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What operating system would achieve the best performance on x86 from within Qemu or Virtualbox?

I only need to use a handful of programs regularly: tmux, vi(m), curl, a package manager (mainly to install libraries), gcc/clang, git, etc.

I don't need X or a graphical environment, although I'd prefer a minimalistic one as long as performance isn't sacrificed, mainly because terminal emulators (esp. mrxvt) are faster than virtual terminals.

I'm leaning toward Gentoo, NetBSD, OpenBSD, DragonflyBSD, and FreeBSD right now (in that order).

Irrelevant. Seriously... ...as long as you keep all to hardware virtualization on the same technical level (I.e. use all the same features), the differences should be in the 1% to 3% range. You are going to be a LOT more limited by your hardware choice (IO - disc subsystem, for example).

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    • Things like scheduling have an effect on performance. Also, some work better than others in a virtualized environment (those of the *BSD family listed above don't work well in Virtualbox).
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    • No, scheduling has no effect on performance. It may have an effect on snappiness, but overall the server performance will not vary - unless the scheduler is simply stupid and wastes significant performace through bad programming.

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