In the search for lighter desktop environments for your Linux system, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the number of choices available to you. The community will send you all over the internet looking for different DEs, and you will end up getting confused and looking to go back to what you had before. We’ve taken the liberty of narrowing the list down to just two choices: LXDE vs XFCE. Here we discuss the best lightweight desktop environment.
I’ve already gone through each of these desktop environments in depth in their respective reviews, which you can find here and here. In an effort to standardize, I will be using LXLE to represent LXDE and Xubuntu to represent XFCE. They take away a lot of things that are uncomfortable for me about their respective DEs, and it makes it easier for me to focus on the important parts of the DEs. They are also both based on Ubuntu, so there is little difference in the underlying system itself.
Presentation of the players
LXDE is widely regarded as one of the lightest desktop environments on the market. One of the ways it accomplishes this is that it is made up of many separate components, each of which can be installed separately or replaced by other components. One example is Window Managers – Openbox is the default, but you can choose from many more to suit your wants and needs. LXDE is incredibly simple and minimal, and for users looking for a lightweight DE that doesn’t get in the way, LXDE is a great choice.
XFCE is an incredibly popular desktop environment. It’s light, but not so much that you still can’t use it the way you would like. Similar to LXDE, some components can be replaced. In my initial review, I mentioned that I wasn’t particularly interested in installing XFCE stock, but the way the Xubuntu team handles XFCE is really appealing. It’s a few theme and icon changes with a better screensaver, but those little choices add up. Overall, XFCE is a great choice for users with sub-optimal hardware who are looking for a light, responsive but still complete DE.
LXDE and XFCE performance
In terms of performance, both DEs are excellent in identically provisioned VMs. They each have access to two cores of my i7 2600 and access to 2 GB of RAM. Programs open immediately, windows drag across the screen with no dropped frames, and the interaction with desktop parts like menus and status bar icons is really eye-catching. Where things get interesting is when you start to look under the hood.
LXDE vs XFCE System Resource Efficiency
This is where I really start to see the differences between these two systems. In a fresh boot the CPU usage is the same at around 1%, but LXDE uses paltry 219MB RAM, while XFCE uses 465MB RAM. This is a huge deal for users with very limited RAM. Older laptops with 2 or 4 GB of RAM should make every MB of RAM count, even on the order of a few hundred MB. If you have a particularly limited system, you can choose LXDE.
Both desktop environments are fine once you get used to them, but for me, XFCE starts way before LXDE. It obviously depends on the implementation, but for the two in question here, XFCE takes the winner away from usability. It looks like a more well-thought-out system where everything fits tightly. The applications were developed specifically for XFCE, while LXDE builds on many applications from other DEs. It makes all the difference in the world to me.
In addition, I feel more at home with XFCE. LXDE feels disjointed, given all the separate components, and it makes me feel like there is something else I should do or change to get the most out of the experience. Also, every time I go to take a closer look at LXDE, I am disappointed with its shallow depth. XFCE has depth and substance. It is more welcoming and shows you how light a full and complete office environment can be.
This is an area where the two desktop environments are roughly equal, but for different reasons. For LXDE, each part is interchangeable. If you want another panel, window manager, or terminal manager, you have a choice of whatever will work. There is no addiction to fear. This can be ideal for more advanced users who have enough experience and knowledge to have a window manager preference or just those looking for intense customization.
Since XFCE is very popular, there are many ways to customize it. Xubuntu is particularly beautiful, and there are ways to make any XFCE system look the way you want it to.
LXDE vs XFCE: which is better?
There is no one right answer to this. Let’s look at the use cases where every DE shines.
If you have a system that doesn’t seem to perform well no matter what you do, or if you feel like you’re leaving performance on the table when loading a heavier desktop environment, LXDE is for you. There’s a reason the Raspberry Pi OS uses LXDE for its desktop, and why it performs so well.
In addition to being lightweight, XFCE brings more customization to the table. There are apps developed for XFCE, and things are tightly integrated. If you are looking for great performance in a lightweight desktop environment but aren’t ready to make the jump to something like LXDE, then XFCE is perfect. He has a very loyal fan base for a reason.
Now that you’ve heard about LXDE vs. XFCE, you should check out some of our other desktop environment reviews like GNOME, KDE, MATE, and Pantheon, and learn more about XFCE and LXDE customization.
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