Linux Mint 19.3 Xfce Edition Review

Mint Xfce Feature Image

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.

Installation

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.

Mint Boot Screen

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.

Mint Hardware Detection Tool

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.

Mint Installer

Usage

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.

Mint Blank Desktop

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.

Mint Xfce Settings

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.

Mint Session Manager

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.

Feelings Overall

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.

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John Knight

John Knight is a writer, most notably for Linux Format (UK), Linux Journal (US), and Maximum PC (US). Outside of open source and general computing material, John has also written for automotive publications, and is currently writing material on vintage gaming and drumming. Other areas of interest include Psychology, French, and Japanese.

5 comments

  1. “This is especially unwelcome on a machine without NVIDIA graphics!”
    The obvious solution would be to un-install any software that has to do with NVIDIA. Unfortunately, in my experience, that is uninstalling any package that was installed by default is impossible in a Ubuntu-based distro.

    I run PCLinuxOS on a PC with ATI video card. NVIDIA drivers are the first software I always uninstall. Not only do I not need them but they also take a lot space.

  2. Thanks for the article and the guide on how to trim the installation to make it run on low spec systems.

    One thing I’ve noticed with Linux Mint Cinnamon or XFCE is that Firefox runs much faster and is far more responsive than Chrome on my system with AMD FX 6300 processor, 8 GB RAM and using the pretty old AMD HD 3000 onboard graphics. Turning of compositing and Software Compositing helps to make it snappier but I get screen tearing after that.

    1. Hey, I’ve got the same CPU. With a decently beefy graphics card you can get away with surprisingly recent gaming. Have you tried compton as a compositor? It’s a minimalist compositor with just a few very tasteful touches. I use it with KDE (after disabling its compositor) and it’s gorgeous and ultra-fast. Mint has something built into it so you can switch to compton as a compositor, but I don’t really trust it to work properly, I prefer to enable it manually. If you want to give it a go, install it with:

      sudo apt install compton

      ….then try it out with this command:

      compton –vsync opengl-swc –backend glx

      Youtube has some good screen tearing test videos if you want to know if it has worked. If it has, and your system is still running quickly, just add that command to your startup services.

  3. “uninstalling any package that was installed by default is impossible in a Ubuntu-based distro.”

    You need to uninstall any of the dependencies as well.

    dpkg –simulate –remove “package_name”

    will tell you whether a package will be removed or whether other packages (which may also have dependencies) must be removed in the same operation (or beforehand).

    1. Synaptic tells what dependencies will be deleted along with the app(s). When trying to delete anything from a Ubuntu-based distro, most often the dependency to be deleted is “ubuntu-minimal”. Uninstall that and your entire system is shot. Even trivial apps like ‘cowsay’ or ‘fortune’ have “ubuntu-minimal” as a dependency.

      Maybe there is a way, using dpkg, to uninstall unwanted apps. I haven’t tried since I am not conversant with dpkg.

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