Linux Mint is quickly eroding Ubuntu’s position as the easy to use Linux desktop. But Mint comes in more than just one flavor, including a lighter version based on Xfce. How does this light version fare against its big brother? Does everything still “just work”, or are there hidden compromises? And how does it stack up against other lightweight distros? Check out our Linux Mint Xfce Edition review below.
The website is easy to navigate, with plenty of download mirrors. The release notes have an excellent troubleshooting section. Anyone with old hardware will be delighted that all editions of Mint still come in both 32- and 64-bit variants.
Despite the Xfce edition claiming to be more lightweight, the website still gives the same minimum requirements of at least 1 GB of RAM (2 GB recommended), 15 GB of disk space, and a 1024×768 resolution. Surely they could at least commit to that 1 GB of RAM.
The installer’s boot menu now comes with a stunning “Hardware Detection Tool” that gives extensive system info. This alone makes it a must-have in your toolbox whenever you need to identify the hardware in someone’s PC.
Once inside the live desktop, there is also a boot repair tool for anyone who may have messed up their bootloader dual-booting. The installer is still the same excellent installer as always, dependable and predictable. It can be minimized if you want to web browse while you wait.
If you’ve never used Linux Mint before, expect an old fashioned Windows-like interface. It will have a black-and-green color scheme and the added functionality of Linux and X11. Mint’s approach is to keep the same basic desktop from year-to-year but to add useful tweaks over time. If that sounds boring, it is. But it’s instantly familiar and easily grasped by non-IT folks. It’s boring in a good way. My parents use it and still haven’t broken it.
As for the Xfce edition, you can generally expect more of the same. The menu has a slightly different layout and a light color scheme. There are fewer options in the system settings. Where standard Mint uses Nemo as a file manager, Xfce Mint uses Thunar. However, it is themed to feel like its big brother. Overall, the general look and feel of Mint’s chief Cinnamon interface has been excellently replicated. Color schemes aside, an unobservant user may not even notice the difference.
For a test machine, we tried challenging those minimum specs, with the 32-bit build running on an old Acer Aspire One netbook, sporting 1 GB of RAM and an Intel Atom N2600 CPU @ 1.6 GHz.
The initial experience was slow, but that was with all the eye-candy and services turned on. We wanted to see how it ran when trimmed of its bloat. Thankfully, the Session and Startup customizer in the Settings menu lets you easily disable any unnecessary services.
In terms of bloat, there is an automatic system report that is too finicky, reporting very trivial issues. Our installation was worried about “openoffice-hyphenation language packs.” That’s hardly something that would keep you up at night! We nixed that.
However, our chief bug bear was the “Support for NVIDIA Prime” icon. It’s supposed to show a tray icon when a “compatible NVIDIA Optimus graphics card is detected” but seems to install on every machine. It’s doubtful most NVIDIA users would want this in their system tray. This is especially unwelcome on a machine without NVIDIA graphics!
Disabling Bluetooth is worth a go if you never use it. Disabling the compositor resulted in a serious performance gain, if that’s something you can do without. After a decent cleansing, we achieved a smoothly running desktop. Sitting at idle, we had 4% CPU usage and 713 MB of RAM free from its 918 MB of usable memory.
With regard to the software and general feeling of the distro, it’s still the same solid and reliable Mint. There’s a driver manager, plenty of software and support, and most of the hard work has been done for you. But what about that claim of it being a “light” distro?
Although this is a lighter distro, it is by no means a proper lightweight. This will chug on a machine that will otherwise run distros like antiX or Puppy Linux without issue. However, any machine that is around ten years old should be entirely feasible. Disabling unneeded services will run it on older machines than that.
If you’re a longtime Mint user whose machine is starting to crawl, switching to the Xfce edition should let you postpone that upgrade for another couple of years without compromising your desktop workflow. Nevertheless, this all puts Mint Xfce edition in a very niche area. Its appeal would surely be broader if it were a little more lightweight by default.
Still, if you’re willing to spend a few minutes trimming fat, you may get this running on a much older machine than intended, with all the “it just works” convenience of Linux Mint.
If Linux Mint Xfce edition isn’t light enough for you, check out our list of the best lightweight distros for older computers.