I’ve fiddled with my laptop today, running through a few optimization guides to see if it’s possible to eke a little more power and speed out of the poor thing. As far as laptops go, it’s distinctly average when it comes to hardware spec, but – as we’ll see – it’s amazing just what Linux can do with so little.
When it comes to Window Managers, I’m neutral; I’ve used pretty much all available WMs and so long at they keep out of the way, take up little memory and do their job with the minimum of fuss, I’m happy. GNOME is the default manager for Ubuntu, and while it’s memory greed is on the heavy side it does the job very, very well indeed. Up until now I’ve seen no need to change it, though in the interests of finding something faster and sleeker I’ve switched to XFCE, at least for now.
XFCE bills itself as a lightweight Window Manager, and that normally means “pretty, but light on features too”. For WMs such as Fluxbox that’s not a problem because they are designed to work on even the lowest-end systems. What I wanted was something with a little more functionality. And XFCE delivers, in spades.
Compared to GNOME, it’s smaller, lighter, faster – yet still just as fully functional. Stick a DVD in, it plays. Plug in my pendrive and it automounts and displays in a file-manager. XFCE starts quickly, doesn’t consume a metric tonne of resources and customizes like a dream. OK, I’m sold.
I did find a few pleasant surprises with XFCE too; fonts are better looking than under GNOME, especially at smaller sizes thanks to decent anti-aliasing and sub-pixel rendering. In theory, it’s the same subsystem that GNOME uses, but there’s definitely a marked difference. Also, the default file manager – Thunar – is a good drop-in replacement to GNOME’s nautilus that manages to pack the same functionality in a much lighter, more stable package. It’s all good stuff.
My optimizations at work: Thunar previewing 1,100+ images, GIMP, Opera with 20+ open tabs, Acrobat with a 75Mb pdf file open, two terminal windows, a TV guide, a text editor all running under XFCE. Without breaking sweat. Load average is below 1.0, 125Mb memory free out of 512Mb. Nice.
When it comes to choosing a theme for XFCE I picked something clean and unobtrusive. I set the main panel to sit at the top of the screen on top of the usually redundant application title-bar of maximised apps. This gives more real estate on the screen for the important stuff – my work – without sacrificing being able to get to the apps menu or see what’s running. Hey, it works for me
I didn’t stop with switching Window Managers though; I’m preloading (sudo apt-get install preload is your friend), prelinking, using ext3 optimizations and using all the tuning mods I could find to the max. While Opera is my favourite browser, I’ve switched from Firefox to Swiftfox (and the Fasterfox extension) for times when another browser is needed. I’ve recompiled my graphics driver using the latest release of the code, and chanted all the UNIX guru power management juju I know.
The net result is a computer that’s measurably twice as fast on boot-time, four times faster on shutdown, has 40% more free memory at any given time and is running cooler to boot. All without giving up a thing.
In non-geek terms, I started with this:
And ended up with this:
Hmmmmmm. Maybe I ought to paint flames on the lid………..