Updated: June 25, 2010
I started getting mildly interested in boot time performance and benchmarking after I purchased my RD510 laptop and installed four instances of Jaunty on it. Very soon, I learned that the default installation, with no tweaking or modifications, yielded a handsome 18-second boot on the third installed system, located on the slow end of a fairly standard 5,400rpm laptop disk. The results on the first disk were even more encouraging, just 15 seconds. I believed that if my laptop were equipped with a 7,200rpm disk, I would have broken the 10 second barrier.
I skipped Karmic on my production machines, but Lucid is a different story altogether. I love the distro very much; it's slowly replacing Jaunty as the major Ubuntu flavor on my various machines. This begs the question, does Lucid bring in any improvements required to break the 10-second barrier?
Read on and you'll see.
A short philosophical introduction, as usual
I love the sound of my own voice or the texture of my own sentences in print. Hence, let me bore you for a minute or two with a speech. I'd like to tell you what I think about boot time benchmarking: I think it's a nice hobby, but nothing more. System boot is a very short, uninteresting part of computer usage that most people pay no attention to, geeks, nerds and system admins excluded. It's hardly worth bothering. Then, ask yourselves how often do you boot your machine? Once a week? Once a month? Do you really find the extra 20-30 seconds that important?
Optimally, everything on your machine will work fine. You will enjoy an ultra-fast boot, superb hardware compatibility and stability and blazing performance. But if I had to give up any one in favor of others, it's the boot time that would go first. Personally, anything below one minute is more than OK. 10-15-second boot definitely ups your street credit, but makes no difference whatsoever on system behavior. Most machines have a longer BIOS post, which makes the Web-2.0-modernistic hunt for instant gratification through boot sequence a little moot.
But we're not here to debate the philosophy of booting; we're here to discuss the boot results for Ubuntu Lucid! In my Ubuntu 10.04 review, I showed you some fairly impressive results on an ancient T42 and hinted at even more impressive results on another, unnamed machine.
Well, today, I'll show you three machines, three results. And we'll see if the magic barrier was crossed. Can Lucid Lynx boot in less than 10 seconds into a usable desktop?
T42, 1.5GB RAM, 1.8GHz single, 32-bit, 5,400rpm disk, age: 5+ years
This is probably the most important contestant. It's an old machine, so every little bit counts. Having a distribution behave nicely on new hardware is easy. Making sure old machines can use the distribution without strain is art.
Overall, Ubuntu Lucid delivers generous improvements in memory usage, response times and overall system usage, compared to previous versions. While never hungry, it's now even leaner than before, infusing old machines with a fresh, minty breath of rejuvenation.
Similarly, the boot performance has improvement dramatically. On Intrepid, it used to take about 2 minutes to reach the desktop, about 1 minute in Jaunty, the same time in Karmic, and with Lucid: only 27 seconds.
This is really, really nice. 27 seconds for a machine that has undergone as much abuse as Stalingrad. In technical terms, a five-year-old laptop is like a pre-WWI-era car. Well, I might be exaggerating a little, but having a fully functional, fast and beautiful desktop on a machine with a single core and only 19MB/sec disk throughput, it's quite commendable.
End result: 27 seconds.
Satisfaction level: 10.
T60, 2GB RAM, 2.00GHz dual, 32-bit, 5,400rpm disk, age: 3+ years
This is the mysterious machine with the hinted 15 second boot time. Indeed, this fairly average, not so new yet not so old machine, manages a very impressive quarter of a minute boot time. I/O read throughput is 47MB/sec. Lovely jubbly.
End result: 15 seconds.
Satisfaction level: 10.
RD510, 4GB RAM, 2.66GHz dual, 64-bit, 5,400rpm disk, age: 1 year
This machine yields the most interesting results of all. First, it's the only 64-bit machine with a 64-bit operating system, so a direct comparison to other two is not possible. Second, it also loads drivers for a handful of mighty hardware, including the Nvidia 9600GS card. Third, while the benchmarking on the other two machine was done on the first partition, here, it was done on the third, on the slower end of the disk.
Results? Well, not so impressive. 25-26 seconds. Disk throughput: 50MB/sec.
How do I explain something like this? I can't say. Changing the boot order of devices, like rumored changing of DVD drive priority after the hard disk, and disabling some of the peripherals in BIOS might make a difference, but it's not a step I'd like to take. The mere effort of tweaking will consume as much extra time as 20 machine boots and that's a whole year of computer usage.
The biggest segment of the boot sequence is the ureadahead, which takes 13 seconds to load the kernel image and associated stuff into memory. Overall, it's still a rather decent result and not worth any major fussing. But if you're really into boot benchmarking, this could come as a bit of a shock.
End result: 26 seconds.
Satisfaction level: 8.
There are several startling conclusions stemming from the above test. First, there's no correlation between hardware and boot time, or rather, there's one, non-linear and unknown. Second, as a purely empirical observation, Lucid favors older hardware, where it yields at least 50% improvement compared to Jaunty, but discriminates newer machines, with an extra 10 second penalty. Third, regardless of the platform you choose, Lucid is fast and will boot in less than 30 seconds. That's very nice. Compare that to Windows 7, please.
However, for me, in three separate cases, the 10-second goal has not been achieved yet. I will examine the behavior of Lucid on the first partition on RD510 and report back, but then, it's not that important. Really. Just fun and a tiny bit of e-ego. If you do have magical tips that could solve this innocent mystery, feel free to share.
P.S. I hope I'll be able to test an SSD machine soon. And there's another laptop in the brewing, so stay tuned for updates.
Well, that would be all. See ya around.