Arch vs. Gentoo: What’s the Difference?

arch vs gentoo

Arch vs. Gentoo: What’s the Difference?

The year of the Linux desktop may never be a reality, but Arch Linux is almost legendary. The same can be said of its counterpart, Gentoo. Both of these have a reputation when it comes to the actual installation process.

This is especially true when considering something like Ubuntu or Mint. There is certainly something gained from sticking with the involved installation process for both. Both operating systems are extremely flexible for the end user.

Linux remains a popular choice for developers and IT personnel, but how do these distros stack up against each other? Let’s take a look at the features, benefits, and installation process of Arch vs. Gentoo and why you might choose one over the other.

Both of these Linux-based operating systems demand a certain level of expertise, but which one is worth your time?

Arch vs. Gentoo: Side-by-Side Comparison

Rolling Release or Stable?Rolling ReleaseRolling Release and Long-Term Service
Installation MethodUses packages that are selected by the user at the time of installation for each componentPackages and the operating system are compiled from the source code
Architectures Supportedx86_64x86_64, ARM, PPC, MIPS, HPPA, S/390, and Itanium
Base Installation FeaturesOnly standard packages are required for the operating system to runOnly standard packages are required for the operating system to run
Base init systemsystemdsystemd or OpenRC

Arch vs. Gentoo: What’s the Difference?

Both of these Linux-based operating systems require a certain degree of competency from the user. These are not operating systems intended for the casual user. That said, there are some similarities and differences to note between the two of them.


The notorious installation process for Arch is actually the easier option compared to Gentoo. Installation starts with the basic init system, and then the user has to decide which features and packages are necessary for their particular use case.

This process can involve covering drivers for wireless network cards, specific graphics cards, and things like the visual interface. There isn’t a one-stop shop like you might find in Ubuntu.

This does have its benefits, as you can tailor the operating system to fit your needs and desires. However, it is an extremely time-consuming installation process which isn’t the best choice for someone new to Linux.

arch vs gentoo
In February 2022, Arch Linux developers began offering debug packages.

©Rupesh Pathak/Shutterstock.com

Arch has a demanding installation process, but Gentoo has something beyond even that. Compiling from the source code is the only means of installing Gentoo. What this means is you aren’t picking individual packages, but rather compiling the entire operating system from source.

That includes the visual environments, drivers, and even the kernel of the operating system itself. As such, Gentoo demands that you have a fairly keen understanding of the inner workings of a Linux-based operating system. This does have its benefits, however, as tailoring the operating system for your system can actually lead to a high-performance setup.


So why would a user choose Arch Linux? You can tailor the entire operating system to your whims — within reason, of course. The default init environment remains systemd, which can be a controversial choice depending on who you talk to. That said, Arch when properly configured is a highly performant operating system.

There is a certain appeal to having a stable and fast operating system built for your computer. Certain caveats are applicable to Arch Linux, however. The only computer architecture supported is the ubiquitous x86_64 supported by Intel and AMD processors.

This leaves users on older architectures like PPC or Itanium out in the cold. For some older servers or workstations, migrating to a newer architecture might not be an option.

If Arch Linux is flexible, Gentoo is wide open. Gentoo benefits from allowing the user to choose anything they like. This means things like the visual environment, the default init system, and all of the drivers and tools installed are up to the user. During installation, the only given is the components needed to actually make the operating system run.

Gentoo also has a far wider support base for older architectures. You can see install Gentoo on a wide variety of architectures, both contemporary and deprecated. This effectively means that you can have a high-performance operating system for older mainframes where the original operating system might not even be supported.

Upstream or Stable?

Being on the bleeding edge or on a long-term service branch is a crucial choice for some operating systems. For IT personnel and server farms, keeping on the bleeding edge isn’t always a choice that should be made.

This comes in part thanks to the need for high availability of the servers. As you can imagine, for business purposes, having stable operating systems is more vital than supporting the latest and greatest features.

arch vs gentoo
Gentoo Linux uses the Portage package management system.

©Matr4x-404, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons – License

There is no long-term service branch option for Arch Linux. It is a constant rolling release, meaning you are going to update packages as necessary when fixes and patches are available. For home users and certain brave IT personnel, this isn’t a huge deal. For enterprise use, however, this isn’t the greatest choice.

Gentoo has an option for both rolling releases and long-term stable service branches. This makes it a great choice for enterprise use, especially when considering its extended support for legacy systems. If you’re a home user debating which one of these is a better fit, the option for a stable branch is certainly appealing.

Given the demanding nature of both of these operating systems, you’ll have to be very comfortable with the command line. That, and diagnosing issues before considering an installation relying on rolling releases. Linux distros, much like Windows, can have occasional flaws with updates that leave your system unstable.

Arch vs. Gentoo: 6 Must-Know Facts

  1. Arch uses a ports-like system for installation.
  2. Arch supports many popular visual environments like KDE and GNOME.
  3. Despite the difficult installation process, Arch is one of the most popular Linux distros available.
  4. Gentoo uses OpenRC as its default init system.
  5. No packages are provided for the installation of Gentoo; everything is done from the source code and compiled at the time of installation.
  6. Gentoo can be highly performant, even on older hardware thanks to custom installs of all software tailored for the system.

Arch vs. Gentoo: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Choose?

Choosing a Linux distro is always a heavily personal choice. For enterprise users, it comes down to picking which best suits the needs of your organization. Home users have a great deal of flexibility when it comes to picking which one is best for them, thanks in part to not having the same demands and need for the availability of their operating system.

Arch Linux is still a very popular choice as a Linux distro and for good reason. It has an involved installation process but provides a quickly configured operating system that runs as you need it. It is hindered by a lack of support for older systems, but that isn’t a massive dealbreaker.

Gentoo is highly flexible and has great support for a wide variety of systems. It is a better choice for enterprise usage, especially if running legacy systems. It has a far more intensive installation process, which is rather time-consuming even on modern hardware.

As to which is better, it really comes down to how much work you’re willing to put into configuring your operating system. If you don’t mind the long installation time, Gentoo remains a great choice. If you want flexibility but a somewhat faster installation process, then Arch is a solid pick.

Frequently Asked Questions

Would Arch make a good enterprise server installation?

With Arch being strictly a rolling release, it is hard to recommend for use in servers. Servers heavily lean on being stable and available, and having something that can break would be a nightmare for any network personnel.

Is Gentoo a good choice for a beginner?

Gentoo has been a bit of an inside joke with Linux distro users for years given its complicated installation process. That said, a beginner entering with an open mind and ample documentation could very easily install Gentoo. It might even prove to be a valuable learning experience.

Is Gentoo good for gaming?

Linux isn’t what comes to mind as an operating system for gaming. However, there is a fair few major releases that have made their way to Linux distros as well as the option of using WINE for other games.

Would either of these operating systems be a good choice as a daily driver?

If you’re comfortable working with the command line and troubleshooting issues when they arise, then they are certainly usable as daily drivers.

Does Gentoo install with systemd by default?

No, Gentoo uses OpenRC as its default init environment. You can choose systemd during the installation, but OpenRC is maintained directly for Gentoo.

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