Linux Performance Tweaks

Not too long ago my boss and myself came up with a wise idea to make a list of all the linux tweaks usually done to improve the performance of a linux system. The idea has been taken to a higher level and each and every silly possible change that could improve the performance of the system has been added. Of course the actual list would be never ending, but these are a few that I could think of. Do mail me if you think of more that can be added.

The first thing to look at a brand new machine is its BIOS. There is a lot of junk in there that you may never require. For example, if the machine is going to be used as a file server the on-board sound card is never going to be used, or if the machine is never to be connected to a lan why leave the on-board lan card enabled. If the system is going to be run in text mode only the shared graphics memory required should not be more than 2MB. All these changes should be done according to requirement.

During installation do try your best to avoid software raid and lvm unless absolutely required. These are two lovely features but both of ’em degrade performance considerably. The next most important thing is to use a kernel that’s suitable to your processor architecture. For example, if you have a 686 processor use a i686 kernel, if you have a 586 processor use a i586 kernel and if you have multiple processors/cores use the smp kernel. These are the 3 most common kernels provided with any modern distribution.

Most of us know that ext2/ext3 is the filesystem that has to be used during installation. No doubt that the ext2/ext3 file system is very reliable but if you are seriously looking forward towards a faster and much more responsive system ext2/ext3 is a bad option. Xfs is by far the fastest filesystem, and if you are dealing with many small files reiserfs is the best. If you have a directory with many different types of files, try to break it up. it definitely will improve performance. Oh, and do use a lighter file manager. Something like Thunar is great.

The next thing of course is to disable the services you never use frequently. Services like ‘timidity’ and ‘apache’ may very rarely be used by you. Well you can always start them when required. Running services when not required is such a waste of resources. Imagine running a service such as ‘postgresql’ when all that you are doing with you system is browsing the Internet.

‘Prelink” drastically speeds up application start-up times. There are a lot of benchmarks done with and without prelink just to prove its superiority. In most modern distributions prelink is very stable and reliable.

Avoid using stuff like Kat, Beagle, Evolution etc. etc. At times these apps make the system so unusable. There are much more lighter apps to get your work done. Take for instance, to do a quick word processing job why use ‘OpenOffice Writer’ when Abiword (which is much more lighter) can do the job just fine.

Use a light window manager. My best suggestion WindowMaker. Fluxbox also does a fine job. Well it will take you some time to get used to it. Hey but life is all about changes. I mean, when i started using computers i never knew what linux was. You just adapt to whatever suits you.
Well, i know that the above suggestion is not a easy one, but if you are using something like Gnome or KDE avoid using many taskbar applets. Those are real resource hungry. Also wallpapers, icons and files/folders on the desktop consume resources. In linux you have a central storage for each user, so use it for all your files. It keeps your system a lot cleaner, your desktop clear, and you can keep things more organized (atleast i can).

My greatest suggestion in this entire article would be to stay abreast with the latest distro. The only way to achieve this is to have a separate /home partition. So the next time you install a new distro, do not format your /home partition but only all the others for the installer to install the required packages and their related files. Packages change over time, Xorg is better than Xfree, Alsa is better than Oss, Udev is better than devfs. Most of all the kernel undergoes major changes, many of which are performance related.
Most of the latest distros have packages that are compiled using GCC 3.4 and upwards. GCC 3.4 compiles programs so they run at least 7% faster. Do you really want to miss out on such good performance gains?

For ext3 filesystems “noatime” and “data=writeback” are good options to have in the ‘/etc/fstab’ file.
/dev/hda1 / ext3 defaults,errors=remount-ro,noatime,auto,rw,dev,exec,suid,nouser,data=writeback 0 1
And for reiserfs add the option “notail” but remove “data=writeback”
/dev/hda7 /boot reiserfs noauto,noatime,notail

Six text-mode virtual consoles are absolutely unwanted for a user like me, and considering that each of these virtual consoles consume memory turns me off. Comment out the lines for the unwanted virtual consoles in ‘/etc/inittab’ and issue the command “init q” as root to make changes done without rebooting.

In most of the modern machines with 512MB and more ram a lot of swapping is not required. The more the swapping done when there is enough ram to do the job is a waste of performance. The default value is vm.swappiness=60. To change it issue “echo ‘vm.swappiness=<value>’ >> /etc/sysctl.conf” as root. Then issue #swapoff -a and #swapon -a. Generally a value from 20-30 is great for most modern machines. Find the right value that suits your needs.
The swap partition has to be created roughly in the middle of the harddisk for it to be easily accessed. Since the swap partition is accessed in very short bursts occasionally its the best option. Yeah, this is not one of those easily experimentable suggestions.

Coming to the harddisk.. Oh no, this is my most hated piece of hardware in a computer. It has moving parts, its unreliable and its a pain to maintain. Sometimes i wish i had an external usb hub with max capacity thumb drives built into it to use as a storage medium. I guess it would be enough for my day to day work. I dont know if it would be faster than a 10000 rpm hdd, but im sure its much more reliable because it can withstand more shocks, it does not heat up as much and it has no moving parts. To increase hdd performance there’s nothing better than ‘hdparm’. It tests speeds of the drive and give you a quite a bit of control over the hdd’s parameters. With ‘hdparm’ you can set the readahead, configure power management, enable/disable dma, display drive geometry, speed up/down the head movement, set spindown time and a whole lot of other neat stuff. Once you have got all options to your liking, add it to the end of ‘/etc/rc.sysinit’ so that it gets executed towards the end of the system’s booting process.
For example a line like this could be added:
hdparm -a1024 -c3 -d1 -m16 /dev/hda

Like i said earlier there are a lot of ways to improve the system’s performance. These are only a few i can think of. Try out ‘powertweak’ its good. Readahead, preload, upstart, teardown are good for boot-up, shutdown, and faster application loading times. Do not forget to inform me of something that i could add to this list.



  1. a good basic tweaking for bare linux.
    would you elaborate on performance tweaks specific to desktops, i.e., gnome or kde?

  2. The last note about hdpram was nice, thanks the article was really helpful 🙂

  3. Thanks a lot.

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