as much as possible out of your hardware when running games on Linux, whether you are looking to blast through triple-A blockbusters or less resource-intense experiences like online blackjack.

gaming on linux

Keep Your GPU Drivers Up to Date

While your CPU’s power will obviously be relevant in a gaming context, it is your GPU which will be doing much of the heavy lifting, especially in more graphically sophisticated gaming experiences.

Installing the latest drivers from your GPU’s vendor is obviously sensible, and indeed updated drivers are often introduced to coincide with the arrival of particularly prominent releases, offering performance optimizations that can sometimes have a dramatic effect on how well games play.

If the official drivers are not playing ball with your particular distro, or you feel that there is more that your GPU can give, there are also open source Linux drivers for most major models. So long as you do your research and are willing to tinker a little, a driver update could be the most effective performance improver.

Unlock Your CPU’s Full Potential

We may have just mentioned that the GPU is the king of the hill when it comes to gaming performance, but modern titles tend to also be very taxing on the main processor as well, especially when focusing on open world titles that have a lot of plates to keep spinning from moment to moment.

Because Linux is usually intended to be as efficient as possible for the given hardware resources available, many distros are simply set to only make use of the CPU’s assets according to the workload that is currently being shouldered. This is where the CPU governor comes into play, as by default in most cases this will be in the ‘on demand’ mode, which can cause issues when gaming workloads are involved.

The answer is to choose the ‘performance’ mode, which removes all restrictions on the CPU’s frequency and instead gives it the go-ahead to run full-bore, maxing out whatever cores and clock speeds it has in its arsenal.

There are a few ways to access this, and one of the most convenient is the recently introduced tool called GameMode from Feral Interactive. The benefits of this tool is that it offers on-demand performance tweaking, rather than requiring that you duck in and out of games or run command line code to introduce the switch to the performance profile for your CPU.

Switch to a Different Desktop Environment

There are lots of underpinning elements of Linux that can impact game performance without there being a clear reason for the penalties that are imposed. The desktop environment is one aspect that many users have identified as potentially problematic, so changing this could net you anywhere from a 5-25% increase in frame rates.

In terms of pure speed, the likes of LXDE and Openbox have been identified as generally better than some of their rivals, while apparent problems with Cinnamon and XFCE mean that running games can be less of a pleasant experience than would otherwise be the case.

Switching desktop environments might seem like something of a drastic step to take, but if you are intent on gaming on a Linux machine, then it is one you should definitely consider.

Bite the Bullet and Upgrade Your Hardware

If all else fails and you have spent as much time and effort making software tweaks and installing updates, the only surefire way to get more in-game performance out of your Linux machine is to splash out on shiny new hardware.

It is important to strike a good balance between the CPU and the GPU, while also making sure you have sufficient system memory on hand to cater to the RAM-hungry games that are commonplace today. It is also worth upgrading your storage, because a SATA SSD or ideally a fully fledged M.2 NVME drive can make a major difference to load times and overall in-game snappiness. Allocating your budget accordingly, and not over-spending on one component at the expense of the other elements, is worthwhile, as otherwise your fancy GPU or tricked-out CPU could be seriously bottlenecked by some other element of the system.

Choose the Best-Optimized Games & Distros

There is only so much that the user can do to maximize the gaming performance of a Linux PC, as at the end of the day it is largely down to the input of the original developer as to whether it will run well or chug along. Because of this, checking how well games support Linux and what level of compatibility and innate optimization they offer is a good idea before you dive in.

For an even clearer game-focused experience, moving to a Linux distro that is explicitly created for interactive entertainment is a good idea. One of the most widely used of the bunch is Steam OS from Valve, which is better suited to those who have decent hardware specifications on tap, rather than anyone looking to run games on an older PC.

If at any point you get stuck or you want more in-depth advice based on your specific setup and circumstances, reaching out to the community will let you connect with people who have similar interests and goals, and will be able to guide you towards gaming nirvana on Linux, even if you are a relative newcomer. There are also useful guides covering all things Linux to follow, so whatever you want to achieve it should be within reach.