2019 Ultimate Linux Distribution Comparison

2019 Ultimate Linux Distribution Comparison

Spoiler:

My Linux desktop distribution of choice is: MX Linux
My Linux laptop distribution of choice is: MX Linux

FREE MX Linux eBook is in the works!

Distributions tested

  • Manjaro 18 KDE
  • MX 18 Continuum
  • Tails 3.11 (updated)
  • Fedora Workstation 29
  • NEW: ArcoLinux

2019 is shaping up to be an interesting year for Linux and therefore, hitsim.com is publishing the ultimate Linux distribution comparison today. Hopefully, this article will be helpful for new Linux users who want to find the perfect Linux distribution in 2019.

Linux Distributions 2019 Introduction

About the tests
All of the testing has been performed on a desktop as well as a laptop computer with the specs listed below. Each of the mentioned Linux distributions were booted two or more times via USB flash drive. Those who showed promise were installed properly for the purpose of running extended tests.

Laptop specs

  • Brand: MSI w 12 Gig of Ram
  • GFX: Nvidia/Intel chip
  • HD: 250GB SSD
  • Ext. Monitor: HP 23tm (touchscreen)

Desktop specs

  • Brand: Dell Inspiron 5680. Ram: 16 Gig
  • GFX: Nvidia Geforce 1070. Ram:8 Gig
  • HD: 256 Gig SSD SATA (stock)
  • Monitor: 2x ASUS PB287Q 28″ 4K UHD

Besides the above listed specs, the Desktop PC has a Wacom tablet and Mackie studio monitors which are connected via Bluetooth. Each Linux distribution was booted on both devices multiple times.

Ultimate Linux Distribution Comparison

Spoiler: The “current” winner on the desktop was Manjaro KDE.
Best hardware recognition, fastest Blender 3D render times, fastest startup and all in all pleasant users experience.
Not so on the laptop. Unlike Linux Mint and Fedora, Manjaro KDE could not detect the external display.

The best distribution for the MSI laptop is ArcoLinux
Why?
ArcoLinux blew my mind in every aspect. Until a few days ago, I did not know that this amazing distribution existed. Today, I will erase Windows 10 Pro from my laptop and reinstall ArcoLinux to be the only OS on that machine.


Test 1 – Manjaro KDE

Verdict: Winner for best out-of-the-box distro for desktop PCs.

Just because a specific distribution won doesn’t mean that everything was perfect. Far from it but never the less, in comparison, Manjaro offered the best performance once configured. Manjaro was the only Linux Distribution that could run Blender 3D with GPU (cuda) render, even in combined mode. Impressive! All the others, without exception, could not.

First USB live boot. What worked?
Manjaro KDE booted quickly and both monitors worked instantly with only a minor tweaking of the font size. The monitors were in the correct order (left / right) and once the font settings were adjusted to 144 dpi ( up from the default 92), the displays looked great.

Manjaro KDE Pros

  1. Easy to install.
  2. Fast boot speed and overall a snappy system second to none.
  3. Configuring the Wacom Pro tablet and constraining it to one monitor worked well.
  4. The speakers were easy to pair and once connected, sound worked perfectly via Bluetooth.
  5. Software updates and new installs are super simple to get and stable.
  6. KDE looks impressive and takes about 10 minutes to customize.

Manjaro KDE Cons

  1. On the laptop, the external monitor was not recognized.
  2. The Wacom Pro tablet settings are not being remembered after reboots.
  3. If the system goes on standby, then the Bluetooth audio connection needs to be re connected manually.
    This is done by going to the System Settings > Bluetooth > Connect and takes two mouse clicks.
    Update! As of now January 2019) Manjaro no longer loses audio settings.
  4. Networking between other Linux computers is difficult to set up. Even if it works, it won’t for long and worst of all, there is no useful documentation on how to share files on a local network.

Conclusion

Manjaro comes in many editions. The Gnome edition had issues booting and for some weird reason, the Night-mode setting was on by default. Because of that, it made both screens look as if something was broken. Even without that annoyance, Gnome is not ideal for HiDpi screens. The first boot experience was negative and I wasted very little time with additional configurations. The same is not true for other Gnome-based distributions like Fedora Workstation which, in contrast, implements the Gnome desktop nicely.
Final conclusion: Manjaro KDE is the best distro for new desktop PCs and workstations.


Test 2 – MX 18 Continuum

Verdict: A very nice and well rounded Linux distribution that would be my main choice if Manjaro didn’t exist. A well implemented custom software tool makes configuring the system fast and easy.
I tested MX Linux on both, laptop and desktop environments and had fun doing so. Just like Manjaro, MS Linux configured my 4K monitors upon booting (live boot via USB flash drive) and increasing the font size made a huge difference for the 4K monitors.

MX Linux Pros

  1. Nice looking solid Linux distribution that feels very responsive.
  2. Tons of software to add with quick access and easy install options.
  3. The best distribution to set up a local Apache, Php and MySQL web server.
  4. Configurations are remembered and don’t need to be re-applied after rebooting.

MX Linux Cons

  1. Running MX Linux on the laptop was not as rewarding as it was on the desktop.
  2. Accessing files on a local network was tedious to configure.
    After spending more time with MX Linux, I was able to figure this out and it works as expected.
  3. The included file manager seems outdated once one is used to Dolphin.

Conclusion

MX Linux is a solid distribution that runs well on both of my systems. I loved the welcome screen which offered a quick way to tweak the most important settings. Who ever created that software listing did a great job. Especially new users will appreciate how easy it is to install additional software they might need right away. MS Linux 18 is a well rounded offering and deserves to rank as high as it does on distrowatch.org


Test 3 – Tails 3.11

NEW: Tails 3.12 is now available!

Verdict: Tails is a great little Linux distro, easy to install and does exactly what it says. Namely, connects securely over the Tor network and leaves no trace on the host computer if used correctly.

Trails Linux Pros

  • Good and easy to find instructions on the website. URL: https://tails.boum.org/
  • Great out-of-the-box hardware recognition. To my surprise, Tails even saw both 4K monitors.
  • Out of all tested distributions, Tales left the smallest “fingerprint” when used correctly*.
  • On a laptop, Tails didn’t see the external monitor which is good and therefore listed as a pro.
    The external monitor would create more of a unique fingerprint which, for security reasons, is undesirable.
  • Tails hides its identity and pretends to be Windows 7 or something funky like that. Cool!

Trails Linux Cons

  • The Tor browser opens in too small of a window on a 4K monitor which makes it awkward to use.
  • Tricky to install if one doesn’t read the instructions. Read more about installing Tails below.
    Update! By the end of January 2019, a new version will be released which is much easier to install.
  • Misleading promises so be sure to read all the documentation which provides a great overview of where things stand and what you must know.

Conclusion!

Tails uses a two-step install method. Step one is creating the first (of two) USB sticks. Step two is booting the off of the first USB stick and then creating the second and final USB stick. Doing so requires rebooting the system again and after the second reboot, one has a reasonably secure way of browsing. How ever, please know that there is no such way as browsing the net anonymously. Your computer is quite unique on the net. Just like all of our cars are unique and separable by brand, motor type, color, interior finish, stuff we leave inside and more, so are our computers. Spoofing the Mac Address and some other tricks that Tails offers are no longer bullet proof.

To see for yourself, just boot any Linux distribution of your choice and go to panopticlick.org to test your web browsers fingerprint
Upon doing so, you will quickly realize that anonymity is only possible to a certain degree. Assuming that you don’t have evil intentions, Tails is a very good way of browsing the net and avoid the 1000’s of trackers which accompany our each and every move. If you saw what a simple connection to a prominent social media platform does, you’d cancel your account right now.

In case you have a hard time picturing the state of anonymity or lack thereof, then imagine this story.
Garry Kasparov is a formidable chess player. A true grand master (and perhaps, for the first time ever, mentioned in an ultimate Linux distribution comparison). Picture that I played against Mr. Kasparov. I have all the 16 pieces (black) and his only piece is a white pond. How would the game go? Would he win? If this story didn’t scare you, then here is the final analysis.
In reality, military/government divisions employ the smartest of the smartest graduates from the best universities. They play against us, have all the figures and then some and all we end users have is one tiny chess piece. Yes, we get to play with the pond. Please pause for a moment and actually imagine that. Big brother has all the moves and power, we, the end users have one tiny little piece. A few wrong moves and the game is over.

Do you still trust Tails to be the secure option when it comes to web anonymity? Yes, by any means, use Tails to shake the commercial trackers and browse freely. Deny them the valuable marketing data which they collect from your searches and browsing history. But don’t be foolish and play right into their hands. Big Brother probably loves ignorant people for the more they discover, the more of a budget they can demand to get even more mainframes and highly paid geniuses who write artificial intelligence programs that soft trough our minds.

Are there ways to poke the net and stay anonymous? Sure. There are a few but you’d have to consider each of them a one-time move. This means accessing some open or hacked connection only once and from a device that has no connection with you and goes to a huge landfill shortly after you got what you wanted.

HiTSim sometimes gets asked by younger computer users how one can become a hacker. The answer is actually simple. Be the best student in your class. Then move on to the best college and graduate top of your class. A PhD in mathematics or cryptography will attract recruiters who can employ you in the kind of jobs where you can’t tell your parents what you do and for whom you work for. Government/military sanctioned hacking is practiced around the world and I imagine that the job is fun. I once had a small contract job for the US Army and felt pretty good with that red “Foreign National Contractor” warning tag hanging from my neck.
Avoid the low hanging fruit and stay off their radar. You should be OK. Speaking of low hanging fruit. Have you ever downloaded a PDF eBook from a warez site? Where you blown away how easy they are to get and how much money you saved? I don’t want to kill your joy but try to not download PDF files and if you must, then I make sure to “sanitize” them if you can. Big Brother is watching (those too).


Test 4 – Fedora Workstation

Verdict: I booted many live Linux distributions but only Fedora Workstation was able to see the external laptop monitor. Fedora Workstation was the only one who got the calibration of the touch screen 100% perfect. Amazingly, their partitioning tool is the worst I have seen in a long time but still, once installed, all was well.

Fedora Workstation Pros

  • Modern and up-to-date Gnome desktop. URL: https://getfedora.org/
  • Great out-of-the-box hardware recognition including touch screen and 4K monitors.
  • Great out-of-the box network recognition. Fedora Workstation 29 can see the local computers by default. Nice.
  • The best Wacom tablet configuration software out of all distributions tested.
  • The only distro that set up my laptop web cam.

Fedora Workstation Cons

  • Seems a bit slow although it was installed on a 256 Gig SSD.
  • Confusing partitioning tool. It’s hard to imagine why such a beautiful distribution would come with an incompetent installer.

Conclusion

For a while, Fedora Workstation was the winner on the laptop. Out of all distributions, it was the only one that saw and configured the touchscreen monitor beyond my expectations.
But not all is rosy. Fedora Workstation 29 has by far the worst disk partition software I have seen in a long time. Still, it might just be the best there is when it comes to accurate touchscreen calibration that works out of the box. I have a long history with Fedora and would love to use it again. I still have the ISO and will do more testing if I don’t find what I am looking for.


Test 5 – ArcoLinux

Verdict: ArcoLinux offers a mind-blowing user experience
The creators behind this incredible distro show that they understand Linux inside out. If you are not 100% happy with your current Linux distro then I highly recommend that you check out ArcoLinux.
If you have more than one computer and need to share files between them then I highly recommend ArcoLinux. It is the only distribution that is well documented and includes pre-made scripts that get the job done.

ArcoLinux Pros

  • Documentation that works!
  • The best XFCE for HiDpi monitors.
  • Super helpful staff that assists in the forums.
  • Recognizes dual 4K monitors out of the box.

ArcoLinux Cons

  • None.

Conclusion

ArcoLinux was an unexpected find. Manjaro is great but setting up network shares is tedious. Don’t take my word for it and instead head over to the Manjaro forum and read for yourself. Endless discussions and countless steps to set up local file sharing which, in my case, was not reliable. I installed ArcoLinux last night on my laptop and was able to set up a functioning local network with a few mouse clicks. Today, I booted the laptop and to my amazement, the share was still accessible as it was yesterday.
For some reason, ArcoLinux won’t install easily on my newish gaming PC. I have received professional advise on the support forum but the issue I am facing only affects a small portion of the user base. Because of how well ArcoLinux performs, I will keep trying to wrestle it somehow onto the workstation because it has all the tools I need and much more.

Thank you for reading this article. If you have questions and suggestions then post them below. I am happy to provide specific answers in addition to what I have already written about.

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