These are some options for using a stripped-down RPi when you need the best performance by tailoring what you need to the bare minimum.
Why stripped down? If you want it fast. Fast boot, fast processing, low latency. The RPi is in the order of 100 times faster than 8-bit PIC microcontrollers that I’m used to using, yet most Linux distributions adds a lot of bloat for these kinds of use-cases.
In order from high to low level:
Raspbian: It’s well supported; regular updates and plethora of available packages. Also, packages can quickly be removed as per this previous post, and boot time and other run-time resource hogs can be eliminated as per this previous post.
Why not Arch linux? It’s an option. However, I spent a day just trying to get it to boot, with no luck. It is no longer an option in the NOOBS installer, and having no previous experience with it, and little experience with the RPi, I’d lost before I started.
Start with Raspbian-Ua-NetInst and build it up: If the experience with Arch was too ambitious, then this probably is too. While it is dead easy to install, I wouldn’t want to spend months and months learning with no guarantee of success; I’d want to start with something that just works – even if mediocre – and take it from there. It doesn’t even come with a package manager, and a quick Google search shows that the lack of tutorials for building on it might be a deal-breaker.
Why not MiniBian? ‘Cos I just found out about it.
PiLFS: Probably the lowest level besides bare-metal, but still pretty bulky. It’s not all that clear how much space it would take on the SD card; somewhere between 8MB and 1GB as a minimum??
Why not bare-metal? Are you kidding me? I don’t want to write a Web server, or networking capability from scratch. The reason I’ve decided to use a RPi is to give powerful high-level programming capability to really get stuff done. However, a great tutorial is here: http://www.valvers.com/open-software/raspberry-pi/step01-bare-metal-programming-in-cpt1/. It is a massive 5-part tutorial which gets you a long way, relatively speaking; great if you just want a quick way of hammering hardware.