Xubuntu 8.04.1 64-bit Edition — Fast Indeed

I installed Xubuntu 8.04.1 64-bit on my PC last week. Why, you ask? I wanted to have a 64-bit environment to work on C++ programming (a new hobby of mine) using gcc’s “-m64” option. Besides, the thought of creating and executing my own 64-bit programs, primitive as they may be, gets me all excited in a very nerdy, geeky way.

I chose Xubuntu 64-bit, because it was the most popular 64-bit, lightweight distro I could find.

Installation

Since the Xubuntu Live CD couldn’t figure out how to resize/edit my existing Elyssa ext3 and swap partitions, I tried to give the Elyssa Live CD a try. To my surprise, it worked. (NOTE: Using a Live CD to edit partitions is the best way to go, since you can edit any partition; e.g., if I had booted into Elyssa, then I wouldn’t have been able to edit my Elyssa’s ext3 partition). So now, Xubuntu and Elyssa are on the same 2nd physical hard drive. (My first hard drive just has Windows XP on it.) Here’s a tip about partitions when you have 2 Linux distros on one disk: use only 1 swap partition! You do not need a second swap partition for your second Linux distribution (Xubuntu, in my case). Linux distros are a “family” in the sense that they can all share the same swap partition as each other. Isn’t that beautiful? (Also, if you’re really advanced, I read somewhere that you can have them share the same /home partition, if you partitioned that part separately in your first Linux distro’s install process).

The only side effect to installing Xubuntu on the same drive as Elyssa is that the GRUB boot loader looks different — the customized Elyssa background/logo is gone. Instead, I just have a simple text-based GRUB (which suits me fine either way). I had to edit the /boot/grub/menu.lst file again to set Elyssa as my default choice instead of Xubuntu.

Look and Feel

Using Xubuntu is very easy if you’re used to Mint already. You’ll probably find out all the system settings and customizations you need to know within an hour (conservative estimate). The Xfce GUI that comes with Xubuntu somewhat resembles how Gnome looks, but it’s much, much faster. And I realized that compiz-fusion isn’t all that great. The default Xfce interface functions very well, and isn’t lacking in any respect. Xubuntu by default comes packed with tons of window themes (how your title bar and window borders look), as well as a few GTK2+ themes (how the inside of your windows look).

Since I have a dual-LCD monitor setup, I installed nvidia-settings, and made it use “TwinView”.

Performance

And yes folks, Xubuntu is built for speed. Xubuntu loads in about half the time it takes Elyssa to start up. Beautiful!! I also realized that the windows are more responsive/faster than the Aurora theme in Elyssa’s Gnome environment. Considering how I have a decent setup (Q6600 @ 2.8Ghz, NVIDIA 8800 GTS 320 MB), it’s a bit of a shame how Gnome & Compiz-Fusion is still a bit slow compared to Xubuntu.

Here to Stay?

I am aware that the Mint people are going to release a 64-bit edition of their own in the coming months, but I think I’ll stick with Xubuntu for now. There is basically no reason why I should choose a Mint 64-bit edition over Xubuntu 64-bit. Mint doesn’t come with any special features. I’m no longer a Linux “total newb.” Also, I like the idea of having different distros and knowing how to use them.

UPDATE August 27, 2008: Some more info on performance/speed: I’ve read some forum posts on the Ubuntu forums, and the consensus is this: build from source — i.e., compile everything on your own native system from source code for all the desired Linux packages to get the highest possible performance. Some OS’s, like Gentoo, does this for you to a large extent — of course, it takes a whole day to install Gentoo. I heard Zenwalk was also very fast. But for me, I think Xubuntu is fast enough.

UPDATE August 29, 2008: Apparently, the slow speed of the Aurora GTK theme engine in Elyssa was something unique to Elyssa. I have the Aurora theme running on my Xubuntu installation, and there is absolutely no slowdown in performance. I guess something is up with the Gnome environment (maybe it was CompizFusion slowing Aurora down?).

UPDATE March 2, 2009: I use Arch Linux + Xmonad now, and as Xmonad is simply a Window Manager (WM) and not a Desktop Environment (DE), it beats my old Xubuntu setup in terms of raw speed and memory usage. I highly recommend you read my posts on Arch Linux, and make the switch to Arch!

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