Tiny Linux Distros on an HP TX2 TouchSmart Laptop

As you know, I have been looking for an ideal distro for installation on to a USB stick. The biggest hurdle for the distros is to recognise my devices, which include a finger/pen touch screen, a mouse touchpad, stereo speakers, a webcam, stereo microphones, and a fingerprint scanner. Knowing the buttons used to flip the screen, mute and adjust volume wouldn’t hurt either. And oh yeah, Wi-Fi.

Yup, my laptop is pretty tricked out. And I don’t want to spend forever researching and finding out what proprietary drivers are needed for what devices, what to configure, and so on. There are just too many. I also can’t use my hard drive for the installation, since the SSD is too small. Thus, I am left with settling for installing on to a USB stick, and the OS must auto-detect and auto-install as many device drivers as possible before I have to actually dig in and configure things by hand.

I began with six candidates, but ended up with 11 candidates, since so many of them were, as I feared, feature-poor. I assigned a scoring system, and believe I have a reliable way (at least for me) of comparing how well the distros in question interact with my beast of a laptop.

Distro Score Comments
ArchBang Linux 4 This philosophy of this distro was premised on the idea that “I know what I’m doing”. That would mean that I know exactly what make/model all my devices are, and pretty much know exactly what modules to load and what to configure. If I was that keen on my computer, I would have installed Slackware instead of a relative unknown. That being said, I liked the desktop and its speed. All the points were awarded for speed, out of 5.
Puppy Linux (SlackPup) 14 It found my Wi-fi, but couldn’t configure it. It detected my Camera, offering me GUVCView. I had sound, it detected my disks and had icons for them on the desktop, detected my printer once my CAT5 was set up. It just didn’t detect my touchscreen and stylus. I still had my touchpad. For the most part I must say: nice puppy, nice puppy. Based on Slackware.
Puppy Linux (LucidPup) 14 This one is tied, but I found this ubuntu-based distro a little easier, and the desktop to be similar but with different icons. Both versions of Puppy were quite fast.
Lubuntu 8 Lubuntu fell short in a lot of areas. Couldn’t detect touch, pen, no sound, modest offering of office software, and middling in speed.
CrunchBang Linux 0 All I got was a desktop, no mouse. I could still use my keyboard to access programs, and that was about it.
Mint 14 Mint loaded and detected EVERYTHING, but at a huge cost of a clunky desktop that imposed a huge speed penalty. The mouse was not particularly well-behaved either.
When I say “everything”, I mean everything I was looking at as indicators: wireless, touch stylus, camera, sound ‘net printer detection, speed, ease of use. What I wasn’t looking at might be also important to many: screen does not flip on rotation, screen orientation not bound to the intended keys — but none of the Linux distros I tested or used in the past could do that.
TinyCore Linux 6 TinyCore (X/Wifi and Classic FLWM) detected very little, and had an interface similar to ArchBang Linux. OK for speed, but very little detected.
Damn Small Linux 0 Couldn’t even get X to work.
Vector Linux 0 May be a good, robust distro, but not on my computer. The Slackware-style character interface for configuring the video failed, as I could not use any keys from my keyboard to navigate the menus. My rating scale has no negative numbers, otherwise I would have factored in the fact that there was no live version offered, and I was forced to install to USB before trying it out. And after all this trouble (it took hours), I could not get past the video configuration, because I couldn’t navigate the character-based menu with my keyboard or mouse. It was a no-go.
Mint-Xfce 14 It also auto-detected everything like a pro, except the Wi-Fi toggle switch (so I can’t turn my Wi-Fi on – Only Windows 7 has been able to do that). The same mousing problems plague this distro as it did for the other Mint version, although there is a speed improvement.

All that said, despite the fact that Mint scored so high, and that Puppy Linux is a strong contender, and despite the fact that I am most seduced by Mint despite its slowness and erratic mouse touchpad (pen is better behaved), it looks as though there is no perfect distro available, and all of them will take some degree of work.