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I have an old laptop, a Dell Inspiron 8100, that I use to "play" with Ubuntu on. It is my "learning" machine where I experiment with new OS and such, so it is not critical, but I really want it to work well. In it's original life it ran XP, and ran very well for a machine of it's generation. I do use it, when I do not have it "broken" due to some new OS I am playing with, so I do want to fix it.

I have been running Ubuntu 10.04 on it for a couple of years with good results, and just wiped it and upgraded to 12.04. The new interface is nice, and I am learning my way around in it, but I am disappointed by the performance. I realize 512 MB is marginal memory, but 10.04 was mostly OK, and so was XP. I have another nearly identical machine running XP and it is fine. I don't expect miracles in 512 MB, but it needs to be better than it is.

I changed vm.swappiness from 60 to 10. That helped a lot, as it slowed down the incessant banging on the hard drive. I turned off 3D for 2D effects, that helped. examining top I notice a lot of processes running, (about 200) don't know what else I can turn off. Did notice Bluetooth (no Bluetooth hardware in this box) and removed that. Don't know what else might be in there that is unneeded and can be killed off.

Are there any other tweaks that can reduce the memory footprint and speed things up? Right now it remains broderline unusable. It's mostly OK as long as I do not use any applications, but any major ap just sends it into a frenzy of swapping. Free -mt shows between 5 and 10 MB free most of the time with absolutely nothing running. I am sure that is my problem, but what can I trim away? I think if I could get that up to 100 or more I would be in clover...

I checked the full Startup Applications list, and disabled backup, and a few other trivial things, but again nothing much made any difference.

So, any ideas? Or has a 512 MB memory machine simply been rendered impractical for Ubuntu? There does not seem to be any way to physically add memory... Maybe I need to get out my XP install disk and return the machine to it's factory configuration so I can use it, and find another machine for Ubuntu "learning". But if I can tweak Ubuntu into usability, I would like to do so, so any ideas are welcome.

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512Mb is really low for modern fancy operating systems. You should try a lighter one like Xubuntu or even better Lubuntu, your interface might not look good as in Ubuntu, but it should consume much less memory. You don't loose much, both systems are completely compatible with Ubuntu, have same software sources, if something is "for Ubuntu" it will work on X/Lubuntu as well. Give it a try. –  enedene May 27 '12 at 17:03
    
You should choose a lighter desktop environment such as XFCE and LXDE. They are very very light plus they are fast! –  Ravi May 28 '12 at 6:20
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I would switch to a lightweight user interface, xfce is quite popular on low end machines.

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Thanks for the feedback. I've been considering changing to Lubuntu, and may do so. But before taking that step I want to ensure I am not entrapped by some simple configuration issue. Getting that errant Bluetooth process out freed up several MB, so perhaps there are other processes that shouldn't be there. 10.04 worked pretty decently, and I had hoped 12.04 would too. But maybe it is a lost cause. Thanks again. –  Nathan May 27 '12 at 18:15
    
@Nathan If someone answered your question correctly then be sure to accept the answer. Thanks. –  Ravi May 28 '12 at 6:21
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