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The 5 best Linux operating systems for Raspberry Pi gaming

A trendy thing to do with the Raspberry Pi is to turn it into a home-made game console. As a result, many Linux operating systems have cropped up. In this list, we’ll cover the best ones Linux operating systems for Raspberry Pi that you can install to make a DIY gaming console.

1. RecalboxOS

RecalboxOS is an EmulationStation-based Raspberry Pi operating system dedicated to playing retro video games. The OS is a fork of the famous Retropie operating system.

On the surface, there might not seem like a whole lot of difference between Retropie and RecalboxOS; there is. It all comes down to usability. Recalbox takes the already great concept of Retropie, simplifies the setup, and makes it way more approachable for the average user.

Notable Features

  • Easy installation process makes it possible for anyone to get the OS up and running.
  • RecalboxOS comes with the Kodi Media Center out of the box.
  • The OS can emulate 50 consoles, and has pretty good gamepad support (it even supports wireless ones).
  • Thanks to the “online update system,” it’s possible to keep the OS up to date without the need to reflash the SD card.

Download – RecalboxOS

The RecalboxOS project supports all versions of the Raspberry Pi. That means Pi 0, 1, 2, 3 and all B models as well! The OS also supports Odroid and PC, as most of these projects tend to do.

Looking at downloading RecalboxOS for your Pi? You may want to check out our in-depth article on the subject! It discusses everything from how to download the OS, to going over setting it up and more!

2. Retropie

Retropie is an operating system for various versions of the Raspberry Pi nanocomputer. It is based upon Rasbian. It uses the RetroArch emulation tool to allow users to emulate and play nearly every old gaming console game out there.

The Retropie application is the most well-known of all Pi-based emulation systems. It is so popular in fact that it’s not uncommon to see it included with purchasable “Raspberry Pi starter-kits” online.

Notable Features

  • Retropie’s user interface is customizable, and users can easily change the look of it thanks to the built-in theme installation tool.
  • Retropie comes with the Kodi media center, and it’s possible to switch between the gaming OS and Kodi quite easily.
  • Retropie can emulate over 50 gaming consoles and supports most USB controllers.

Download – Retropie

The latest version of Retropie (version 4.4) supports Raspberry 0/1, as well as 2/3. Also, it can be loaded up on other nanocomputer devices like the Odroid, or, installed on a PC as a dedicated operating system.

If you’d like to get your hands on the latest release of Retropie to build your very own Raspberry Pi game console, visit the download page, and select “Pre-made images for the Raspberry Pi” in the “Contents” box.

3. Lakka

Lakka is a unique emulation operating system for the Raspberry Pi. It sports it’s own, PlayStation-inspired user interface, and aims to make playing video games on the Raspberry Pi intuitive and straightforward.

The Lakka operating system is very lightweight, and sports a ton of useful features like automatic gamepad detection, game rewinding, shading options, and even online play!

Notable Features

  • Lakka has network play, and users can connect to other Lakka consoles for online multiplayer.
  • Automatic gamepad detection means no dealing with mapping buttons before playing games.
  • Lakka has custom shader support, so it’s possible to modify the graphics of your favorite retro video games.
  • Lakka’s rewind mode makes it easy to go back and correct a mistake while playing a video game.

Download – Lakka

Lakka has images available for the Raspberry Pi 0, as well as the Pi 2, Pi 3 As expected; it also supports sub-models of the device, such as the 3B+, etc.

To download Lakka, visit their website at Lakka.tv. Once there, click the “get” button and read the disclaimer. Then, select “Linux,” followed by the model of Pi you own.

4. Pi Entertainment System (PES)

The Pi Entertainment System (aka PES) is an Arch-based operating system for the Raspberry Pi. Its primary focus is to be a gaming console, though it does also have excellent support for USB remote controls, making it a great Kodi box as well.

PES does not use the EmulationStation software. Instead, it has its own unique user interface that can be browsed through with a gamepad or remote control. It supports in-game achievements, thanks to Retro Achievements and uses RetroArch for emulating consoles.

Notable Features

  • Unique user-interface that is remote control friendly, and isn’t dependent on a gamepad.
  • File sharing support.
  • “Favorite” system lets users create bookmarks of their favorite games.
  • PES has gaming achievement tracking via RetroArchivements.

Download – Pi Entertainment System (PES)

PES is available for download on Raspberry Pi 1, 2, 3 and all B/B+ models. Currently, it does not support the Pi 0 or Pi 0w.

To download the PES operating system, visit their website, click “Installation” on the sidebar, then “Downloading” to find the image available for your model of Pi.

5. Batocera Linux

Batocera Linux is an emulation operating system for various versions of the Raspberry Pi, Odroid and Personal Computer. Like many other projects, the OS relies on the EmulationStation software, as well as the famous Retroarch emulator so that users can play nearly every retro gaming console with ease.

Notable Features

  • Batocera Linux, like many other EmulationStation-based distributions, comes with a relatively recent version of the Kodi Media Center that users can use to watch media on.
  • Easy to understand interface and setup process.
  • Thanks to RetroArch, the OS can emulate at least 50 gaming consoles.

Download – Batocera Linux

Batocera Linux is readily available for download on the developer’s website. They have images for Raspberry Pi 0, 0w, as well as 1, 2 and 3. The OS also work for the B/B+ models as well.

Conclusion

Retro gaming is perfect for the Raspberry Pi. Its quiet nature, modest specs, and affordable price see to that. Thanks to the operating systems on this list, setting up your very own retro console is easier than ever!

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