Linux Performance: Different Distributions, Very Different Results

By Caitlyn Martin
March 9, 2009 | Comments: 40

When I write reviews of various Linux distributions and describe differences in performance I almost invariably get a comment to the effect that all Linux distros are essentially the same: running the same kernel, the same libraries, the same filesystems. Performance should be essentially the same, right? The answer is a resounding no. The performance results of different distributions, even ones running the same kernel version, the same core libraries, and the same filesystem can be very, very different.

I see this issue debated on countless Linux forums often without a lot of facts. "It's faster for me" won't convince anyone and rightly so. In a discussion on LXer.com a user named herzeleid asked exactly the right question: "I wonder why that is?" This little article grew out of my response.

Different distributions are better suited to different hardware. The most obvious example of this, both on the home desktop and in the corporate server room, are differences in processor architecture. For most desktop users this boils down to whether you are running a 32-bit CPU or a 64-bit CPU. (Dual and quad core machines are generally multiple 64-bit CPUs nowadays.) Yes, a 32-bit distribution will run just fine on a 64-bit machine and for most ordinary tasks there really won't be much if any difference in performance. For CPU intensive tasks that take full advantage of a 64-bit processor a 32-bit OS will not perform well. A friend of mine who is quite the artist does a lot of 3D graphics rendering. For her a 32-bit distro takes much longer to do the task than a native 64-bit distro. Anything involving a lot of number crunching will also suffer, as will high end multimedia tasks and high end games. A 64-bit distribution also can correctly address and utilize large amounts of RAM.

Differences in performance are most noticeable when a system is pushed to its limits. You see this happening all the time on a machine with modest specs. That includes everything from increasingly popular netbooks to older legacy hardware. In difficult economic times this applies to business as well as to home users. To cut costs I know of a number of businesses that now buy netbooks instead of conventional laptops. Many others are trying to get the most out of older hardware, some of it very old, to defer hardware purchases in this challenging economy. Linux is ideally suited to extending the life of older systems including systems that can't even meet the minimum specs for a current version of Windows. In these cases we are generally talking about 32-bit processors and 32-bit Linux distributions so processor architecture is not an issue. Performance differences among 32-bit distributions can be huge.

In the discussion on LXer.com I mentioned a user called azerthoth had this comment regarding the Ubuntu kernel:

"There is also their kernel, those guys really need to explore how to load modules on demand. Last time I had my hands on an Ubuntu box I printed out the lsmod, stock it was 3 pages long."

Differences in how the kernel is built and compiled can make a big difference. So can the degree to which developers tune the kernel, the filesystems, and other aspects of the OS to the niche their distribution is trying to fill. The fact that O'Reilly has an entire book on UNIX/Linux System Performance Tuning makes it clear that there are a lot of aspects of the OS than can be tweaked for performance. Large distributions like Fedora, Ubuntu, SUSE, and Mandriva are one size fits all. Consequently they are optimized for none. In 2006 Fernando Apesteguia wrote an excellent article on how to optimize a Linux system for performance. All of the larger distributions can be optimized and performance can be greatly improved.

Many smaller or specialized distributions which target a specific part of the Linux user community rather than taking the one size fits all approach. The net result can be a much faster and sleeker system that is optimized right out of the virtual box if you choose the distribution that is right for you. Intel is taking this approach in their development of Moblin, a distribution optimized for netbooks using the Intel Atom series processors. A narrowly targeted distribution offers less technically inclined users the opportunity to enjoy enhanced performance without having to tinker with their systems.

On the desktop my regular readers know that I have been most impressed with Vector Linux and Wolvix, the two distributions that seem to do the best job of delivering a truly fast yet feature rich desktop experience even on hardware with very limited horsepower. Both distributions are aimed squarely at the home or small office desktop/laptop user and are not well suited to the server room. Vector Linux has some very smart developers who optimize the heck out of everything they can to produce a very fast desktop. They even rewrote the init scripts to speed booting a little bit. I know less about the Wolvix developers but they have to be doing similar things to achieve the results they reached with version 1.1.0. Both of these distributions are 32-bit Slackware derivatives. (A 64-bit version of Vector Linux is currently in alpha testing.)

The way packages are built matters. Vector Linux builds for i586 and tunes for i686. It won't run on i486 hardware including AMD K5 based systems that might still be able to run a current build of Slackware. Other compiler flags/options do matter in some cases.

Some distros like Ubuntu load a lot of things by default that may not be needed. Yes, you can shut them off if you know what you're doing. How many users really don't know how to disable services and daemons they don't need? Slackware and many distributions derived from Slackware take the opposite approach: if a user needs something they can turn it on. Just start what most everyone needs by default. For example, some users have Windows systems they want to communicate with, sharing files and perhaps a printer. Others don't. Vector Linux 6.0 does not enable samba by default while many other distros do. The net result of choices like this is a faster out of box experience.

Slackware has a "keep it simple" philosophy. In Slackware things are left out that other distros generally include. For example, that Slackware doesn't implement PAM. Some fairly popular Slackware derivatives (i.e.: Zenwalk) include PAM but neither Vector Linux nor Wolvix do. Could the extra layer of security required for authentication make a difference, particularly on older hardware? Sure it could. The purpose of PAM is to allow for and manage different authentication methods on a network. On a single user system or in a small office old fashioned flat file password management is simplest and PAM isn't necessary. I certainly don't care about having PAM on an old laptop. For enterprise server security it's a must. This is one reason I do not consider Slackware appropriate for the enterprise server room. On the other hand, if you're optimizing for speed not having PAM may actually be helpful.

Speaking of security Slackware also doesn't include SELinux. Unless you work for a government agency or a security paranoid company/organization you probably don't care about this. It also adds overhead. In Fedora, for example, it's enabled by default.

It's a trade off between functionality and speed. Which is more important? It really depends on what you're trying to do, doesn't it? Some will argue that the Slackware keep it simple approach helps in terms of stability and reliability. I actually agree in principle though I'd say the folks at Red Hat have done a wonderful job with creating a stable OS with a whole lot of extra tools for the enterprise. It isn't particularly fast, though, particularly when compared to Slackware and some highly optimized Slackware derivatives like Vector Linux.

The bottom line is that there are many variables in how a distribution is built. Slackware starts out simple and fast without much cruft. The derivative distros can add on, tweak for a specific niche, etc... and get somewhat different results. Since I run a netbook and a couple of older systems I tend to prefer distributions that place performance over other considerations.


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40 Comments

Thanks for an interesting article. I personally use OpenSuse, generally accepted to be one of the more bloated distros - where I have added significantly to the bloat just because I like variation (changing DE on regular basis etc...).

However... lately I have found this very nice Arch-made-easy distroette (Chakra) which gives you a ready-to-use KDE4 environment and not much else. I am clearly impressed by its performance and beauty. At the moment (fortunately) it is still in alpha stage, but I am watching it closely... wondering if I should dare to take the plunge and replace my production system...

This really is spot-on. I'm running Vector 6.0 right now, but did my usual drill of installing the newest versions of a half dozen or so interesting distros before settling (though with Zenwalk final out that may be a premature call). I have a 1.6 Ghz Pentium M laptop. Not old-old yet, but with crappy Intel 855 graphics it's hardly fast, either. I had Slackware on it and loaded Mandriva and Ubuntu and Elive and Arch and a couple of others on it before it was all over (I have two computers, so I don't mind having one down at any given time). The speed difference is very noticeable.

One area I'll have to take your word for is the 32-bit, 64-bit difference. My desktop is a dual-core Opteron and I have a pretty slim Slackware install (meaning no KDE) and a very similar 64-bit Arch install sitting side-by-side. The most demanding thing I do is probably photo editing and, of course compiling. If there is a difference, it's much less than, say, Slackware vs 32-bit Ubuntu.

I agree with almost all of the comments in the article, except the one about SELinux -- I think that's an essential piece of the puzzle for any system that accepts inbound connections, and definitely inbound connections other than ssh, not just a "government agency or a security paranoid company/organization". SELinux is the most effective tool we have against zero-day exploits.

Arch is compiled for x686 Chakra has a very nice installer.

I wish there was a post-installation tool in Ubuntu, which will do necessary trimming of unused services and modules.

I have found Debian to be the fastest on my computers.

i use simplis.org and i notice some diference with fedora and the base is the same.

For those Small Office / Home users, Puppy Linux provides a fast distribution with a good mix of apps all in a 94MB .ISO Download. Boot from a Live CD, your machine does not even need a working Hard Drive! I am booting Puppy Linux 4.1.2 from a 1 GB USB Flash Drive on AMD Athalon 2800 processor. Version 4.2 is testing will be out in the near future. I also run Puppy Linux on a 500Mhz Pentium III with 384Mbytes of RAM.
I have MEPIS 6.0 running on a 300Mhz Pentium II with 256MB of Dram.

Puppy Linux curtails the bloat, provides a great desktop out of the box experience, and works on older Laptops with 128MBytes of RAM. Puppy Linux has some localized language versions for Russian, Vietnamese.
Puppy has a great little community for technical support( irc.freenode.net channel #puppylinux). Try out Puppy Linux on those older computers you find, before they are thrown out. Remember, Just plug in the 94MB CD to the CD-ROM drive, don't worry about the Hard Drive.

Yes, I too have heard good things about Vector Linux and Wolvix. MEPIS 8.0 Linux is out now. www.mepis.org www.puppylinux.org

I use debian on my servers, it is the best performance I've found in binary distributions.

On my desktop I use gentoo, if you are really a tunning freak you can squeeze that last ounce of performance out of any box this way.

I have the oldest computer at work and people still wow when they see me with 20 terminals, 10 office documents email, web browsers, etc open and switching almost instantly when their much more powerful computers crawl on 1/4 of the load.

I am not smart enough to use gentoo so I will stick with Debian

right, how many users out there do know linux and if, do you think they know about vector or slackware? how much does a non-enabled feature help a new user help to access his network share? speed is one thing, usability another and people perceive a well working system that can do everything as a better choice than having a compression algorithm which is half of a second faster on vector than puppy linux.

why do you thing ubuntu, fedora, suse etc are the most successful distos? because they are slow and fully featured? tweaking comes with experience as it does in windows. once a user knows his system, he or she is ready to tweak. and only then they can start to think about faster distro or enabling/disabling features.

keep the thought on a reality level and not on the devl/geek basis.

good article otherwise but onle "we" the tuners read it and not those who use facebook, youtube, itunes...if you know what i mean, they don't care. we need to make people aware of other options which makes their lives as simple as with the systems they have now - just for free!

Not using PAM is security problem, as so many programs must access /etc/shadow by own code (high possibilty of a bug). Advocating Slackware faster than RHEL is FUD because few lines above is stated, that this distribution has no i686 optimizations (like CMOV etc) and no numbers here... Shame.

Err. To be more precise: PAM simply lower the need of bunch of unchecked code running as root or using SUID root binaries.

As a "long time" user of GNU/Linux, I am aware of the performance differences between various distros. I now rely mostly on Gentoo - not because of it's optimization
for "my particular components", but because - by coincidence - it was one of few that worked very well with all my hardware. The benefit of greater performance was a bonus that produced many smiles.

@Chris Tyler: I certainly agree with you on the power and usefulness of SELinux. However, having spent the last 14 years supporting corporate Linux and UNIX I can tell you that I have enough problems getting most businesses to stop giving out the root password willy-nilly, to stop using telnet or the r-tools which pass password information in clear text, to enable strong password checking and password expiration, etc... Most companies don't even do the basics. SELinux is way down the list of things in terms of security priorities. As you also know, even with PolicyKit, SELinux isn't simple and many corporate IT people simply don't understand it and don't want to learn it.

I supported a government agency in a security analyst role and was asked to write a whitepaper on SELinux. It didn't happen. I even was told once: "We're in the business of science, not security." The managers, even those who supposedly had responsibility for security, always pushed waivers to get around every policy. This was in a US government agency that had two serious security incidents in the course of a single year.

In an ideal world you are exactly right: enterprise Linux should have SELinux properly implemented. In the real world only the security paranoids will even consider it. I'm a pragmatist. I want the basics done first. Certainly for small business and home users there is relatively little benefit and a lot of overhead involved in implementing SELinux.

@rr: To quote from the above article: "'It's faster for me' won't convince anyone and rightly so." Which distros have you tried? What sort of benchmarking have you done? What makes Debian fast for you? Without facts your statement is meaningless.

@WB7ODY: Puppy Linux, when I tried it didn't run on my hardware. Puppy Linux fans constantly asked me to review their beloved distro. Look back through my blog archives and see what kind of a response I got when I pointed out that I just couldn't get it to run. After that incident I was forced to conclude that some of the Puppy Linux community is so toxic I want nothing to do with their distro.

I have tried Mepis 8.0. It scores very highly on user friendliness, right up there with Ubuntu. On performance it's a middle of the pack distro on my machines.

@linuxadmin: I've tried Gentoo a couple of times and absolutely hated it. Yes, you can get under the hood and tweak it to the nth degree. Actually, you can do that with almost any distro. See the article I linked above. I just couldn't get into running a system all night to do an emerge and get all the updates compiled. I prefer binary distributions. To me they are far more practical. The nice thing about Linux is that we have many choices.

@Milan: It's not FUD. Run the benchmarks in hardinfo and come back with the numbers and tell me it's FUD again. Again, I am a security analyst and I know what PAM does. It does not reduce the need to set the suid bit. It's whole purpose is to unify multiple authentication schemes under a single set of relevant policies managed in one place. It's tremendously important in the enterprise as I stated in the article. Do you really believe it's important on a single-user, older laptop?

I also stated clearly that I don't think Slackware is appropriate for the enterprise. I also didn't claim that Slackware was the fastest distro, rather that some of its derivatives are. Zenwalk is i686 optimized and so is Vector Linux. Is Slackware faster than RHEL? On 64-bit hardware it certainly is not. On other hardware it depends on the configuration. I have never claimed otherwise.

I have benchmark numbers but an article with pages of statistics is boring and meaningless. I would also be criticized, and rightly so, because distro vs. distro results vary by hardware. This is why I stand by what I wrote not by what you said I wrote.

@fab: The whole point of Vector Linux, Wolvix and Zenwalk is to be user friendly while keeping the performance, reliability, and stability of Slackware intact. They are aimed squarely at the desktop and optimized accordingly. The current versions are easy enough for almost anyone to use. Perhaps you missed that one of the points of my article is to offer a wide range of Linux users reasons to check out a different set of distributions.

I have tried Linspire,Freespire,Fedora.2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,Red Hat 9.0 SuSE 8 thru 11 PCLINUXOS Mepis,all versions of Ubuntu Debian woody sarge lenny and sid Klickit plus some that I don't remember currently I have five desktops and one aspire one netbook on the netbook I run Debian with the lxde desktop.
On one of the desktops which has an intel core 2 duo cpu 2.53 MHz 2053 MB memory one 10000 rpm hard drive with Ubuntu one 7200 with Debian and one 7200 with fedora.I ran these bench marks.
Ubuntu cpu fibonacci 3.202 sha5 63.848 sha1 95.306 blowfish 13.197 fpu raytracing 7.480

Debian Fib 3.036 md5 62.848 sha1 95.306 blowfish 13.197 raytracing 7.455

Fedora fib-3.549 md5-59.467 sha1-90.946 bf-14.004 fpu-7.956

All of the Linux systems are good but I happen to prefer Debian the best.

@rr: First, that's an impressive list of distros. You hit the nail on the head when you said "I happen to prefer Debian best." That doesn't mean that Debian is the best performer of all possible distros on your system. Might BlueWhite64 outperform it? Sure, but you might not like it as much for whatever reason. As I said originally it's always a trade off between performance and features. You have to weigh what is right for you. There is never just one right answer.

Between Debian, Ubuntu, and Fedora (the three you tested) I would have expected the results you got. I also think that Vector Linux, which is optimized for a 32-bit desktop, won't do all that well on your 64-bit dual core system. You don't fit the niche for that distro. OTOH Moblin, which is based on Fedora, might really fly on your netbook since it's specifically optimized for a significant portion of the hardware in the Aspire One. Vector Linux also is reported to do very well indeed on the Aspire One. Hardware configuration makes all the difference in the world.

Thanks for coming back with specifics, BTW. I still don't believe the Debian is all that speedy as distros go but I certainly do accept that it may well be the best choice for you.

Caitlyn Martin, do you allow me to translate this article of yours into my blog (Brazilian Portuguese)?

Of course I'll keep your credits. ;)

Thanks in advance.

@Milan Kerslager

You should be more careful about your comments, else YOU are spreading fud. The official Slackware packages are in fact i686 optimized. That doesn't necessarily mean they cannot be run with cpus down to i486, then without optimal optimization.

@tito: Thank you for correcting my comments. I looked at a couple of official SlackBuild scripts from the Slackware source repository and the compiler flags are set as follows:

-march=i486 -mtune=i686

You are absolutely correct that Slackware is i686 optimized just like the derivatives. I had that wrong.

@tiagoprn: O'Reilly Broadcast blogs are published under the Creative Commons license so I don't think I could stop you from translating this article even if I wanted to. I have no objection to a translation -- just do a good job, OK? :) I actually appreciate the offer.

Also, please send me a link by e-mail to the translated article as soon as it is published. I have a couple of Brazilian friends who could check it for me.

What would be your recommendation for a 12 inch g4 powerbook with 764 ram? It is the only computer I have.

@Carl: Sorry but I have no experience with Mac equipment, at least not in a very long time. I can't make a recommendation.

Do you have any numbers to show the degree to which various distro's vary in their performance? Are you talking about a few percent difference (which I doubt that I would notice), or something much bigger?

@Phil: There is no one answer to your question. It is very much hardware dependent and application dependent which is why, as I have explained previously, I chose not to post benchmarks. This is an excerpt from one e-mail comment I received to this article:

YES!!! I can attest to this as well from a PVR aspect. I run MythTV to record shows and archive to DVD and there is a night and day difference in the transcoding process. It's why I use 64bit.

This is referring to the difference between a 32-bit and a 64-bit OS on 64-bit hardware. I have seen differences for this aspect where the tasks (i.e.: 3D graphical rendering) took more than twice as long on a 32-bit OS. That certainly is noticeable.

Another, very different example: Some distributions optimized for low end systems will do all they can to minimize memory usage. The difference will not be noticeable on a system with 1GB of RAM. Try it on a system with less than 128MB and the difference is huge.

On my six year old Toshiba laptop (1GHz Celeron processor, 512MB RAM) Ubuntu based distros (including Xubuntu) are sluggish while Wolvix and Vector Linux are not. That is not the case on my netbook with a faster processor and double the memory. The same differences between these distros still exist on both machines but they don't matter much on a system with higher specs.

Again, if you want specific benchmarks I can provide them but, to me, they are pretty meaningless because they only apply to my specific hardware.

How would Gimp, Audacity, Ardour work on a new netbook? If not what would be a good pc notebook that I would install a linux distribution on with the applications I would use the most. I would also use some of the software for church projects for my brother who is a pastor. With a netbook I know I would have to get an external burner. Since I am going to use a linux distribution I see no reason to pay for an Macbook etc....

Here is my setup right now on my powerbook.
Fedora 10 Kde 4.2 Amarok k3b, Digikam, Showfoto, Scribus,
Ktorrent, Konversation,

Other applications
Pidgin Kopete says wrong pw for yahoo
Totem love the youtbue plugin. Nothing like that for kde.
Firefox Konqueror geshhhhhh
Gimp I used before on Mac. Krita is installed will try it also.
Konversation love that I can see who is in irc xchat I could not see who was there.
Ardour did not see nothing like it for kde in Fedora
Gnash works with streaming online movies etc for me mostly
Ibm java Free java does not work with yahoo games. Regular Sun not there for ppc.
Openoffice used Mac version before. Will try Koffice

Things that puzzle me.
Why Juk when you have Amarok?
Why Dragonplayer and Kaffine? But I prefer totem anyhow.
Why the push with pulse audio when so many people are having problems right now in a lot of distrbutions?

Other comments
I don't see why anyone likes any version of Ubuntu. That brown is awful. Slow as can be. Same for Kubuntu. Worse if ppc they do not take u to the right ports after downloading. I did the long term release. Intrepid could not get to install with alt download.

Debian Lenny tried netinstall installed ok but xorg config stuff came up after rebooting. Tried dvd iso. Would not install. It was an iso file. It had somethign 1 at end after burning instead of iso. Did not bother downloading kde ppc cd 1.

So if I get a netbook or pc I will not try either of those or the many buntu versions.

Fix I'm looking for.
Sometimes get when booting.
loading/lib/kdb/keymaps/1386/qwerty/us.map

Last, first impression make a big difference. I know that if I get a pc laptop that Fedora would be the first distribution I would try and would never try a buntu system.

I also like the rpmfusion it seems easier compared to getting restricted extras in other distributions.

If I had a pc would use sun java not open cuz of yahoo games. Gnash depending would keep if a site would not work would use Adobe.

Also, I might try to figure out E17 if I find a ppc download.

Your English is quite awful. Quite hard to understand what you've written. Your inputs are interesting though. No offense intended, OK?

@Carl: Different netbooks have different specs: different processors, different amounts of memory, SSD or traditional hard drives. It makes it impossible to answer your question, particularly as I don't use KDE. I find it to be a resource hog. On my system Audacity and GIMP work just fine.

I don't find Fedora to be faster than Ubuntu. I also don't understand why people get so hung up on the brown theme, either. How hard is it to change a theme or backgrounds on a modern desktop? I don't get it.

@Anonymous: Our readership is international. For many of the people who comment English is a second or third or fourth language.

Caitlyn,

Despite your unfortunate experiences with a purported Puppy fan, Puppy Linux (4.1.2) may be worth another look.

When I first tried to boot a Puppy distro from a Flash card it refused. I later got v3 to boot using Unetbootin, but it failed to recognise the wifi on my EEE pc 701. After trolling through Puppy forums to find the wifi driver I got 4.1.2 to boot and get online.

I think there are a lot of people like me out in the real, only partly Linux world. We are forced to use Vista for some of our work, but hate the way it always seems to be loading services we don't need at boot-up, running virus scans,indexing or downloading updates just when you want it to do something, NOW!!!

For all its limitations, my Linux EEE PC was a revelation, bootingin under 30 secs, finding and connecting to networks that Vista refused to find, despite numerous attempts. And I can't imagine why anyone would want to go on-line with Windows.

But for other tasks, I'm stuck with Vista, and there are some good things about it, especially the power management.

Puppy 4.1.2 allows me a neat halfway house. I can shrink my already tiny Linux EEE PC down to the size of a small USB little larger than my bthumbnail. Unlike most other distros, it's designed to be persistent from a USB drive. It comes in a wide variety of formats or 'Puplets' (I'm using X-Pup, a Mac OS lookalike). It boots in about a minute and it's VERY quick. And there's no need to do anything to the Vista box's hard drive - no virtual machine, no resizing of partitions. So far 4.1.2 has booted up on several different desktops and laptops, so I don't even need to carry my Vista box around if I don't want to.

It's far from perfect, and not appropriate for a lot of hard core Linux users, but for me it's the answer to a maiden's prayer.

What I would appreciate, would be an experienced LXer like yourself taking a critical look at the latest Puppy and giving us/me a better idea how it works, and how it might be tweaked.

@Mike Sanderson: I hope this is the last time I have to put this in a comment on one of my articles. Puppy users are relentless, so, let me put this in no uncertain terms:

I will NEVER allow Puppy Linux on to any of my machines, EVER. The ONLY way this will EVER change is if the personal attacks and nastiness directed at me in the Puppy Linux forum is removed once and for all and an apology is sent to me. Failing that I have nothing good to say about Puppy Linux.

Enough already!

Another interesting article. Thanks Caitlyn. It looked too long and it's quite late so i decided not to read it but then suddenly found i'd reached the end already! I'm a bit new to linux but already find it a good plan to keep cds of 2 or 3 distros with me if i visit an unknown computer.

I've not really been impressed with Vector Linux on either of my old machines nor on my 64bit one. I might give it another go soon now though.

PII 350MHz with torrenting out uploads, web-browser (lots of tabs), email and a movie all working smoothly and at the same time. It's Voyager, not HDTV but it is off a cd. Sound and everything "just works", more than that - it works well. All this from the Slackware based Wolvix

Diversity breeds happy accidents and perfect moments. Happy hunting and thanks all :)
Regards from
Tom :)

Hello Caitlyn Martin! Here's the link to my translation of your article, as I contacted you before: http://tgplima.net84.net/?p=9

Hope you like it. I'd also like to recommend to you Arch Linux, which also follows KISS principles, but, as opposed to Slackware, has a package management system and the main configurations on a single configuration file where I can define manually, between other things, the kernel modules and daemons I want to raise on system inicialization. It is also optimized to the i686 architecture and is a rolling release distro, so I can always have the most updated version of all packages I have installed without having to reinstall the system at earch new version of the kernel/Gnome/KDE/X.org etc..., like the "newbie-friendly" distros. I highly recommend it for users who have these needs. :)

Hi Caitlyn,

I tend to agree with most of what you say. When we speak of performance, I'd say we are looking at one (business) critical app and want *that* to execute as fast as possible.

So, with that in mind, I'd suggest the following be checked:

-Host env (mostly what you have discussed - daemons etc)

-If FOSS or source available, the key app could be recompiled with different flags, options etc. You could even use Intel or pathscale compilers for better performance.

-Is there a possibility of tweaking the source? This is something we should remember, esp. with FOSS

- Most important: Hardware: Will AMDs CPU with much better memory bandwidth be better than Intel's shared bus design?

- Will using faster network help? (GE, Infiniband, 10GE)

-Look into network buffers, CPU scheduling (deadline vs cfq), disabling powersave and other kernel tunables

-Does the cpu auto-throttle when hot? Keep your server cool - I have seen a case where cpuspeed brought down the CPU freq. but was unable to go back to full performance when needed (due to bugs)

- Running nscd could help...placing entries in /etc/hosts can help (no DNS lookups)


I could go on...

When talking about performance comparison, some evidence like detail system description, test results charts and graphs is utmost helpful and a widespread standard. See Tom's Hardware, Anandtech and other sources of recognized performance reviews. Otherwise it may look like relationship influenced with a particular vendor.

On a separate note, can anyone suggest sources of performance comparison between different Windows and Linux OS versions on the same, preferably up-to-date hardware running standardized test sets from recognized performance testing software vendors? Would such an article, if in depth and analytical, be the most interesting for many Linux old and new followers as well?

Have you ever tried Puppy Linux? It's really awesome! You should do a review of it sometime!

Yes, I've tried Puppy Linux. You couldn't pay me enough to try it again. See:

http://www.oreillynet.com/linux/blog/2007/09/why_i_havent_reviewed_puppy_li.html
http://www.oreillynet.com/linux/blog/2007/10/a_death_threat_from_a_puppy_li.html

You can also find lots of hate directed at me in the Puppy Linux forum. I don't care if the code has become brilliant since then. The community around Puppy Linux is toxic and constantly bugs me for reviews. I tried once. That was enough.

I was kidding, having seen your earlier comment. I am sure that every distro has nutcases that worship it. Though it seems unfair to it's creators, and the uninformed public that no new versions of Puppy will ever get reviewed because of some obnoxious Puppy followers.

Hopefully you're still reading this thread after two months.

I use Gentoo, for one simple reason: pre-built packages have gotten me in trouble. Often they pull in a long list of dependencies I don't want, and that's forgivable. But in one case (gxine), it chose the worst of two alternative video libraries, causing some file formats not to even render properly.

I did what every Linux guy should do: recompiled the package myself. Oh the dependency mess I got into: Gxine required Xine, which required ffmpeg, and that required dozens of libraries for the codecs I wanted. I had to build not two or three packages myself, but ten.

Later, when I wanted to install a different player which also relied on libXine, it wanted to install the precompiled versions of everything I mentioned all over again, because it wasn't in the package system. I had to spend an hour hacking the pre-built Debian packages: unrolling them, putting my compiled code in, changing the version number, reroll them, and install them with dpkg to ensure that the dependencies were in fact met.

As a result of several experiences like this, I will stick with Gentoo. I know Linux well, I find several of their distro-specific features useful (e.g. named instead of numbered runlevels), and all that time I spend compiling is time I am explicitly telling it what capabilities and dependencies I want. You might call that tunning, but I call it getting something that is guaranteed to actually work.

I would also add that Ubuntu (the distro I used) has a policy: if you build your own kernel, you are ineligible for support, even on the forums unless you're lucky. That sends a lot more "tuning" right out the window.

I really cannot read your articles, Caitlyn. Your lack of punctuation is disturbing. One would think that if one writes so many articles, one would adhere more to the rules of English grammar.

@Ray: Lack of punctuation? LOL. I've been accused of using too many commas before but never of using too little punctuation. Perhaps you need to review the rules of (American) English punctuation yourself.

Anyway, when you get hired by O'Reilly as an editor I am certain I will have to listen to your advice. In the meanwhile I can only laugh at it.

Nobody is forcing you to read my articles. I can assure you I won't be troubled at all if you don't. Bye bye.

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