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LiveCD Boot Benchmarks: Round 1, Popular LiveCDs

June 15th, 2005

This article originally posted on frozentech.com on June 15th, 2005
One of the most obvious differences between a LiveCD and an operating system installed on a hard drive is the time it takes for the system to start. LiveCDs have the disadvantage of all CDs, easily being 15 times slower in both transfer and access speeds than standard hard drives. Even with this huge variation in speed, the average LiveCD does not take 15 times longer to boot than the same software installed to a hard drive. This article will provide an overview of the boot speeds of nine popular LiveCDs in several different configurations.

Test Setup
All LiveCDs were burned using the same options, on the same burner, onto the same media, from the same spindle. The slower computer is a 333 MHz AMD K6 laptop with 64MB of ram, no hard drive, and no networking of any kind. The faster computer is a homebuilt AMD Athlon64 3200+ with 1 GB memory, and for the tests I turned off the hard drive and built-in networking in the BIOS. I started timing from when I hit “enter” from the initial menus from the LiveCD boot process, and stopped when the CD activity stopped. Also, I did not count the time while the LiveCDs were prompting me for information.


Slow Laptop (AMD K6 333 Mhz, 64 MB memory)

This is an older laptop I have with the hard drive removed. While I tested the same number of LiveCDs as with the desktop computer, only six of the thirteen setups were able to boot in less than 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, I would stop the boot process, after waiting over 10 hours for one LiveCD to load KDE. The small amount of memory in this system is the root of the problem, and many of the LiveCDs tested have requirements of more than 64 MB of memory. This is the reason none of the KDE or Gnome LiveCDs ended up on the graph. Knoppix, which defaults to KDE normally, recognized there was not enough memory, alerted me, and loaded the lightweight TWM window manager. This was an extra touch that was nice, and that no other KDE/Gnome LiveCD did. (I shouldn’t complain, but instead of TWM, why not load Fluxbox?) I used default boot settings in each case, with SLAX, I attempted to load both Fluxbox and KDE after it dumped me to a bash prompt.

Laptop Boot Graph

LiveCD Desktop Time (min:sec)
SLAX 5.0.5 Fluxbox 2:35
SLAX 5.0.5 KDE
Damn Small Linux 1.0.1 Fluxbox 1:19
Damn Small Linux 1.2 Fluxbox 1:24
PCLinuxOS p81A KDE x
Ubuntu 5.04 Gnome
Knoppix 3.8.1 TWM 2:43
Knoppix 3.9 TWM 2:32
Kanotix 2005-02 KDE
Kanotix 2005-03 KDE
SimplyMEPIS 3.3 KDE
Gentoo 2005.0 BASH 2:58
GoblinX 1.1 KDE x

— :took longer than 15 minutes to boot
x :crashed

Damn Small Linux booted much quicker than all other distros in this test. It was also suited well after booting, with all of its apps being small, it did not bog down the laptop. While Knoppix and SLAX were able to load, many of the apps included with them took a long, long time to load (note: don’t try to use Openoffice from a LiveCD on a computer that only has 64 MB memory and no swap). None of the full KDE or Gnome desktops were able to load in a reasonable amount of time, and so were not counted. Gentoo took the longest to load, even without a window manager. It appeared to spend all of its time detecting hardware, as there were long periods of boot without any CDROM activity.

One Sentence Summary:
Don’t try to use a LiveCD with KDE or Gnome on a computer with small amounts of memory.

Fast Desktop (AMD Athlon64 3200+, 1024 MB memory)

This desktop is my primary work and gaming machine. I disabled networking and the hard drive in order to not be affected by DHCP requests and partition scans. The reason for this is that DHCP requests are not always sent after the same amount of waiting, and my hard drive has four partitions, a bit higher than what is normally found on a computer. With one gigabyte of memory, no LiveCDs hit a memory limitation like with the laptop. This allowed all of them to boot, except for Damn Small Linux, which would leave me with a blank screen when it attempted to load the desktop. I’m not sure exactly what caused this problem, but I did not include its boot times because of it. (DSL did not crash, Alt-F1 would bring me back to a terminal, it was only X that was not starting).

Desktop Boot Graph

LiveCD Desktop Time (min:sec)
SLAX 5.0.5 Fluxbox 0:58
SLAX 5.0.5 KDE 1:29
Damn Small Linux 1.0.1 Fluxbox x
Damn Small Linux 1.2 Fluxbox x
PCLinuxOS p81A KDE 2:22
Ubuntu 5.04 Gnome 3:41
Knoppix 3.8.1 KDE 2:08
Knoppix 3.9 KDE 2:07
Kanotix 2005-02 KDE 2:16
Kanotix 2005-03 KDE 1:54
SimplyMEPIS 3.3 KDE 4:10
Gentoo 2005.0 BASH 1:07
GoblinX 1.1 KDE 1:48

x :crashed

SLAX was the quickest booting in these tests, into both Fluxbox and KDE. All the KDE and Gnome LiveCDs that could not boot on that laptop had no problems with a full gig of ram to work with. Ubuntu and SimplyMEPIS stood out by taking the longest to boot. Both took a full minute over the next slowest, and over two minutes longer than booting SLAX into KDE.

This test is far from scientific and is mainly for fun. While I tried to minimize the number of changing variables by using the same media, same burning options, and same exact computer setups for timing the boots, these same CDs on a different computer could cause completely different results. The exact specs of the computers used is below:

Toshiba Satellite 2545XCDT
AMD K6 333 MHz
64 MB Memory
*no hard drive

AMD Athlon64 3200+ (overclocked from 2 GHz to 2.1 GHz)
1 GB Corsair DDR400 Memory
ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe Motherboard
NVIDIA GeForce 6600GT Video Card
NEC 3500A DVDR (boot device)
Lite-On 52x24x52 CDR (burning device)
*both optical drives are on the secondary IDE channel
*parallel hard drive channel #1 disabled in the bios
*both network ports disabled in the bios

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