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

by Joey Bernard

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.

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

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

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

      I like the 7-g version. I tested the live dvd and it performs well, at least for the modest use I make of it. I sensed a real progress towards the 5 version which I tested long ago.
      Pro: Things seem to work out of the box. Logical array of possibilities, no app like display (if I wanted that I would have purchased a smart phone or installed Ubuntu 11.10).
      Contra: Scanning software is not supplied natively as in Ubuntu or Mint. It can be downloaded separately however.

      Tested on: Toshiba Satellite L-505 10M with 6GB memory and ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4650 as graphical card, 500 GB HD.


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    • Darkstar

      Truthfully Sabayon is my favorite distro. I have tried many and am an avid Linux/Unix lover. Sabayon takes Gentoo and makes it easy. I’ve always found amazing performance out of this system, entropy has been a remarkable advent since it became the default package manager, and its just amazing to see what this system does and how it becomes more and more advanced with each release. As far as I’m concerned, Sabayon is a showcase Linux system, it shows off what Linux is capable of and certainly brings a lot of user-friendliness to the table (to all those who think Linux is hard, check your distro version… this stuff has become easier than Windows and is only getting better). My honest opinion is, if you want the closest thing to cutting edge that you can, have ease of use, pure power for the die hard power user yet ease of use for the casual pc user (e-mails, internet surfing, watching a movie occaisionally) then give this distro a go… Its truly a pleasure to use for anyone looking to break away from the Windows scene.

    • Stephen Green

      While I’m in agreement with most of the opinions expressed I find fault with the ‘out of the box’ bit. What about Adobe Flash? I tried to use the forums to get the info I needed to install this ‘missing’ app and it took 3 days for the team recognized my attempt to ‘join’ them and post up??
      By then I’d given up on using this Linux Distro.

    • Argh… Review in 4 paragraphs???

    • Joseph

      This is the first review of Sabayon that ever used the word “polished”. That’s the one major fault of Sabayon… too few developers (and too much rolling of the rolling distro) mean it lacks polish compared to some of the more major distributions. The issue the reviewer had with the 3D graphics seems to make that point. They do a lot with the resources they have, though.

      Darkstar, I can’t agree with your recommending Sabayon as a newbie distro – it’s bleeding edge, not cutting edge, so things are going to break from time to time.

    • liam.lah

      Uhh Stephen Green, Adobe flash comes with Chromium embedded.

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    • ernest s. romney

      My Sabayon 8 KDE download has no printer recognition function and no apparent way to configure any printer. In “system settings”, there is a configure printer icon, but it doesn’t do anything. Other recent distros I’ve tried (mint, ubuntu, dream, fedora, xandros, suze to name a few) have made the printing thing quite easy out of the box.

      Can anybody teach me what the secret is for Sabayon?

      Thank you,


    • James Norberg

      did you check the iso you downloaded with MD5 before installing it?