Ubuntu vs. Linux Mint: Which One Should You Use?
Linux Mint, while based on Ubuntu, has a different approach than Ubuntu for creating a Linux distribution. Ubuntu makes use of Gnome 3 and tries to keep everything vanilla, while Linux Mint’s developers take all things they don’t like about Ubuntu and simplify it to make it easier for end users. If you are wondering which one is better, read on to find out how they differ and which one’s best for you.
Note: whenever “Linux Mint” is mentioned in this article, it is referring to its Cinnamon edition. For Ubuntu, it’s referring to the vanilla 20.04 version.
One of the significant differences between the latest Ubuntu and Mint versions is their system requirements. Ubuntu has a habit of adding new and more features, and it has become heavier and more demanding than Mint. You probably won’t be able to tell the difference in a relatively modern computer. Owners of older PCs would probably be better off with Mint.
Both Ubuntu and Mint use the Ubiquity installer, making their installations almost identical. Also to install Ubuntu, you can use the ZFS filesystem that’s unsupported by Mint.
Mint seems more open-source-friendly in that you can choose to install additional codecs for your media. Those, as far as we know, are installed by default with Ubuntu.
While Ubuntu 20.04 and Linux Mint 20 share the same 5.4 kernel base, not all features are the same for both distros.
For example, Canonical has backported Wireguard to the 5.4 kernel, a feature lacking in Mint’s latest version. Similarly, although Mint’s kernel should theoretically support ZFS, that functionality isn’t exposed to the end-user.
Canonical’s zsys tool allows everyone to use one of the best features of ZFS by taking file system snapshots automatically. If you meet a problem while using your OS, it’s highly probable you’ll be able to revert it to a previously working state.
Linux Mint doesn’t support ZFS, so there are no automated snapshots here. Mint comes with its own backup tool. It works great, but backups are no equivalent for filesystem-level snapshots.
Wireguard is considered the best option for VPNs today and has even received praise from Linus Torvalds himself. Canonical has added support for Wireguard to Ubuntu 20.04’s kernel, but Mint’s kernel seems to have skipped it. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use Wireguard on Mint, only that it isn’t included in its version of the 5.4 kernel.
LivePatch is one of Ubuntu’s latest features – although not entirely new. It’s a new updating mechanism that promises to render obsolete the need for restarts after system updates. Unless you are keeping your PC on 24 hours a day (like running a Linux server), then the LivePatch is useful. Unlike Windows, Linux update doesn’t require you to restart your computer immediately, and it doesn’t restart on its own.
Ubuntu uses the latest version of Gnome, while Linux Mint uses Cinnamon.
Both Gnome and Cinnamon are customizable, but Gnome requires you to install additional extensions, while Cinnamon customization options come right out of the box.
Right after installing Mint with Cinnamon, the first window you meet allows you to tweak the main bar’s setup between a modern and classic configuration. You can change color accents, install new themes, and even have your wallpaper changing automatically – all with just a few clicks.
Mint’s approach feels much more user-friendly all around, but its collection of customization options is minuscule compared to Ubuntu’s.
Linux Mint comes with a somewhat larger apps selection. Among them, you can find Warpinator, a new take on an old tool known as “Giver.” Warpinator works like Mac’s more popular AirDrop, enabling devices in a local network to exchange files quickly and simply.
Both distributions come with the expected Firefox, LibreOffice, and different utilities for multimedia, file management, email, etc.
Mint’s Software Manager has the upper hand since it’s blazingly fast compared to Ubuntu’s Software Center.
That’s where you may also notice a crucial difference between the two distributions: Mint doesn’t support snaps by default. Like many other open-source advocates, Mint’s developers don’t like how Canonical practically controls the snap format. We won’t take sides, but we can say that they present valid points for their point of view.
On a relatively new PC, both Ubuntu and Mint perform similarly. As the specs go down, Mint’s desktop starts feeling snappier.
To test their hunger for resources, we’ve set up two identical virtual machines. We restricted the hardware to only 2GBs of RAM and 2 CPU cores.
After a clean boot, Ubuntu was using 1.4GB of RAM and 618MB of Swap. Mint was using 641MB of RAM and 307MB of Swap. It’s also worth noting that Ubuntu took significantly longer to start up and become usable.
We increased the specs of the virtual machines to four CPU cores and double the RAM at 4GBs.
Ubuntu uses 1.7GBs of RAM immediately after a clean boot. Mint was at 740MBs of RAM.
Which Is the Best?
On an old PC, Mint is the clear winner.
On better, modern PCs, the choice is not as clear. Both offer different experiences, and your choice depends (mostly) on your desktop preferences.
If you prefer simplicity and quick and easy customization of the desktop, including the overall look and feel of the desktop, Linux Mint or Cinnamon is the better choice for you.
If you prefer the Gnome 3 approach of a simplified desktop that is not as easy to customize, or you need ZFS, then Ubuntu is a better choice for you.
Are you using either Ubuntu or Mint? You can also check out our review of Linux Mint Xfce edition or simply install MATE alongside Cinnamon in Linux Mint.