You just finished your brand-new gaming PC build and saw it POST. Now is the time to install an operating system. But which one should you pick? What is best for you?
There is a large variety of operating systems you can pick from, yet only a few are really suitable for gaming. The three that I consider most suitable and that I am going to compare here are Windows 10, Linux (in the form of Ubuntu), and SteamOS.
Windows 10 is the mainstream OS: it is likely that you have used it already, and that you are familiar with it. It has particularly good driver support for all brands of CPUs and GPUs, and almost any program is compatible with windows. That includes almost every game program (especially if you include emulation). Windows is very suitable for office tasks as well, since it supports the Microsoft Office suite (Excel, Word, PowerPoint, etc).
This set of features makes Windows an interesting choice for gamers looking to do school or work tasks on the same device as they do their gaming. The downsides of Windows are that it uses—relatively speaking—a lot of system resources in the background, and it is not very customizable or flexible without downloading numerous third-party programs. Also, unlike the other two options in this list (which are free), a Windows license has a price tag above $100.
Linux is an OS with many different variants: it is very customizable, and it is free to download. The variant discussed here is Ubuntu due to its exceeding popularity and ease of use. Driver support, however, is not as good as it is with Windows 10. Some common programs are not available, such as the MS Office suite—although there are capable compatible alternatives.
Linux uses much fewer system resources and natively sports a huge amount of user control and customization. This makes it a popular option for playing games (increasingly so as the library of compatible games has grown over the years). The customizability makes this OS interesting for people that like to change their OS and adjust its functionality to their preferences. However, be aware that Linux in general (and Ubuntu in particular) is open-source, and that there is no formal ‘tech-support.’ You may be able to get some help from strangers online, but ultimately you are going to have to fix software problems by yourself.
SteamOS is technically another Linux variant, and as such it is also available completely for free. This one comes with the same ‘Linux-bound’ pros and cons discussed in the section about Ubuntu above, such as the worse driver support and better hardware optimization.
However, it also comes with notable differences. The most immediately noticeable difference is the native UI of SteamOS. It has a console-like feel. This is because SteamOS is primarily intended for a living room gaming PC. Due to this targeted gaming optimization, this operating software is the least usable for office and school tasks. However, Steam is very well-integrated in the OS (oh, what a surprise), making it quite easy to browse, buy, download, and play games. (That’s not hard on the other OS options, by the way; it’s just extra-easy on this one.)
Overall, Windows 10 is the best for a straightforward ‘dual-purpose’ computer that will be used for gaming as well as doing another primary job. School work and office work is not hard on a Windows machine, and gamers will enjoy the broad compatibility leading to a large library of available games.
Linux (specifically Ubuntu) is nice if you want to customize your OS to a high degree, or if you just think that 100 USD for an OS is a bit too much after the cost of the hardware. It should be underscored that Linux is also perfectly usable for school or work, even though it has a higher learning curve and more limited software compatibility.
And last (but not least) is SteamOS, which I would recommend if you want to turn your PC into a console-like living room gaming PC and/or HTPC.
All three can be good options for people with new gaming PC builds, but only one of them will be the best option for you.