Linux Mint, although based on Ubuntu, has a different approach than Ubuntu to creating a Linux distribution. Ubuntu uses Gnome 3 and tries to keep everything vanilla, while the developers at Linux Mint take everything they don’t like about Ubuntu and simplify it to make it easier for end users. If you are wondering which one is better, read on to find out how they differ and which is best for you.
One of the significant differences between the latest versions of Ubuntu and Mint is their system requirements. Ubuntu is used to adding new features and more, and it has become heavier and more demanding than Mint. You probably won’t be able to tell the difference in a relatively modern computer. Older PC owners would likely be better off with Mint.
Ubuntu and Mint use the Ubiquity installer, which makes their installations almost identical. To install Ubuntu, you can also use the ZFS file system which is not supported by Mint.
Mint seems more compatible with open source as you can choose to install additional codecs for your media. These, to our knowledge, are installed by default with Ubuntu.
While Ubuntu 20.04 and Linux Mint 20 share the same 5.4 kernel base, not all features are the same for the two distributions.
For example, Canonical backported Wireguard to kernel 5.4, a feature that is missing in the latest version of Mint. Likewise, although Mint’s kernel should theoretically support ZFS, this functionality is not exposed to the end user.
Canonical’s zsys tool allows anyone to use one of ZFS’s best features by automatically taking file system snapshots. If you have a problem while using your operating system, chances are you can restore it to a previous working state.
Linux Mint does not support ZFS, so there are no automated snapshots here. Mint comes with its own backup tool. This works fine, but backups are not equivalent to snapshots at the file system level.
Wireguard is considered the best option for VPNs today, and has even received praise from Linus Torvalds himself. Canonical added Wireguard support to the Ubuntu 20.04 kernel, but Mint’s kernel appears to have ignored it. That doesn’t mean you can’t use Wireguard on Mint, just that it’s not included in its kernel version 5.4.
LivePatch is one of the latest features in Ubuntu, although it is not entirely new. This is a new update mechanism that promises to obsolete the need to restart after system updates. Unless you keep your PC on 24 hours a day (like running a Linux server), LivePatch is useful. Unlike Windows, the Linux update does not require you to restart your computer immediately, nor does it restart on its own.
Ubuntu uses the latest version of Gnome, while Linux Mint uses Cinnamon.
Gnome and Cinnamon are both customizable, but Gnome requires you to install additional extensions, while Cinnamon’s customization options are out of the box.
Right after installing Mint with Cinnamon, the first window you come across lets you change the main bar setup between a modern and classic setup. You can change color accents, install new themes, and even have your wallpaper automatically changed – all with just a few clicks.
Mint’s approach seems a lot friendlier, but its collection of customization options is tiny compared to Ubuntu’s.
Linux Mint comes with a somewhat larger selection of apps. Among them you can find Warpinator, a new version of an old tool called “Giver”. Warpinator works like the most popular AirDrop for Mac, allowing devices on a local network to exchange files quickly and easily.
Both distributions come with Firefox, LibreOffice and various utilities for multimedia, file management, email, etc.
Mint’s Software Manager has the upper hand because it’s blazingly fast compared to Ubuntu’s Software Center.
This is where you may also notice a crucial difference between the two distributions: Mint does not support snaps by default. Like many other open source advocates, the developers at Mint dislike the way Canonical virtually controls the capture format. We will not take sides, but we can say that they present valid arguments for their point of view.
Real world performance
On a relatively new PC, Ubuntu and Mint work the same. As specs decrease, Mint’s desktop starts to feel more lively.
To test their thirst for resources, we configured two identical virtual machines. We have limited the hardware to just 2 GB of RAM and 2 processor cores.
After a clean boot, Ubuntu was using 1.4GB of RAM and 618MB of Swap. Mint was using 641MB of RAM and 307MB of Swap. It’s also worth noting that Ubuntu took significantly longer to start up and become usable.
We have increased the specifications for quad-core virtual machines and doubled the RAM to 4 GB.
Ubuntu uses 1.7 GB of RAM immediately after a clean boot. Mint was at 740MB of RAM.
What is the best?
On an old PC, Mint is clearly the winner.
On modern and better PCs, the choice is not so clear. Both offer different experiences, and your choice depends (mostly) on your desktop preferences.
If you prefer the simplicity and quick and easy customization of the desktop, including the general look of the desktop, Linux Mint or Cinnamon is the best choice for you.
If you prefer the Gnome 3 approach of a streamlined desktop that isn’t as easy to customize, or if you need ZFS, Ubuntu is a better choice for you.
Are you using Ubuntu or Mint? You can also check out our Linux Mint Xfce edition review or just install MATE alongside Cinnamon in Linux Mint.
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