The best Linux distribution for a new computer in 2020

Currently, the most used Linux distribution are:

  • Ubuntu
  • Linux Mint
  • Manjaro
  • MX Linux
  • Debian

When choosing a Linux distribution, it is most important to consider the foundation it is built on. Most of the ones I just listed are built on Debian as the basis and then include custom programming to make it unique. The exception is Manjaro which is built on Arch Linux. Arch-based distributions have a reputation for being fast, stable and cutting edge. Spoiler alert. I am bent towards Arch-based distros because they run noticeably faster on my hardware.
Here the relevant links:

  • ArcoLinux
    If you want a fast and cutting edge distro, then I highly recommend ArcoLinux. I use it daily for graphics design and 3D asset creation and have no plans to switch. Arco Linux is best suited for workstations. If you need support then you are in for a treat. YouTube, as of today has about 1400 videos with are ArcoLinux specific and there is a support forum as well. The creator of ArcoLinux and the Arch Wiki provide a lot of answers. Starting with the Arch Wiki is better than asking at the forum but if you post, someone will point you in the right direction.
  • Manjaro
    Because Manjaro is based on Arch, it is also fast. Manjaro doesn’t update as often as ArcoLinux does but the software version Manjaro provides are rock solid. The community is huge and everything anyone might want to solve has been asked and answered over the years. Sadly, much of it is bloat so I recommend that if you come across a helpful answer that you take a moment and make a note for yourself.

    Linux updates a lot and in time, some device might need to be reconfigured. When that happens, you will need to search the forum and since there are countless posts on most topics you might not find the answer or it will take a long time to do so. A better way to make a text file with helpful solutions as well as the links to where it can be found if need be. In time, the work it takes to create and update this home-brewed knowledge base will pay off.

Regardless of which distro you pick, the Arch Wiki is a good start to issues you might encounter with Manjaro or Arch Linux.

Arch Linux

I have never installed Arch Linux but am fond of the speed and therefore take advantage of two distros which are Arch Linux based. They are ArcoLinux and Manjaro. Both distros are very close but do differ. ArcoLinux is faster then Manjaro and starts in less than 10 secons on my Dell workstation which has an SSD and plenty of RAM. Manjaro takes closer to 20 sec.

Otherwise, they both can run the same software which is even more important than speed. Out of the box (fresh install) both Manjaro and ArcoLinux need a bit of tweaking. Manjaro more so unless the green-looking theme is your thing. I prefer the Mac OS X look and the first thing I do after installing is changing the wallpaper, icons and theme.

pacman

To me, the package management has to be solid or I won’t stay with a particular Linux distribution. Both, Arco Linux and Manjaro use the same package manager and both provide access to the Arch User Repository (AUR) which is important for me.

The biggest reason why I stay away from the Debian derivatives is that by default, they don’t use current software versions. MX Linux is a great distro which has a huge install base but the last time I used it, was quite a bit outdated. Now don’t get me wrong, the latest software can have stability issues but it all depends on the hardware. If you skim user forums then you know that for some users, a particular piece of software runs amazingly well while others can’t get it working at all. Speaking of working, here are the most important opensource software applications I use.

  • Blender 3D
  • *FreeCAD
  • CURA
  • Gimp
  • LibreOffice
  • SublimeText
  • Timeshift
  • Firefox
  • Thunderbird

With those, one can do a lot and then some. I use FreeCAD for creating parts which are destined to be 3D printed. After I am finished with drafting, I export the .stl file and open it with CURA which does an amazing job slicing the model and exporting the needed G-code which my 3D printer can read.

Blender 3D

Another important aspect when choosing the best Linux distribution is how it handles Blender 3D. Some distros do not implement CUDA which means that Blender won’t be able to use the much faster GPU for rendering. My gfx card has 8 GIG of RAM and if Blender is not 100% supported, I will quickly pass on a Linux distribution. Luckily, Arch-based distros such as Manjaro and ArcoLinux are perfect to run Blender on.

Web design has no special requirements and can be done on older computers. The only consideration is that many distributions still install an outdated version of GIMP by default. Keep this in mind when choosing your Linux distro. I’m happy to say that Manjaro and the lesser known ArcoLinux come with the latest which means that all there is to do is tweaking the layout.
Anyone who has multiple computers should consider how easy or difficult it is to set up local file sharing.

How easy is it to share files between computers

When it comes to setting up a home network, ArcoLinux takes the crown. It’s as easy as going to my home dir, ctrl+h > .bin > main and voila. the 140 script will install samba. The 150 script installs network discovery and so on. Arco Linux is a clever distro and it amazes me that it is not number one on www.distrowatch.org
Manjaro can also share directories and only takes a few minutes to get the computers to see each other.

Timeshift

To me, the most important piece of software I use is Timeshift. If you are a Windows user and not familiar with Timeshift then you are in for a treat. Timeshift performs automated daily backups of my system. If ever some experimental driver wrecks havoc, I can revert to yesterday in just minutes.
Grsync
If Timeshift had a little sister, her name would be Grsync. By default, Timeshift backs up everything except the home directory and various other locations such as the web browser cache which are just bloat. Grsync takes over where Timeshift leaves off. Yes, Timeshift could back up the home directory but the data storage needed for this would not be practical.
Instead, Grsync does a beautiful job of analyzing what has changed and then syncing two directories as configured. It goes without saying that the backup locations for both, Timeshift and Grsync should be on an external HD or you are asking for trouble.

Conclusion

If you are new to Linux or not 100% happy with your current distro then give Manjaro or ArcoLinux a try. As I already stated, all distros run pretty much the same software. Blender on Linux Mint looks the same way as it does on RedHat or OpenSUSE. What is different is the render speed and package maintenance.

ArcoLinux

On a workstation, ArcoLinux is my favorite. No other distro except maybe Clear Linux can match the speed. ArcoLinux is stable, makes setting up a home network a breeze and gives me access to the latest software versions should I chose to try them.
In addition, ArcoLinux includes aliases which speed up system maintenance. Instead of typing “sudo pacman -Syu” on a terminal, ArcoLinux users can just type: “update”.
Learn more about aliases here

Manjaro

My MSI laptop does not like ArcoLinux and out of all the distros that I have tried, Manjaro installs and runs much better on it than anything else. I no longer need the mobility a laptop provides and will phase it out as soon as I can. For web and graphics design, desktop computers are much better suited and if a client can’t meet me in my office, then I’m happy to demonstrate my work on a tablet.

If you use Manjaro then you will need to consult their user forum to learn about updates and how to fix issues should you have any. The most important thing to consider about Manjaro is the update. Arch-based distros are rolling releases which means that there is a constant stream of updates. New users are tempted to update via pacman the package manager which should be avoided. Here is how to update Manjaro the correct way.

Open the terminal with “ctrl alt t” and type: sudo pacman -Syu
I do 90% of my updates this way and have never messed up my Manjaro install.

For big updates, I just switch to a real terminal by pressing “ctrl + alt + F2” (or F3, F4, F5, F6).

how to update manjaro in the terminal

To exit from there, I press “ctrl + alt + F7” which will return me to the x windows session after the update is finished. So there you have it. Each of the two distros has plus and minus points. Cutting edge software and speed versus up-to-date versions and stability plus a huge community to fish for answers.
There are articles that state that certain distros are the fastes but in my tests, I can not reproduce those claims. We all have smartphones and access to very accurate timers. After all, the stop watch never lies. Why spend big money and fast hardware if a Linux distro is slow, right? If you have a fast machine then try Manjaro of ArcoLinux. Both have an identical installer and ArcoLinux looks nice out of the box but then again, you might just dig the Manjaro default theme.

If you are a Windows user and interested in moving to Linux the you can try a lot of opensource software because it installs on Windows as well. This way, doing the final move will be much easier than cutting ties like so many of us have done.

Thank you for reading. As always, your comments are welcome especially now that I’m in my Corona prison. 😉