Unity Linux: great big Mandriva-based lusciousness
This Mandriva-based distro wants to give you low resource computing, but it doesn't want you to slum it. Although possibly the best-looking of the distros in the Roundup, it does come at the cost of a slow boot time.
Unity is pretty much as sluggish as a full desktop distro when it starts, compared to the nippy zippy likes of Slitaz and Tiny Core. Once the Openbox-based desktop is running, though, it is as fast and responsive as you could want a distro to be.
The install process couldn't be easier – run the graphical installer, tell it where you live, allow it to partition the drive however it likes and you're done in a couple of clicks. In fact, it may be a little too easy – perhaps it should ask a bit more about where you're installing, but there are manual options available for most of the stages. Installation may take a while, but you can always avail yourself of the live Unity while you're waiting, then reboot back into that lovely desktop.
That's when the real shock hits you – Unity has gobbled up nearly 1GB of space before you've even started installing anything! The minimal install does contain lots of configuration tools, but if you want to do anything like browse the web or play some music, you'll need to get downloading.
The smart package manager is preconfigured to fetch updates and packages from the extensive Unity mirrors, though you could most likely install Mandriva or generic RPMs without much difficulty. Setting up networking was seamless and we were gorging ourselves silly on frivolous applications such as image viewers and audio players in no time.
Surprisingly, once installed, Unity only came mid-table in terms of memory use, but we found that it was sprightly and easy to use. As with some of the other distros we've tested here, this is a beta release, but based on what we saw, it seems ready for a full release already.
Verdict: Unity Linux
Version: 2010 Beta 2
It's both slick and fast, but you will need a bit more disk space available
VectorLinux: by the power of Slackware
Based on Slackware, VectorLinux was originally all about being a small, self-contained and easy to install and use distro. Since it started life in 2000 it has been through many different iterations and sprouted a few different variants (SOHO, Deluxe, Standard, Light) to target specific use scenarios.
We tested the Light version, though even that's a full CD. At 617MB, it's heftier than some of the others on test. Even if you discount the optional packages, the Light install requires 1GB of space, so it isn't that surprising that it has a wide choice of apps occupying all that space.
Development tools and the kernel source can be excluded to give you change, but we don't recommend you install this on anything smaller than a 4GB drive if you want some swap space (which you do on a low-memory system) and room to store your files.
In terms of app choice, things are skewed towards web and media stuff. There are four web browsers, but only Leafpad, Pathetic Writer and Siag Office by way of office programs, and MTPaint holding up the graphics end of the ship.
Installing VectorLinux is straightforward for a veteran of pre-Ubuntu installers. This Curses-based trip back into prehistory actually has the temerity to ask you questions about things and also wants you to partition and format your drive!
There's nothing particularly wrong with VectorLinux, it just isn't that inspiring. It has by far the largest boot image, consumes the most disk space and yet doesn't deliver an exceptional performance or user experience. In some ways, you might as well be running any normal mainstream distro.
The interface may seem fussy and there isn't much customisation available, but it becomes deceptively easy to use after a short time.
Version: 6.0 Light
This is a decent choice if you have space and memory to spare