How can I improve overall system performance?
I am not new to Linux, but I've never really dug in and am much more proficient with Windows and Mac OS. I've used Ubuntu off and on since it was first released, and used Fedora for quite a few years on a spare laptop. I also ran Solaris 8/9/10 on a workstation in my office.
To give some background, I run my own business providing computer and creative consulting services to home users, small businesses, schools and non-profit organizations. Most of my solutions involve Windows clients and servers (either because that's what clients are familiar with, or because they use proprietary software, primarily in the financial and auto repair industries, that only runs on Windows or shutters Novell NetWare), though I have been converting several clients to Mac OS X solutions. I do, however, live in an economically depressed area (former steel mill and heavy industry town) and many small businesses and schools can't afford to invest in the technology they really need. I see Linux becoming a major enabler for the revitalization of my community.
That being said, though I've used Linux for many years, I've never really developed the proficiency needed for me to feel comfortable implementing solutions for others. I'm working on that, and as a result, have decided to start running Ubuntu on a daily basis on the netbook I use with me when I go out on service appointments, browse the web at home, and use for minor productivity work. When I used Fedora on a few older Toshiba laptops, I never had any performance issues that I noticed. They were Pentium 4 machines with 1GB and 2GB of RAM, one machine (a Satellite) had an integrated/shared video chipset and the other (a higher-end Tecra) had a dedicated video chipset. Both machines were fast, responsive, and flexible.
Now I'm using an HP Mini 210-1076NR netbook that originally ran Windows 7 Starter Edition (and later Ultimate) with 1GB of RAM. This machine has a cellular modem from Verizon Wireless, though I no longer need to use this since my contract has expired. The machine is in its original condition, aside from a hard drive replacement (250GB 5400 SATA) and has 1GB of RAM.
I'm running the latest Ubuntu release, 10.10, and Unity (which I can't stand... but that's not really relevant). Performance seems incredibly slow.. really, really slow. There is such a lag between launching a program and it being useable. I constantly have the screen dimmed and the system just lock up and become unresponsive, sometimes for minutes at a time. It seems like the hard drive is working overtime, even with the simplest of programs: text editor, Firefox or Google Chrome with one or two tabs open, Tomboy notes, etc. I don't have much running in the background: the weather applet, Tomboy notes... at one point I did have my social networking accounts added to Gwibber but the implementation was so half-assed that I ended up removing them. I plan on installing the older Adobe AIR version of TweetDeck, but I'm not running that at this time.
Is there anything I can do to tune or improve performance? The Toshiba laptops I had previously ran Fedora on have since been given to clients, and they are running the same version of Ubuntu. Those machines, while not really new, have considerably better performance than my 1-year-old netbook. I am willing to upgrade my RAM (the maximum is 2GB), but I'm wondering if that will really make a difference. Surprisingly, Windows 7 Ultimate ran really fast on this same machine, even with 1GB of RAM. Will upgrading the RAM give me the performance boost I need, or is that not the issue? Is this machine's architecture not very suited to Ubuntu?
I don't really know what questions to ask, or what to do, aside from upgrading the RAM. This is just a netbook, and I don't use it for any hardware-intensive tasks, so I don't want to invest money in an SSD, but I'm willing to spend money on a RAM upgrade. What else can I do? Is there any performance tuning I should do?
I want to run Ubuntu 10.10, and I want to use Unity, because that's what my clients will be using. While I appreciate that a different desktop environment, like GNOME Classic, might give better performance, or a variant of Ubuntu like Edubuntu might be better suited to older machines, those really aren't the answers I'm looking for.
I'd appreciate any advice, suggestions, etc. While I'm not well versed in all the Linux terminology, I am willing to learn and research anything, as gaining this knowledge is crucial to expanding my business.