Improving Ubuntu performance on older hardware

I first tried Ubuntu way back in 2007 and finally abandoned Windows when Hardy Heron came out on April 2008. At the time Ubuntu was a lot faster than Windows XP – and probably still is. However, I have found that as time has progressed it has started to creak a bit on my desktop. I tried a few other distros earlier this year but eventually came back to Ubuntu mainly because it does just work.

A few weeks ago I had a bit of time and started looking around for lighter distros again. At this point I discovered that my CD/DVD drive had finally crapped out to the extent that burning an ISO was a gamble and trying to boot from it was hopeless. So now it’s time for Plan B – rip out all the stuff that I’m not using.

First to go is Gwibber. I started using this shortly after I signed up to Twitter and it does have some nice features. However it has also become something of a memory hog and appears to be struggling somewhat with the authentication changes Twitter recently implemented. Right now I’m satisfying my microblogging cravings with Pino on and am not missing Twitter at all. Even though Gwibber isn’t running on my PC, gwibber-service is sucking up memory so it’s been completely uninstalled.

Next to go is Ubuntu One. I know there is a fair bit of hype around this but, since it was introduced I can count the number of times I’ve used it on the thumb of one hand. The ubuntuone-synchdaemon is sucking up a sizeable chunk of my minimal memory, so it has to go.

Next to go is DesktopCouch. The desktopcouch-service is costing me half as much memory as Ubuntu One was and, since I’m no longer using Gwibber, I don’t need it. The question of why a twitter client should need any sort of database is something I shall leave to more surreal minds than mine.

Not deleted but no longer used is Firefox. For a while I have been using Epiphany as my main browser – it’s blisteringly fast very light, and has by far the best approach to bookmarks that I have seen. Rather than having to maintain a bunch of folders to manage your bookmarks what you do with Epiphany is simply tag each bookmark with as many or as few tags as you want and then let the browser figure out the folder structure for you.

There are a few services that I don’t expect to use but might. These have not been uninstalled but have been removed from my Startup Applications. They are; the Bluetooth Manager (I have a Bluetooth dongle but it’s horribly unreliable); the Evolution Alarm Notifier (I don’t use alarms in Evolution); and the Power Manager (I have a desktop PC, not a laptop).

Since Upgrading to Ubuntu Lucid, I’ve found that the memory usage on my PC regularly rises to 80% and everything starts grinding to a halt. I’m now using less than 50% of the available memory and am, once again, enjoying a slick and speedy desktop experience.

9 thoughts on “Improving Ubuntu performance on older hardware

  1. Interesting, but both those links assume you can start from a minimal install. If my CD/DVD drive wasn’t knackered, it would be a better approach but until I fix or replace my hardware, I will have to stick with stripping out the stuff I don’t want.


  2. Pruning your applications and using smaller and lighter replacements is just one route. Just as important, in my opinion, is choice of desktop environment. I am currently using Peppermint OS on my netbook with external monitor, external USB keyboard and broadband USB modem. This distro is based on Ubuntu Lucid and it’s the fastest I have used since switching to Linux at the start of 2009.


  3. Pepermint OS is pretty and is one of the distros I considered when I started looking around for something lighter. It’s a distro I would like to take a look at – especially if I treated myself to a netbook or something similar – although I am not entirely convinced about the distro’s cloudy focus.


  4. If your CD drive is knackered, no worries, use a 2GB usb memory stick.

    I never use my CD drive anymore 🙂

    Unetbootin, or pendrivelinux are good programmes to use, + you don’t waste a disk in the burn process


  5. I can optimize Lucid installed on my netbook using the tips you provided. Thanks for these good tips. By the way, do you know how to change the default program (Gwibber) of the Broadcast item to Pino since Gwibber has been uninstalled? Thanks.


  6. @olivierz: I did consider trying to build a systemn from a Debian netinst which should be achievable from a USB stick. The only thing that put me off a bit is the fact that if I screw things up, there is no easy way back. At the end of the day, though, I’m not unhappy with Ubuntu – it is becomming a bit more bloated but, as long as I can identify and uninstall the bloat I will probably stick with it for now.

    @Robby Chen: I have to admit that this is a menu I don’t generally use. But I’ve just looked at it and it appears that uninstalling Gwibber and installing Pino has changed the default program automatically.


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