The DistRogue

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Jumping ship: PCLinuxOS 2007 vs. Mint 3.0 "Cassandra"

I'm sure I've said it several times before, somewhere: Ubuntu isn't the universal answer. It also has its fair share of things that could definitely be improved if it wants to be a serious competitor to Windows. Basically, it isn't perfect.
Of course, Windows and OS X aren't perfect either (or BSD or Haiku or whatever), but there are distributions that would be better suited to a complete Linux newbie than Ubuntu. Arguably two of the best are PCLinuxOS and Mint. I reviewed PCLinuxOS a while back, but it has matured incredibly in only a single release. Among other things, its rank on DistroWatch soared from just barely being in the Top 10 to clinching the #1 spot- and not letting go. Mint isn't so well-known. It's a fork of Ubuntu with a few added programs (such as a custom control center), new artwork, and a redesigned app selection.
Background:
PCLinuxOS is a fork from Mandriva, giving it a solid, easy-to-use base. Although Mandriva is fast out of the box, PCLinuxOS is even faster. It includes some non-free software, such as MP3 codecs, that other distributions lack. It also advertises a "PCLinuxOS Control Center"- although some quick inspection shows that it's nothing more than a rebranded version of the Mandriva Control Center. Finally, PCLinuxOS includes fresh artwork (which makes it look like Windows XP) and uses Debian's Synaptic package manager- slightly redone to accommodate Mandriva's RPM packaging system.
Mint was created from Ubuntu with the original goal of adding non-free software for a more complete out-of-the-box experience. However, as Ubuntu began adding more support for said add-ons, Mint began adding some extras of its own. It includes its own, completely original (and customizable) control center, along with wizards for setting up WiFi, disk partitioning, and desktop settings. It also has its own Kickoff-styled menu called mintMenu, which is useful, stylish, and compact. Of course, it also has its own artwork, along with GNOME, KDE, and Xfce editions, each with its own "Light" edition (with only free software). Finally, in keeping with Ubuntu's tradition of unique names, the developers give each version a female name, with the first letter matching up to the major release number- version 3.0 is named "Cassandra", for instance.
Live system/install:
I installed both systems (using Mint's GNOME edition) from my trusty 1-gig USB key. PCLinuxOS booted into infinitely cooler artwork, but Mint detected my native screen resolution out of the box, thanks to onboard 915resolution hacks. The installs were both unusually fast- only a couple of minutes- thanks to the miracle of USB 2.0.
Performance:
Mint booted (from the GRUB menu to the login screen) in an astounding 35 seconds. PCLinuxOS followed with a respectable 43 seconds. I edited both systems to set aside 128MB of physical RAM for graphics acceleration and ran GLXGears from a fresh restart. Mint managed to crank out around 1120 FPS, did well in Tremulous, and reported 34 FPS in my Sauerbraten benchmark- about twice as much as Ubuntu. PCLinuxOS, on the other hand, raised that number to 44FPS, and scored in the 1400s in GLXGears.
Useful stuff:
PCLinuxOS's control center is somewhat like the Windows Control Panel: it contains an endless number of options that you can click on to launch wizards to do various things. A lot of these wizards are incomplete, and you have to dive into configuration files in order to do less coarse tweaking. Nontheless, the PCLinuxOS/Mandriva Control Center is an extremely useful and extensive tool for system administration (basic user preferences can be adjusted with the KDE Control Center, also included).

Mint has its own control center, but its main strength lies in its software selection. Among other things, it includes Java, Envy for installing closed-source NVidia and ATI drivers, amaroK for improved music management, and MPlayer for media playback. I was disappointed not to see Wine anywhere... :'( As with PCLinuxOS, it has its own control center, mintConfig. Although most of the programs in mintConfig are redundant with the also-included GNOME control center, the ones that aren't are good. mintDesktop is a simple, handy tool for setting up your desktop, and mintDisk can be helpful when working with a lot of partitions or removable media. It also has a tool for configuring X11 (relatively) safely, a feature planned for Ubuntu 7.10. mintConfig is also customizable, making it a good replacement for the GNOME control center- but not much else.

Overall, the choice between Mint and PCLinuxOS depends on your desktop preference. If you don't like KDE because it's slow, give PCLinuxOS a shot because of how blindingly fast it is. If you like Ubuntu's ease of use, Mint is worth a look. I'd go with Mint, but only because of a quirk in PCLinuxOS that makes my screen shut off (permanently) if I close it.
Mint:
Pros:
-Based on Ubuntu
-Runs fast
-Complete out-of-the-box experience
Cons:
-Control center is immature
Friendliness: 4.5/5-
The control center helps slightly.
Performance: 4/5- Not gaming-quality, but fast enough.
Features: 5/5- Boxed app selection is great.
Packaging: 4.5/5- Synaptic can't be improved upon very much, although DPKG is pretty slow...
Artwork: 2/2.5- Soothing and professional-looking.
Community: 2.5/2.5- Almost 100% Ubuntu-compatible means lots of support.
Overall: 4.5/5- A great up-and-coming distribution, only expect it to improve as the control center matures.

PCLinuxOS:
Pros:
-Runs obscenely fast
-Useful, if unoriginal control center
Cons:
-May need some extra programs installed
-Inspiron E1505N users beware!
Friendliness: 5/5-
The PCLOSCC is the killer touch here.
Performance: 4.5/5- Beyond PCLinuxOS, you get into ArchSlackToo speeds.
Features: 4/5- Could use a little work here...
Packaging: 5/5- See above- but RPM is faster than DPKG.
Artwork: 2.5/2.5- The 2007 release is famous for its artwork.
Community: 2/2.5- The community is new, but growing.
Overall: 4.6/5- If you're a newbie that needs a really fast system that helps you with everything you need, then look into PCLinuxOS.
I'm waiting for my Sabayon 3.4e DVD to get here. Then, it's time for another long-overdue review.
From Mint 3.0,
The DistRogue.

***UPDATE:***
It is possible to make PCLinuxOS recognize your native screen resolution. In PCC, go to the Hardware tab, then click "Change Screen Resolution" to install 915resolution. Then, go to "Change Monitor" and select the appropriate resolution. Finally, change the resolution under "Configure Graphical Server". I'm still working on the fix for the screen suddenly shutting off.

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5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the interesting comparison. I recently switched from Ubuntu to PCLinuxOS after an unfortunate experience with Automatix which I somehow managed to mess up and required a complete reinstall.

Having used Ubuntu since warty warthog I decided to try something new. The most tempting choices were Mint and PCLOS and I wish I had seen your comparison at the time.

In the end I chose PCLOS because it was not Ubuntu related. Nothing against Ubuntu, I just wanted to try something new. So PCLOS it was and I am quite impressed so far.

I have a ten year old IBM Aptiva E5U desktop and so far, after a month, everything seems to work fine. I´ve had no issues with screen resolution and networking and the installation went smoothly. The only thing I had to do was install the driver for my onboard sound chip.

I have not tried wifi and my PC and is too old to handle things like Beryl-Compiz but the stuff I do use does work well so far. The only thing I miss is the Ubuntu community where every concievable problem is likely already experienced by someone else and a multitude of answers and suggestions are quickly forthcoming. PCLOS is not there yet but that will come with time I suppose.

12:27 AM  
Blogger Søren said...

Thanks for the comparison, the only thing I stumbled upon was the comment:
"Packaging: 5/5- See above- but RPM is faster than DPKG."
NO! Rpm is a hella lot slower than dpkg. In fact, that is the only reason I'm not using PCLinuxOS: it takes forever to install new packages while apt/aptitude/dpkg is amazingly fast on the same computer.

10:07 AM  
Blogger konstantine said...

I switched from xbuntu to pclos2007 after a couple of updates (via synaptic) went bad. I liked the ubuntu type distro a lot, but I have found that the pclos2007 distro is even better. For me, pclos2007 has proved to be fast, reliable, and feature rich.

4:20 PM  
Blogger Akshun J said...

In then end, it will come down to package *availability*. Ubuntu has a HUGE package repository, and most programs developers maintain up-to-date Ubuntu or Debian packages on their websites (outside of the official repository). Especially the new and flashy ones. This is where PCLinuxOS will struggle. The newest and cutting-edge packages just won't be available. Other than that, the two distros are pretty evenly matched...

12:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just pointing out that pclos 2007 comes with lots of out of the box software:
beryl
emerald
amarok
frostwire
oOo
firefox
konqueror
kopete
xchat irc
ktorrent
kget
kftp
thunderbird
mplayer,
...

3:59 AM  

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