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Sabayon 7 review – the most complete out-of-the-box Linux?

With Sabayon 7, you not only have just about every desktop environments available and cutting edge features, but can also boot it into a top-notch media centre environment all off the Live CD…

With Sabayon 7, you have the latest of everything. The latest versions of all of the big desktops are present, including GNOME 3.2, KDE 4.7 and Xfce 4.8. In previous versions, Xfce was only available in the experimental branches – now you have it available as its own ISO. You also get XBMC 10.0 available, allowing you use Sabayon as a media centre right out of the box. More people than ever use USB sticks to play with Live CD’s and do so using tools like unetbootin. This latest version of Sabayon allows you to simply dd the ISO file directly to a USB device. Just remember that you need to write it to the whole device, not a partition (e.g., dd if=sabayon.iso of=/dev/sdb). Although a small feature, it’s one of many examples of Sabayon’s advancement.

The media center option boots up in XBMC, running over top of fluxbox

The first thing you’ll see when you boot up is a bunch of different options for your live CD. The default option will give the associated desktop (GNOME, KDE or Xfce) along with a nice little piece of intro music. If you’re not really into that kind of thing (it can smack of Mac OS X), there is an option there to boot more peacefully. You’ve also got the option of booting up into XBMC, giving you a state-of-the-art media center right off the Live CD. As far as we know, there is no other general use distribution that does this – it’s a great unique selling point, and something we’d certainly be inclined to use. The only issue we had with the Live CD was with regard to 3D effects on the desktop.

Our Acer netbook test machine features limited 3D functionality, so it can behave badly. Most distros can auto-detect this and either trim down the number of 3D functions they use, or fall-back gracefully to a 2D display. Sabayon 7 simply wanted to do more than my card was capable of and we ended up with all manner of graphics artefacts and distortions. It was not a major problem though, and we were able to deal with them once installed it on to the hard drive.

The installer, Anaconda, tries to be as flexible and helpful as possible while installing

After you’ve tried out the Live CD and are ready to go ahead and install it on your hard drive you get to meet Anaconda, the Sabayon installer. It is a very fast, streamlined installer that gets you up and running in no time. Once you are up and running, you should never have to do a full upgrade again since Sabayon employs a rolling-release system, meaning that as packages change upstream you have access to them right away. The package system is called entropy (made up of a text client and a graphical client), and is based on the gentoo branches.

The Sabayon repository effectively goes out and collects the packages and compiles binary versions of them for you, allowing you to install or update your system using these. If you wish to have a more heavily tuned system, you also have access to the underlying portage system. This will allow you to install from source and compile the packages specifically for your system. There’s a real sense of power and flexibility here.

The package manager, entropy, gives you access to pre-compiled binaries

As you’d expect the initial live CD and installation includes the latest 3.0 Linux kernel. There have been huge improvements in the stock kernel, hence the move out of 2.x to 3.x made by Linus. Interestingly, though, the Sabayon team don’t think this went far enough, hence the inclusion of the fusion advanced patchset. These are available in the package repository after you have initially installed the system and includes experimental patches designed to provide even higher performance.

Things like the BFQ io-scheduler, Reiser4, experimental btrfs patches and experimental wireless patches. Apparently, even Theodore T’so has said that btrfs looks like the future of filesystems. With Sabayon 7 you have access to it and since it is backward and forward convertible with ext2 and 3, you can try it out safely.

Verdict: 4/5

Sabayon is a very polished, modern distribution, giving you all of the amenities that you expect from Linux. And being based on a rolling release system, you should only ever have to install once. The only issue was using the Live CD with an inadequate video card, ending up with artifacts and distortions, but advanced users should be able to deal with this issue in double-quick time.

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