Linux desktop comparison (pt. 2): Traditional GTK+ DEs

This is part 2 of our desktop testing series. We’ll deal with 4 traditional gtk+-based desktop environments in this entry.

These are:

For test criteria and the basic Arch system, please refer to the first part of this test.

GNOME 3 Classic

GNOME 3 Classic – also called “fallback mode” – is a re-implantation of GNOME 3 resembling the “GNOME 2 way”. It offers the familiar panel instead of the shell. However it is not on an equal footing with the shell but really meant only for those machines which cannot run the later (most likely because of missing 3D acceleration). It’s not working exactly like GNOME 2 as there are a number of (mostly annoying) differences but it may be dropped anyway in the future.

The GNOME 3 Classic desktop

Installation

pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit dbus virtualbox-archlinux-additions gnome

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up GNOME 3 Classic (with a second login on tty2) and used disk space after removing pacman cache. Here are the values I got with cat /proc/meminfo and df respectively df -h:

Arch Linux + GNOME 3 Classic (3.4.2)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 804524 kb
Buffers: 15868 kb
Cached: 94984 kb
Rootfs: 1732056 / 1.7G
RAM used at startup: 226128 / ~221 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 1077768 / 1.1 GB

MATE desktop

The MATE desktop begun its life as a complete fork of the latest version of GNOME 2. Many people doubted (or continue to do so) if the project will last. While it started with one developer renaming all the applications (to avoid incompatibility with GNOME 2 and 3), in the meantime some people have joined the project, additional features have been added and with Linux MINT a big distribution has adopted it as one of its standard DEs. To just name one of the new features: Caja, the file manager (formerly Nautilus), now has an undo option available in the menu (this was actually something that I had been missing since I left the Windows world)!

The MATE desktop

Installation

Additional repo “mate”: http://repo.mate-desktop.org/archlinux/$arch
pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit dbus virtualbox-archlinux-additions mate

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up MATE (with a second login on tty2) and used disk space after removing pacman cache. Here are the values I got with cat /proc/meminfo and df respectively df -h:

Arch Linux + MATE (1.4)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 878688 kb
Buffers: 13536 kb
Cached: 58112 kb
Rootfs: 1348280 / 1.3G
RAM used at startup: 151964 / ~148 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 693992 / 678 MB

Xfce

Xfce started as a light-weight desktop environment but over time it has grown into a full DE. It’s still quite a bit lighter than GNOME/KDE, of course. But if you’re looking for something really light, Xfce may no longer be what you may want to install on your machine. If you however want a good compromise between a rather light-weight DE and great usability, give it a try. In some aspects it’s somewhat like a less bloated GNOME 2 but it’s going its own way in other cases.

The Xfce desktop

Installation

pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit dbus virtualbox-archlinux-additions xfce4

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up Xfce (with a second login on tty2) and used disk space after removing pacman cache. Here are the values I got with cat /proc/meminfo and df respectively df -h:

Arch Linux + Xfce (4.10.0)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 918092 kb
Buffers: 11388 kb
Cached: 49092 kb
Rootfs: 1226416 / 1.2G
RAM used at startup: 112560 / ~110 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 572128 / 559 MB

LXDE

LXDE is currently the most popular light-weight desktop environment available for Linux. It’s designed with low resource usage in mind and build completely modularly. If you just need some of the applications it consists of, you are encouraged to do so. It is in a rather early state, however, and people who are spoiled by a full-grown DE might miss quite some features which LXDE simply does not provide. Yet if you are not looking for something that is primarily appealing visually but just want a working DE with the basic functions – LXDE might well be your desktop environment of choice.

The LXDE desktop

Installation

pacman -S xorg-server xorg-xinit dbus virtualbox-archlinux-additions lxde

Statistics

Memory usage right after starting up Xfce (with a second login on tty2) and used disk space after removing pacman cache. Here are the values I got with cat /proc/meminfo and df respectively df -h:

Arch Linux + LXDE (0.5.x)
MemTotal: 1030652 kb
MemFree: 938660 kb
Buffers: 9744 kb
Cached: 41816 kb
Rootfs: 986260 / 963M
RAM used at startup: 91992 / ~90 MB
Disk space (less basic system): 331972 / 324 MB

Conclusion

Well, no surprise: These GTK+ based non-3D-desktops are generally quite a bit lower on system resources. While it shows that GNOME 3 Classic is not optimized in this regard, even the full-grown MATE does rather well in comparison. Xfce is yet a little lighter and LXDE the smallest DE so far.
I’ve dropped the “minimal RAM” thing this time as it is not of much use with these DEs. Each one can run actually with as little 32 MB – with heavy swapping of course. Like one would expect, GNOME 3 Classic is totally useless in this case while LXDE is a lot more responsive (but still far from being useful).

What’s next?

The next entry will cover the QT based desktop environments.

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