Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Best Linux Distro of 2012: A Comparison of the Leading XFCE Distros

With Gnome moving from Gnome 2 to Gnome 3 shell, with a corresponding change in overall looks and loss in efficiency, my interest on other desktops like XFCE, KDE and LXDE grew more than ever in 2012. In my best distro series, first I took up my current favorite desktop environment - KDE. The second article covers distros with XFCE desktop environment - my second most favorite.

From Voyager 12.10 XFCE
XFCE resembles Gnome 2 a lot, fast and lightweight, visually appealing and easy to use. Incidentally, like Gnome 2, XFCE is also based on GTK+ 2 toolkit. Definitely on a limited resource machine, XFCE performs better than Gnome 3 or KDE; only LXDE performs better than XFCE in terms of resource usage. Even for a beginner, XFCE controls are fairly simple and one good thing about it is, that the overall looks and functionality of XFCE has remained more-or-less the same for at least last couple of years.

My review concerns with the distros released with XFCE as the only desktop environment and not in spins where XFCE is one of the DE options along with, say, Gnome 3/Unity or LXDE. In total, I selected 15 distros, viz.
  • Ubuntu/Xubuntu Derivatives: Xubuntu 12.10, Xubuntu 12.04.1 LTS, Mint 14 XFCE, Mint 13 XFCE, OS 4 13.1, ZevenOS 5, Linux Lite 1.0.0 XFCE, Voyager 12.10
  • Debian: Mint 13 Debian XFCE, Snowlinux 3.1 Crystal XFCE, Debian Wheezy XFCE
  • Fedora 17 XFCE: Fedora with XFCE flavor
  • Arch Linux: Bridge 2012.12 XFCE, Manjaro 0.8.3 XFCE
  • Gentoo: Sabayon 10 XFCE
I included here OS with both XFCE 4.8 and 4.10, as I didn't note significant performance difference between the two. In my XFCE based distro selection, I tried picking up the ones which I thought to be the most popular ones. If I have missed some good XFCE spins, please point it out and I'll be happy to include the same.

Systems used for the testing are:
  • Asus K54C Core i3 2.2 Ghz laptop, with 2 GB RAM
  • Asus EeePC 1101HA netbook with 1.33 Ghz Intel Atom processor and 1 GB RAM
Primary evaluation was based on the performance on the Core i3 laptop which is decently powered and works well with whatever is thrown at it. The distros were evaluated after installation, which I carried out in 2012 at different point in time on the same system.

Additional evaluation was based on live-boot on the "limited" resource netbook. Fortunately all live USBs, created using Unetbootin or ImageWriter, were able to boot on the netbook. My evaluation was based on live boot only in case of the netbook and I didn't go for an installation.

Evaluation Metrics
Following parameters were used to evaluate each and every distro:
  • Installation time:
    • Less than 20 min. = 10 points
    • 20-30 minutes = 9 points
    • More than 30 was out of option as none of the distros took more than 30 min. to install
  • Installation Complexity:
    • As easy as Ubuntu = 10 points
    • Easy but a bit difficult than Ubuntu = 9 points
    • Only Geeks can install = 8 points
  • Hardware Detection: Primarily touchpad and Wifi detection
    • Both touchpad and Wifi detected = 10 points
    • Either of them not detected = 5 points
    • Neither of them detected = 0 point
  • Applications: A separate metrics created based on the apps bundled in the ISO.
    • Office: An office suite with word processor and spreadsheet, and a document reader gets 10 points, if any one is left out 3 points are reduced for each miss.
    • Internet: I considered a browser, torrent client, a chat client and an email client as the complete set getting 10 points. If any one of these is left out, 2.5 points are reduced for each omission.
    • Graphics: An image viewer, an image editor, a scanning app and a snapshot app constitute the full set with 10 points. Any app left out from the list, 2.5 points are deducted.
    • Sound and Video: An audio player and a video player constitute the complete set of 10 points, with a miss accounting for a reduction by 5 points.
      • Here my requirements are pretty basic for a complete OS and I haven't given any extra credits for OSs with bulky ISO and loads of apps.
  • Performance: Based on the RAM and CPU usage to load desktop with task manager running, measured after 10 minutes of booting up when the processes have stabilized.
    • Less than 130 MB RAM and <= 10% CPU usage = 10 points
    • 130-150 MB RAM and <=10% CPU usage = 9 points
    • 150-170 MB RAM and <=10% CPU usage = 8 points
    • 170-190 MB RAM and <=10% CPU usage = 7 points
    • 190-210 MB RAM and <=10% CPU usage = 6 points
    • > 210 MB RAM or > 10% CPU usage = 4 points
  • Aesthetics: Typical XFCE gets an 8 points, some customization 9 points and high level of customization gets a 10 points.
Given the main USP of XFCE is performance, I put in my assessment more weightage on performance (50%), 40% weightage on (hardware detection, applications and aesthetics) combined and only 10% weightage on installation time and complexity together. A composite score is created for each distro under review to give a final ranking.

  • Installation time:
    • All the Ubuntu/Debian derived distros took 30 minutes to install, except Linux Lite 1.0.0. Linux Lite took about 20 minutes like Fedora, Manjaro and Sabayon.
  • Installation Complexity:
    • Arch-based and Gentoo based distros a little complex to install than Ubuntu/Fedora and hence, got a 9. Moreover, Sabayon 10 XFCE took a couple of attempts to install correctly as 8 GB space wasn't enough for it and nowhere in the installation process it mentions that! One I selected a 16 GB drive, immediately it got installed and without much pain!
    • Debian Wheezy got a 5 because I was using the live-usb version and the ways to install it on the hard drive might be a bit cumbersome for any new user.  
  • Hardware Detection: 
    • Mint Debian XFCE, Debian Wheezy and Fedora 17 XFCE couldn't detect my touchpad accurately and I didn't find any touchpad settings as well to manually configure. Hence, all of them got a 5 for detecting the Wifi correctly.
  • Applications:  
    •  Xubuntu, Mint 13 Debian, ZevenOS and Voyager have the richest application out of the box, followed by Manjaro, Mint 14 and OS 4.
    • Bridge and Linux Lite have the poorest out of the box application to offer

XFCE App – Office App – Internet App – Graphics App – Multimedia Applications
Xubuntu 12.04.1 LTS 10.00 10.00 10.00 10.00 10.00
Mint 13 Debian XFCE 10.00 10.00 10.00 10.00 10.00
ZevenOS 5 10.00 10.00 10.00 10.00 10.00
Voyager 12.10 10.00 10.00 10.00 10.00 10.00
Manjaro 0.8.2/0.8.3 XFCE 10.00 7.50 10.00 10.00 9.38
Mint 14 XFCE 10.00 10.00 7.00 10.00 9.25
Mint 13 XFCE 10.00 10.00 7.00 10.00 9.25
OS 4 13.1 10.00 10.00 7.00 10.00 9.25
Xubuntu 12.10 7.50 10.00 7.00 10.00 8.63
Snowlinux 3.1 Crystal XFCE 7.50 10.00 7.00 10.00 8.63
Sabayon 10 XFCE 10.00 7.50 7.00 10.00 8.63
Fedora 17 XFCE 10.00 10.00 3.00 10.00 8.25
Debian Wheezy XFCE 10.00 2.50 10.00 10.00 8.13
Bridge XFCE 10.00 7.50 7.00 5.00 7.38
Linux Lite 1.0.0 XFCE 10.00 7.50 7.00 5.00 7.38
  • Performance: Based on the RAM and CPU usage to load desktop with task manager running, measured after 10 minutes of booting up when the processes have stabilized, I found 
    • Debian Wheezy, Mint 13 Debian, Snowlinux, Bridge and Linux Lite to perform the best on both the machines
    • Mint 14 also did reasonably well on both the machines
    • OS4, Voyager and ZevenOS were at the bottom
    • Manjaro actually performed much better post installation than on live boot
    • One of the good things is that all the XFCE distros did boot on my netbook with limited specs, and offered reasonably smooth experience. Of them, Snowlinux and Linux Lite offered the smoothest experience on my netbook with both touchpad and wifi working. Debian wheezy and Mint Debian were smooth to use but couldn't detect the system hardware correctly.
Core i3 – Post installation CPU Usage RAM Usage Points
Debian Wheezy XFCE 1-5% 100 MB 10.00
Snowlinux 3.1 Crystal XFCE 1-5% 110 MB 10.00
Mint 13 Debian XFCE 1-5% 125 MB 10.00
Bridge XFCE 1-5% 130 MB 10.00
Linux Lite 1.0.0 XFCE 1-5% 130 MB 10.00
Mint 14 XFCE 1-5% 140 MB 9.00
Xubuntu 12.10 1-5% 160 MB 8.00
Xubuntu 12.04.1 LTS 1-5% 160 MB 8.00
Mint 13 XFCE 1-5% 160 MB 8.00
Fedora 17 XFCE 1-5% 160 MB 8.00
Manjaro 0.8.3 XFCE 1-5% 160 MB 8.00
Sabayon 10 XFCE 1-5% 180 MB 7.00
OS 4 13.1 1-5% 200 MB 6.00
Voyager 12.10 1-5% 200 MB 6.00
ZevenOS 5 1-5% 220 MB 5.00

Netbook (Intel Atom) – Live boot CPU Usage RAM Usage Points
Debian Wheezy XFCE 1-10% 120 MB 10.00
Mint 13 Debian XFCE 1-10% 134 MB 9.00
Bridge XFCE 1-5% 147 MB 9.00
Snowlinux 3.1 Crystal XFCE 1-10% 153 MB 8.00
Linux Lite 1.0.0 XFCE 1-10% 160 MB 8.00
Sabayon 10 XFCE 1-10% 160 MB 8.00
Mint 14 XFCE 1-5% 170 MB 8.00
ZevenOS 5 1-10% 180 MB 7.00
Mint 13 XFCE 1-10% 190 MB 7.00
Xubuntu 12.10 1-10% 200 MB 6.00
Fedora 17 XFCE 1-10% 200 MB 6.00
Xubuntu 12.04.1 LTS 1-10% 210 MB 6.00
Manjaro 0.8.3 XFCE 1-5% 210 MB 6.00
OS 4 13.1 1-10% 220 MB 5.00
Voyager 12.10 1-10% 250 MB 5.00
  • Aesthetics: Based on the criteria selected, only Voyager got a 10 for it's attractive desktop. Debian Wheezy and Fedora got a 8 because of vanilla XFCE desktop whereas the rest got a 9 for some customization to the stock XFCE. OS4 and ZevenOS could have got more for the Bee-OS design but I couldn't put them in the same bracket as Voyager.
From Manjaro 0.8.3 XFCE
From XFCE 2012
From OS4 OpenDesktop 13.1
From Bridge Linux 2012.12
From Linux Lite 1.0.0
How the final ratings look like?
Snowlinux tops the list of XFCE distros released in 2012, offering amazing performance, looks and decent collection of applications. Bridge Linux came close second for it's good performance. Linux Lite and Mint 14 XFCE came 3rd and 4th respectively.

Fedora 17, OS4 13.1 and Voyager came in the bottom three. But, as you can see from the ratings, it was quite a close race with all distros offering reasonably good proposition. Think about it, the worst performing distro, ZevenOS, uses only 220 MB RAM to load the desktop!

XFCE Installation time Installation Complexity Touchpad/Wifi Detection Applications Aesthetics Performance (Core i3 – installed) Performance (Netbook – live boot) Weighted Average Unweighted Average
Snowlinux 3.1 Crystal XFCE 9.00 10.00 10.00 8.63 9.00 10.00 8.00 9.13 9.23
Bridge XFCE 9.00 9.00 10.00 7.38 8.00 10.00 9.00 9.03 8.91
Linux Lite 1.0.0 XFCE 10.00 10.00 10.00 7.38 9.00 10.00 8.00 9.02 9.20
Mint 14 XFCE 9.00 10.00 10.00 9.25 9.00 9.00 8.00 8.97 9.18
Mint 13 Debian XFCE 9.00 10.00 5.00 10.00 9.00 10.00 9.00 8.90 8.86
Debian Wheezy XFCE 9.00 9.00 5.00 8.13 8.00 10.00 10.00 8.72 8.45
Mint 13 XFCE 9.00 10.00 10.00 9.25 9.00 8.00 7.00 8.47 8.89
Sabayon 10 XFCE 10.00 9.00 10.00 8.63 9.00 7.00 8.00 8.38 8.80
Manjaro 0.8.3 XFCE 10.00 9.00 10.00 9.38 10.00 8.00 6.00 8.37 8.91
Xubuntu 12.04.1 LTS 9.00 10.00 10.00 10.00 8.00 8.00 6.00 8.18 8.71
Xubuntu 12.10 9.00 10.00 10.00 8.63 9.00 8.00 6.00 8.13 8.66
ZevenOS 5 9.00 10.00 10.00 10.00 9.00 5.00 7.00 7.82 8.57
Voyager 12.10 9.00 10.00 10.00 10.00 10.00 6.00 5.00 7.70 8.57
OS 4 13.1 9.00 10.00 10.00 9.25 9.00 6.00 5.00 7.47 8.32
Fedora 17 XFCE 10.00 10.00 5.00 8.25 8.00 8.00 6.00 7.33 7.89

Final Verdict
Snowlinux and Bridge Linux definitely would top any charts, if solely based on performance. Both are amazingly fast, light on resources and offer reasonably good looking distros. Linux Lite came up with their first release in 2012 and what a release it is! In terms of performance, it is surely within the top three XFCE distros I have used last year. 
Mint 14 deserves a special mention for being one of the most complete XFCE distros. It is fast, lightweight, has almost every application you can think of and works on almost every machine. Special mention must be made of Sabayon 10 and Manjaro 0.8.3; both very stylish and really good to use and are not far behind the top three. So, my final ranking:

In overall:
  1. Snowlinux 3.1 Crystal XFCE (Debian based)
  2. Bridge 2012.12 XFCE (Arch based)
  3. Linux Lite 1.0.0 (Ubuntu based) 

In Performance:
  1. Debian Wheezy XFCE
  2. Snowlinux 3.1 Crystal XFCE
  3. Mint 13 Debian XFCE
  4. Bridge 2012.12 XFCE

In Aesthetics
  1. Voyager 12.10
  2. Sabayon 10 XFCE
  3. Manjaro 0.8.3 XFCE
You may agree or disagree to my ranking of the XFCE distros released in 2012. But, please post your comments as feedback to the testing I have done. Your inputs will help me making the comparison better.        


  1. Nice comparison. XFCE 4.10 added a graphical touchpad configuration utility, and the next release of Fedora should have it. Not sure when Debian will get it.

    1. Thanks for liking. Yes, Fedora 18 will have XFCE 4.10. Even I am not sure about Debian 7 - it should this year, I guess.

  2. Very useful arcticle not only for the ones with low-specs/end computers but for the community. I'm currently migrating to Xubuntu 12.10 (was looking for a lxde based distro and didn't know of such a variety). Also, you forgot to mention Elementary OS which is a catchy distro too. Good job.

    1. Thanks for liking my article. Actually Elementary is Gnome based (Pantheon, forked from Gnome 3) and hence not included. I'm planning a similar article with LXDE as well.


  3. Why no testing of PCLinuxOS XFCE? I've been thinking of installing it on laptop but I never used a rolling release distro before nor an rpm based either thus I'm little scared of using it on my laptop. However,from testing on my laptop (Asus K50IJ 64 bit) and Desktop (Gx280 Optiplex SFF 32 bit) it runs well. The only problem I've seen is there's a multifunctional @ key. It displays " when pressed for some odd reason.

    btw, I can't wait to read the LXDE comparison. I love LXDE with the only exception being is that thing fugly. It looks like windows 95 or earlier. I may try to experiment with another window manager like wfwm or E17 to make peppermintOS or Lubuntu more aesthetically pleasing.

    Peace & Blessings

    1. Yes, I missed out PCLOS XFCE in this review. Will download it, benchmark the performance and include in the review. Thanks for pointing it out :).


  4. Vector linux std also has xfce

    1. Didn't work for me, actually and hence, couldn't include Vector Linux.

  5. Thanks a lot... Nice review, very helpful.

  6. Dear arindam... I cannot find mint 13 debian xfce, where i can find it? Thanks

      I referred it as Mint 13 Debian xfce as it is a semi-rolling release :).

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. What a fine article! Thorough, without prejudice, incredibly informative.

    For my Asus EEE 900 netbook, I'm looking for a distro that runs the coolest and keeps the fan off and the battery life long. Do any of these XFCE distros beat a LXDE environment when dealing with the sole criteria of lowest running temperature?

    Thanks again for a piece I'll return to often.


    1. Hi Jake,

      Thanks for liking my article. I use Linux Mint 13 XFCE (with 5 years support till 2017) for my Asus 1101HA netbook. It works well with my netbook and I didn't face any issue of heating. I get a battery life of about 5-6 hours with LM XFCE (this one has a 6 cell battery).

      LXDE actually never worked that well on that machine and I faced display issues. Possibly you can give LM XFCE a shot and let me know your experience.

      Another good option is Fuduntu. I used it for a few months and was pretty happy with it.


  9. though i really, really like your reviews you seem to obsessed with ram usage :D i'd like to read more about how well the distros are "pre-configured". me, for example, i'm definitely a fan of KDE but i experienced a lot of differences in the KDE distros i tried. sometimes it comes with mega big window borders for me (like netrunner 12.10) and i always have to adjust font settings and sometimes there are still things which look odd (too big or too small). and always i have to set the dpi up to 130 to fit my full hd screen. this is really annoying -.- and for example the fonts in LM cinnamon edition look kind of pixelated.

    so being a passionate distro-hopper lol. my major concerns always seem to be fonts and "sound management" right now i stick to linux worlds most hated DE - UNITY :D for me everything works fine there. nonetheless i always dual-boot with another distro. right now this is chakra linux. fans of my laptop keep going wild there atm. so i think im gonna try sabayon next.

    other than that, great blog mate...have read nearly all of your reviews, so keep up the great work.

    greetz from germany:)

    1. Hi Roman,

      I agree - I am a bit obsessed with numbers and there RAM and CPU usage fits the bill :). And I agree on Ubuntu with Unity as well - while reviewing Ubuntu 12.04.2 last month, I liked it so much that I shifted from Linux Mint Cinnamon to Ubuntu 12.04.2. Unity DE is working much better now and is smoother to use.

      On Sabayon, it is really beautiful. Looks simply great and offers good performance. Also, if I may suggest, I am currently using Opensuse 12.3 KDE as well. If you like KDE then you may like this OpenSUSE version. I am finding it quite good.

      And thanks for reading my reviews. I really appreciate it.


  10. Good article, Thanks :) . I was looking for a decent distro for a naive person like me. my requirements are basic... detect wifi and hardware... should be light and fast.....should be out of the box experience.
    i have burnt more than 90 DVD's to get a right distro for my HP laptop with poor graphics card. So far only few linux distro with 32 bit only work well. ... Fuduntu , Crunchbang, Watt OS, Mageia, Lubuntu, Opensuse, are few and than i tried Hanthana Linux from Sri lanka a very good complete distro based on Fedora. and it works for me.

    Looking forward for your more good articles

    Mohan Singh

    1. Hi Mohan:

      Thanks for liking my article. I'll give a shot to Hanthana Linux - haven't tried it before.


  11. I have been wanting to get a more solid XFCE distro... I am currently on Kubuntu but I switched to XFCE. However, I have upgraded it 5 times.... so it is getting a bit stale. :)
    One thing about Mint I don't like os that you need to do a fresh install instead of upgrading to new versions. Granted, not all of my Kubuntu upgrades have been smooth, but I was always able to get them back to working in short order. So when the next version comes out, I am probably going to do a clean install of an XFCE-based distro. Reviews like this are very helpful - but I am torn between Xubuntu and Mint XFCE. But I might check out some of the others you listed. I guess I can't really go wrong, I just need to find what meets my needs. Thanks!

    1. Yes, with mint the upgrade option is not there. But, you can try out the LTS version with 5 years of support.

  12. i love your reviews... ive been doing abit of distro hopping and your reviews have played quite abit on my choices...

    one thing i must say tho... manjaro 0.8.4 xfce is no joke.. it just hummms lolol please check it out..

    1. Thanks for liking my reviews. Is the 0.8.4 XFCE released for Manjaro? Well, I'll check it out.

  13. Looks like Linux Mint officially dropped its LMDE/XFCE edition. The project seem to have found a new birth in SolydX (

    1. hmmm ... thanks for the information. I really liked the LXDE edition - will try out SolydX soon.

  14. You missed SaliXOS & Siduction

    1. Hi Jajaja:

      I didn't get time to review Salix. Plus, Siduction is a bleeding edge distro and I faced a bit of instability with it. Hence, I didn't include Siduction.


    2. Yes, It was a pity that Salix has been omitted. It is a very polished distro Slackware based which would have been an interesting player because none of the above is based on Slackware. Keep in mind for the next release of the comparison.
      Regards and thank you for your effort. It has been a nice review.

  15. I have been using ubuntu(gnome) for a long time. The problem with that was excessive heating of my notebook(Up to 70 degree Celsius). Then I tried fedora-19 with gnome-3, but no improvement. Now I have installed fedora-19 Xfce. It could solve the issue to some extend, but not satisfactorily. I did notice in your article that Debian Wheezy Xfce uses the least amount of resources. If I install that could it solve my problem?

    1. Debian Wheezy XFCE is really good - you can try it. Also, can you please tell me what graphic cards your notebook has? Heating may be due to the presence of AMD Radeon/Nvidia graphic cards and possibly your OS doesn't have drivers for the same. Please let me know.


  16. hello,

    any project to reproduce these tests for 2013 ?


    1. Hi Damien:

      I penned an article on best KDE distros of 2013 in January 2014.

      Also, next week I am planning to write a comparison of GNOME 3/Cinnamon/Unity/Mate distros this month and a comparison of XFCE distros by Feb end.