I'm now using a binary kernel with Gentoo

June 25, 2021

Yesterday when I was using the tool diff to compare the changes from my current minimal custom kernel configuration to the new kernel configuration that came with the latest kernel in Gentoo, I thought to myself: “Is this really worth it?”.

I don’t gain any performance, and no resource or disk space improvements, so why should I be bothered using my own custom kernel when it takes a considerable amount of time maintaining it? I’ve only been rolling my own custom kernel because it’s fun and a good learning experience.

Wait. I said what now? No disk space improvements? Well. Relativity speaking, my custom kernel is a lot smaller than the binary kernel that Gentoo provides. Technically speaking, I save about 75 MB by only including the absolute bare minimum required for my computer.

The little disk space I gained there, is actually lost to the fact that I always have to keep a copy of the source for the current kernel. The source for the kernel takes up about 52 MB in its compressed state, and about 150 MB uncompressed. Is it really worth all the time and effort for saving 23 MB?

The reason I used to use my own custom kernel to beging with, was for the simple fact that it was fun! It’s a fun learning experience and it’s a fun challenge. That’s it.

Time changes tough. When I was younger I used to have an infinite amount of time to spend on whatever I felt like, but that time has since passed. I’m currently busy with life in general, and I don’t have much time to spend on my hobbies. And with a limited free time, does it really make any sense (for me) to spend the little free time I have on things like a custom kernel, especially when I don’t have to?

And yes. I know that some are probably shouting at their monitors right now; “Why use Gentoo if you’re going to use a binary kernel?”.

Well. It’s a semi-valid question. Let’s have a look at the Gentoo philosophy first:

Every user has work they need to do. The goal of Gentoo is to design tools and systems that allow a user to do that work as pleasantly and efficiently as possible, as they see fit. Our tools should be a joy to use, and should help the user to appreciate the richness of the Linux and free software community, and the flexibility of free software. […] The goal of Gentoo is to strive to create near-ideal tools. Tools that can accommodate the needs of many different users all with divergent goals.

I even made my own post about why I like Gentoo last year. A tl;dr of that post would be something like:

  • Gentoo provides the tools to build an operating system that’s tailored for just me. Unlike most other mainstream Linux based operating systems, you’re not limited to what they see fit for you.
  • I like the friendly and helpful community surrounding Gentoo.
  • Highly advanced package manager.
  • Multiple good init systems to choose from.
  • Good documentation.
  • It’s stable and reliable.

The first point is the main reason why Gentoo call themselves a metadistribution. Gentoo can be anything you like, there’s really no right or wrong way of doing it, it’s only your way of doing it. And that’ what I like about Gentoo, there’re no incentives, hard coded paths or unwritten rules that you have to follow.


I now use a binary kernel with Gentoo to gain all the benefits from using Gentoo, while saving time from not having to maintain my own kernel. Time that I can spend on things I find more important (in my currently busy life with limited time and energy), things like this post.

And who knows, I might go back to my own custom kernel later in the future, when I don’t have work and have more time for my hobbies again.


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