I would like to know the differences between Debian and Ubuntu besides the well known stability and package management or non-free policy. I'll try to proceed with order trying to not forget anything because I'd like to have in this page all the information needed to pick one or the other with awareness before installing (on a laptop mostly).


I'll start saying I'm a Debian 9 (stable) user who has decided to switch to Ubuntu 18.04.1 trying to get better support for NVIDIA Optimus (laptop dGPU-iGPU technology) so I used Ubuntu for just a few days therefore I'm going to start with questions related to my short experience and my needs but I'm open for more answers than I'm asking. For my experience I tried switching to Ubuntu just because of its hybrid GPU support, no other reasons.

1 - Battery life

The first thing I noticed is the battery life: my laptop's battery, with Debian, with airplane mode could last up to five to six hours but with Ubuntu, with same usage, can't go beyond three hours. Why is that? Is there any way to understand what's going on with the battery?

PS. Both distros were using GNOME 3 as dm and the laptop was configured to use the Intel integrated graphic card (dedicated-one wasn't just unused but turned off with bbswitch in both cases). I'm saying this to prevent answers like "you have to turn off completely the dGPU".

2 - NVIDIA Optimus support

Ubuntu is well known for its user-friendly interface and because it's almost totally pre-configured. However I spent an entire day writing a script to get proper GPU-switch technology working without tearing while playing videos.

On Debian I was using bumblebee but I get lost for months into a well known problem waking up dGPU after suspend (ACPI problem with dGPU named 3D controller in lspci output). On Ubuntu I tried nvidia-prime package with bbswitch. Mainly I would prefer nvidia-prime because it supports vdpau and get better performance in general using dGPU.

The question is: is there an alternative for Debian with vdpau support?

3 - MAC (apparmor)

I'm very happy to see that Ubuntu has it by default. Why doesn't Debian have it installed by default?

4 - Secure Boot

Why does Ubuntu have signed kernels but Debian doesn't?

I don't want opinion but reasons. Each distro has its strengths and its faults: Debian is about stability; Ubuntu is about supports.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Kiwy, msp9011, maulinglawns, Rui F Ribeiro, schily Sep 6 '18 at 10:47

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 4
    Your question cannot be answer in a simple answer, there's many difference between debian and ubuntu. One being that Ubuntu buy the kernel signature to Microsoft so you can boot Ubuntu on UEFI with secure boot enable. Ubuntu is by default not as lightweight as Debian making it probably the cause for difference you see between the two. Also Debian stable and Ubuntu LTS do not share the same kernel, library, program version... – Kiwy Sep 6 '18 at 9:36
  • Regarding battery life: Did you compare the number of active CPU cores and CPU clock rates? Energy management is largely a matter of configuration, so it can be completely different ith different related distributions. – Philippos Sep 6 '18 at 10:01
  • I would bet you have a dual video card machine. The battery life is vastly superior while using my Intel than my radeon. – Rui F Ribeiro Sep 6 '18 at 10:09
  • Thanks for your comments. CPU usage was the same; RAM was a little more used in Ubuntu (1.6 GB vs 1.1 GB in Debian). – Ferdiu Sep 6 '18 at 11:23

You have to weight the cons and pros of either distributions. Ubuntu is based on Debian, as such you can focus more on the differences.

As in Debian vs Ubuntu:

TLDR Debian for servers/tinkerers/experienced users/sysadmins/older limited hardware ; Ubuntu for newbies/bleeding edge hardware/problematic Wifi or video cards.

Debian stability vs Ubuntu newer packages/new hardware support - It is known Ubuntu drinks for Debian testing and then does an extensive customization work. However, while the obvious advantage is having support for newer configurations and hardware you also have potentially more instability problems. In a desktop setup I might use Ubuntu if Debian is giving me problems. I won't use Ubuntu in server settings, I was burned in the past with it.

Debian bigger community/Ubuntu more newbie friendly - while the Debian support community is bigger, Ubuntu seems to be more oriented towards beginners.

Ubuntu faster release cycles vs Debian slower releases - if you want to be on the bleeding edge, than Ubuntu is for you. If you want more stability and less changes, choose Debian (yes, I am counting on LTS releases too).

Hardware resources - Ubuntu by default installs more functionalities. Thus for a beginner, a more logical choice might with outdated hardware might be Debian. If you have limited RAM and disk space, Debian is the way to go. Ubuntu might give you more work customizing it for using less resources.

Software support - whilst Debian has a lot of software support, often Ubuntu has the PPA repositories for specific packages. If you need newer and customized versions of those packages, Ubuntu might be more of a choice.

Open Source philosophy - here Debian is more community oriented, and Canonical often messes up things a bit (Unity, others). This choice might be entirely subjective.

Enterprise environments - Here again you have got the greater stability of Debian vs Canonical official support. Over my experience of many years, I prefer the former. Formal politics//policies might dictate the use of the latter.

AppArmor/SELinux/security settings - here Debian often let's you make the choice while Ubuntu has other choices by default. This is a matter of policy. While convenient, I often prefer to have the choice of not using those technologies, especially at home for them to not get on the way of doing things. For newbies, Ubuntu brings firewalls, and AppArmor configured by default. It makes things more easy for who does not want to mess with the system.

Battery life - Been running more software, and using the more advanced video card with for Xorg and office work when you can often get away with the weaker card influences drastically battery life. Here Debian seems more a logical choice for people that is not so adept in heavily customization and leaving things as they are.

Signed kernels - Both Debian and Ubuntu have had them for a while too. You just have to choose the -signed kernel package in Debian.

Video card support/new hardware support - here Ubuntu make more sense in newer machines until Debian catches up (i.e. the video cards become older). However, for the sake of battery life, if not gaming or doing graphical work, you might prefer to use the weaker card in dual card notebooks.

Ease of installation - while Debian has improved a lot in recent years, Ubuntu GUI installation is still more user friendly, including having separate installation media geared towards server vs desktop.

Support for wifi cards: Ubuntu install by default proprietary drivers for common wifi cards. If you are a begginner having problems with Debian (or Kali) it may makes more sense installing Ubuntu and letting it do the configuration work for you.

As for your specific question of Nvidia Optimus support, nvidia-prime support is more advanced in Ubuntu than in Debian, as the one in Debian is ported from Ubuntu.

Disclaimer: I have tried in the past to use Ubuntu both in desktop and notebook settings, and I am partial to Debian without systemd.

  • 1
    Thanks. This was the answer I was looking for: having information to make a choice, not the choice. If you could add something about NVIDIA Optimus (nvidia-prime) support that would be great ;) – Ferdiu Sep 6 '18 at 11:25
  • Edited the answer. – Rui F Ribeiro Sep 6 '18 at 11:43

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.