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Review: Arch64, Archlinux for 64bit processors

Due to lack of time, I have been sticking with the “easier” distros lately. I love Slackware, and at one time Arch Linux was my absolute favorite. I recently upgraded to an Athlon64 3200. I tried a variety of distros, only to run into problems I didn’t have time to fix. Fedora gave me a messed up Grub. Mandriva Free gave me problems with my video driver. Ubuntu Edgy has been fine. I saw that Arch Linux had a 64bit version and decided it was time to revisit it. If the easy distros were making me get into config files, why not just jump in fully with Arch64.

The installation documentation is thorough, but will drop you off at a command prompt with no Gui to log into. Make sure you know what you are doing, or do your homework first. If you feel like kickin’ it real old school, they even give you the option of a floppy install. You boot up, then type “/arch/setup”, which brings up the installer program. The steps are:

  1. Prepare Hard Drive. You have an option to Auto-Prepare, which gives you a /boot, swap and root partition. It creates the file systems and mounts the partitions. Partition Hard Drives lets you do the partitioning via cfdisk and set the mount points yourself.
  2. Select Packages. Packages are set up in different categories. I chose to only install BASE. It keeps things lean and mean.
  3. Install Packages. This does exactly what it says. It installs the packages.
  4. Configure System. This allows you to edit your configuration files. Usually the defaults will work, but the point of using Arch is to set things up your way. The rc.conf file is the main configuration file, where you set modules and daemons load, you define your network interface settings and other stuff. A nice addition here is MOD_AUTOLOAD which scans your hardware and automatically loads your modules with hwdetect. In the past I had forgotten to put the proper USB modules. Using a usb mouse and keyboard, that was a problem. Make absolutely sure you check lilo.conf if you use lilo, /boot/grub/menu.1st if using grub.
  5. Install Kernel. Your choices are a stock 2.6.x kernel, 2.4 IDE or 2.4 SCSI. The documentation notes that Arch uses 2.6 by default, and to quote a line that made me laugh, “We are phasing out support for the 2.4 kernel, so you should only use it if 2.6 just isn’t working out for you”
  6. Install Bootloader. You have the option of Lilo or Grub. The documentation has a great tip here. It says that if you multiboot, it might be better to install the bootloader into your root or /boot partition, and refer to that from the bootloader on your Master Boot Record. I did that and it worked like a charm. This is after I had Grub nightmares from a Fedora install. Post install, I updated Grub on my MBR easily
  7. Exit Install. This makes you remove the disk and type reboot.

You reboot into a command prompt, logged in a root. I set up my root password and added a user. The docs say to set up your internet connection, but mine was ready to go. From here, you can use the package manager pacman to install xorg, KDE and/or Gnome and anything else you wish. I was a little to cocky, based on my previous experience, and hadn’t taken into consideration that xorg had changed. I installed xorg through pacman, but could not get a video driver module to load. My stupid mistake, it was as easy as installing the XF86-video-nv package since I have an Nvidia card. You can pull down all the drivers by installing the xorg-video-drivers package. I installed Kde, started x and was in my system. It was very clean and very fast. If you are unsure about how to do any of this, be sure to check out the ArchWiki before installing. It tells you how to set up just about anything you need. Be careful though, some advice is outdated. YMMV.Unless you are a super-genius, you will be using the wiki regularly. You have to set everything up yourself. Sound, cups, whatever. There are no graphical utilities to help you out, it is all command line. It is not as scary as that may sound.

The beauty of Arch is that you only install what you want. You only load the modules you want to, run the daemons you choose. Free as in freedom, baby. The result of this is a system that flies. I can’t give you hard numbers, but Arch boots a hell of a lot faster than other distros I have used. Arch64 is hardcore in that the philosophy is to be a true 64 bit operating system. To quote:
BUT: Our goal is to be the most bleeding edge distribution around! 32-bit is old fashioned. We want Arch64 to be modern and pure 64-bit. So we don’t have a Multilib system. We won’t take any package into the repos improving 32-bit compatibility. Maybe we will place them into the AUR or community repo. Don’t expect any support from the devs getting 32-bit apps running on Arch64!”
I respect that. If you cannot live without flash, some W32 codecs,Opera or Skype you can run 32 bit apps inside Arch64 with a bit of work. It hasn’t been an issue for me. Mplayer has played everything I have thrown at it so far, including WMV files. I can do without flash to save some weird hack-y stuff or chrooting. (Arch64 does have the nspluginwrapper ready to go in the community repositories, so you can run flash on a 64bit browser.) It is hard for me to say if my system is faster due to the 64bits or if it is due to Arch itself. Maybe the combo. From what I read at the Arch64 FAQ you don’t gain much of an advantage using X64 except in multimedia or databases. Some reports have 32bit apps running faster than 64bit on a 64bit machine. I think it is worth any extra bit of hassle to run in 64. If anyone has an opinion on 32bit vs. 64bit, please leave a comment.

Once inside my system, I set up printing and audio. It was a breeze. Using Arch gives you an appreciation for the disdain people have for Gui tools. It is very simple to work from the command line, and the power you have over things is nice. If something goes wrong, you learn what the problem is and how to fix it. Arch, like Slackware and Gentoo, is a great learning tool.

Arch64 tries to stay very close to the Arch current and extra repositories. There aren’t as many developers, which means there is no unstable repo available. There is an list, updated hourly, comparing package versions for Arch32 and Arch64. Arch current port is finished and extra looks to be almost done. Community seems to be coming along. As X64 picks up steam, hopefully more developers will be moving here.

One of the biggest strengths of Arch Linux is its software manager, pacman. It is a command line utility, but there are graphical front ends available. Updating your system is as simple as typing “pacman -Syu”. Installing packages is as simple as “pacman -Sy packagename”. S = sync, y = refresh, u= sysupgrade. All dependencies are pulled down automatically. By editing the file pacman.conf, you can tell the system to not upgrade certain packages and what repositories to use. Another strength is that you can build and use your own repositories with pacman.

The Arch Build System (ABS) gives you the ability to build your own packages from source and rebuild Arch packages with your own customizations. The documentation covers everything. You run the command “abs” as root, which synchronizes the ABS tree with the current and extra repositories. You make a new directory for the package you are going to create. I decided to build Katapult, an alternative KDE launcher, so i made a /var/abs/local/katapult directory. I built my PKGBUILD file, ran makepkg and bingo, I had a package ready to go. I typed “pacman -A katapult-0.3.1.4-2.pkg.tar.gz” and it installed flawlessly. The AUR (Arch User Repository) is filled with PKGBUILD files for almost any program you might need. Nspluginwrapper resides here. ABS really sets Arch Linux apart.

I highly recommend Arch64. If you are looking for a great 64bit system and don’t mind getting your hands dirty, this is the system for you. You only need a fast connection and some time. Pacman is the best package manager out there. ABS gives you freedom to create your own packages or customize packages for your machine. The community is great and very helpful. If you aren’t running a 64bit system, this review would work for Arch32 with the added bonus of having the unstable tree available to you. There is a new project called Lowarch for older computers, so you can breathe life into an old machine.(If it is so old it only has a floppy drive, you are in luck.) Arch is an excellent way to learn. It forces you to. The outstanding documentation and wiki teaches you how to do whatever you may need. Arch is fast and gives you the freedom to run Linux the way you want. It remains my favorite distro. This review may seem fanboyish, but I honestly can’t find a bad thing to say about it.

Final Note: I didn’t include screenshots, because I think my readers know what KDE looks like. If you want them, let me know, and I can provide them.


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November 29th, 2006 Posted by admin | linux, Arch64, Software, Reviews, Linux Distributions, Arch, Uncategorized | 17 comments

17 Comments »

  1. Amen to that, mate!

    Comment by Arch64user | November 29, 2006

  2. nice review, never tried Arch64, but im a normal user of the 32 bit i686 version, and i have to aggree, arch is my absolute favourite distro, it is streamlined, and pacman+abs is unbeatible!!

    Comment by Eric | November 29, 2006

  3. I used (32 bit) Arch from 2003 to 2005. Only reason I’m currently running SLED 10 is because of no internet connection at home. I really really miss Arch. ABS is the only thing I’ve seen that can cure the headache of the RPM/DEB headaches coming from stable-repos not containing packages/software versions I need.

    Comment by Mikal | November 30, 2006

  4. Hooray Arch!

    Comment by phrakture | November 30, 2006

  5. Hi there
    Thanks for that review, indeed it sums up Arch 64 very well indeed. I am running Arch 64 on my 64 bit laptop and the ditro lives up to everything that you have stated. I am fairly new to Linux and started out with Suse and Ubuntu. I had no luck with Gentoo and their installer CD but Arch has worked quickly and easily without any fuss. The learning curve is not very steep either. I even managed to install arch using LVM from the command line and have subsequently configured CPU frequency scaling, suspend and hibernate functions in the laptop, once again without any major difficulty. The only thing that has not worked is the xorg configuration for the ATI Radeon Xpress 200M chipset. I am now using the generic VESA driver with 1024×768 configuration only and am thoroughly stumped as to how to go about configuring 1280×800 configuration using the ATI proprietary driver. I have tried following the arch wiki for using the ATI driver with no success in this regard. I am not sure if my initial configuration using the VESA driver will have to be changed even before I try installing the ATI dirvers. (I will be grateful for any help in this regard)

    Having installed ARCH 64 I am sure to leave it on my laptop for a long time, given that the distribution supports seamless upgrades. Besides pacman Arch also supports something called srcpac. I think this is an alternative to pacman and is supposed to keep track of all packages in your system, whether they are binary installed packages or packages compiled from source. srcpac can be downloaded using pacman and afterwards you can manage the distribution using this instead of pacman. I have installed this and experimented only a little bit with it, so I cannot speak for all its functionality. However, it
    appears that when updating packages it will update all binary packages in the usual way while it will compile from source all those packages that were compiled from source originally. ( This is my limited understanding so far).

    Arch offers the best of both worlds, namely to install binary packages and also compile from source whenever necessary. I wish more distros including the more popular ones such as Suse and Ubuntu would offer such an easy way of installing binary packages as well as compile from source with the capability to keep track of everything using a single utility.
    Regards

    Comment by preeth26 | November 30, 2006

  6. Nice review, Arch really is beautiful and I ran it for a year. Unfortunately I had a week of various breakage a few weeks back (Gnome bugs..) and installed Debian Etch out of frustration. Learning to build deb packages (pulling teeth) combined with your review is certainly tempting me back a little though.

    Comment by Kindred | November 30, 2006

  7. Perhaps you would be intersted in the LiveCD/DVD called Larch2.0. It provides a do it yourself scripts setup which boots arch in copy-to-ram as well as normal boot.

    I have a 7.6GB DVD dual-layer disc which holds 3200 packages.tar.gz of arch packages which boots into ram in 2 mins and 40 seconds. I have 3GB of ram.

    This Larch program includes unionfs which permits upgrading any installed package, installed r/o, to upgrade to r/w. The 7.6GB packages directory included in my DVD is accessed after booting to ram by re-installing the DVD disc. Install thereafter is by pacman at normal install speed and includes all dependencies. Install is also available through pacman in the normal internet call which includes the time-delay to download and install.

    I realize this info is off-subject but does lead to a possible use for Larch in Arch64 at some future time…not compatible with 64 bit at present….

    Comment by Lilsirecho | November 30, 2006

  8. Long live Arch !
    No really, Arch rocks :)

    Comment by Someone | November 30, 2006

  9. I have struggled with learning. using, and understanding Linux on and off for a few years. I vehemently believe in the open source concept, and wanted so much to use an alternative OS. After trying about 2 dozen distros, including suse, ubuntu, kubuntu, PClinuxOS, Ark, knoppix, DSL, kanotix, slackware, zenwalk, mepis and mandriva, my experiences ranged from shear frustration to confusion to instability and giving up.
    Arch is the first distro that actually allowed me to ‘buid’ my own OS from as close to scratch as is practical. Along the way one is forced to learn and understand a good amount of basic Linux skills and concepts which affords a much higher overall knowledge of how it works and what is actually going on. When I originally was exposed to Linux I was intimidated and confused by the heavy reliance on the command line.
    Though I am still somewhat disappointed in the overall failure of GUI integration, (I think that system configuration through a GUI will bring more users into the Linux community and away from M$), Arch has forced me to learn and even embrace a good bit of the command line and I no longer loathe opening a konsole to update, remove or install packages with pacman, or tweak configuartion files with nano.
    Arch is faster, simpler, more streamlined and more stable than any other distro I have tried to date. I have stopped burning ISOs in search of the ‘perfect distro’. I have found it in Arch.

    Comment by Electric Funeral | December 8, 2006

  10. Yeah! !! I run the i686 version of the Arch distro, and what I find most appealing about it is that i dont have to put up with all the bloated stuff that other distros may come with..

    Comment by doddo | January 2, 2007

  11. I have been using Linux since 1996. I cut my teeth on Slackware, and it still is one of my favorite distros out there. I’ve ran everything from RPM-based distros (Red Hat, SUSE, Mandrake) to Debian-based (Debian, MEPIS, (K)ubuntu) to BSD (FreeBSD, OpenBSD) to Gentoo-based (Gentoo, Sabayon), as well as Turbolinux, Caldera, Stampede, and a few others I’ve forgotten about.

    As you can see, I’ve tested my fair-share of distributions. However, I have yet to try Arch. After reading your review (along with some of the online documentation), I’m looking forward to running this on my Laptop. I have an HP Pavilion model dv5030us that I’m currently running Sabayon on. I originally had WinXP installed, but since I have Linux on my desktop at home, I wanted to run Linux on my laptop.

    For the past three weeks, I’ve been testing some of the distros I’ve used in the past… openSUSE was too slow, MEPIS 64 didn’t even boot up, Ubuntu was good and worked for the most part, and Sabayon is the only distribution so far that didn’t require any configuration. My only problem with Sabayon is that I’m not a big fan of Gentoo (which Sabayon is based on) much less using Portage and Emerge.

    Since I have a 64-bit processor, I wanted to stick with a 64-bit OS, and as much as I like Slackware, along with all the positive remarks I’ve read so far, Arch seems to be my best option. I certainly have no problem with “getting my hands dirty” with Linux. I just want something that not only works the way I want it to, but is fast and relatively easy to maintain.

    I will return later with an update to let everyone know how things turn out.

    Comment by pmac | February 20, 2007

  12. I use the I686 version and it runs like a top! i realy love Arch! It’s everything I wanted in Slackware and never got :)

    Comment by archfan74 | April 6, 2007

  13. hi nice site.

    Comment by alex | April 12, 2007

  14. I am running arch64 now and i’must say , it is doing quite well :) no problems so far . it meetsmy systems 64 bit ach well and seems stable. i have slackware on another partition
    . i realy enjoy arch. it gives me a graet way to tincker. all in all its a great distro

    Comment by archfan74 | April 28, 2007

  15. Hi Jim. Photos i received. Thanks

    Comment by Bill Compton | June 4, 2007

  16. hi all.

    Comment by robert | June 14, 2007

  17. Hello! Good Site! Thanks you! tnilvtmfpohtqo

    Comment by oasjjxkjbg | July 31, 2007

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