8.04 might be your best bet

I got a note from benj1 the other day, about a Phoronix test of an “old” machine running two or three different flavors of Ubuntu, and how the Pentium 4 and Radeon AGP card performed.

I usually rant at this point about how Pentium 4 machines aren’t old, and how they’re plenty fast to handle modern Linux-based software, and how there’s no reason to banish a 2.8Ghz machine to the closet. But people have heard me whine about that for a very, very long time, and whether or not people listen is immaterial any more. I could say you don’t need a new computer because the old one works fine, and I could say that you don’t need a new car because the old one works fine, and there would still be people crawling out of the woodwork to point at any real or imagined faults on either side.

Use whatever machine you like, and if it doesn’t work as well as you would hope, that’s for you to deal with. I type this on a 14-year-old Pentium machine that boots to the login prompt in under 26 seconds — faster than my dual-core can reach the desktop with Ubuntu 10.04 — and I consider that no loss of function or speed. And so long as it keeps running, I intend to keep using it.

The surprising thing about the Phoronix test though, is how poorly Ubuntu has degraded with respect to those “old” machines. I really expected any version to run any core test (not so much graphics tests though) with the same level of performance, instead of holding out such a marked difference.

But they didn’t, and that obvious discrepancy that says two things to me.

  • First, it suggests that Ubuntu, and possibly Linux, is getting chunkier all the time. True, the target machine for the Ubuntu crowd is not a single-core Pentium 4 any more; Ubuntu wants to tackle Microsoft and Apple, and so the systems should probably be written for machines that are contemporaries of those OSes.

    I can accept that as a reason, but not an excuse. Linux is always touted as a lighter, faster option — I do a lot of the touting too — but it’s beginning to appear that as Ubuntu ages, it relies on hardware to compensate for software bloat — and the bloat is considerable. I resent that.

  • Second, and perhaps more importantly, I can’t endorse full-blown, up-to-date software stacks for “old” hardware any more. I usually tell people with “old” machines to use the current version anyway, hinging on the belief that newer Linux-based software isn’t bracketed around a particular generation of hardware.

    I’ve advised people countless times on the forums to use command-line installations of the freshest version of Ubuntu over out-of-date versions, because many people coming from a Windows environment assume that a four-year-old machine needs four-year-old software. And with Microsoft, yes, that is the case.

    And now with Ubuntu (and perhaps even with Linux in general), it also appears to be the case. Dropping back to 8.04, which will be around for a very very long time to come, might just be the best plan for a machine that predates quad-core, 16Gb “family computers.” So long as the software is going to hog space and allow itself to become insufferably obese, then it makes sense to reach back to a time when there wasn’t as much space to work with. It’s either that, or build it yourself.

How much of this is inherited from Debian and other upstream projects is beyond my ability to read. I don’t use Ubuntu on a daily basis, and when I do use it, I consider it a brief stopover to a more enlightened destination.

But the real and final tragedy here is the number of distros, either derivative or offshoot, that are based on the Ubuntu superstructure but targeted on old hardware — and notice here that I didn’t put the word “old” in quotes. I’m talking now about distros that have Pentium III and earlier computers in their list of “appropriate hardware,” because anything built on those newer versions of Ubuntu is going to likewise be genetically predisposed toward weight gain.

I am confident and calm that many of those distros — OSes like Puppy Linux, which I admire greatly but aligned itself with Ubuntu in recent renditions — will either take a crowbar to the beast and whack it down to size, or see an alternative elsewhere and make the appropriate choice. Personally I abandoned Ubuntu quite a while ago and wouldn’t recommend it for anything without at least 512Mb of memory and a Pentium 4 in it, but now I see that I have to add another caveat to that … one that says Ubuntu 8.04.4 is your best bet.

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21 Responses to “8.04 might be your best bet”


  1. 1 gullars 2010/07/16 at 11:52 AM

    Well the latest year I have looked away from ubuntu and its derivatives just for that reason, it just started feeling like they are getting slower rather than faster, luckily arch seems to go the other way so I am a happy arch.

    Since I had an incident with my ISP here, puppy is the only distro that reliably connects to the net, and I have used the new (built with ubuntu packages one) and an older japanese version, since I didn’t get xim working, And I have to say that I don’t think you have to worry about the puppy, it has not got fatter and sedate, rather I would say that it is a tiny bit faster, I think the key is that it is built on ubuntu packages, the core is still the same lean puppy one, and there is also work being done on debian and slackware ones, so they can jump ship if they get bloated :)

  2. 2 devl547 2010/07/16 at 12:48 PM

    Well, software gets bloated, distribs get bloated. no one wishes to test and optimize.

    I have a small request for you – please test SliTaz and find what we need to fix in it.

    • 3 Zoev 2010/07/17 at 8:02 AM

      As a Slitaz user I can tell you the #1 reason is that the package manager is broken, which leaves users having to look up dependancy trees so they can get non-terminal-based programs working.

      • 4 devl547 2010/07/19 at 12:20 AM

        Well, I’m one of developers and never had this problem.
        About missing dependencies sometimes – most of receipts were made by pankso himself, so he may missed something. Just report and it will be fixed.

  3. 5 mulenmar 2010/07/16 at 2:33 PM

    I wouldn’t put too much stock in those Phoronix results. There are several differences between the 8.04 LTS version and the current 10.04 LTS.

    - EXT4 default now, which is much slower in recent kernels due to efforts to improve reliability.

    - Migration to KMS is still a work in progress, and Phoronix benchmarks have shown the new KMS drivers to not perform as well as the older, UMS Mesa drivers.

    • 6 gullars 2010/07/16 at 3:53 PM

      I don’t think that it is only the tests though, I feel the slowdown even on my relatively powerful 4 year old laptop. And I have always used ext4 too, and I use it in arch, so I don’t see how that changes it, For me it is up to ubuntu having too many slow libraries (yes mono, I look at you) and it relies on too heavy tools when lighter ones would do the same job while demanding less Oomph, but luckily I have the choice, and there might be a lot of people that ubuntu fits better too, I mean if that is what one likes it is okay, just don’t come and say that it is light. or that xubuntu is good for old machines..

      • 7 mulenmar 2010/07/17 at 12:15 AM

        I’m not saying that Ubuntu’s desktop experience isn’t slower than it used to be, just that Phoronix’s benchmarks don’t take a lot of things into account. ;)

  4. 8 John Bohlke 2010/07/16 at 2:38 PM

    The bad thing about the testing is that it isn’t uniformly all decreases in performance. There are a couple of things that stay the same or even have reasonable improvements. The reason it is bad is you have to start asking yourself just how important each particular thing is to you and then have to decide whether it is worth upgrading. I kind of liked when it seemed that upgrading from one version of ubuntu to the next would boost performance across the board. I will admit that might have been rose-colored glasses on my part though.

  5. 9 koleoptero 2010/07/16 at 4:58 PM

    They did a benchmark for linux and they used an ATI graphics card? No wonder the results were like that. They should repeat the tests on an intel/nvidia PC.

    • 10 gullars 2010/07/16 at 5:50 PM

      you mean linux won’t work with ati chips? First of all, the graphic chips doesn’t really change performance unless you are doing graphic heavy work, second of all, are you trying to imply that this is a problem of the graphics card? I have problems getting how you mean that improved graphic card driver has any effect whatsoever on basic os performance, I’m running xvesa, without nvidiadrivers on my pc, and it’s running faster and cooler than it ever did with xorg nvidia drivers, go figure…

      • 11 koleoptero 2010/07/16 at 10:25 PM

        I’m saying they should do just that: Use drivers that are known to work well in linux. Why shouldn’t bad graphics cards or drivers have impact on performance? In the article it mentions that in a couple of places and applies for some of the benchmarks.

        Anyway what I mean to say is that the benchmark is helpful on deciding if you don’t want to move to the newest ubuntu if any of the parameters apply to you (like the ati thing).

        Also it said that in a test 8.04 performed worse because of ext3. Why didn’t they use ext4 instead? I bet the 8.04.4 works fine with ext4.

        • 12 gullars 2010/07/16 at 10:41 PM

          >Why shouldn’t bad graphics cards or drivers have impact on performance?

          I say again as I did in my last post. unless you do graphics heavy stuff it really doesn’t, I don’t play games, and so a graphics card has no effect on the performance.

          Neither did you explain how this test would be different if they used a nvidia card in the testf

          >Anyway what I mean to say is that the benchmark is helpful on deciding if >you don’t want to move to the newest ubuntu if any of the parameters >apply to you (like the ati thing).

          and with this you say that the tendancy that we see with this hardware won’t be the same on another machine, why?

          what we see here is a test about the changes in one machine, not how it works on one machine, so I don’t get what you mean with your hardware thing…

  6. 13 mrreality 2010/07/16 at 5:54 PM

    Im on a “old”pc now running the new 10.04 LTS fresh install with ext4 a on machine that ran 8.04 LTS and for my uses I see no or little difference in its performance Mind you im not a gamer but did try nexuiz a lil runs great for me, specs below.
    I have a old p3 cele@1.1 ghz with 768 ram i may try AN ubuntu 10.04/10.10 on this weekend and i may drop ram to 512 or lower just to try
    ————————————————
    -Computer-
    Processor: AMD Athlon(tm) 64 Processor 3200+@2.2ghz
    Memory : 2061MB (273MB used)
    Operating System: Ubuntu 10.04 LTS
    Video :Nvidia 5500 128 megs

    ———————————————-

    I saw you”r comment on puppy 5 i just installed that on my really old lappy’s spare 4 gig hd and its not to shabby cept for 2 minor issue 1)sound -have to restart alsa every boot if i want sound and 2)-shutdown issues.
    Im looking for solutions now on there forums should be easy fix.
    It’s the tosh satellite2535cds Ive mentioned before here and it really likes pyppy4 on main hd for some odd reason it’s the only distro that installs with out many issues

    • 14 gullars 2010/07/16 at 6:09 PM

      I haven’t run in to the audio problems before, but I started running ratpoison and using “wmpoweroff” from the terminal I have had no problems at all :)

      • 15 gullars 2010/07/16 at 6:11 PM

        Man that was clumsily written, what I meant was that I had the shut down issues too, but running the wmpoweroff script from the commandline seems to have fixed it

  7. 16 Benj1 2010/07/16 at 8:11 PM

    oo is this my 15 minute of fame ?

    I don’t think we should be too hard on ubuntu, it has never had the aim of catering to the ghz challenged, theres a million and one distros for a reason.

    As for linux in general getting heavier, thats probably inevitable, yes you can improve compilers and algorithms, but on the other side youve got edge case bug fixes, new drivers etc, all while having to maintain the legacy stuff (do features actually get removed from the kernel ?).
    Theres also perhaps an aversion to saying an app is ‘done’, a project is never done, its orphaned/dead, which leads to projects continually adding features/bloat.

    • 17 gullars 2010/07/16 at 9:10 PM

      I do agree with you, And it’s all about choice so it might be important again to say that what I think that at least I take as a given, that when I criticise ubuntu, that is just in my point of view, obviously when we look at statistics and polls we see that ubuntu probably is the best thing to a lot of people, and I’m not trying to convince people just putting in my 2¢ and say what I think, and that might not be appliccable for most or maybe even anyone else, a downclocked pc with puppy and ratpoison and colemak keyboard is obviously something that would just fit to some excentric people, and I’m not saying that this is in any way better than a tricked out box with wonderful effects and doohickies, but it is what fits me the most. well, I’m in rant mode again.

      About your point with bloat, I think that is a truth with modifications, we see with projects like slitaz. ratpoison, wmii, hnb, vim, e3, jwm, uzbl and so on that if speed and non-bloat is something that you are aiming for it will be lean, but it’s way too easy to just try and please people with putting in their stuff, here again is where we can help with our choice, just use what we like. The only versions of firefox that I can use are the old, the new ones feel bloated.
      Basically, we have to find a way to promote non-bloat as a feature, like suckless.org is doing :)

  8. 18 James 2010/07/17 at 2:13 AM

    “8.04, which will be around for a very very long time to come”

    Are you expecting a Microsoft-like extension to its life? I believe Hardy has less than a year to EOL[1]. For anyone who is worried about security, Hardy is useless without updates from Canonical.

    [1] https://wiki.ubuntu.com/Releases

  9. 19 ajlec2000 2010/07/17 at 8:01 AM

    I’ve only been playing with computers since 2001 and have never been a developer or IT professional, so my thoughts on this are strictly from a hobbyist. Once I find an OS that works the way I want on a particular machine I am loath to remove it. I see it as the same thing as keeping an old machine so long as it works. So if a distro bloats with each release I won’t know unless its pointed out to me.

    Ubuntu is the distro that sold me on Linux and though I don’t use it as much as I do Puppy I think I’ll always have it (8.10 that is) on hand. I do believe that Ubuntu developers are focusing more and more on glitz and shine and this is accelerating the increase in girth.

    When it comes to Ubuntu and Debian related Puppies I believe they are more like offshoots or forks with the “official” Puppies being more traditionally designed. (There are so many Pups I can’t keep up with details of all of them. In my opinion that’s Puppy’s only fault.)

  10. 20 steve 2010/07/17 at 6:52 PM

    I don’t think the feature bloat etc are the fault of Debian. ubuntu take the packages from Debian and modifies them for itself, with its own special brand of ‘improvements’, so IMO this is where the bugs crop up. The packages they use are from Debian sid and soon to be testing. This is beta grade software and trying to get a stable distro from those sources has to be a difficult thing. I applaud them moving to a strict testing-based distro. Ubuntu seems to inherit a lot of bugs that Debian seems to patch at the last minute. I remember when Lenny went stable there were about 5 minor issues I had that just disappeared in the final stable release, much to my delight. With Debian the emphasis for stable releases seems to be on quality.

    Debian can be made very slim and fast. I’ve used Arch and I didn’t see any improvements over a minimalist Debian install. Debian takes a bit of cli config to keep it slim but after that it’s usually good sailing

  11. 21 spc 2010/07/18 at 7:09 AM

    Take ubuntu and add K at front -Kubuntu – that’s bloat.

    http://www.infoniac.com/uimg/fattest-man.jpg

    KDE 4.* kills every sembalnce of lightness.
    With Kde one can throw out the window pitch line: “Linux can run on older equipment”
    Apropos Xubuntu, wanna see it made properly – get youself zenwalk.


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