Linux Mint 13 Maya on my high-end laptop


Updated: June 25, 2012

As I promised, here's the third Mint review this spring. I really like Mint 13 Maya so far, and it's being introduced into my sacred production setup as we speak. In fact, this review is a revolution of a kind, since it marks a first change in my operational system array since CentOS was added there, which too marked another milestone, the previous such drastic step being never.

I am going to show you how Mint Maya behaved on my LG RD510 laptop, which comes with 4GB of RAM and a proper graphics card in the shape of Nvidia 9600M GS. We will also see how Mint runs from an external disk connected to my even mightier i5-powered HP laptop, but that's later. For now, let's elaborate on my recent experience. Of course, you will get all the little details and whatnot. Follow me.

Teaser

Trying to get Mint installed - Nouveau again

Once more, the inferior Nvidia-esque driver almost made it impossible for me to enjoy my laptop and its pricey card properly. Similar to my Pangolin experience, the live session was virtually unusable due to Nouveau. In fact, it froze after a short while so I had to reboot and then try to install the system in the compatibility mode. Only this meant no X.

I finally managed to get a simple VESA desktop by changing the bootloader command line and appending nouveau.modeset=0. It is rather ironic that I was able to use my system more efficiently with a 1994 video mode than the supposedly modern driver that causes nothing but trouble. In fact, given the sluggishness, the crashes, the freezes, the excessive heating of the graphics cards, the guzzling of memory, and everything else, can someone explain why this driver exists in the first place? Why the hell anyone would want or need this monumental piece of dung? Just to have a fancy high-resolution splash?

Anyhow, the Mint fallback mode is quite cute. It looks somewhat like MATE, although not really. But it does everything that it's supposed to do.

Fallback desktop

Now, as to my installation, let me elaborate on the setup. Up until recently, the RD510 machine used to have three Ubuntu instances and one CentOS. The Ubuntu repertoire included two Lucids and one Maverick, which was used primarily for gaming. I have already replaced the first Lucid with Pangolin a few weeks ago. And now, I decided to replace the gaming distro with Mint. This also meant importing a very elaborate user account with almost 100GB worth of games and downloads.

Fallback mode, installing

The installation was quick, and the setup fairly painless.

Running Maya

On first boot, I found out that Nouveau was still present and running, making my desktop suck. This time, I held long enough to get the proprietary drivers installed so that I could end the reign of suckiness once and for all. Armored with my experience from Pangolin, I went for the post-release Nvidia updates. The driver version is 295.49.

Nvidia panel

Now, time to start enjoying and exploring. The imported system did come up fine, reusing the desktop wallpaper from the Maverick installation. All of my documents, images and settings were there, plus the tons of games setup in the home directory. Unfortunately, the set of games committed to /usr and /opt from the previous system were gone and would have to be reinstalled.

Imported desktop

The distro did preserve the menu entries, reminding me what I had to fix.

Games in the menu

System resources

With the Nvidia driver in place, Mint started tolling about 550MB of RAM, but after disabling the VSync option, as I've explained in my other review, the figure went down about 10%, becoming almost identical to the one shown in the Ubuntu parent's system monitor. The responsiveness is also improved, and there's a slight yet noticeable drop in the CPU activity. I did test with various games, and they run quickly and smoothly.

Resources, with VSync

Resources, with no VSync

Here's a quick teaser of a game, which we will discuss in the coming days:

Game teaser

Other things

You would probably want to know how everything else went. Well, things worked out just fine, which does not come as a surprise. Network connectivity, multimedia playback, overall stability, suspend & resume, no worries there. A system as minty as you can expect.

Final looks

Conclusion

Linux Mint 13 Maya is a worthy addition to my production setup, and I'm looking forward to playing with it, tweaking, enjoying, exposing bugs, and then writing about it. Hopefully, there will be none, but given the fact some of those are carry overs from Ubuntu and others caused by bad business decisions to spoil the kernel with inferior code, some ought to come out, like a shy mushroom after a handsome radioactive fallout. Well, time will tell.

For now, Mint + Nvidia seems like a good combo. Again, I must reiterate the experience is almost identical to the one I had with Ubuntu 12.04. In a way, I am disappointed, since usually you get the fewest problems with Nvidia when its comes to the graphics stack. Only this time, the harrowing Nouveau experience, the regressions in the driver that lead to sub-optimal performance, and the need for post-install tweaks to get extra juice and framerate from your card does leave a bad aftertaste. I would like to recommend every single Mint user out there who feels even the slightest sluggishness in their desktop experience to check for the running Nouveau module, and if it's there, kill it with fire.

The family tumors aside, Mint is a good and useful operating system. And there's a first. Even since having discovered Mint long long ago, it has finally made its way into my circle of trust. What remains to be decided is what I'm going to replace the remaining Lucid installation with. Another Ubuntu, another Maya, something else?

Cheers.

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