I’ve been on vacation for 3 weeks and as such I couldn’t bring my super powerful gaming rig, since it’s a massive beast of a thing that most likely wouldn’t even get on the plane. Being that I normally am not much of a laptop user, I do happen to own a Dell Latitude E5400 laptop that by now is about a decade old. Even when this thing was new it wasn’t much of a gaming laptop, and it shows.
So to make it run faster, I decided to install Linux Mint on the thing. It honestly runs a lot faster than Windows 7 or especially Windows 10, since it is a lot less bloated. Of course, I also maxed out the RAM to 4GB (it seriously doesn’t take more). I also installed a 1TB SSD which sped it up even more.
But what, I hear you ask, can you run on a 10-year-old laptop in 2021 running Linux Mint? Well, that’s what we are here today to find out. Linux itself has come a long way as a legit gaming OS in the last decade.
Like, don’t get me wrong, it’s still a bit fiddly to get Windows games playing on the thing. It all depends on what you want to run. But I did discover that Linux is perfect for retro gaming, given the number of source ports and emulators on the thing.
So we might as well get started. Here are the top 10 games you can run on a 10-year-old Dell Latitude laptop in 2021 on Linux.
10 – Duke Nukem 2 (Rigel Engine)
Duke Nukem 2 is one of those kinda forgotten DOS classics in the grand scheme of things. Overshadowed by its direct sequel Duke 3D, it’s still a blast to play today. In fact, if you look at Duke Nukem 2, you can see a lot of elements from it inspired Duke 3D.
There are slime enemies that are almost identical to the ones in Duke 3D. The atomic health powerups make their debut here, although only grant a single unit of health. It also features a bit of a prototype jetpack with the flamethrower weapon. Duke can propel himself upwards by firing it downwards.
A brand new source port is in the works, dubbed the Rigel Engine. This source port allows the game to not only run in widescreen for the first time but also adds quicksaves. Being a source port, it also works on Linux in addition to Windows and Mac. Though getting it to work on Linux is a bit more cumbersome than on Windows, although according to developer Lethal Guitar, a .deb package is in the works that should make the installation smoother.
You can grab the game from its github page, where you’ll also find installation instructions for Windows, Mac, and Linux. On Linux, you’ll need to compile the game yourself using cmake, but the instructions make it very easy to understand.
In order to get it running on this laptop, I had to specifically compile using an older renderer, as well as specify 2 CPU cores. Lethal Guitar was very helpful in providing instructions on how to compile it for an older system and has posted those on the github page.
You’ll also need the original game files. Unfortunately, Gearbox, which currently owns the rights to the series, hasn’t re-released it as of yet. That being said, some physical CD copies of Duke 3D came with the first two Duke games on the disc, so you might get lucky there. If nothing else, yarr.
9 – Half-Life
One thing that’s for certain is that running Steam on Linux Mint is very easy. Just grab it from the Software Manager and you’re good to go. I did notice that the Steam interface itself would bog down the laptop quite heavily, so I recommend disabling the overlay for older PCs.
With access to Steam, you of course have access to the Half-Life series. While both the GoldSrc and Source engines work natively on Linux without emulation, on this laptop I found that Half-Life 2 and any Source game, in general, would run very poorly, even on minimum settings. But it’s definitely doable, and that speaks volumes of Valve’s backward compatibility with their games.
I definitely had the most luck with Half-Life 1 and any mod and expansion for it. One quirk I took notice of was how the games would actually run better windowed because I would get insane mouse lag in full-screen mode. The same goes for Source games.
Half-Life still holds up as one of the most influential shooters of all time. There are also a ton of mods to check out for it, including the recently released Half-Life: C.A.G.E.D. It’s a brutally difficult survival mod that has a killer synthwave soundtrack. Something to look into if you want a more hardcore experience.
8 – DOSBox
DOSBox is an emulator for DOS games, though it actually emulates an entire PC system. It includes SoundBlaster/AdLib emulation for sound, VGA, EGA, and CGA emulation for graphics, and it can even emulate various PC systems and speeds. It is very useful for playing retro PC games from the 80s and early 90s, and a lot of modern releases of old PC games actually use it.
Since it’s open-source, it naturally has a native Linux version. Installing it is as easy as grabbing it from the Software Manager. As for games, you can grab a lot of them online through either Steam, GOG, or other sources. Heck, you could do what I do and hook up a USB floppy drive and just use the original install disks.
It works really great on my old laptop and allows me to play most of my library of older PC games without much of a hassle. It used to have an issue on Linux with capturing the mouse, which still persists on older releases, but this has been fixed in the most recent version.
7 – RetroArch
Speaking of emulation, RetroArch is a great download if you fancy some retro gaming. My laptop might struggle a bit with newer systems, but it still does SNES, NES, and even GBA emulation pretty well. It’s super easy to get on Linux Mint, given it’s readily available from the Software Manager.
RetroArch itself isn’t really an emulator, but more of a front-end for numerous emulators that you can download called cores. You can then import ROMs for these cores, and usually, RetroArch will identify each ROM and create categories based on the cores you have. You can even download thumbnails and have a pretty neat-looking library of games.
RetroArch’s interface runs a bit slow on my laptop but you can use alternatives if you want to. The emulators themselves run fine though, at least in a window as I had some issues with fullscreen.
I also was able to connect my Nintendo Switch SNES controller to my laptop through Bluetooth. It made everything feel even more complete.
6 – The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
I, like a lot of gamers, have a lot of fondness for the Elder Scrolls series. While installing Skyrim on this laptop probably would be a bad idea, I was able to get Morrowind working natively on Linux Mint using the OpenMW source port. You can find downloads on the official website.
A huge issue on Linux right now, at least for me, is the fact that the base install will crash if you save the game, so I had to do a workaround to get that fixed, involving installing some additional software. Unfortunately, I’ve lost that information, but you can join the OpenMW discord if you need help getting the game running on Linux.
You’ll of course need the original game. I used my original CD-ROMs but you can grab the game on Steam and GOG if you want to get it digitally.
Morrowind remains one of the more unique entries in the series, thanks to its alien atmosphere and setting. To get it running smoothly I had to run it at 640×480 with pretty much every graphic setting turned to the bare minimum. The result was a pretty foggy experience that would run at barely 30 fps, but it’s still a greatly immersive game, and great fun to play.
5 – Fallout 1 & 2
When it comes to classic RPGs, the Fallout series hasn’t really gone in a good direction. Fallout 4, while a good game, strayed heavily from the feel of the original games. Fallout 76 had such a problem with its own identity it’s only recently it’s felt more like a cohesive experience.
On a 10-year-old laptop like this, it’s pretty much pointless to try and run any of the 3D Bethesda games in the series. So another option is of course to play the first 2 games, which has held up pretty well.
If you got into the series via the newer titles, it might feel a bit archaic. But those who enjoyed New Vegas will find a lot of lore to enjoy. New Vegas is a direct sequel to Fallout 2, so if you haven’t played the classics but enjoy New Vegas, definitely check them out.
Fallout 1 and 2 run perfectly in Wine, although a bit laggy in higher resolutions. I only tried it with the high res patch, so the original version might run better or worse. In a 640×480 window, it runs smoothly though. Though on a modern system, you probably won’t have to worry about this.
4 – Duke Nukem 3D
Duke Nukem 3D is very easy to get running in Linux. You can either run the original game through DOSBox which I mentioned earlier or grab the EDuke32 source port from the Software Manager. The source port has a few advantages, such as being easier to mod and supporting some graphical upgrades with the Polymer and Polymost renderers.
Unfortunately, those would kinda wreck the framerate on this laptop, so I had to stick with the classic renderer. It doesn’t support true 3D, but it does give the game a much smoother framerate.
Needless to say, you’ll also need the original game files. I’m not sure if World Tour includes them, but if not, the game is not exactly rare. Copies on eBay are common.
3 – Stardew Valley
Stardew Valley is one of the newer games that runs really well on this laptop. Despite its recent release date, it runs natively in Linux without any configuration needed. Which speaks volumes of how well it’s coded.
That being said, it does have some framerate issues, especially if you zoom out the view. But it’s definitely playable, and I had a few good sessions with it.
I was really surprised by how well this game ran as similar games like Terraria have heavy framerate issues on this laptop. It also helps Stardew Valley is one of my favorite games.
2 – Unreal Tournament
Unreal Tournament is a must-play on any PC in my opinion. Despite being released in 1999, it has remained a LAN mainstay for me even to this day. For good reason, it still runs really well on modern systems, and it has a native Linux port.
The Linux port does lack some niceties such as alt-tabbing, and in Windowed mode it doesn’t capture the mouse so it becomes impossible to play it that way. So running it in Wine might be more suitable if you want those options. But you might lose some performance that way.
Installing the Linux version isn’t straight forward though, and you will need to do it via the terminal, using the original install discs and the Loki installer. Grabbing it from GOG and installing it with something like PlayOnLinux might be easier. If you want to use the Loki installer, follow this guide.
1 – Ion Fury
Ion Fury is by far the most recent game I can run on this old laptop. Released in 2019, it is a standout game in the sense it uses the Build engine, which was also used by classic shooters like Duke Nukem 3D, Blood, and Shadow Warrior. That being said, Ion Fury really pushes the limits of the engine and even pushes modern CPUs to the limit.
So understandably, due to the lacking hardware, I had to disable hardware acceleration and run it in Classic mode, but I got a pretty substantial framerate boost from that, much like in Duke 3D. It does struggle during some heavy moments with lots of explosions and stuff happening, but for the most part, it is extremely playable.
Ion Fury ended up being the game I’ve played the most on this old laptop, and I highly recommend checking it out if you have an older laptop. It runs surprisingly well on older hardware, which puts it a bit ahead of other boomer shooters such as Amid Evil and Dusk that run on modern engines and straight-up won’t work on older hardware.
That about sums it up. I hope this list gave you some ideas for stuff to run in Linux as well as on older computers. Old laptops like the Dell Latitude E5400 are really cheap to grab (I only paid $70 for mine), and they can be decent retro gaming laptops.
If you have more game suggestions or questions, leave them in the comments!