I mostly ran Debian or Ubuntu-based distributions since I started using Linux in 2006. My first introduction to Linux was with Ubuntu 6.06 Dapper Drake, on a crappy laptop whose wifi card struggled to stay connected to my barely DSL-class network.
At that time, the most realistic options were Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, or Fedora, and RPMs always rubbed me the wrong way. Rolling release distros already existed, but their state was less than desirable, with huge stability issues. Since then, the rolling release model has been perfected, and Arch linux has sprouted a bunch of derivatives, such as Manjaro and Antergos.
Since my new full AMD build didn’t yield the results I was expecting on elementary OS, which is based on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, I thought I’d finally give one of these rolling releases a try. I picked Manjaro, and, to keep using somthing I’m not familiar with, I selected the community-maintained Budgie edition.
Your eyes won’t stand to read all that much text ? Watch a condensed video of that article :
I chose the easy path, and simply wiped my whole disk to install Manjaro, which means I had no dual boot complexities, or any other shenanigans to take care of. The installation was quick, smooth, and well guided. While Manjaro Budgie doesn’t semm to use the same installer as elementary OS or Ubuntu, it looked familiar enough, and I didn’t struggle at all.
There was an interesting difference with the install process that I’m used to, though, which is that Manjaro allows you to pick a separate root password, instead of using the password of the first user account you created as the root password. It’s a good security option, and is optional.
Installation was speedy, and I quickly rebooted to a fully operational system. Every piece of hardware was recognized immediately, from the Ryzen 5 2600 CPU, to the Radeon RX580, the 16Gb of RAM, and even the Realtek-based USB Wifi adapter. So far, so good !
At first boot, you’re greeted with Manjaro Hello, which directs you to many different help sources to guide you through the distro. It’s a well done first step, even though I found the one that comes with Deepin better designed.
After that, you’re left to your own devices in the Budgie desktop. That’s no problem, though, since Budgie, in its Manjaro implementation at least, is very, very simple. You get a top panel with the application menu, a taskbar / shortcut zone similar to what you’d find on Windows 10, and your regular notifications, with a small icon to the far right, allowing you to open Raven, a side panel which hosts notifications and some basic widgets.
And that’s it ! No desktop icons, which I didn’t mind, since I always turn that mess-creating feature off whenever I can, no workspaces overview, although you can still use them with keyboard shortcuts (Control + Alt + Right / Left), and no “exposé” view to take a look at all your open windows.
Even the Alt/Tab Switcher is barebones, with only the application icons, and no window preview. This lack of options might be related to Manjaro’s implementation of Budgie, since I was led to believe they are available in other distributions shipping Budgie.
Budgie uses the default GNOME settings for almost everything, and implements its own settings app, which is not integrated into GNOME Settings, for some reason. It allows you to tweak a few specific behaviours, and completely customize the panels you use.
This reminded me of Cinnamon, and it’s a pretty positive comparison. You can change the position of the panels, their size, the different applets and their position, create new panels, change their auto hide behaviour separately, enable a “dock mode”… There is a lot of customization and power here to make Budgie look like what you’re comfortable with. A few of the applets sadly didn’t work correctly, such as the Window Overview, or the hot corners, but this might be a Manjaro issue.
All in all, I was still a bit let down, and I felt Budgie did not benefit from the same level of polish as GNOME, KDE, Pantheon, or Deepin DE. I’ll have to try my hand at Solus and other distributions that ship Budgie, to see what I might be missing on.
Performance was good during my tests. Idle, Manjaro Budgie used 1.2Gb of RAM (ouf ot 16gb), as reported by the (admittedly overestimating) GNOME Monitor. This is about the same result I had on this same tool in Ubuntu, elementary OS, Deepin, or KDE Neon, so I wasn’t too surprised.
CPU usage, though, seemed lower, around 1 to 2% when idle, while elementary OS regularly used anywhere from 2 to 5% just for the window manager, Gala.
Compared to elementary OS on the same machine, I must say I didn’t see a huge difference while using it. Apps still opened almost instantly, even though Firefox was a bit faster at actually displaying a browser window on Manjaro. Where the difference really was impressive is while playing games.
Manjaro Budgie ships with Steam out of the box, so I simply had to try the same games I had already benchmarked on elementary OS. I started with the Proton / Steamplay games, and got some nice surprises.
If you followed my previous post, you’ll know that Warhammer End Times: Vermintide didn’t run using DXVK, and was only half playable with Wine D3D11, at extremely low framerates (in the low 20's). On Manjaro, the game started immediately using DXVK, and got a pretty stable 60FPS at max settings, whith the occasionnal stutter when loading a new asset or shader for the first time, which is a DXVK issue.
Space Hulk Deathwing didn’t run in fullscreen mode on elementary OS, forcing me to play on “windowed” mode, with a huge titlebar and the top panel in the way. A bit immersion breaking, to be honest.
The same game in Manjaro ran perfectly fine fullscreen, with higher framerates, achieveing a stable 60FPS at max settings with the same occasionnal stutters as Vermintide the first time I loaded a new map.
Warhammer 40K Dawn Of War III ran at around 50FPS at high settings, without Vulkan enabled, and lower than that with Vulkan (which still boggles me), on elementary OS. On Manjaro, it got around 55–57 FPS at high settings without Vulkan, with Vulkan performance still being lower.
Total War Warhammer II ran about the same, at 60FPS at max settings, on the map and in a battle, I didn’t notice much of a difference here between both systems, and CS Go still ran admirably, which is to be expected for a Source-based game.
All in all, I was really surprised at the performance gains I got, just by switching distributions.
If you want a more complete run-down of gaming performance, you can watch this:
Look and Feel
I used green-themed distributions before, notably Mint, and I must say I was not a fan of that color. Manjaro managed to make me keep their default theme, which uses a rich, vibrant green, complimented with red/orange notes here and there, and black sidebars and titlebars. The theme is smooth, material-esque, and even implements some transparency in Nautilus’ side panel, for example.
The icons looked nice, using a variant of the Papirus theme, and went well with the general theme of the distro. In the end, I didn’t change it, not even switching icons and colors to a more usual blue, which you can do in the Budgie settings panel. Manjaro Budgie actually ships with a ton of preinstalled themes and icon packs, some of which don’t work at all, though.
Apart from elementary OS, it’s very rare for me not the tweak the theme and icons, but Manjaro managed to make me stick to the default one.
I’m more of a minimalist guy when it comes to applications. I don’t like having duplicate applications to do the same job, and I like picking the applications I want to install. Unfortunately for me, Manjaro Budgie ships with a ton of programs by default.
You get the usual suspects, Firefox, Transmission, LibreOffice (the whole suite, which is a bit too much, I think), as well as a slew of GNOME default programs which Budgie does not offer replacements for, such as Nautilus, GNOME Settings, or GNOME Calendar.
It also adds Evolution and Thunderbird, two different email clients, as well as HexChat for IRC, which I still think is weird to ship by default, Steam, Timeshift for backup, and a load of configuration utilities for Qt applications, KDE themes, HP Printers, and more.
This goes overboard, I think, and the application menu is overloaded by default. This is not a big issue, since you can always uninstall what you don’t use, but I’d rather download a smaller ISO, get faster install times, and be free to intentionally install whatever I want to use.
This is where Manjaro differs from what I’m used to ! Manjaro doesn’t use debian packages, or RPMs, but has its own packaging system, built on Arch’s one. In practice, it doesn’t change much: you still get a GUI in the form of Pamac, a graphical package manager, which allows you to update, install, and remove packages.
That’s the main difference, though: Pamac works with packages, and is not an “App Store”, like GNOME Software or KDE’s Discover can be. It’s not a problem, just another way of doing things. It does introduce a few issues, though, such as making the “installed” list near useless, since it mixes and matches programs and libraries in a huge list that you can’t filter.
Once you get used to the “package manager” logic (versus the “app store” logic that has been prevalent for a few years now on Linux distros), you can get by just fine. Some of the terminology is not that legible, such as a “Commit” button to start the installation of a package, but Pamac is a pretty good piece of software.
Now, if Manjaro’s repos are not enough for you (and they are already pretty well stocked), you can also enable the AUR, or Arch User Repository, which hosts a lot more packages. Be careful though, these are user-submitted, so they might not work perfectly, and might include non-free software. With these two sources, if you want to install something, chances are you won’t have to look for long.
I couldn’t help but compare this favorably to the PPA system of Ubuntu-based distributions, where you have to add a repository, update your sources, then install the package. Manjaro’s system saves a ton of time, and is a lot more practical.
Sure, most application vendors will ship a deb package, but I didn’t come across one that wasn’t also available in manjaro’s repos, or through the AUR. Command line-wise, I had to re-learn a few things, but the commands are actually pretty easy to remember, and faster to type.
Bringing this to an end
I must say I was skeptical of the differences a distro switch would make. I thought I’d gain a few performance boosts here and there, at the price of stability and ease of use.
I was wrong. Manjaro is faster, runs the games I like better and smoother, and has a fantastic packaging system and wealth of available packages. The few issues I have with the application overload are quickly solved, and I didn’t hit any stability issue yet. Apparently, these can pop-up after a few upgrade cycles, so I’ll have to wait a bit to see if I have the same issues.
Manjaro might not have been the best choice to try out Budgie, though, and I don’t think I’ll stick with it. I’ll probably install the GNOME or Plasma Desktop as a daily driver, but XFCE might be an interesting choice as well.
Still, I’ll try Budgie on another platform, probably Solus, when their next version releases, just to see what I might have missed.
Elementary OS is still one of my favorite distributions ever. it’s smooth, good looking, and its approach to rewarding developers and its commitment to providing a great and consistent user experience are fantastic, but the base they use is simply not recent enough for me to get acceptable performance.
I’ll keep writing on my experiences on Manjaro and other DEs I might try along the way, for those of you who reached the bottom of this lenghty piece, thanks for reading.