Review: Xubuntu 8.10 'Intrepid Ibex' Alpha 6 - 21/09/2008 by Andrew
Gaming on the Cutting Edge – Part 6
In this multi part series I've previously looked at Ubuntu 8.10 Alpha 2, Mandriva 2009 Beta 1 (KDE4.1), Ubuntu 8.10 Alpha 4, Kubuntu 8.10 Alpha 4 and Kubuntu 8.10 Alpha 6. Keeping with the Ubuntu family, I'm now looking at Xubuntu 8.10 Alpha 6. This is the first time I've seriously looked at Xubuntu as a gaming distro and it could turn out to be a good choice, as the Xfce desktop manager is lightweight (well, it's lightweight compared to Gnome or KDE).
Xubuntu 8.10 'Intrepid Ibex' Alpha 6
Xubuntu is an official Ubuntu project and is released along side Ubuntu and Kubuntu (as well as other official Ubuntu projects – the list seems to grow every six months!). It first appeared as part of the 6.06 release fest which happened mid 2006 and has given older PC's a new lease on life by providing a leaner window manager. After recently reviewing Kubuntu 8.10 Alpha 6 (and not liking what I found) I was hoping that Xubuntu 8.10 Alpha 6 wasn't going to disappoint.
I downloaded the 64 bit Alternate CD (that's the non-Live CD version) and booted up ole faithful test box, consisting of:
AMD Athlon 3200+ (2.0Ghz)
Gigabyte 939 Motherboard (GA-K8NSC-939)
2x512MB Geil DDR400 Dual Channel
Gigabyte 6600GT 256MB AGP 8x
LG DVD Burner (GSA-4163B)
Seagate 40GB 2MB cache ATA100
Logitech G15 keyboard + G5 mouse
The installation using the Alternate CD was quick and easy. Even if you've had limited Linux experience you shouldn't have any problems installing the system this way, though I would suggest using the 'Desktop' version (that's the Live CD one) so you can play with the system before you take the leap of installing it to your hard drive. If you have 192-256MB or RAM, then the Alternate CD is the way to go, as you can install without the overhead of a system running in RAM at the same time.
Desktop, Graphics and Games
Booting up for the first time was quick and easy – it does seem 'snappier' than the exact same machine running Ubuntu, Kubuntu or Mandriva (though these three were not slow by any means). A pop-up informed me that I had 79 updates to download and I can expect more and more updates to come through as development at this stage (there's still a beta and a release candidate to go) is far from over.
One very Ubuntu thing is the restricted drivers icon on the top right of the screen, informing me that there's a restricted driver available - in my case, a propriety Nvidia driver to provide 3D acceleration. Unfortunately, this disappeared after a reboot (I was reqested to reboot after the 79 updates) though there's a 'Hardware Drivers' link under System in the start menu. Unlike previous Ubuntu 8.10 alphas, this one actually says which version of the Nvidia drivers it recommends, so off I go installing version 177.
Another reboot (for good measure) later, and I was up and running with 3D acceleration. The whole process was relatively painless and quick though there were some minor layout issues with the hardware driver application, though this is by no means a show stopper and just relied on the user to resize the application.
Since Xubuntu uses the same Intrepid Ibex repositories as Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Mythbuntu, Foobuntu and RemixbuntuWithDifferentWallpaper the games and applications on offer are exactly the same, so quoting from my Kubuntu 8.10 Alpha 6 review:
The games that are on offer in the repositories haven't changed much since I had a look in Alpha 4, you still have Nexuiz 2.4.2, OpenArena 0.7.7, Warsow 0.42, Glest 3.1.2, SuperTuxKart 0.5, Alien-arena 7.0, warzone2100 2.1.0 and Freedroidrpg 0.10.3 as well as huge collection of other games. There should be nothing stopping you installing Neverwinter Nights, UT2004, ET:QW, Doom 3, Quake 4 or whatever your favorite native closed-source game, so long as you can get 3D working.
Applications are in the same boat, if it's available in Ubuntu, it's available in Xubuntu – with one big difference. Out of the box (read: after a fresh install) you'll find a few applications have been substituted for light-weight version. OpenOffice is out, with Abiword taking over word processing duties, Audacious is the music player and while Firefox 3.0.2 makes an appearance here (and doesn't in Kubuntu) you also get the option of using Midori (the light-weight browser, not the drink). There are plenty more examples of this and it does show that Xubuntu isn't just Ubuntu with a different window manager, it's a different distro that's been crafted to be quick and light.
If you're planning on gaming on an older machine but have an affection for Ubuntu, then Xubuntu is an obvious choice. Games these days eat quite a lot of resources, and with LCD screens almost enforcing you to use native resolutions your older machine will be working overtime to pump out the pixels. From what I've seen, Xubuntu is stable even at this stage of development (just over a month to go to the final version) and I'd recommend it to anyone with an older machine who is wanting to access the new goodies in the Ibex repositories.