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What sort of speed improvement do you get with Gentoo? - I mean what apps really show it?
The greatest speed improvement in Gentoo is obtained by compiling the kernel and libc to use extra CPU capabilities like the multimedia extensions and by using the GPU capabilities for 2D and 3D graphics acceleration; the increase in speed may be seen when coding/decoding multimedia streams or rendering graphics to screen. This is true of any distribution. I can't imagine that any other software will 'run faster' unless it uses specific CPU/GPU features which it does not use in the default compilation.
I noticed a big improvment in the graphical environment. My machine is a 32 bit AMD Athlon XP 3200+. I was running Beryl, the compiz-fusion predecessor. The 3D cube was suddenly spinning much more comfortable.
Of course you can achieve some of it by customising fedora too. E.g. most people won't need SELinux (quiet heavy). Fedora might add other services you don't need and can be switched off. Might be things you can do in the kernel too.
Interesting - I already turn off SELinux and try and minimise other stuff but I have not worried about compiling kernels for years - I must be getting lazy, it is just too easy to update and use yum to install what you want without worrying about tweaking . .