Three things Phoronix couldn’t measure

I expected more drama when Phoronix did the smart thing, and finally put numbers to the Arch-over-Ubuntu rumor, and branded it as a myth. But for what I’ve seen, users on both sides seem to nod and accept the results, without too much scuffling.

For me, it was good to see that (with very few exceptions) performance in Ubuntu and performance in Arch are pretty much identical, and rely more on hardware than the actual software that runs it. On the other hand though, there are some differences between Arch and Ubuntu that Phoronix didn’t (and can’t really, so it’s not their fault) test, and I guess most Arch users would cite these as big reasons for using it.

  1. AUR. Until you’ve used it, it’s hard to appreciate the simplicity and beauty of a community-maintained repository of installation scripts. Ubuntu, with its Debian roots, inherits a huge list of software and that’s a good thing. But for example if you want to install an esoteric addon to xmms, you’ll have to go it alone — even more so because Ubuntu hasn’t offered xmms for years now. Having a script-based system that allows you to confidently build software — and customize it before you do — is a huge bonus for me.
  2. pacman. In terms of number crunching, the two operating systems run hand-in-hand, but putting aptitude next to pacman is a completely different race. For all its virtues, history and accomplishments, aptitude is just nowhere near as fierce an animal as pacman. The time it takes to refresh, download and install new software in Ubuntu is ridiculous when it’s compared with Arch, and that’s not because Ubuntu relies on a GUI — it takes a long time to do those things at Ubuntu’s command line. pacman simply runs circles around aptitude, and there’s no polite way to say that.
  3. Svelte. Svelte isn’t an application, it’s a philosophy. Ubuntu is a top-down system, giving you everything at once and then sitting back to watch the look on your face. Arch is a bottom-up system, where you’re given the tools to assemble a system, and the opportunity to let your imagination run wild. Arch’s reputation for speed might not rely on performance at the hardware level, but simply in the fact that you don’t get any bloat, unless you install it. Those ringing praises for Arch’s speed aren’t because it moves faster at the core levels, but because the systems you build yourself are innately faster than the ones Ubuntu releases. Look around this site for a few illustrations of that. (And yes, you can do similar things with Ubuntu.)

This isn’t an Ubuntu-Arch flame war, and I am not necessarily a proponent of one or the other. I use whatever suits my fancy on any particular day of the week, and if you want to know the truth, the longest-running, most stable systems I have don’t run either Arch or Ubuntu.

I am happy to know that at their most fundamental levels performance is roughly equal, but the reason I use one over the other has more to do with the way they are managed, and the tools they offer. And if most Ubuntu users and most Arch users thought about it the same way, then maybe that’s why there wasn’t any drama. :mrgreen:


23 thoughts on “Three things Phoronix couldn’t measure

  1. matthew

    I agree with you. They are each intended for different sorts of people and use cases. I could list some pros/cons of almost any Linux distro (at least those I have tried, which is all the big ones and a few of the more esoteric ones). The main differences always boil down to defaults, both in settings and installed packages, and package management. Beyond that, it is mostly putting different clothes on the same beast.

    1. gullars

      Well, using packer I do much better than I ever did with synaptic, the searches are faster, I don’t have to add ppts all the time, and I basically am a happy panda..

  2. Anthony

    also i didn’t notice that xmms had resumed. i thought the project had died off some time ago.
    been using audacious for a while, whats your take on that ?

  3. Nugnuts

    pacman simply runs circles around aptitude, and there’s no polite way to say that.

    Really? I haven’t had this experience at all. Maybe my pacman.conf is pointing at the wrong servers. Or maybe it’s just because I don’t actually use aptitude, favoring apt-get instead. Speaking of which, I would give pacman points for having just the one command to deal with package management instead of the apt-get/apt-cache combo. (I guess aptitude takes care of that issue that as well, but, as I said, I’ve never really used it for whatever reason.)

    1. mulenmar

      Actually, it’s more of a dpkg -> apt-get/apt-cache combo. At least…I think dpkg is a frontend to something else… 😐

      Explains some of the slowness, I suppose.

        1. Nugnuts

          Thanks. I didn’t mean to imply that my pacman performance was bad at all, by the way. More the converse in that I’m surprised by assertions of abysmal aptitude performance. The only times I’ve had any issues with my apt’ing coincided with servers getting hammered due to new Ubuntu releases.

          And yes, under the covers, apt-get, aptitude, synaptic, etc., use dpkg at the end of the day to do actual installs and such.

      1. Nugnuts

        I’d be interested to see actual performance comparisons between the various package managers, because I generally don’t believe one could be doing anything so much more optimally than another that there are significant differences. The only obvious exception I can think of here would be dependency management, and the only real advantage I would imagine would be leaner dependency sets (as Arch’s are asserted to have over Debian et al.). But then even that should really only translate to fewer package download/installs on a per-app install basis, and wouldn’t really have much impact overall when building and then updating comparable systems.

  4. Adrian

    I still say Arch is faster.

    However, with “faster”, I mean snappier. More responsive.

    In terms of pure CPU power, it depends on, guess what! Pure CPU power. The OS will have a marginal influence on that.

    Don’t misunderstand me, I’m no fanboy. I’m a big fan of Ubuntu for it’s easy approach, but love Arch for its deep down simple approach.

  5. anon

    I highly disagree about Pacman being better than Aptitude. With Aptitude I can easily browse the packages and search by regular expressions. With Pacman I cannot even search for eg “packages that have ‘test’ in their name”. It always searches the descriptions to. For example: pacman -Q –search ‘test’. Sure, I could grep but come on… 😛

  6. poss

    Whilst ubuntu & debian installs are more automated, if you watch the output whilst the install is running the processes are similar to an arch install (except with arch you manually check and edit the main conf files) also i find once i’ve got the base ubuntu or debian system installed i end up using the archwiki to set up alsa and xorg(obviously substiting pacman with apt-get). Nobody has mentioned that archwiki is a wonderful resource so i will!

    The concept of the arch install is deliberately one of educating and tooling up the end user and thats a good thing cause at the end of the day default installs are boring and tame!

  7. sankaran

    I use Ubuntu in 64 bit flavor, but there is no comparision between arch 32 bit and ubuntu 32 bit. Arch is very fast in 32 bit flavor and better than ubuntu. Guess it may be due to i686 optimization which arch defaults to whereas ubuntu is i486 optimizations

  8. coward anonymous

    But that is what I read?, everyone knows that the operating system more faster is Emacs

    sarcasm: ON

    BTW, I prefer Debian over Arch.

  9. spc

    Pacman faster than apt-get ,hardly. I had issues with pacman with packages download.

    ubuntu can be as light as you like.

    You can get Debian, as snappy as you want – its up to You.
    It has 3 gazillion options to install OS.

    If one is into optimization stuff why not use Gentoo.One can optimize oneself to death. Some say that Arch is lazy man’s Gentoo…

    Problem is that PhoroniX guys rained heavily on Arch’s lightness parade, archers can still claim that their distro is fstest,lightest simply beterer…

  10. laconic

    Arch and Debian both have seriously cool package managers, but Sorcery (the package manager in Source Mage GNU/Linux) is definitely the coolest.

    Sorcery is just one big BASH script. It installs applications from source tarballs and it manages all the necessary package dependencies automatically, asking the system administrator which optional dependencies should be installed. It also has an ncurses interface for browsing the available packages.

    However, both pacman and dpkg/apt-get are clearly much faster than the BASH-driven and “from source”-building Sorcery (although SMGL has some select packages, like firefox and openoffice, also installable as binaries, and you can use Sorcery to install binary packages that you’ve already compiled, perhaps on another computer). SMGL could be described as “Linux From Scratch with a package manager that takes care of package dependencies”.

  11. eldarion


    “ubuntu can be as light as you like.
    You can get Debian, as snappy as you want – its up to You.”

    You can’t make Ubuntu or Debian lighter that Arch (or as light as Arch). Belive me, i tried it. Even if you install the minimum amount of packages using the net-install option and then add what you what after the installer (ex: xorg, kde, …), The dependecy list of some packages in Ubuntu or Debian are absurd and you will always have a bloated system in the end. The dependency list on Arch is more sane.

    1. spc

      You see that’s what i meant. No matter what, Arch is betterer because it’s , I don’t know, divine law…
      No argument agaist Arch is valid… because is betterer..

      I challange every Arch user: Arch vs Uberbloat Kubuntu 10.04.
      First to install OS,open openoffice, craete .odf file, write a sentance:
      “Arch is waste of time or is it??”, save file wins. 😀

      1. gullars

        I just don’t get why I would want open office, if it is shortest to what I can be productive with, arch also wins on speed, but if you can’t live without the bloat of course it is faster to get started with ubuntu, and it is probably the distro that works best for you.
        I want to have a system without using all the bleat of a big DE. and then it is so much easier to start with arch and build than to starw with ubuntu and rip out things, and then suddenly hose my system.

      2. eldarion


        “You see that’s what i meant. No matter what, Arch is betterer because it’s , I don’t know, divine law…
        No argument agaist Arch is valid… because is betterer..”

        I think i was perfectly clear. What i wrote is a FACT, not a guess. Try it yourself.

        Let me help you:
        (1) Arch repo list ->
        (2) Debian repo list ->

        now, if you don’t what to install both for testing (like i did), just check the dependency list of some packages in (1) and (2).

        1. spc

          Apart from what is the quickest distro in the universe, the main factor here is time. If You are a student, unemplayed, basically person with truckloads of spare time, you can sit back and watch pacman at work, but if one have to get things going, well it reqires different approach bit heavier (I do think KDE 4.4 is monstrosity – to heavy is bad).

          About dependencies I believe You.

          If You don’t like dependencies why aren’t You using real man’s distro – Slackware – no deps – no problem. You could have system without Gnome (almost) 😀
          Or Gentoo…

  12. DePingus

    Personally, I use both Arch and Ubuntu. I think each has its place. I use Arch on a netbook and on a headless media server. Ubuntu is my main machine running on a beefy laptop. I also run FreeBSD on an old laptop as a cloud facing server.

    I prefer Arch’s pacman (actually yaourt) to Ubuntu’s apt-get or even FreeBSD’s port and package systems. But I don’t really think its a preference of speed, but rather comfort. I know Arch via CLI better because of its bottom up design.

    One thing I gotta give to Arch. It teaches Linux. Going through the set up using the beginner’s guide was the best thing I could have ever done.

  13. Cian

    Arch is definitely leaner than Ubuntu. I’m not sure how anyone could argue anything else.

    But why would anyone be surprised by this? Arch is by design a minimalist system, Ubuntu is by design a maximalist system. Unless the Arch designers really screwed up, its always going to beat Ubuntu. The point about Ubuntu is that it should work for everyone, the point of Arch is that you should be able to make it work for yourself. These are different design goals.

    It probably takes a bit longer to install Arch the first time, but its also an educational process. You’ll really know linux by the end of it, which is useful. I’ve found that subsequent installs took slightly less time than Ubuntu. I find Arch very easy to maintain and understand, whereas Ubuntu isn’t particularly in my experience.

    And one reason I prefer Arch’s package management, is that its really easy to modify for your own purposes and to add custom packages. For some people that’s a godsend, other people are never going to want/need that.


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