Set up Ubuntu for speed

A long time ago, about two years to be exact, I converted a trampled, worn-out forum thread about Ubuntu speed into a blog post about improving boot times and overall performance in Edgy.

That, technically, was the second howto, if you’re willing to count the original thread as the “first.” That means this series of pages is the fifth incarnation. And probably the “last,” since I don’t see a need to rerelease the same tweaks every six months, with only minor additions.

You see, two years ago speed tweaks were everywhere. People were scouring the Gentoo wiki and other long-standing temples for speed worshippers, looking for anything that might perk up Ubuntu, the relatively new kid on the block.

Of course, back then, most people were running midrange Pentium 4s too. When multiple cores became mainstream, the push for speed tweaks tapered down to nothing. Perhaps that was just my perception of it, and perhaps correlation does not imply causation, but it seemed that way.

And some “tweaks” became standard in Ubuntu — things like the old readahead adjustment, which shifted it from a background process and made things faster, or the standardized dir_index flag for ext3. And some things were improved upon, like DT_GNU_HASH, which supposedly makes the old prelinking package obsolete.

But these days it’s rare to see a thread in the Ubuntu Forums complaining about speed. If a machine is behaving slowly now, it’s usually a sign that something is configured wrong. (Unless you’re debating the relative speed of Ubuntu releases, when compared to earlier versions.)

So to be honest, I haven’t found many new tweaks in the past six months, and in the six months before that, I found only one or two. The market for speed tweaks seems to have stabilized, and my “guides” have become streamlined revisions, rather that new and illuminating sources of speed tweaks.

Also, the Hardy guide was the last — and only — to include bootcharts and SuperPI results. I realized a few months ago that those things were really only of interest to me, and while they showed some objective proof that a tweak was working, every machine (and every installation) reacts differently so there’s little point in pointing at one particular computer and saying, “This proves it.”

This doesn’t mean I’m out of ideas — far from it. I do have a couple of tweaks I’ll probably add soon — things like vm.dirty_ratio, and some other sysctl.conf settings. (I also want to skim through the existing tips and tweaks, and test them against 8.10.)

Nope, it just means that the new version — stepping away from Zim and downloadable files — will be a “rolling release howto,” with additions made when I find them and I am comfortable with them, and with general touch-ups when a new release hits the streets. I think it’s probably best for everyone involved.

So … enjoy! The bulk of the material in the present “guide” is adapted from the standing Hardy guide, with only a few revisions. If you find a problem or want to discuss a point of usability, please feel free to leave a comment here. Comments on the guide itself are disabled, so the pages don’t become too cluttered.


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7 thoughts on “Set up Ubuntu for speed

  1. johnraff

    This seems like a pretty good idea – saves us 6-monthly downloads and lets you add new stuff as it comes up.

    Two usability points:
    1)You may have this covered anyway, but a mention if a particular tweak only applies to Gutsy or Hardy or Intrepid will be useful.
    2)I expect this is on its way, but some more navigaton links, as in the downloadable versions, will make it much easier to hop around. (“next”, “previous”, “up”, “index” and the like)

    And, thank you!

  2. K.Mandla Post author

    Hi. Last time I checked the contents of those files were remarkably similar. Chances are you could duplicate those files and edit the numbers slightly to take the place of any you deleted. No promises, but I don’t see why not.

    Alternatively, just move those files (or rename them to something unusable) and restore them if you change your mind. :)

  3. K.Mandla Post author

    johnraff: Thanks for the suggestions. I’m going to slant things toward the most recent release, but I’ll definitely make a note if something doesn’t apply to a particular edition.

    And as far as navigation goes, I put a rudimentary index alongside each page, but is terribly prudish about what code I can use. It’s more or less pure HTML, no css or anything — I can’t even change the border color on a table! :shock:

    Let me know if you can think of any other ideas.

  4. Onyros

    I really think that the speed guides actually make even more sense now. True that dual and quad core CPU’s changed the “game”, but there are also a lot more people finally realizing that they don’t need top of the line hardware to do what they do with a computer.

    Netbooks are an utter success exactly because of that, and I think they were the final step of the democratization, the complete massification of computers. And we all know that those machines aren’t exactly using the fastest processors out there.

    People are starting to care more about energy saving than some kind of performance they’ll never need or use, for that matter. Your guides will thrive with that, you’ll see :)

  5. johnraff

    Well, links are pure html of course, so you should be able to put them straight in your pages OK.
    (Hey how do you escape html code in a comment? I’ll use square brackets instead of angle brackets for now.)
    eg put [a href="/set-up-ubuntu-for-speed/index"]Index[/a] at the bottom of the page, and make a /set-up-ubuntu-for-speed/index page for it to link to. “previous” and “next” would mean going over the guide and deciding what order it should be read in, but would be handy for people who want to read through the whole thing.
    You can use full http type links like WordPress, links starting with “/” to relate to your home directory ( or relative links starting with ../ to go up a folder etc.

    That index you now have on the left of the page is OK but on my screen at least it occupies half of the column that might be better used for text. Perhaps you could move it to the bottom of the page?

    I wonder if it might be quicker to copy/paste the content of the pages from your “set up Hardy for speed” guide into WordPress, complete with links? The links might need editing a little bit to get the root right, though.

    btw you can sneak a bit of css into your pages if you write it directly into the html.
    eg [p style="border:2px black solid"]stuff[/p]

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