A great deal of efforts have been made on the performance evaluation of distributed antenna systems (DASs). Most of them assume a regular base-station (BS) antenna layout where the number of BS antennas is usually small. With the growing interest in cellular systems with large antenna arrays at BSs, it becomes increasingly important to study how the BS antenna layout affects the rate performance when a vast number of BS antennas are employed. This paper presents a comparative study of the asymptotic rate performance of downlink multi-user systems with multiple BS antennas either co-located or uniformly distributed within a circular cell. Two representative linear precoding schemes, maximum ratio transmission (MRT), and zero-forcing beamforming (ZFBF), are considered, with which the effect of BS antenna layout on the rate performance is characterized. The analysis shows that as the number of BS antennas L and the number of users K grow infinitely while L/K → v, the asymptotic average user rates with the co-located antenna (CA) layout for both MRT and ZFBF are logarithmic functions of the ratio v. With the distributed antenna (DA) layout, in contrast, the scaling behavior of the average user rate closely depends on the precoding schemes. With ZFBF, for instance, the average user rate grows unboundedly as L, K → ∞ and L/K → v > 1, which indicates that substantial rate gains over the CA layout can be achieved when the number of BS antennas L is large. The gain, nevertheless, becomes marginal when MRT is adopted.