Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A review of blender-containing live CD's

Nineteen different live CD Linux distros were tested on a laptop. Knoppix 5.3.1, SLAMPP, and Wolvix make the cut in my first round of evaluation of the best live Linux CD for 3D graphics work. Artistix and Sabayon showed some problems but get an honorable mention for the sheer quantities of graphics software available.

Don't go messing with live CD's on a computer where you cannot afford the risk of losing all the data on your HDD. If a distro were poorly designed, or you were not to pay attention to what you are doing, you could end up installing Linux ON TOP OF the existing files on the computer. You could also end up erasing files on the HDD. Get experience with linux and with a particular distro's quirks before putting a loved one's computer at risk.

These opinions are solely those of my own. My day job has to do with computer hardware. I studied Materials Science in college.

It is theoretically possible that an improper DVD burn could have cause some the distros in this list not to boot properly on my computer. (Good distro, bad physical media.) In discussions with some distro developers in years past, they were quick to point out how a bad burn could ruin one's impression of an otherwise fully functioning distro. I would ask why some distros seem to be more prone to problems with the DVD burning process. :)

A live CD is a CD that contains a bootable operating system, usually Linux. You put the CD in your computer, turn it on, make some arrangements for it to boot the CD, and you are running Linux! It's great fun to be able to try out radically different versions of Linux. And so this post is a review of live CD's. Here's a description of the two things I think that live CD's are good for:

I have some associates that are smart enough that they were able to install Vista on their own computers, but perhaps not so well-informed that they chose to do so. A live CD is the perfect introduction to Linux, at no cost. Towards that end, I look for a live CD that "comes with" as much as possible. Why force a newbie to go to such lengths as downloading drivers for things like a wireless driver card? Why cannot the distro come with flash or video display drivers? If you're getting the drivers eventually from the same server that you got the "distro" from, then it's a moot point as far as legality or any moral principle about free-as-in-speech software.

I've been on computers in hotels or at my in-laws, or even borrowed my wife's work laptop, and wanted to be able to tinker with my favorite computer graphics applications: povray and blender. There's no sense, for example, in going to the trouble of installing blender on my wife's computer if I were able to boot an OS from the CD which already had the applications I like on them. The point about a Linux distribution "coming with" appropriate drivers becomes poignant when a live CD won't even run your favorite application. Consider what happened when I tried to use blender with a version of edubuntu booted as a live CD.

As a result, here are the criteria I look for in choosing the best live CD distro.
Does it boot on a variety of machines?
Does it come with povray and blender?
Does it work well on a box with an ATI graphics card?
Can it render a scene in blender and/or "play" a game in blender?
Does it come with the madwifi driver for wireless cards, maybe with Flash, maybe with ATI graphics cards?
Can it recognize a USB stick? Can it play an MP3 file off the USB stick? Can it play an MPEG-I animation off the USB stick?

Too often, I've seen Linux enthusiasts argue against some of the above criteria as being important; I've seen them argue that these are bad things to ask for out-of-the-box in a distro. Ten minutes later they turn around and whine that it's only the evil schemes of Microsoft and the stupidity of the American people that prevents widespread adoption of Linux. Go figure. Too many enthusiasts are too complacent with all these barriers to adoption.

I was originally looking for distros that come with blender or povray. Some distros gave me the impression that they might have these apps from the googling I did about them. Some were simply important distros that merited a mention.

An IBM Thinkpad, T41, with 1600 MHz chip, and ATI Graphics card.
The laptop has a trackpoint mouse and I plugged in a Belkin USB mouse.
I plugged in a 4GB Memorex USB thumb drive which had some MP3's (podcasts) and an MPEG-I animation that I myself had created.

Some of the reports below show a screen shot of the distro. This is an indication that I was able to find some screen capture software and save a file to a USB thumb drive.


Notes: contains enough applications to choke a horse.
Did not boot on this laptop. (This screen grab is from a session on my desktop).
Verdict: survives this round, just on the basis of the amount of software.

Notes: Trackpoint mouse moved around randomly
Belkin mouse only worked in vertical movement.
Graphics apps: blender
Verdict: Not recommended

Version: 3.1
Graphic Apps: no povray, no blender
Played MP3 off USB stick with MPlayer.
Verdict: not for this purpose

DYNE 2.5
Version: dyne-2.5.2.iso
Graphics apps: blender, but not povray
Notes: Belkin mouse acts freaky
Blender will render a scene, but the screen refreshment is not correct afterwards.
USB stick worked
Played MP3's and MPEG-1
Live distro session did not shut down well: "kernel panic" message.
Verdict: not recommended

Version: elive_1.7_unstable.iso
Note: Gives error message: "Elive do not recommends to use ATI graphic cards, it gives graphical problems and freezes the system, especially the FGLRX, is recommended that you try all of these options ..."
Verdict: Greg do not recommends to use Elive distro, it gives graphical problems.

Version: 5
Notes: "isolinux disk error 80 AX = 42DE" "Boot failed: press a key to retry"
Verdict: Not recommended

Version: GNUSTEP-i486-1.iso
Graphic apps: Blender, no povray
Notes: Blender rendered. Trying to resize the window froze the OS.
Could not see any way to get to the USB stick
Did not log off properly.
Verdict: not recommended

Graphics files: povray, but not blender
Notes: long boot up
Difficult to find a way to see files on HDD
Some German language on screen:
Verdict: not for this purpose


Version: Knoppix-v.5.3.1DVD-2008-03-26EN.iso
Graphic apps: Blender, no povray
Blender rendered, played a game
Saw files on USB stick
Clicking MP3 played it with XMMS 1.2.10
Clicking MPEG-I invoked Kaffeine, but it didn't play. MPEG-I didn't play with MPlayer, but did with Totem Movie Player 2.20.3. I ask, why the heck do they ship with all these crippled apps?
Verdict: a winner!


Graphic apps: neither povray nor blender
Notes: played MPEG-I with XMMS, MP3 with XMMS.
It contains enough math-related software to choke a horse. Makes me want to go back to school and be a math major!
Verdict: Very cool, but not for this purpose.


Version: LinuxMint-4.0-KDE-CE.iso
Graphics Apps: neither povray nor blender
Notes: Played MP3 with Amarok
Comes with Flash-- you can play YouTube videos out of the box.
Verdict: Commendation for ease of use, but not for this purpose. This is the distro I would recommend to that person who was smart enough to install Vista, but was caught off guard by the difficulties associated with it. Meanwhile, some advocates of Open Source Software may bristle at Linux Mint's inclusion of all sorts of closed-source drivers. I say if you're bothered, get to work on ease-of-use for Linux, folks!

Version: PAIPIX-i386-7.10-etch
Graphic Apps: no blender
Notes: did not see HDD
Verdict: Not for this purpose. I thought earlier versions of this distro had a better selection of software.


Version: PC LINUX OS 2007
Notes: auto-configuration of wireless is handily displayed on the screen.
Graphic apps: no povray, no blender
Played MP3 w/ Amarok, MPEG-I with MPlayer
Verdict: not for this purpose


Version: puppy-4.00-K2.6.2.17-seamokey.iso
Notes: Gave error when tried to mount the HDD, giving notice that it had detected a hibernated Windows NFT partition. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not.
Played MP3 and MPEG-I.
Graphics Apps: No povray, no blender, no GIMP.

Graphic apps: Blender, povray
Notes: Played MPEG-I, MP3, both with XMMS
Blender crashes when you ask it to render!
Verdict: Not recommended at this time, but with improved driver set it could be the best ever. Last release was in 2006.


Sabayon linux is a distro that is dear to my heart because it is the only distro that ships with code I wrote! I wrote some scene files that get shipped with povray, and Sabayon has povray's example files. The screen shot for Sabayon shows how my file is rendering.
Notes: Long boot up
No immediate access to the HDD
Graphics Apps: povray, but not Blender
MP3 test: worked with Noatun.
Verdict: makes it to next round for sentimental reasons


Version: 1.1
Graphics apps: blender 2.37a
Notes: Blender rendered, played a game
File manager sees files on USB stick, but doesn't play with any right click option. Was able to get them to play with Beep Media Player.
Verdict: Makes it to next round

Did not boot well.
Graphic Apps: none
Did not shut down properly.
Verdict: Not recommended


Version: Wolvix-Hunter-1.1.iso
Graphic apps: Blender, no povray
Notes: Both mice worked
MP3 played off of USB stick with MPlayer
Blender rendered, but game engine was disabled.
Look and feel: No offense guys, but just not that cool.
Verdict: Makes it to the next round.

Nineteen different live CD Linux distros were tested on a laptop. Knoppix 5.3.1, SLAMPP, and Wolvix make the cut in my first round of evaluation of the best live Linux CD for 3D graphics work. Artistix and Sabayon showed some problems but get an honorable mention by virtue of the sheer quantities of graphics software they have available.

1 comment:

suraya said...

latest linux mint is version 5-r1. another ubuntu base distro is ultime edition.
knoppix is the father of linux live cd. Too bad not design for install. Now me trying sidux - another debian base.