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Vector Linux 4 Reviewed 175

SilentBob4 writes "On October 7th, the developers at Vector Linux released the latest version of their lightweight Linux distro, version 4. Vector has always been built upon the Slackware Linux framework and this time around it is based on Slack 9.0. The interesting thing here is that there was quite a delay between releases from the Vector camp, so as they were readying version 4, Pat Volkerding was releasing version 9.1 of his Slackware distro. This past Friday, the first review of Vector Linux was released (Distrowatch.com posted a link to it today). It was a pretty good review for the most part, but the interesting thing about it was that they actually benchmarked it against Slackware 9.1 and posted the results. I'll spoil the ending right now and tell you that Vector Linux won, but you should check out the findings. There are some pretty interesting numbers obtained from the two distros. The reviewer has published three PDF documents detailing the results. Everything was tested from the kernel to filesystem performance. It is interesting to say the least. Even if you don't have to time to read the whole article (it's two pages long), do check out the benchmark results. "
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Vector Linux 4 Reviewed

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  • by Illbay ( 700081 ) on Monday October 27, 2003 @09:38AM (#7318580) Journal
    Being software-illiterate, will someone please explain to me how this really matters?

    A Linux "distribution" is (or so I have always thought) the kernel, plus system support files, plus all the tools (typical "GNU") that go into making a working OS. So how is it that you can have significant differences between distros in "performance"? And how does that matter if you build the system on your own hardware (a la Gentoo)?

    Is this just another example of irrelevant Geek pissing contests, or is there some actual significance here?

    • Performace won't matter much, except for self-compile distros, where you can get about 10% better performance. But it is a bit silly, on any distro the kernel is easy to compile and so are any applications you really use (database, webserver). But I don't see the point in making vi run 10% faster...
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 27, 2003 @09:48AM (#7318641)
      The significance is this: I just installed Vector 4 on a 233MHz machine with 32 meg of RAM that I bought for 1 (One pound sterling) from my employer who was chucking it out. I will use it for word processing and other basic tasks and it will be just fine. It has the speed of Windows 95 (which was previously on board) but it's a modern operating system with all the capabilities that implies. I am well pleased.
      • The significance is this: I just installed Vector 4 on a 233MHz machine with 32 meg of RAM that I bought for 1 (One pound sterling) from my employer who was chucking it out.

        Yes, yes, I understand that you can build a function Linux system using cast-off hardware, etc. (I ran my email/web server for a couple of years on an old 486DX2-66 with RH 5.x, and never noticed any sort of "performance hit," other than that I could not run X on it with the old 1MB Trident ISA graphics card that I had on it.

        But that's

    • Well, the issue is that different distrobutions include different sets of tools. Some, for example, include many more daemons (think apache, mysql, etc) and turn them on by default. Also, there will be a noticible difference between Gentoo built for Athlon versus Gentoo built for i386, for example. Similarly, the default build instructions are different for different distros. You might download a Redhat ISO targetted for the i586 (pentium) or perhaps Mandrake targetted at i686. So in those cases, often, it
      • Also the different features that can be enabled on those different software packages that will require things like linking to an external library or adding extra internal code bloat. An example is the exim package in Debian depends on libldap2 for those that don't need LDAP it would be considered uneeded bloatness.
    • by BrokenHalo ( 565198 ) on Monday October 27, 2003 @10:03AM (#7318722)
      So how is it that you can have significant differences between distros in "performance"?

      Quite easily if you use them as they come out of the box.

      I'll probably get flamed for saying this, but in the past when I played around with RedHat and Mandrake before going back to Slackware, I noticed a general sluggishness about those distros.

      Most of that got fixed when I rebuilt the kernel my own way, but other aspects such as slow init loading never got fixed until I threw those distros out.

      I haven't been able to read the article yet, since it is presumably slashdotted, but I would have thought most benchmarks against Slackware 9.1 would be irrelevant, since the majority of Slackware heads compile their own apps and kernels. In other words, it makes more sense to compare it against Slack in a way that the latter might be assumed to be implemented. Yes, I know that's hard, since Slackware fans tend to be an individualistic lot, but that's too bad.

      And yes, I know Gentoo does that, but Slackware gives you a system that works so that you can compile stuff at your leisure, rather than having to leave a machine out of action for hours/days while everything gets built.

      • part of the sluggishness is, because they are commercial distros, they have to work out of the box. they can't require tons of fiddling, recompiling, etc. and yes, in the install, afaik, drake does let you turn off all the uneeded services, and will even ask you when yo install apache, et al., if you want to turn them on by default. but, the fact is, they have to work. and since they are commercial, they can take an approach to their distro based on the standard, common hardware around. for instance, m
    • If you take a typical redhat kernel, it has support for AMD and Intel both built in,SSE2 and MMX are both on etc., meaning it is not optimised for either.It also enables a lot of stuff like i2c bus support on, which is useful for servers etc. Then there are stuff like patches for faster GUI response etc. which can be added to improve apparent speed. Modules being built in versus loaded matters a lot too.This is for the kernel.
      When it comes to tools, there are so many tools available in the typical GNU stu
      • by Anonymous Coward
        It also enables a lot of stuff like i2c bus support on, which is useful for servers etc.

        I2C is useful for your home computer, too. SMBus is an I2C bus, which is the temperature/fan speed monitoring/health status information bus for your PC. DDC2 (How your video card gets information from your monitor) is implemented with an I2C bus on your video card.

        Here ends the pedentry concerning I2C.
      • Certainly there cant be a significant speed increase between distros, but if you know what you want, then you can compile your packages and set options well enough on YOUR system and get a significant boost.

        I guess that's the point of my confusion. I mean, you get the entire RH distro source code (as you do all "legitimate" distros--don't know what Lindows provides, for example), and you can essentially roll your own, if you know how (and anyone who's so obsessed with performance IS going to know how).

        So

    • I agree, what really sets this distribution apart from any other distribution besides the obvious bootup and daemon start up tweaks?

      Most of the benchmarks on this review are all kernel dependant. Wouldnt it be safe to say that the same numbers can be found in any modern distribution if they use the same kernel patches/optimizations?

      This leads me to my next question. Its true not all distributions are created equall and all distro maintainers do their own black magic to tweak their kernels. But, rarely
    • Setting the right compiler options for your hardware can make a small difference. Most people, though, don;t have a clue about setting compiler options.

      Hardware itself makes a much greater difference. Any OS running on a Pentium 4 3 gHz with a large UDMA133 drive and a $500 video card will be faster than the same OS running on a 486SX-25 an ancient drive and a $35 video card. One would think that's obvious.

      Most of these so-called performamce tests are silly. One guy finds Thing A is faster on his hardwar
  • by Ianoo ( 711633 ) on Monday October 27, 2003 @09:39AM (#7318582) Journal
    Yet another PHP-Nuke-alike that seems to be so obfuscated it's impossible to find anything...

    However: looks like a fairly good distribution with a good set of tools for the space. But I find myself asking why the 450MB number? Too little for a compressed CD-ROM (like Knoppix), and I haven't seen a hard disk in a machine (even consumer devices) that's under 1GB in years.

    It could be the ideal candidate for a 512MB CF card or Microdrive, but then again, it only runs on Intel x86, so ARM-based XScale, StrongARM, OMAP etc devices are out of the picture.

    So my question is this: it looks pretty good and seems to have quite a bit of support, but what's it's niche? Older machines, like 386s?
    • I have an older 486 laptop that I still use as a glorified terminal. I currently have Caldera on it but it's a bit bulky for a 486sx with only 4megs of ram.

      I *could* buy more ram, I could buy a bigger HD, but that would be investing money in a POS 486sx laptop. I could buy a new laptop but all I need is a glorified terminal.
      • Slack 8.1 works for me on a 486 laptop with 4mb ram... check the 4mb Laptop Howto for some good hints on making it better.
        • Yea, I could also switch to Slack 8.1, I could check out this vector stuff. Or I could just forget about it and declair victory.

          Caldera was my choice not because it offers anything special over Slack, it was just something that I got in the mail that had a pre-compiled kernel that wouldn't choke on my lack of a mathco.

      • I currently have Caldera on it

        Come on, Daryl. We know its you!
      • Why not go old?

        There are a couple distros with *0.99* kernels available on an archive somewhere. I tried an early Debian (from floppies!) on my 486/40... while it was equipped with the full compliment of 20Mb memory, XF86 still sucked, so I went back to GEM and FreeDOS.
    • Yet Another PHP-Nuke-Alike

      YAPNA

    • by Rutulian ( 171771 ) on Monday October 27, 2003 @10:08AM (#7318745)
      and I haven't seen a hard disk in a machine (even consumer devices) that's under 1GB in years.

      I think that's the point. This distribution is meant for older hardware. When a 1GB hard disk was as large as you could get.
    • Your post reminded me to check the Knoppix site [knopper.net] for a new version... and it looks like the project is dead, or at least comatose, due to the current states of patent law.
    • /me points at Debian 3.0 Testing running on P1 Laptop. Makes a great, inexpensive mobile hacking station. It's only got a 1GB hdd and no CDROM so i had to be very selective about what OS to use. Debian at the time was the only one that had a floppy based install and was compact. Had i know about it at the time i would have figured out some way to get Vector installed on it. Seems to be a more complete, less "oh, crap i need to download a package".
  • every time you slashdot a server, god kills a kitten.

    please, think of the kittens.
  • We have produced a bloat free, easy to install, configure and maintain Slackware based system that is second to none
    how can a software be "bloat free" and "easy to install, configure and maintain" at the same time?
    I am not anti "easy to install, configure, maintain" (even though I use command line text console for administering NIS+), but there a quite a few distro that claim to do just that like Mandrake, Suse etc, and they are not that bloated.
    • ... tht if we want "a bloat free, easy to install, configure and maintain Slackware based system" then the best thing anyone can do is simply install Slackware and configure it properly.

      There's no bloat in command-line based configuration and administration via the text editor of your choice.

  • Good move (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by El Cubano ( 631386 )

    I'll spoil the ending right now and tell you that Vector Linux won, but you should check out the findings.

    Great, now no one has to RTFA. Oh wait, I forgot this is /.

    • Great, now no one has to RTFA. Oh wait, I forgot this is /.

      Well, I had to be patient to RTFA, but I did so and was disappointed.

      OK, as a disclaimer, I admit to being a big fan of Slackware, but it seems to me that the benchmark comparisons made in the FA are invidious.

      Pat V. deliberately leaves the default kernels in Slackware unpatched. The idea is that users will apply the patches that they require, and recompile kernels as appropriate, but not bulk the kernel out unnecessarily. This implies an assumptio

  • by tangent3 ( 449222 ) on Monday October 27, 2003 @09:42AM (#7318606)
    Slashdotters should know by know that there are now 4 kind of lies. Lies, damned lies, statistics and benchmarks.
  • It doesn't come with XFce4! (WHich was a bitch to compile with all those friggin module directories to go through!)
    • XFce4 is on the disc (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Actually, it comes on the disc but not installed by default :) Its a TGZ package
  • by Zanek ( 546281 )
    Screw the performance, we need a linux distro that is componentizd, easy to use, and pluggable !
    • Screw the performance, we need a linux distro that is componentizd, easy to use, and pluggable !

      So go and create one [linuxfromscratch.org]

    • Re:Uggh (Score:2, Informative)

      by stm2 ( 141831 )
      Maybe Morphix Linux [sourcefoge.net] is what you are looking for. It has a "base" system and then you could add "modules". there are some modules ready for download or you could download an ISO with some modules installed.
    • just go with redhat then, performance sucks, but it works well and is easy to use
    • The parent does sound like an idealistic plea, but the concept of a simple, componentised distro is going to be very important in the future if Linux is going to win desktop space.

      It would be very nice (IMO), for instance to have a nice CLEAN /dev directory (maybe make things easier and call it /devices instead) with things organised in a monkey-could-understand intuitive way. A clean and modular replacement and/or extension to X, with, say, and OpenGL backend and native SVG support would do wonders yet s
  • Great distro (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Beek ( 10414 ) on Monday October 27, 2003 @09:48AM (#7318642) Homepage
    Runs comfortably on my P133 with 48 MB of RAM.

    Although I am curious what other modern distros will run on such a machine?
    • Slackware 9.1.

      Have it running on my laptop of similar spec. It's pretty snappy in console, or running X with Fluxbox. Stay away from the obvious hogs like Mozilla or massive PDFs and you'll be fine.
    • Lightweight Distros (Score:4, Informative)

      by MuParadigm ( 687680 ) <jgabriel66@yahoo.com> on Monday October 27, 2003 @10:22AM (#7318850) Homepage Journal

      Well, we all know that most of the distros *can* be configured to run on older machines -- if you change all the defaults to load programs and interfaces running with lower memory requirements. Slack and Debian are probably the best for tis task.

      But if you're looking for something designed for older PC's "out of the box" then Deli, Damn Small Linux, or most of the other live CD distributions designed for business card CD's will also work, since they're all designed for small memory footprints, which is probably the main constraint on older systems.

      Deli, in particular, makes the interesting choice of using the 2.2.25 kernel, which should be good for older machines.

  • 233Mhz is slow? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 27, 2003 @09:49AM (#7318652)
    My God, kids these days are spoiled. How about starting the benchmarks on a 386 with 4 megs of RAM and working up to that mighty 233 monster. I'd be most interested in the differences between say a 486DX66 with 128Megs and a P90with 32Megs. Perhaps these specs will make some snicker, but when you're working on making old hardware do something cool these are the specs that are interesting. If you've got a 1GHz plus machine with tons of RAM you don't need stripped down distro.
    • How about starting the benchmarks on a 386 with 4 megs of RAM and working up to that mighty 233 monster.

      [WARNING: Strictly opinion with no facts to back it up]

      You make an interesting point. Yes, most benchmarks are done on fairly substantial hardware but this generally reflects the typical "desktop" Linux user. Unfortunately, these benchmarks do not adequately take into account the MANY server/router systems in use. These are, in many cases, aging systems that have been replaced as the "main" system

      • I have a spare P90 with 64 MB ram on it. I'll tell you *exactly* how "modern" distros like Mandrake/SuSE/Redhat run... ..like shit.

        Oh, the CLI version runs just fine, but the moment you toss a GUI onto it, bye bye usefullness.

        BeOS on the other hand, is perfect at that speed. Lightweight GUI and consistant OS, no legacy baggage and all that.
        • I'll agree with that pretty much. I've a router machine/firewall/occasional FTP (P90 32MB, 500MB HD) running RH7.3, which works fine, but then it's hardly being pushed. It certainly wouldn't run X at any useful speed on its 1MB graphic card!

          However, I still find X sluggish compared to Windows even on a reasonable machine. I use Gentoo at work, on a P4 2.4ghz with (admittedly crap) SiS graphic card, and 256MB of RAM (32MB shared to gfx). Since I mostly use terminals, this is all fine and dandy, but if I sta
    • > I'd be most interested in the differences between say a 486DX66 with 128Megs and a P90with 32Megs.

      A 486 with 128MB ram would be pretty interesting in itself.
    • RJH: "Hey boss, we need to set up a webserver for the new project"
      PHB: "Sure go ahead. Use one of the old 486 Microns"
      RJH: "But we can't use a 486! It's way to slow!"
      PHB: "There's only five people on the project. Surely that old Micron can handle it"
      RJH: "But it only has 16MB. There's no way I can run GNOME on it!"
      PHB: "I thought you said this was to be a webserver?"
      RJH: [grumble grumble]
    • You have a 386? In my day, we didn't have no fancy-schmancy 386s. We had an abacus, and we liked it!

      I overclocked my abacus, and that thing was fast. It runs linux as fast as you can move the beads.

      Kids these days...
      • Oooo! Listen to mr "Fancy Pants" with his abacus. We weren't all millionaires you know! I had to crunch numbers by using a system of mudballs and sticks in the swamps where us "commoners" had to live while you lot lived it up!!

        Grrr!!
  • Good (Score:5, Interesting)

    by d-Orb ( 551682 ) on Monday October 27, 2003 @09:55AM (#7318672) Homepage

    Vector Linux is good because there are still loads of P2-2xx/3xx around. While you can always run XFCE on them, dillo and so on, they do have hardware limitations which might be difficult to overcome in order to have something normal people can use. If you get a distro that runs a modern desktop (KDE, GNOME) with some response (this is what the reviewer says; what he means is anyone's guess), then you can effectively extend the life of these older machines, save money, and so on. While many gamers may not be aware of this, people in small/family-run companies could definitely use something like vector for these purposes.

    Unfortunately, I think that most of the people who would benefit most from things like Vector will never hear of it, and if they do, they will probably be overwhelmed by difficult installers and so on. If the VL people could come up with their distro packaged so that it effectively is a domestic distro (put CD in, wait, enjoy), then they would have a great product that many SMEs would use. They might also want to get some other software (accounting and that sort of stuff), but there is definitely a niche there for them to occupy. I wish them well :-)

  • by codepunk ( 167897 ) on Monday October 27, 2003 @09:57AM (#7318687)
    I was approached by a private grade school that had a bunch of old gear and no money to upgrade software much less the hardware to run the latest windoze. I had them buy a single poweredge server and loaded up mandrake. Turned on XDMCP and are currently loading the clients with Vector Linux. It works really nice on old hardware and boots quickly. So for the cost of a single server they get to use the old gear plus all of the open source software they could ever want. Kudo's to the vector linux developers they saved this schools 50 workstations.
  • This phrase is funny insofar that the term "page" does not give any clue how long a "web page" is. :-)
  • Just curious if anyone can explain why should one choose Vector over another.

    Not trying to be silly, or a flame.. just curious what they have to offer the others don't. Unless you get into the 'special use' distros like FreeSCO, or KnoppixCluster..

    Coming from a BSD user viewpoint.. and an ex-Linux user from the old days ( before the thing would even self host ) I just don't see that much *real* difference from Distro A to Ditsro B, except perhaps for the dependency hell when you try to add new things... P
  • by the_crowbar ( 149535 ) on Monday October 27, 2003 @10:37AM (#7318997)

    Reviews highlighting a distro built for speed are useful for those who are unable/unwilling to build their own Linux system.

    Recently I bought a mini-itx system to put in my car. At that point, I wanted something lighweight (runs on VIA C3 Proc) and fast. I ended up building a Linux From Scratch system, but if I did not have the skill or inclination for something like that a distro optimized for slower hardware would be a great choice.

    Even though I built a LFS system, I could have saved a bit of time by installing a binary distro. LFS took me several days of steady compiling to complete. (I did most of the build work on my desktop and simply copied the files over, but still.)

    the_crowbar
  • We have clearance, Clerance.
    Roger, Roger. What's our vector, Victor?


  • I find it somewhat farcical/Windowseque to compare distros on speed. Learn to tune what you've got.

    I use and run Slackware. I installed 9.0 on my Compaq Aero (486sx33/8MB). X is unthinkable, but it runs text just fine. The biggest performance tuning came from putting `noatime` in /etc/fstab . Those atime writes were hurting performance with the buffer shortage.

    • I used to run linux with X and netscape on a 386DX25 with 8MB ram and a 1MB ISA VGA card. It wasn't fast, but it was usable. If you can't manage to use X on your 486SX33 8MB, you're using the wrong X, and the wrong apps. Step one: Forget KDE and GNOME altogether.
  • by joeslugg ( 8092 ) on Monday October 27, 2003 @11:15AM (#7319338)
    The interesting thing here is...
    ...but the interesting thing about it was...
    There are some pretty interesting numbers...
    It is interesting to say the least.

    I'm searching for an adjective to describe this article. Somebody help me here...

  • packages? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Danathar ( 267989 )
    Is vector compatibile with packages designed for slackware 9.0?
  • OT -- Back to Basics (Score:3, Informative)

    by digitalhermit ( 113459 ) on Monday October 27, 2003 @12:14PM (#7319821) Homepage
    Somewhat OT, but the idea of a toned down but still functional Linux appeals to me. I had a similar idea of doing this to a distro not well known for being slim -- RedHat 9. For partially philosophical reasons, and partly because I was not getting any work done with all the gizmos cluttering my desktop, I decided to remove the clutter but not lose any functionality. (In my defense, I'm comfortable with Debian and some embedded, minimal distros and have built a Linux from the kernel sources to X).

    The hardware for this ongoing project is a 333MhZ PII laptop, 192M. I started by getting rid of the Gnome and KDE environments (well, most of it -- I kept the libraries and some select applications around). In their place I put in Fluxbox, choosing ./configure options carefully to minimize memory usage.

    Next, because I spend the majority of my time in the shell, I looked at some of the different xterms around. I was surprised that the native xterm, though much smaller than konsole or gnome-terminal, was still somewhat bloated in comparison with others such as aterm or rxvt. They didn't support transparent terminals but that's no biggie. The important thing was that they could do green-on-black terminals; also no biggie, but I was thinking about this because I made an assumption that a black background would use less battery than a white one. Of course, you could also ditch X entirely and run from a console but browsing the web in elinks or links, though great for documentation, kinda sucks for looking at Dolphin cheerleaders.

    Next, I exchanged the stock RedHat kernel with a 2.6.0-test kernel (test9 at this writing). It does seem a lot faster, but I am still working out some module loading issues so there is some functional loss until I get these working. This is important because the goal is not to lose functionality for performance.

    I've been testing different journaling modes for the ext3 filesystem. No benchmarks yet, but I understand that there's a decent performance boost to be had from using a different writeback mode.

    These are all in addition to the standard tweaks such as using a lower bit depth on the X session, replacing apps with slimmer alternatives (Firebird for Mozilla, etc.). There are also dubious claims of speedups by just recompiling but in my case these gains weren't perceptible.

    I'm about to replace syslog with one that batches writes. This will allow the drives to spin down. Since power management is otherwise functional it might gain some performance.

    • Changing the color of your desktop will not affect battery life. The backlight is always "on", the colors come about by the LCD pixels filtering the white backlight. The only way to save battery power this way is to run the backlight on less power.

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