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Why Arch Linux?
When the life goes smooth, we get bored. When everything goes smooth we need some challenge to face and conquer. This is applicable for Linux distribution world also. After started admiring with Ubuntu, I did not want to be locked with it. I test a distribution only if it is having some unique feature in it. Zenwalk is one such promising. Here is my review on it. I came to know about Arch, which is optimized for i686 processors, so it is meant for recent generation of processors. So I downloaded base Arch Linux CD. My workstation is bit old with PIII/192MB/Intel-82815-Graphics which is suitable for this i686 optimized system.

Installation:
It is NOT Live CD. Once you boot with base installation CD, you will get a quick and clean shell prompt with basic instruction for installation displayed on console. It is evident that installation is only for power user, not for click and go kind of people. You have to run “/arch/setup”, which is a installation tool. Here is the step by step installation:
1. Selecting installation source between CDROM and network
2. Partitioning of hard disk using cfdisk.
3. Installing base packages from CD (Since mine is just base installation CD)
4. Configuring the system – Here the power user comes. You will be shown /etc/rc.conf, /etc/hosts, /etc/fstab, /etc/mkinitrd.conf, /etc/modprobe.conf, /etc/modules.conf and /etc/resolv.conf files are presented to you through editor. You can apply your real knowledge in linux in this step. No wizard configuration. If you don’t have enough linux experience, it is difficult to understand this step. I did configure /etc/rc.conf, /etc/hosts and /etc/fstab files only which is enough for my system.
6. Kernel selection – I selected 2.6.X kernel
7. GRUB/LILO bootloader selection and you have to manually edit the /boot/grub/menu.lst or /etc/lilo.conf and install.
8. Reboot.

Package management:
Here the package manager is called pacman, which is definitely a apt-get competing tool. Very simple command line options makes it usable by any one. The first thing I did was reading man pacman as directed by installation guide. I updated my system with repository using command pacman -Syu. It updated my kernel, so rebooted. Then installed GNOME desktop. To find out the exact package name, I used pacman -Ss <keyword> which is dead easy. pacman -S <pkg-name> installes package and pacman -R <pkg-name> removes the package. All dependencies are taken care while installing. A few times I faced problem of missing dependenices which I have not faced so far in apt-get in debian/ubuntu. It is rare case, but pacman is really wonderful to use. Though GUI front end for pacman are available, I find pacman command line tool itself more comfortable than any GUI version of pacman.

Performance:
Since I have installed base CD, no bloated applications and services at startup. After reboot I found Arch Linux rocks. No other distribution in my workstation responds to applications as fast as Arch. I can feel the difference very much. I have tried Ubuntu with i686 kernel, but it is not as fast as Arch. In Arch, all applications are also built for i686. There the performance plays. I get this advantage without having the hassles of building from source.
After update I got all latest and greatest applications with the bonus of stability. Though I have latest GNOME 2.16, Firefox 2.0.1, Thunderbird 1.5.0.8, Brasero 0.4.4 (Disk burning), F-Spot 0.2.2, GNumeric 1.6.3, OpenOffice.org 2.0.4, etc. I have not faced any crash in last 2 months of testing period (Yes, I did a lot of work on Arch Linux for 2 months before writing this review). It is rock stable. Click the below thumbnail to see my GNOME 2.16 desktop.

Screenshot of my GNOME 2.16 desktop

Features:
/etc/rc.conf is the master file for system configuration. Here you can configure locale, time zone, key map, module loading and black listing, hostname, network configuration, daemons startup, etc. in this one single file. This BSD kind of startup is really nice.
makepkg tool is also found which takes care of installation from source. It does dependencies check (both runtime and compile time), downloading source package, building and creating <package>-<version>.pkg.tar.gz file. Once it is created you can install it with pacman -A <package>-<version>.pkg.tar.gz command.
A great community is awaiting for you to help for Arch Linux. It has wonderful Wiki page, forum, community repository, etc. Wiki page needs more organized way of compiling the wonderful articles.

Conclusion:
After 2 months of testing and feeling its terrific performance I have moved my production home directory to Arch Linux. Hope that is the right way to appreciate a distro. Great distro has come from great people. Keep it up, Arch guys. You people are doing a wonderful job. Arch Linux is for every one except installation which is only for power user.

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41 Comments

  1. I LOVE ARCH, its the best distro ive also tried and im ALMWAYS blow away by its pure speed and lack of bloat. Hats off to u, as u may now become a fellow Archer:)
    Also u should have included sum aiglx/xgl info, since Arch impliments it even better than ubuntu in my comparison, ppl that live on eye-candy will be curious, lol

  2. Hi Eric,

    I have only low end system which does not support eyecandy aiglx/xgl stuff. So I did not test it, obviously I can’t comment on it. Any way thanks for info.

  3. Thanks for the review. I agree with you in every point. I’d also point out that with Arch, even if installation is not the easiest, you don’t need to reinstall every 6-9 months to have an up to date system. You install once and run it for years having the latest software with just one command.

  4. It would have been interesting to hear what packages you have built with the makepkg tool.

    BTW, you can make Debian & Ubuntu a bit snappier by installing prelink and running “prelink -a”. With the i686 optimized kernel you shouldn’t notice any speed difference compared to Arch.

    IMO, Arch sorely misses an ncurses-based package manager frontend, like aptitude in Debian. Using pacman from the command line is not too hard but aptitude makes the browsing of available packages so much easier.

    I wonder what the development roadmap includes for ArchLinux version 1.0? Will there be some changes to the user interface (installer, system configuration apps, package manager frontends)?

    My favourite distros are (in this order):
    (1) Debian
    (2) SourceMage
    (3) ArchLinux

  5. Hi Laika,

    I have installed Firefox 2.0.1 through makepkg. Actually I was not able to view my mother tongue Tamil in Firefox. To support Tamil Firefox needs pango support. I suspected whether the default install of firefox included pango support. Hence, through makepkg I Installed Firefox with pango support. But at the end I found that default firefox is having pango enabled, but the problem is no unicode font available for tamil in Arch Linux by default. But it was nice experience of building and installing firefox in my machine. It was very easy to build package in Arch.

    Let me look at SourceMage also. Thanks for reminding me..!

  6. Why move from Zenwalk and Ubuntu to mess around with such a complicted set up? Why make things easy for Linux users when you can make them irriatingly compliated like Arch Gentoo etc
    Partitioning, setup of drivers, config files etc,… Yawnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn

    Smug Linux snooty snobs are always plugging how wonderful Linux is and how cr*p Windows is. Considering windows has 95% of the world market it shows how annoying Linux really is and their teenage student geeks following.
    Thank God for Ubuntu and Automatix2,……. QUICK, SIMPLE, Uncomplicted

  7. I tried this same version of Arch and I don’t think it rocks… Yes, it’s fast, and stable, and gives you a feeling of being in control… However, I think it’s only for power users with a lot of time in their hands, or to setup a server that will not be updated often. This distro is one of the few that I’ve seen that when you update, you actually have to check all the messages because sometimes in the messages they give you post-installation instructions so that your system doesn’t break by the upgrade…

    In other words, if you download Arch .72, run pacman -Syu, IT BREAKS THE SYSTEM!!! I don’t know if I’m the only one here, but I would expect something like that to upgrade the packages to the latest version and LEAVE THE DAMN COMPUTER WORKING… Also, I have never understood why they give so much credit to pacman. It’s like “It works easily and has dependency tracking!” So? Apt does exactly the same thing… I don’t see pacman being superior to apt in any way…

  8. Mike, please stop using computers. Ubuntu might be great, and if you really can’t be bothered reading the content on the wiki that details everything automatix does then fine. I’m sure you may say to your friends “Ooooh, look at me, I can use gnome and be all pretty like on my virus free Ubuntu while you suck on windows paying for stuff” and think you’re so awesome for being able to apt-get install automatix. You must even think you’re a tech wizz kid to be able to upgrade from one release to the next with a single command and still sue the computer while you wait. Hell, you may even be daring enough to try out XGL and Beryl Window Systems.

    I’m sad to say I’ve seen your automatix-ubuntu-wielding type before. Firstly, don’t use gnome. If you insist on using Ubuntu, use the KDE or XFCE versions. Secondly, don’t sue automatix, its repos prevent upgrading the distro properly, and kill it entirely if you use a laptop. Thirdly, what is wrong with a command line setup? Until Dapper came out even Ubuntu worked like that.

    Arch is an incredible distro, on parallels with Vector Linux or SourceMage. Being derived from Slackware code makes it great as well, Slackware being arguably the best server OS around because of its setup ease. It’s customisation for i686 is well done, although as previously mentioned Ubuntu can be edited for similar performance.

    For slow systems, I would highly recommend Vector Linux as by default it comes with multiple frontends for different users (Fluxbox, XFCE, KDE, and rockGnome) as well as a huge amount of startup and default options.

    For servers, definitely Slackware or perhaps NetBSD for security and portability. And for Desktops I use Kubuntu and DesktopBSD on my power machine.

    Not everyone has to be a “Smug Linux snooty snob.” Ubuntu also has “Partitioning, setup of drivers, config files etc” involved in it’s setup if you want to use the distro for things other than saying “Look at me, I’m super leet because I use linux and you don’t.” And WHERE did you get this piece of trash information from Mike? “windows has 95% of the world market” Funny how most of Europe avoids Windows like the Plague, not to mention Africa and large sections of Asia. And where in Vista’s Bug Reports did you get the idea that setting up Arch or Gentoo is “irriatingly compliated”? Gentoo isn’t hard to setup, it just takes a while on slow machines due to compiling.

    So please, before you make the rest of the Ubuntu community look like Redmond, consider what you say and use facts that are actually true.

  9. Hi Juan,

    You have rightly pointed out the post-installation instructions scrolled up on console. It is a valid point. This is the reason for your broken system after “pacman -Syu”. I too faced this problem. The kernel update asks user to update initrd line in boot loader. But since these instructions scrolled up, I did not notice and follow it, ended in broken system. This is for your kind attention, Arch developers!

  10. I’m a split Arch-Ubuntu fan, myself. I love Arch’s speed and simplicity, but there are times when I just want things to work without too much setting up. I’m willing to forgive one distro its shortcomings while I tinker with the other. :)

  11. please can u specifi spec of your PC e.g how many Mhz have your PIII? and one more did U ever try source based distro on this computer?

  12. I see that you revieved zenwalk on the same computer can you compare speed which is fastest distro on your legacy computer

  13. Please consider another article regarding archlinux which includes the very fine Live arch CD/DVD scripts called Larch by gradgrind.

    This LiveCD will also provide installation to HDD, copy-to-ram, and might do USB flash boot as well. It is now at Larch2.+ and is a smooth prep and executes to CLI or KDE at users discretion. With KDE, its 550MB…with DVD it can be as high as 8GB in dual-layer.

    Thanks for the coverage of archlinux and hopeyou follow it with a sequel!

  14. Hi hommie,
    MY PC is PIII 800MHz. I have successfully installed LFS, here is my experience on that.

    http://cutecomputer.wordpress.com/2006/08/01/installing-linux-from-scratch-part-i/

    http://cutecomputer.wordpress.com/2006/08/07/installing-linux-from-scratch-part-ii/

    I have tried Gentoo too long back, but it is on Compaq nx6120 laptop. I am yet to test latest Gentoo.
    Hi darkfella,
    I tested zenwalk with XFCE not with GNOME. Still I can feel that Arch is more responsive than zenwalk.
    Hi Ray Clancy,
    Thanks for info. Let me try Larch after some time.

  15. eric again,
    the nvidia 815 chipset is supported by compiz with the intel 3d acceleration driver (i810), therfore is supported by beryl/emerald which is a fork of compiz. saying that, i would recommend you even just trying beryl/emerald even as a fun project and challenge with your “legacy” syetem since theres no harm in trying, you wont be disappointed, as its a very satisfying accomplishment!!

    http://intellinuxgraphics.org/man.html is for intel driver info + download + configuration (especially try changing vid ram size to 64)
    http://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Beryl for all the xorg.conf configuration info for your opern source intel driver
    beryl-project.org is their main site, check it out!!!!

    ps good luck, ill give u a 96% seccess, itll probably work flawless for u :). although i never tried, i use nvidia+aiglx/beryl successfully, but ive hear of ppl gettin aiglx and beryl working with your i810/i815 so i know its possible;)

  16. Nicely written review. It’s hard to find distro reviews on older hardware which I find very interesting. Simply plenty of refurbished PIII out there and thats a big opportunity for linux.

    PS: I heard that new vector linux standard 5.8 with xfce desktop is extremlly quick on older computers

  17. Arch is simply awesome !!!!

    I was a mandrake user before I went for Arch .

    Once you go Arch you never look back. I wanted to start a distro quest , but for me I found the best distro from the go !!!

    Arch is fast simple and what I like the most is the install ; install under 3 min for a base system meh :)

    Great #archlinux channel too

  18. arch is fantastic and i’ve been using it happily for months. I have yet to find something that is harder to do in arch than any other distro, such as ubuntu. It just takes a bit of learning. I had a nice install guide the first times I installed, but now its almost second nature and its MUCH faster install than say ubuntu, even when installing from FTP.
    Mike, I dont understand your negativity. Nobody downed ubuntu here. Automatix is a curse and I will always hate it. Just because you are too ignorant to do the basic reading and learning involved(all of maybe an hour or 2) doesn’t mean you should generalize.
    College full time and work full time, I have little free time and even I can manage it.
    And once you get used to it, it’s nice. I can do things much quicker in arch than in say, ubuntu.

  19. I’ve used a lot of distributions. I stopped surfing when I arrived at Arch Linux. The complaints around the update commands possibly breaking the system may be accurate under casual inspection, but not on closer inspection.
    Arch runs a constant upgrade cycle. This necessitates occasional changes to system configurations when kernels are upgraded. I’ve never found anything that couldn’t easily be accounted for with a quick network search.
    I personally like to stay upgraded to testing, which means I can have even more fun. I’ve heard it said that Arch for power users. I was a new user with a couple months experience in October, 2005. I don’t think that makes me a power user. One year later, I run it on three of my 5 home networked computers. One of the other PCs runs Windows for my wife, the other runs Gentoo just for fun.
    I get similar results with my Arch PCs as I do with my Gentoo computer, with about 1/16th the work.

  20. hey swamy I just discovered your blog. Would be intreseted in joining our group blog at scribez. We are looking for some Linux, Opensource articles to be contributed. and your blog seems interesting. let us know

  21. Hi scribez,

    I am an occasional blog writer, I don’t find much time to write. Now I am organizing my time, soon I will find time to write in scribez also. Thanks for the invitation. I surfed your blog, it is really good collection of all stuff. Great team work!

  22. I have no doubt that Arch linux is the best distro around. I have used about 15 Distros in 3 years but when i reached Arch, i stopped searching.

    Before Arch, I used Gentoo then one day I broke my P4 laptop screen and moved my drive to a P3 laptop and 1/2 of my binaries broke because of compiling almost everything. I wasn’t goint to look back coz i loved Gentoo’s speed but needed binary packages.

    I haven’t looked back, 1.5 years from my arch install. But i only have three requests for Arch developers.

    1. We need higher quality standards for arch packages and the repos. Many times after installing a package, you get dependency trouble.

    2. It would be nice if Arch shipped a package cd iso like gentoo. I have made over 30 Arch linux installs for friends + mine (3 boxes).
    When a new release comes out, i have to wait a month for the repos to get abit static (see request 3). Then i download the [extra] repo and make my own iso which i distribute to friends so they can upgrade. This is a pain especially the downloading part because of limited band width.

    3. The constantly changing package versions [extra] repository causes one problem i know i.e. you could install Gnome today, then tomorrow there’s a component that wasn’t installed so you try to install however there’s a new version of the component + gnome so to install the component, you have to upgrade the whole gnome desktop. But this can be sorted by the first two requests.

    – Higher quality of packages means dependencies/components are not left out.

    – A package cd iso would be a static version of the [extra] repo solving this as well.

    Thanks

  23. Arch is great!!, it’s the best distro I have tested
    thanks to arch!

  24. A quick way to get an Arch system running with a KDE desktop and
    lots of apps is to install Underground Desktop. If you’re kind of a newbie
    it’ll take you 3 days to get Arch working. Underground will take you 30 minutes.
    Check it out at http://underground.geekcode.info/

  25. E[m]ess … arch isn’t based on slackware. It was based on Crux originally.

    Overall a nice review.

  26. If Arch developers would be my ages :) than I Arch Linux would be on my box many many years :).

  27. Arch is the best distro I’ve ever used!

    Ummm, it’s also the only distro I’ve ever used, so my opinion may not be as valid as others.

  28. Arch Linux is the only distribution that could get my wireless card to work. Gentoo and Ubuntu couldn’t anything. Therefore, since wireless is such a big deal nowadays, Arch is the best.

  29. I think arch is a great distro too. I simply love pacman. Although, I find the package quality to often be quite poor. Now I have left arch for Frugalware, another distro that uses pacman (although they have changed it a bit). It’s a bit more thought out.

    If only arch could solve the package issue, so that you don’t risk to destroy your system on each pacman -Suy I think it stands a chance against frugal, but as it is now, I see no reason to go back. I can also advise you to check out http://www.frugalware.org...

  30. Arch is a great distro …

  31. 1. Please tell me you did not fall for their joke:

    http://archlinux.org/news/307/

    This was a April Fool’s Day joke! :D

    2. If you posted this on “Nov 12th, 2006″, you cannot update it “05-Apr-2006″. (I suppose you meant 2007 there).

  32. :-) :-) Thanks Simon for pointing out my fun fall. :-) Let me correct the postings.

  33. I have a dual boot here: Ubuntu and Arch. Both are nice distros.

  34. I dual boot arch, vector linux. Both excellent. I love arch currently, but also love many other distros from Mepis, Ubuntu/Linux Mint, Sabayon, Pclinuxos, Vector linux, Zenwalk.

    Currently, arch is my favorite distro {for one week going.} – maybe a keeper.

  35. nice guide, thanks

  36. Great this wallpaper !
    Where I found it ? Can u send to me ?
    Arch Linux Live on my machine since Jun/2008
    tks…

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