Friday, August 11, 2006

Ubuntu is now rockin'

Since moving to Ubuntu Dapper on my home system, I've been fairly pleased with the results. It has not been without its challenges, but I've been able to overcome them all with minimal fuss. However one issue that has plagued me from the get-go has been a slight lag in performance. Mostly, it manifested itself in application startup times which initially were 10 seconds for some applications. After searching high and low for possible causes and solutions, I managed to cut that to about 5 seconds. The frustrating thing is that periodically I would be given a glimpse of the full speed of the system. So after the odd kernel auto-update I would see full speed performance until the next reboot when things would slow down again. It's like when you have a car that you think is just fine, but your buddy then takes you for a ride in his brand-new wheels and your own car suddenly feels inadequate, dated and frumpy. You'd have been happier if you'd never been given the ride.

Now it was frustrating, but not big enough to be a deal-breaker. However, last night I think I finally put this problem to rest. I took some time to read this thread on (a great resource for ubuntu users btw) which dealt with cutting down boot-up time by disabling unneeded services. I disabled about 5 or 6 services that I didn't require (pcmcia, hp-drivers, nvidia drivers etc..) and rebooted. Lo and behold my system booted up slightly faster, but more importantly it was running at full speed. I restarted the system a couple of times to double-check it was not another temporary fix. It wasn't.

So my bootup is slightly faster, my application startup times are significantly quicker, but even more important is the boost to other seemingly unrelated (or so I thought) tasks:

  1. Firefox was not terribly quick. Rendering of my Gmail inbox in particular was a bit doggish. Firefox is now much much better. My Gmail inbox is rendered in at least half the time.
  2. F-Spot (photo management app) used to lag behind in thumbnail generation. It now handles my thumbnails with aplomb while scrolling through my photos.
  3. The small wxPython application I've been working on used to take about 7 seconds to appear. It now appears in about 1.5s.
  4. Synaptic package manager used to take about 5 seconds to appear, plus another 5 seconds to show the list of available packages. The application and package listing appears in about 1.5 seconds.
  5. Flash sites like YouTube used to render fairly slowly and flash video used to lag considerably. It now works great.
  6. Launching any app, or carrying out just about any task (even a screensaver) used to register at or near 100% cpu time on the system monitor. Now the monitor shows much more reasonable cpu usage and screensavers show about 5% processor usage.

It's funny, because my system was always only showing about 5% cpu usage at idle, so I didn't think the problem was so system-wide.

In short, whatever it is that I disabled was crippling much of the system. Where Ubuntu was nice and stable before, it's now nice, stable AND fast! Woohoo!


Earl said...

Richard, I've got a few questions I hope you won't mind answering.

Is Ubuntu being used as your primary computer desktop?

If so, what's been the biggest pro and con points of using it as such?

What would you consider the minimum hardware requirement for running Ubuntu with reasonable performance?

I've got an older PC that my wife use to use that has Windows XP Professional loaded on it. I've heard a lot of positive things about Ubuntu and I was thinking of installing it on this PC as a test bed. I'm interested in any recommendations you can provide.

RichardQuerin said...

Hi Earl,

I've addressed your questions in a subsequent post above. As you'll see it's not something I wanted to post in a 10 line comment response. ;)

Earl said...

Thanks, Richard.
Great post with lots of good information. I'm definately going to give it a shot on my spare PC at home and I might even set up a workstation at work to see how it plays on a network with windows.