18 Tips for better system performance

How to get the most out of your Linux distro,

If you’ve never tried Ubuntu, there’s never been a better time to dive in. If you’re already a convert, read on to discover how to get the best from your installation.

1. Shorten the boot menu timeout

If you’re fed up of waiting for the boot menu to timeout before your favourite operating system launches, open ‘/boot/grub/menu.lst’ with a text editor and look for the line starting with ‘timeout’. Just lower the number to its the right. This is the number of seconds the menu system will wait before booting the default operating system (0 or 1 is not recommended).

2. Monitor boot performance
One of the best utilities you can install for checking your system’s performance is called ‘bootchart’. After installation and a reboot, ‘bootchart’ will create a complex graph of everything that’s running and taking up resources as your system boots, and place an image of the graph in the /var/log/bootgraph folder.

3. Improve boot speed
When the boot menu appears (you might have to press escape) select the default Ubuntu boot option and press ‘e’. Cursor down to the line starting with ‘kernel’ and press ‘e’ again. You’re now editing the boot parameters, and you need to press space and add the word ‘profile’. Press return followed by ‘b’ to boot. Disk access during your boot sequence will now be profiled, which means that subsequent booting should be faster.

4. Trim unwanted services
The default Ubuntu installation takes an over cautious approach to background services. Bluetooth tools may be be running, for example, even if you don’t have the hardware. Disable the services you don’t need by opening the Services window from the System>Administration menu. Be careful not to disable services you rely on.

5. Monitor CPU usage

You might think that CPU monitors are purely for geeks trying to steal a few extra cycles from their overclocked processors. But this isn’t true. A discreet CPU monitor is the best way detecting a wayward process that’s slowing down the rest of the system. Right click on the desktop panel, and select ‘System Monitor’ for our favourite. There’s a similar applet for KDE.

6. Manage your processes
If you do detect a process on your system that’s stealing more CPU cycles than it really should, then you need to end that process to get those cycles back. Save all your work, and use the Ubuntu process manager. This is part of the System Monitor tool, and this can be opened from the System>Administration menu.

7. Be nice to one another
If you use the System Monitor to manage your running tasks, you might have noticed the ‘nice’ column. ‘nice’ is basically a task’s priority, and ranges between -20 to 19. If you have a CPU heavy task running, such as a 3D calculation for example, increasing the nice will lower its priority, and make your system feel more responsive.

The default Gnome desktop

8. Enable Gnome Auto login
A lot of us are the sole users of our computers, and it makes little sense navigating through a login screen before getting to our desktops. You can enable auto-login for a default account on your Ubuntu machine by selecting ‘Login Window’ from the System> Administration window. Switch to the ‘Security’ page, enable ‘Automatic Login’ and select the user.

9. Prune your menus
The more applications you install, the more cumbersome the launch menu becomes. But you can enable the applications you’re most likely to use right clicking on Ubuntu icon that hides the menu, and selecting ‘Edit Menus’. The application that appears will let you enable or disable menus in the hierarchy.

10. Remove the menu popup delay
HCI gurus insist that there should be a delay between when you click on a menu and when it appears, but if it’s speed you’re after, you can remove the delay. Open a terminal, and type ‘nano ~/.gtkrc-2.0’, then add a single line ‘gtk-menu-popup-delay = 0’. Save this by pressing escape and typing ‘Y’, and after a restart you should find your menus are ultra quick.

11. Add More Workspaces
Workspaces are one of the best things about Linux. They’re a great way of organising your applications onto different virtual screens. By default, Ubuntu sets up only two, but you can adjust this number by right clicking on the workspace switcher in the bottom right corner of the display and opening the Preferences window.

12. Use Workspaces more effectively
Use ‘Ctrl alt’ and either cursor left or right to switch between adjacent workspaces, and if you hold down the shift key, the active window will move to the new desktop too. For better control, right click on any windows top border to open a context menu, and from here you can choose to move the window to another workspace.

13. Don’t start everything
As with system services, the average Ubuntu installation runs lots of different programs at startup. You can remove those you don’t need by launching the Sessions window from the Preferences menu. If you don’t use the desktop search, for instance, disable ‘Tracker’. Other likely candidates for removal include Bluetooth, the Evolution Alarm Notifier and the Print Queue Applet.

14. Remember the running session
Another neat feature of the setting manager is that you can configure your desktop to remember the applications that were running when you shutdown your machine. This is a great way of quickly launching into your working environment. Just switch to the Session Options page and enable the ‘Automatically Remember’ option.

15. Fine tune the Gnome desktop
Application shortcuts are hidden behind the Gnome equivalent of the Windows registry editor. This can be launched from the command-line by typing ‘gconf-editor’. But be careful, settings changed here could mess up your desktop. If you do, then the desktop can be restored to its default state by deleting the ‘.gconf’ and ‘.gconfd’ folders from your home directory.

16. Launching applications with a key combination
One of the settings hidden in Gconf is the ability to launch applications with a key combination. Navigate to ‘apps>metacity>key_binding_commands’, double click on one of the ‘command_’ entries and enter the launch command for the application you want to run. To set the key, double click on the same entry in ‘apps>metacity> global_keybindings’ and press a key. Holding ‘Ctrl Shift alt’ and that key will now launch the application.

17. Use pervasive searches
Ubuntu comes with an excellent utilities for searching through the contents of files and emails, but it’s not enabled by default. Open the Search and Indexing window from the Preferences menu, and enable both indexing and watching. After the index has been created, you can search through your files using the ‘Tracker Search Tool’ in the ‘Applications>Accessories’ menu.

18. Switch To A Faster Desktop
Ubuntu uses the Gnome desktop by default. It’s a good choice because Gnome is powerful, capable and popular. But it’s not streamlined or particularly efficient. A faster alternative is XFCE, the source of Xubuntu, and this can be installed through the Synaptic package manager by searching for the ‘xubuntu-desktop’ meta-package.


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