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I’m already working on Ubuntu for some time and I was always wondering if there is another distro better than it. I am saying that because for few years Ubuntu was (and still is) in the top of user preferences (acording to DistroWatch.com).
I have some experience with SME Server, CentOS and Ubuntu. I have even installed and used for a while (just curiosity I guess) the Fedora and SUSE distros but no one give me the feeling that is something I really, really like it.
I am pleased with Ubuntu, I really am, but I am that kind of user that for any tiny app/library I am using I used to download the source code, to configure the source (enable/disable options) and put all my horse power (nothing special, just a core2duo) to compile that code with all the CFLAGS=”-O2 -march=core2 -pipe -fomit-framepointer” stuff.
So basically I am using a precompiled distro but I am compiling everything from the source code (I am using even a customized kernel). I want to be able to compile the kernel exactly like I need it, based on my custom hardware. I want to disable everything that I do not use. I want to install myself X Server and to choose myself which windows manager to use and how to use. So definitely I need a source-based distro.
After googling around I decide to try Gentoo. It is exactly what I am looking for.
I followed the Gentoo Handbook step by step, the installation was smooth. In fact, the only issue I have encountered was about downloading kernel source code (as kernel.org was down in Aug 2011 due to some problems). This was easy overcome by pointing GENTOO_MIRRORS to another mirror server.
From a Gentoo Live CD to a functional Linux kernel installed on my disk was just a step. This step took about 3 hours. To install the X Server also took few hours (most of it represents the inevitably compile time). To install a window manager and some basic apps (like terminal, Firefox, Thunderbird, file manager, archive manager, etc) also took me few hours (99% compile time).
Booting the Gentoo, logging in to console, it seems that all of these eat just about 25-27 MB of physical RAM (that info that appears in RES column of top command). After I started X and loaded Gnome (light) desktop environment, the total physical RAM consumed was about 174 MB. When loading Xfce desktop the total physical RAM consumed seems to be about 127 MB.
The boot process takes about 1 second for Linux kernel, 9 seconds for udev (+ other 30 daemons) and other 9 seconds for loading Xfce desktop and basic panels applets (such as log-out, cpu graph, date/time, weather, mail watcher, +2 shortcut pannels). The power-off process takes maximum 10 seconds.
My system is a Intel Core2 Duo CPU (T7250@2.00GHz) with 2GB RAM and I am running a GNU/Linux 2.6.38 (SMP x86_64) kernel on a Ubuntu 11.04 release. On top of it I run my Gentoo installation within a qemu-kvm-0.15.0 virtual machine with 512 RAM and 8GB HDD. The virtual disk is stored in a 8GB raw file and accessed by VM via RedHat VirtIO bus with write-through cache mode.
I have configured the Gentoo/Xfce installation to use the equivalent applets that I am already using in Ubuntu. While Gentoo Xfce is using just 155MB, the Ubuntu Desktop is using about 450MB (see my note below). While Gentoo’s Linux kernel (and also all other libs/app) is tunned for a core2 CPU the Ubuntu is (by default) configured for a generic x86-64 CPU (yeah, I changed this by compiling my own kernel but this is not known as a good practice in Ubuntu). While Gentoo (the virtual guest) takes about 20 seconds for loading, Ubuntu (the physical host) takes about double.
Note: maybe I have configured more carefully Gentoo than Ubuntu (I mean the daemons, kernel modules, etc) but anyway, the difference of memory ussage it’s still considerable. I know that if I am struggling little bit more I can do even better in both sides Gentoo/Ubuntu.
If you like Ubuntu but want a lightweight distro:
- Xubuntu is a Ubuntu-based distro that comes with Xfce (instead of Gnome) and a lot less enabled out of the box
- Lubuntu is a Ubuntu-based distro that comes with Lxde (instead of Gnome), it’s faster, more lightweight and energy saving.
- Gentoo loads faster.
- Gentoo consume (much) less memory than Ubuntu.
- Gentoo is more(highly) configurable even from first stage (if you have time, passion and you are tenacious you can struggle for every byte).
- Ubuntu is great, it installs faster (practically untar an precompiled archive), the everyday user can do “house keeping” without problems.
- Gentoo is all about performance. Ubuntu is a wonderful compromise between Windows and Gentoo. For 99% of users the compromise just works, the rest can use Gentoo ;o)
BUT, Gentoo is not for everyone. You don’t have to be a geek but also being a Linux newbie will make you wish go back to Ubuntu. On the other hand Ubuntu is a great distro, optimized for the average user, better (in my opinion) than any Windows release I have ever used (Windows 3.1x -> Windows 7).
@edit: see my Minimalist Gentoo too