Linux Mint vs LMDE: Which Should You Choose?

Linux Mint and Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE) scored the highest in our Linux Distro Reviews series, but which should you choose?...
Linux Mint vs LMDE: Which Should You Choose?
Written by Matt Milano
  • Linux Mint and Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE) scored the highest in our Linux Distro Reviews series, but which should you choose?

    Why Two Flavors of Mint

    Mainline Linux Mint and LMDE are both excellent distros. While Linux Mint collectively is often referred to as a ‘new user distro,’ in reality, Linux Mint is one of the few distros that is equally adept at serving the needs of new and experienced users.

    The mainline Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu LTS. As of the time of writing, Linux Mint 21.x is based on Ubuntu 22.04 LTS. Within the next couple of weeks, however, Ubuntu 24.04 LTS will be released. It usually takes the Mint team a couple of months to rebase on the new Ubuntu release, meaning we should see Linux Mint 22 around June or July.

    In contrast, LMDE—as the name implies—is based on Debian. As of the time of writing, LMDE 6 is based on the latest Debian 12 Bookworm. Like Ubuntu LTS, there is usually a Debian release every two years or so, with the newest version of LMDE following suit a couple of months later. LMDE 6 was released in September 2023, just a couple of months after Debian 12. LMDE 7 will be based on Debian 13, likely in mid-2025.

    LMDE was originally conceived as a fallback plan for the Mint team in the event that something happened to Ubuntu. LMDE essentially gives the team an insurance policy, ensuring they will always be able to deliver the experience users have grown accustomed to.

    In addition, making Cinnamon and the various X Apps work on LMDE services as a compatibility test, ensuring the various parts of the Mint ecosystem can be easily used on other distros.


    Before moving on to how the two version of Mint compare, let’s get a couple of misconceptions out of the way.

    • LMDE is not a rolling release distro. When it was first launched, LMDE was a rolling release, but that is no longer the case. Nowadays, LMDE is based on Debian Stable.
    • LMDE is not behind Debian Stable. Throughout a release’s lifecycle, Debian will release minor point updates that include a number of security and bug fixes, such as 12.1, 12.2, 12.3, etc. In reality, these only impact the ISO image you download and install. In contrast, LMDE 6 will remain LMDE 6 until LMDE 7 comes out. When installing LMDE 6, you will have the version that was released the day LMDE 6 was publicly released. However, as soon as you run your first system update, you will receive all the updates, security patches, and bug fixes that come from upstream Debian. In other words, as soon as you run the first system update, your LMDE 6 will be the equivalent of whatever the latest point release of Debian is—Debian 12.5 at the time of writing—just as would happen if you installed an older point release ISO of Debian and then updated it.

    How the Two Compare

    In point of fact, mainline Mint and LMDE are so similar that it’s easier to discuss the ways they are different. Bear in mind that I have extensively tested both versions on a Tuxedo Pulse laptop, designed specifically for Linux, as well as a 2019 HP with a problematic network card.

    Kernel Manager and Driver Manager

    Two of the hallmark features of mainline Mint are the Kernel Manager and Driver Manager, graphical tools to install and activate a different kernel, or to install hardware-specific drivers.

    LMDE does not have either of these tools since both are based on underlying Ubuntu tools. As a result, accomplishing the same thing in LMDE requires using the Synaptic package manager or the Terminal.

    Hardware Support

    Debian made great strides toward closing the gap with Ubuntu’s hardware support by including non-free drivers in version 12. As a result, there’s never been a better time to use a Debian-based distro since it now works out-of-the-box with hardware that requires extra work with previous versions.

    Despite this, Ubuntu still has a lead in hardware support. There are few, if any, distros that do more to make sure they work with various hardware than Ubuntu, and it shows.

    I have found this to be the case in my testing. For example, in my home office I use an old HP inkjet printer that is immediately recognized over the network by both Linux Mint and LMDE. However, an HP laser printer that I frequently used is only recognized by Linux Mint. I have not been able to get LMDE to see it. With more effort, I’m sure I would eventually, but it’s telling that Linux Mint sees it OOTB.

    Kernels, Graphics Drivers, and Apps

    Ubuntu and Debian have very different philosophies about managing a release, differences that have a direct impact on the editions of Mint.

    In the case of Debian, once a version is released, that version is essentially frozen in time. The only updates it will receive during its two-year cycle are security patches and some bug fixes. Everything else, including the kernel and graphics drivers, will remain on the same major version as the day of release, and will only be upgraded to a new version when the next Debian version is released.

    In contrast, Ubuntu has its Hardware Enablement Stack (HWE), which updates the LTS version’s kernel and graphics drivers every six months. As a result, the LTS versions receive nice performance improvements throughout the life of the release. In addition, Ubuntu updates some applications throughout the life of an LTS, something Debian doesn’t do.

    For example, at the time of writing, LMDE is running kernel 6.1.x and Mesa 22.3.6. When Linux Mint 21 was released, it was running kernel 5.15 and Mesa 20.05. By the time Mint 21.3 was released—still based on Ubuntu 22.04—kernel 6.5.x was available, and Mesa was upgraded to version 23.0.4.

    Some of these differences can be mitigated to a degree. For example, using Flatpaks can help both distros—but especially LMDE—have the latest versions of apps. Similarly, using Debian backports, which are enabled in LMDE, can provide a newer kernel.

    In the case of the Mesa graphics stack, however, there is simply no good way to update it on LMDE or the Debian Stable it is based on. Again, this can be mitigated to a degree by using Flatpak for any apps that would benefit from an updated graphics stack since Flatpak includes its own dependencies and is often up-to-date with the latest versions.

    PPA Support

    PPAs are a popular way to get specific software, or newer versions, within the Ubuntu ecosystem. For example, Ubuntu and Linux Mint users who want the absolute latest Mesa drivers can add the Kisak PPA to their system and have the latest, bleeding-edge version.

    While some PPAs may work on Debian and LMDE, it’s not a recommended way to install software on a Debian-based system, and it can easily break your installation.

    Support Period

    The provided length of support is another difference between the two versions of Mint.

    Being based on Ubuntu LTS, mainline Mint comes with five years of support. In contrast, LMDE provides roughly a year of support after the release of a new version. Since a new version is released approximately every two years, LMDE comes with roughly three years of support, although it can be less in some cases.

    Which Should You Choose?

    In many ways, choosing between Linux Mint and LMDE is difficult because the two distros are so similar. Here is a list of reasons that may factor into your decision.

    Dislike of Ubuntu

    Despite everything Ubuntu has done over the years to advance the Linux desktop, there are a vocal percentage of Linux users that have a strong dislike for Ubuntu. Some of this stems from Ubuntu’s parent Canonical pushing technologies and then unceremoniously abandoning; insisting on promoting Snaps, an alternative to Flatpak; or missteps Canonical made years ago, such as setting up an affiliate program with Amazon search.

    In reality, this is the least important reason to discount mainline Linux Mint because the Mint team mitigates nearly all of Ubuntu’s bad decisions. Take Snap as an example. Mint includes the more accepted Flatpaks instead of Snaps and implements measures to ensure a user doesn’t accidentally install them.

    That doesn’t mean the Mint team mitigates everything Canonical does. For example, installing the Microsoft fonts package on Linux Mint includes the ubuntu-advantage-tools as a dependency, meaning users will see a message promoting Ubuntu Pro in the Terminal. This can largely be mitigated by grabbing the Microsoft fonts installer from the Debian servers since that version has no such dependencies.

    This example, however, highlights the relatively minor impact Ubuntu’s decisions have on Mint. Lead developer Clément (Clem) Lefèbvre has made clear his belief that—at least at this time—the advantages Ubuntu brings to the table far outweigh any disadvantages.

    I’ve nothing bad to say about 22.04. I hope Ubuntu continues to be as good going forward and doesn’t neglect its APT package base. If we don’t have a reason to transition we won’t. Ubuntu is still the best APT package base out there in our opinion. LMDE is there as a potential solution, but it is not a goal in itself.

    While dislike of Ubuntu—or commercial distros in general—may be the least important reason, it is still a valid reason for someone to choose LMDE over Linux Mint.

    LMDE’s Fewer Updates

    Because it is based on Debian, LMDE has far fewer updates than Linux Mint. For users who want to update as little as possible, LMDE would be the preferred option.

    Entrenched In Debian’s Ecosystem

    Some users are long-time Debian users and are well-entrenched in the Debian ecosystem. They may be running servers that are powered by Debian, or have other computers running the distro.

    For individuals like these, and especially fans of Cinnamon, LMDE is a perfect compliment. Under the hood, LMDE is Debian, just with updated Cinnamon and X App included. Whereas, like all its other packages, it will use the same version of Cinnamon throughout its lifecycle, LMDE receives updates to Cinnamon and the X Apps every six months when a point release of mainline Mint is released.

    Newer Hardware and Gaming

    Because Linux Mint benefits from Ubuntu’s HWE stack, it is generally a much better choice for users with newer hardware, or for those who want to optimize their gaming experience, since newer kernels and Mesa drivers have a direct impact.

    As stated above, it is possible to install a newer kernel in LMDE, but there is no good way to install a newer Mesa version. While this can be partially mitigated by using Flatpak, some games and gaming services don’t run as well as a Flatpak.

    To illustrate the point, YouTuber and former professional gamer A1RM4X took mainline Mint, upgraded the kernel and Mesa stack, and found that performance was roughly on par with the best rolling release distros—a result that would be difficult to achieve with LMDE.

    Mint Team’s Main Focus

    Not to be underestimated is which distro is the Mint team’s main focus: Linux Mint. As Clem stated above, “LMDE is there as a potential solution, but it is not a goal in itself.”

    While LMDE is an incredibly capable distro and one of my personal favorites, there are times when its “potential solution” status shines through.

    For example, LMDE 6 has a bug in the network notification dialog. Whenever you join or disconnect from a network, a notification dialog displays. There is an option to ‘Never display this again,’ but it doesn’t work on LMDE 6. Despite this being reported for months, it has never been fixed since it’s an upstream Debian 12 bug. In fact, the fix only recently was provided on a third-party site which was announced on the Linux Mint Discord server. One can’t help but wonder if the Mint team might have offered a solution much faster if this bug was impacting the mainline edition, which 88.8% of Linux Mint users are on.

    This is not meant in any way as a negative point against the Linux Mint team. As Clem said, LMDE “is not a goal in itself.” The team’s main focus is mainline Linux Mint. As a result, users who want the most supported experience should use the mainline edition, while those who want an outstanding distro that may require a bit more knowledge and self-sufficiency may find LMDE more to their liking.

    What the Future Holds

    Despite the Mint team’s commitment to Ubuntu as the base, the day may come when that is no longer an option. Ubuntu has been increasingly switching to Snaps over native packages, with 24.04 slated to replace Thunderbird and the CUPS printing stack with Snaps.

    Clem has indicated that the team is watching this trend closely, as he stated in the July 2023 blog post.

    Last but not least we’re keeping an eye on Ubuntu, their increased focus on Snap, the quality of their 24.04 package base and what this means for us going forward.

    At this point, it’s safe to say that Linux Mint 22 will be based on Ubuntu 24.04. As long as Canonical doesn’t make any drastic changes, future versions of Linux Mint will likely continue to be based on Ubuntu LTS, and LMDE will remain a fallback plan.

    The fact is, it’s easier to de-Snapify the occasional package from Ubuntu than bring all of Ubuntu’s advantages to Debian.

    As Clem stated, however, the Mint team will be watching Ubuntu 24.04 closely, meaning we’ll have more long-term indications of the team’s plans once Mint 22 drops.

    Two Solid Choices

    At the end of the day, Linux Mint and LMDE are two of the finest Linux distros available, offering an outstanding experience for users of all experience levels.

    As with most things in life, you should analyze what is important to you in a computing experience, consider the above points, and make the decision that’s best for your circumstances.

    Either way…you can’t go wrong.

    Final Note: What Do I Use?

    For me personally, LMDE is my distro of choice. While mainline Linux Mint would easily be my second choice, there are things I like and prefer about LMDE. One of those is an Ubuntu-free experience. As mentioned above, the Mint team does an admirable job undoing most of Canonical’s bad decisions, but there are a couple that still impact my specific workflow.

    In addition, I am a big fan of community distros, rather than corporate ones. In the case of LMDE, it is a community distro built on one of the oldest community distros in existence.

    Finally, I appreciate the renowned stability and security of a Debian-based distro, while still receiving regular updates to the desktop environment and core apps.

    All of this makes LMDE the perfect distro for me.

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