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Xbian vs Raspbmc or OpenELEC for Raspberry Pi: Part 1 – Speed

written by Anand August 12, 2013

Xbian vs Raspbmc or OpenELEC for Raspberry Pi – as the title says, it’s a comparison of the three major media center operating systems for Raspberry Pi. Recently, I introduced 4 operating systems for Raspberry Pi that are primarily for running a media center. I am going to tell you right off the bat that I recommend Xbian over OpenELEC or Raspbmc. So on my new shiny Raspberry Pi with all the bells and whistles, I tried all three operating systems and decided to stick with Xbian at this point. In this review (Part 1) you will find a detailed comparison of the three operating systems on speed or responsiveness. In Part 2, you will find a comparison of options and features offered by Xbian vs Raspbmc or OpenELEC (coming on 8/20/2013). So here it goes.

Update (5/13/2015): Raspbmc is now OSMC. So you may want to check out our latest OpenELEC vs OSMC comparison.

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Xbian vs Raspbmc or OpenELEC: Part 1

Xbian vs Raspbmc or OpenELECIt is important to understand that the primary objective is to run a low-power media center that can play HD video from home server through the wireless network. Although you can install downloading services such as CouchPotato, Sick Beard, Transmission, and SABnzbd or a webserver, I won’t cover those in detail. I will also not cover overclocking or USB installation. The comparison was on the barebones Raspberry Pi with a Transcend 8 GB Class 10 SD card. Note that all tests were done on the same SD card. After testing each OS, the card was fully formatted using SD Card Formatter. I found Xbian to be the most responsive, fast, and newbie-friendly. Find the versions compared below and read on to know more about Xbian vs Raspbmc or OpenELEC.

  • Xbian: 1.0 Beta 1.1 released on July 14th, 2013
  • Raspbmc: July 2013 Update
  • OpenELEC: 3.0.6 Stable released on June 15th, 2013

1. Ease of Installation

Installation of Xbian vs Raspbmc or OpenELEC was the easiest easy. Installation instructions are available here: Xbian, Raspbmc, and OpenELEC. Installation of Xbian and Raspbmc were the easiest on Windows and OpenELEC on Linux. The general steps involve 1) formatting the SD card, 2) downloading an installer or an image file, and 3) running the installer or writing the image file to the SD card.

Xbian: Xbian provides a Windows installer. Just download the installer, format your SD card, and run the installer. You will have the option to choose which version to install. If you have a good internet connection, within 5-10 minutes you are done.

Xbian Windows Installer

Xbian Windows Installer

Raspbmc: While Raspbmc provides a Windows installer it is not best suited for over network (Wifi) installation. In my attempt, the total process took about 25 minutes. The installer only install the base files, then when Raspberry Pi boots for the first time, Raspbmc downloads and installs the root filesystem and XBMC. One good feature was that the Windows installer allows you to pre-configure Wifi.

Raspbmc Windows Installer

Raspbmc Windows Installer

OpenELEC: OpenELEC installation on Windows can be a bit lengthy, so I chose to install from Linux. The whole process took about 10 minutes and is fairly straight forward if you stick to the guide.

OpenELEC Linux Installation

OpenELEC Linux Installation

NOOBS: New Out of Box Software (or NOOBS) allows you to quickly install Raspbmc or OpenELEC. It does not support Xbian at this point. You download a ~1 GB compressed file, extract it into your SD card’s root folder and boot your Raspberry Pi. You will have the option to choose your operating system of your choice. The whole process takes about 10 to 15 minutes.

NOOBS Boot-Time Installation Window

NOOBS Boot-Time Installation Window

Winner: Xbian

Boot Speed

One of the main features I was looking for was how fast the operating system was able to boot and reach a stable XBMC interface that is ready for navigation. I did not want to switch on the Raspberry Pi in my bedroom and wait for several minutes before I could navigate or play a video. After complete installation on a freshly formatted SD card, boot speeds were measured 5 times for each OS. Boot speed of Xbian Vs Raspbmc or OpenELEC was the best. Below are the results:

OS 1 2 3 4 5 Average
Xbian 38s 37s 37s 38s 36s 37s
Raspbmc 77s 80s 78s 77s 79s 78s
OpenELEC 50s 49s 50s 48s 49s 49s

Note that these comparisons were made without overclocking or using an USB drive for boot. As you can see, even without these, Xbian booted and reached a stable XBMC interface fairly quickly.

Winner: Xbian

Operation Speed

Operation speed of Xbian vs Raspbmc or OpenELEC was compared by navigating to various windows, opening libraries, opening addons, opening settings, and changing library views. These tests were done after setting up a library of 212 Movies and ~1200 TV show episodes. Raspbmc was the slowest and felt clunky/bloated. OpenELEC was definitely more fluid than Raspbmc. However, after adding the libraries there was some slowdown (still better than Raspbmc). Furthermore, changing views while a few seconds faster than Raspbmc was still slower than Xbian.

The only thing that I found to be slow on Xbian vs Raspbmc or OpenELEC was opening Xbian Settings. It definitely took at least 15 seconds or more for the window open then about 15 more seconds for it to ready for navigation. Xbian does tell you that it could take about 1 minute for the window to open.

Opening Xbian Settings

Opening Xbian Settings

While I did not time each activity, Xbian was clearly faster than Raspbmc or OpenELEC. Some services (eg. SAMBA) that are activated by default on Raspbmc or OpenELEC were not enabled on Xbian. They could be enabled manually (one-click) during configuration. Xbian’s performance was the best possibly due to fewer running services and/or because Xbian uses btrfs filesystem which provides certain performance advantages. Some people may not need all the services anyways. Whether Xbian would slowdown after installing extra services or packages is a question that still needs to be answered.

Winner: Xbian

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Conclusions: Part 1

While I wonder if all developers could work together to develop one super-awesome distro I also believe that competition breeds innovation. For the purposes of building a fast and responsive media center using Raspberry Pi, my experience showed that Xbian was the best. Below is a summary of my findings.

Feature Xbian Raspbmc OpenELEC
Installation Easiest Easy (but long) Easy (on Linux)
Boot Speed Fastest Slow Fast
Operation Speed Fastest Slow Fast

Reason(s) behind the observed responsiveness of Xbian could be 1) fewer running services on Xbian, 2) Xbian using btrfs filesystem, and 3) Xbian being overclocked to 850 Mhz by default (more on this in Part 2). I want to be clear that you cannot really go wrong using any of them. You may observe the same speed/fluidity in other operating systems if they are overclocked. All played HD videos over Wifi without any stuttering. I have nothing against Raspbmc or OpenELEC. But at this point, the answer to Xbian vs Raspbmc or OpenELEC, for me, is Xbian. You will find that Part 2 of this comparison on options and features also supports my conclusion.

Update (08/28/2013): OpenELEC 3.1.6 when overclocked to the same level as Xbian was faster and more responsive (read more).

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John August 20, 2013 - 7:28 pm

What version of each XBMC distro are you using? Openelec 3.1.6 (released today) includes some boot-time speed fixes.

Anand August 20, 2013 - 8:09 pm

John, that was a very good question. I updated the post with version info. I did not try OpenELEC 3.1.6. Also on a separate note. I will have another post coming soon which shows a different picture of OpenELEC and that it performs as good as Xbian upon overclocking to the same level.

Gdog August 27, 2013 - 10:44 am

Since I’m running a 256 MB version of Pi, any idea how performance will be effected? Will Xbian still be the clear winner?

Anand August 27, 2013 - 12:16 pm

Gdog, Xbian should work well on 256 MB Pi. However, I am currently running another test, I am seeing that the latest OpenELEC (3.1.6) outperforms Xbian in some ways when it is overclocked to the same level as Xbian. If you don’t care for a package installer to install CouchPotato, Sick Beard, etc. then overclocked OpenELEC 3.1.6 would be my recommendation. The new comparison will be published tomorrow. I suggest you wait until tomorrow as I think that post might be of interest to you.

Anand August 28, 2013 - 8:40 am

Gdog, here is the new comparison you might be interested in: https://www.smarthomebeginner.com/overclocked-openelec-vs-xbian-raspberry-pi/

Cyril July 16, 2014 - 9:15 am

For me, it’s raspbmc that is faster in any way. Boot time it’s not a problem for me, a fluidity navigation without bug is the goal. In second place openelec for the rapidity (equivalent to raspbmc) with many bug and at last xbian. I have been tested xbian for many month and there is no comparaison with raspbmc.

Anand July 16, 2014 - 9:43 am

Cyril, thanks for your input. Now that XBMC Gotham has been integrated into OpenELEC and Raspbmc and we have a few updates in this major version, I have been comparing both Raspbmc and OpenELEC. I have a post coming on this shortly.

I agree with you, Raspbmc has come a long way. While installation and boot are still slow after Raspbmc boots and settles in it is comparable to OpenELEC. And I do not shutdown and reboot my RPi often. On top of that Raspbmc is more than just a media center OS. It has more features and it can do a lot more. But I still feel OpenELEC has a very slight edge (hardly noticeable) over Raspbmc in terms of speed and fluidity. Again, I will cover this in an upcoming post.

Xbian, for whatever reason is struggling to keep up. Too bad, I really liked it.

fableo January 30, 2015 - 1:01 pm

Good job.
Thanks !!!

jacki April 17, 2015 - 12:37 pm

This could really need an update now that the raspberry pi 2 is out.

Nigratruo June 24, 2016 - 7:25 am

I would warn others from following the authors recommendation: I tried Xbian and found it of lousy stability, I had crashes and problems. Then when I researched the issue, I found that Xbian is especially cutting edge, brand new untried code (that is naturally full of bugs).
If you need a stable and reliable media player like me: Definitely not cool, no matter how easy it is to install and how fast it runs. I wasted some time and will now switch to a stabler sibling, since Xbian does not play videos like I need to.
Sadly, especially unexperienced people (in software) often recommend brand new software that is sadly also as much crap and unreliable and riddle with bugs. I wonder if they expect (force) people to contribute bug reports and while the bugs get fixed, they can’t use essential functions. Not acceptable.
I hear people say this about Fedora all the time “no no, it is not an experimental bleeding edge distro, it is advanced and new and better. But when you read the wikipedia article, it specifies that it is rapidly changing (i.e. unstable due to a lot of regression bugs) and not suited for production use, as the interfaces (apis) change constantly and breakage is to be expected.

All really new software, where lots of changes to the whole structure are normal has more bugs than older more solid and tried and true code. After all, changes and new features ALWAYS introduce new bugs and these need to be fixed first. If you are using it to test and as a toy, no problem. But when you use it for production use: not cool and not acceptable.
So in short: Watch out with Xbian. There was no bug fixes available for the problems I experienced. I have used Rasbmc before and had a very different experience: It was very solid and pretty reliable, so I noticed that change in reliability right away.

Alejandro June 25, 2016 - 10:15 am

Hello, thanks for offering your views on this subject. As you say, this usually depends on the intended use people gives to their software. Some are OK with experimenting, sending bug reports, tinkering with the device, and rolling back and forth as many times as needed until they get a good enough experience. For others it’s simply a waste of time. It’s nice to know about the experiences of users with new software to be able to take informed decisions, though.

nigra truo February 5, 2017 - 9:16 pm

Exactly! I just wrote this to inform people that might not know what the flavors are, then they can decide which one they want, if stability is important to them, or bleeding edge code is more relevant.
I wrote it from my experience and my view, but declared it clearly, so everybody can decide to do with it what they want. I wish it was better labeled, often if you take code, you don’t know what you are getting.


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