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Optimizing Linux

Matteo Di Furia
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jun 20, 2008
Posts: 102
Hi everybody, I'm here again to ask for your knowledge to help me with my problem.
I'm looking among the vast ocean of Linux distributions to find one that most suites me. I'm mostly interested in fast and stable distros, still maintaining a modern appeal (I like KDE and Gnome window managers).
Reading some forums, I saw many people telling that you can speed up some distros which are quite known to be not so fast (like Fedora).
I wonder what would you guys do to tune your Linux box ? At first glance, I'd start removing all those programs and daemons which I don't need. After, I could think about compile some modules to optimize them for my laptop, but I never tried such procedure and I don't really know how much improvements could it bring. Some more ideas ?
I kinda like openSuse (11.1) but I'll give a try at all the distros I downloaded in a virtualized environment, with special attention on Arch Linux, which I've been told and I've read is kinda fast.
Any more input ?

Thank you in advance for help and support.
Joe Ess
Bartender

Joined: Oct 29, 2001
Posts: 8708
    
    6

Matteo Di Furia wrote:I saw many people telling that you can speed up some distros which are quite known to be not so fast (like Fedora).


I would take issue with a claim that Fedora is "not so fast". Fedora is a desktop distribution, so will it run a some programs slower than a stripped-down server-style distro? Probably. But the stripped-down distro isn't going to have nearly the functionality that Fedora has.

Matteo Di Furia wrote:
At first glance, I'd start removing all those programs and daemons which I don't need.


That's probably the most sensible thing one can do. Making sure one's hardware, especially video card, is supported is another important step for making sure a desktop runs as fast as possible.
Gnome and KDE are fairly resource-intensive window managers. You can gain some performance, especially if you have minimal memory (256-512Mb) or a poor video card with a simpler window manager like OpenBox. Of course, you sacrifice some window candy.
Make sure you are using fast hardware. I frequent the Ubuntu forums and I'm amazed that people complain that it won't run on a Pentium 3 with 64Megs of memory. "Linux is supposed to be fast" they say. Yea, Linux is fast, but Ubuntu is a "kitchen sink" distro, designed to run on modern hardware. It's intended to compete feature-wise with Windows Vista. Would you try running Vista on your hardware? If the answer is "no", then don't expect Ubuntu to run either.
I've used OpenSUSE. It's a perfectly good distro. I've heard good things about Arch, but haven't tried it.


"blabbing like a narcissistic fool with a superiority complex" ~ N.A.
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Matteo Di Furia
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jun 20, 2008
Posts: 102
Hi Joe, thank you for your reply.
I'm actually using XP, it used to work quite good when freshly installed, but after many updates and many months, the slow down is kinda unacceptable. I want to try Linux. On my laptop, I'd never use Vista, since it's just an Intel Core 1,7 Ghz with 512 MB RAM (can't remember the video card, but I'm pretty sure it's nothing impressive).
I mainly use my laptop to program with Eclipse and run under Tomcat, watch movies and listen music. Probably a virtualized XP to run some old game (or through Wine maybe), nothing special and nothing more than this. I'd like anyway to get the best from my laptop, I think it's not that bad to do such simple tasks. I'm not interested in fancy effects or whatever, I just want a stable OS, customizable enough (I don't like unwanted stuff running out of my control), but also enough user friendly (don't want to spend hours to tune it and to control it at fine grain level).
Joe Ess
Bartender

Joined: Oct 29, 2001
Posts: 8708
    
    6

Matteo Di Furia wrote:Hi Joe, thank you for your reply.
I'm actually using XP, it used to work quite good when freshly installed, but after many updates and many months, the slow down is kinda unacceptable.

You can always re-install XP. You know it works on your laptop. You can also install Windows and Linux side by side in a dual boot configuration.

Matteo Di Furia wrote:
I want to try Linux.


Whichever distro you choose, check to see if they tested your hardware (start here). Most distro's have a forum or mailing list. Search there to see if anyone is using your hardware and if there's any known problems.
Most distro's have a live CD that you can boot from to try before you install. They won't perform like a hard disk install, but they'll give you an idea if your computer will be functional.
I've been running Ubuntu on a bootable USB flash drive on my work laptop when I take it home and it works pretty well (work uses XP), so that may be an option if you want to keep XP around while experimenting.

Matteo Di Furia wrote:
On my laptop, I'd never use Vista, since it's just an Intel Core 1,7 Ghz with 512 MB RAM (can't remember the video card, but I'm pretty sure it's nothing impressive).


512Mb is probably the minimum for running Gnome or KDE, but so long as you aren't doing very memory-intensive stuff (video editing comes to mind), you should be good. Again, try a few Live CD's.
Matteo Di Furia
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jun 20, 2008
Posts: 102
Yes, I've planned to download some distros, try each one on a virtualized system to check all distros. When I find my preferred one, I'll burn it and try the live version of it to check if it works well on my laptop. If this works, I'll finally install it.
I also know I could use both XP and Linux (maybe best solution to maintain XP for gaming purposes), but I don't like the idea to have to re-install it every now and then to solve its problems. I was also thinking about install XP and all the software I need and then make a ghost image of it, to restore it when I see a decrease in performance, but it's kinda tedious anyway.
Pat Farrell
Rancher

Joined: Aug 11, 2007
Posts: 4636
    
    5

Matteo Di Furia wrote:I'm actually using XP, it used to work quite good when freshly installed, but after many updates and many months, the slow down is kinda unacceptable.


When I used Windows 8 hours a day for professional development, I'd schedule a day every six months or so, and do a format c: and reinstall. Greatly speeds things up. Seriously. Yes, its a pain to do, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

Since Linux is free, and you have a official copy of XP, why not do the backup, and before you reinstall XP, try Ubuntu?

I agree that Fedora is a fine distro, no need to worry about it. And there are many others. But Ubuntu seems to be easier for folks to transition to. I use it on my daily desktops -- I use pure Debian on my servers. Arguing which distro is better is pretty pointless. Find one that works on your hardware and be happy.

I don't think its worth much time to optimize linux. If the daemons are not used, they won't be using any memory.

Like any OS, if you are doing a lot of stuff, like running a DBMS package, and a webserver, and developing code, and doing the old edit/compile/debug cycle, you really need tons of memory. Memory is more important than CPU speed.

BTW: I just got a new computer today, Core 2 Quad with 8GB of RAM, a nice nVidea card and a big disk. I haven't had time to work on it, still installing subversion, netbeans, java, etc. But I expect it will be fast enough for me for a while.
Tim Holloway
Saloon Keeper

Joined: Jun 25, 2001
Posts: 15639
    
  15

The stock Fedora install does have some daemons running that you probably don't need. Examples are bluetooth, pcmcia, and laptop power monitoring for a desktop. You can use the "chkconfig" command to turn them off. There used to be a GUI tool for this as well, but I don't know what/where it is anymore (I'm a command-line junkie).

Recompiling typically only gives you a 10% performance boost, so it's rarely worth the effort.

On the other hand, "optimizing" can mean many things. Use the "top" command to get a quick view of what processes are consuming the most RAM. The "hdparm" utility can be used as a disk tuning tool. The kernel itself has a number of tuning options.


Customer surveys are for companies who didn't pay proper attention to begin with.
Pat Farrell
Rancher

Joined: Aug 11, 2007
Posts: 4636
    
    5

Tim Holloway wrote:Recompiling typically only gives you a 10% performance boost, so it's rarely worth the effort.

While I agree in general, it depends on where you start. If you have a modern 64 bit CPU with the fancy instructions for SIMD, and you are using a 32bit distro, then recompiling to use the proper instruction sets are big winners, especially if you do stuff like video encoding that the SIMD are designed for. But a better solution is to install the proper version of your distro from the start. If you use a 686 version of the binaries, it has all that stuff done from the start.

My favorite optimization technique is to install more RAM.
 
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