My sister has always wanted a macbook, but I recently convinced her that Ubuntu is a great OS with much more similarity to Mac OS than Windows. She said I can install Ubuntu on her laptop but it is not really big on performance.

Specs: 1GB RAM 120GB harddrive 128MB graphics

I really like the look and feel of Ubuntu and don't want to install Lubuntu or something like that.

Is there a way to run Ubuntu in sort of a 'performance' mode rather than 'appearance' mode? And what other settings can I adjust to increase the performance of the OS?

  • I'm running a regular Gnome3 on a laptop from 2006 (Thinkpad T60). It runs beautifully with an SSD drive and a little extra RAM. If you have those options available to you, this will not only make it run, but be zippy too. Of course heavy games are out of the question. Jul 2, 2014 at 15:35
  • It won't really need to do anything heavy like gaming, might add a little more RAM, don't know about a SSD (-: $$
    – Jonny
    Jul 2, 2014 at 15:39
  • I agree on the ssd, if they want anything over 60gb then they'd be spending a pretty penny on a computer not really worth as much as the drive for it...
    – sbergeron
    Jul 2, 2014 at 15:45
  • upgrading ram is the best way to go I think
    – sbergeron
    Jul 2, 2014 at 15:46
  • 1
    With Xubuntu you don't have all the trouble to enhance performance. I think its the better option for this old hardware. You can customize Xubuntu so it will look like similar to Ubuntu -> xfce-look.org/content/show.php/…
    – TuKsn
    Jul 3, 2014 at 11:01

4 Answers 4


Here are some ways to optimize ubuntu for performance:

1. Optimize disk access with noatime:

Each file and folder on your linux system has a file-creation timestamp and a modification timestamp. Apart from that, linux tries to keep track of “access time” for each of these files. Now keeping track of the access time has its performance-cost, and if you want to remove this performance cost, you need to specify “noatime” attribute in the disk partition entries in your /etc/fstab file. Edit this file in your text-editor and add the noatime option for your disk partition:

UUID=97102801-14e3-9752-7412-d9c57e30981w / ext4 errors=remount-ro 0,noatime 1

2. Optimize Swappiness:

Swappiness is the tendency of the linux kernel to prefer disk-swapping vis-a-vis physical memory. The default swappiness value of 60 was kept considering server installations. If you are a desktop user having a machine with good RAM, you would normally prefer disk-swapping to be minimal. You can safely reduce this value to 10. To do so edit the file /etc/sysctl.conf and add the following:


(Just change the entry if it already exists, don’t make a duplicate!)

3. Install preload:

If you typically use the same programs regularly, preload will help you by loading into memory, the programs that you use most frequently and thus speed them up. To install:

sudo apt-get install preload

4. Place your mission critical apps in /dev/shm:

Few weeks back, I was having performance issues with running Eclipse on ubuntu. After tweaking and optimizing various JVM settings in vain, the thing that really made the difference was placing the entire JDK folder on ramdisk. The /dev/shm folder is like a virtual ramdisk (on ubuntu and derivatives) where you can place your temporal, high-priority stuff to run them in “best performance” mode. Assuming you have to place your JDK folder on the virtual ramdisk, the command is:

cp -r jdk1.7.0_05/ /dev/shm/

5. Remove unwanted programs from startup:

Ubuntu comes loaded with a ton of baggage, and if you are someone like me, you might feel obliged to reduce some burden off your system by disabling unwanted software from startup. You can do this by going to “Startup Applications” in the System menu, but ubuntu hides the pre-installed apps by default. To overcome this limitation, open your terminal and issue the below command:

sudo sed -i 's/NoDisplay=true/NoDisplay=false/g' /etc/xdg/autostart/*.desktop

ubuntu startup

Now you can go through the startup programs list and can disable the unwanted ones. Common sense will tell you that if you don’t use bluetooth on your machine, you can get rid of the "Bluetooth Manager". Similar is the case with “Backup Monitor” in case you don’t need to sync your backups in real-time. Here is the list of services that I’ve safely disabled without causing any issues:

Backup Monitor
Bluetooth Manager
Desktop sharing
Ocra screen reader
Personal file sharing
Screen saver
Ubuntu one
update notifier

6. Uninstall software that you don’t use:

The next step is to remove those software that you don’t use at all. Again, some common sense but with some caution is needed here. There are some programs (like empathy) that form the core part of ubuntu, so it won’t allow you to apt-get remove.. them without removing unity itself. In such cases, we will disable such programs from starting up as services (next step). Some of the programs that you may safely remove are:

apt-get remove samba-common
apt-get remove cups
apt-get remove avahi-daemon avahi-autoipd

I typically uninstall all three after a new installation. The first one is needed for file-sharing in the local network if you have one. Second is the print daemon, and third is used to broadcast common network services across the local network and finding local hosts by using friendly names like “local.workstation”.

7. Disable unwanted daemons:

In case you don’t want to remove the cups program as you might need printing in future, you can disable it for the time being. To do so, issue the below command:

echo manual | sudo tee /etc/init/cups.override

You can disable any daemon in this manner by doing a manual override, just replace the “cups.override” with the daemon name that you want removed such as:

echo manual | sudo tee /etc/init/bluetooth.override
echo manual | sudo tee /etc/init/ufw.override
echo manual | sudo tee /etc/init/mysql.override
echo manual | sudo tee /etc/init/tty2.override
echo manual | sudo tee /etc/init/tty3.override
echo manual | sudo tee /etc/init/tty4.override
echo manual | sudo tee /etc/init/tty5.override
echo manual | sudo tee /etc/init/tty6.override

Later, if you want to enable that daemon, all you to do is delete the .override file.

8. Optimize Nautilus to behave in a speedy manner:

This is totally optional. Nautilus, by default, tries to show thumbnails of each and every file in a directory. If the directory contains a lot of files, this causes a noticeable delay. Now if you are in the habit of regularly previewing thumbnails of your images, don’t do this optimization. Otherwise, if previewing thumbnails don’t matter to you and all you are interested in is speed (like me), you can go to Edit->Preferences->Preview-tab and set the preview settings to Never.

9. Disable translation downloads in aptitude:

This setting is for speeding up the downloads from apt repositories rather than your machine. By default, ubuntu adds additional translation repos when you issue “apt-get update” command to update your repository settings. If you only need English, you can disable translation downloads by editing /etc/apt/apt.conf.d/00aptitude and adding this line to it:

Acquire::Languages "none";

Source: My blog post

  • 5
    1. Ubuntu defaults is relatime, no atime so that counsel is useless. 2. Depending OP needs he should have more swappiness then less, ie. during high I/O operations. 3. Preload could actually slow down your system. It isn't for everyone. 4. would only work if you have tons of RAM or really commit intensive tasks. 5. 6. and 7. are all generic, nothing new here. 8. only is valid for directories you haven't visited or have new files, frequently used and stable directories are not affected. BTW, nautilus use a cache after the first run, subsequents runs
    – Braiam
    Jul 3, 2014 at 0:03
  • 2
    are faster. 9. would be a pain for people that don't use Ubuntu in english. Most of the time, these request takes a split of a second even in a slow connection since it only asks for headers. All in all, your counsel is good but is not appropriated for all cases.
    – Braiam
    Jul 3, 2014 at 0:05
  • @Braiam - What you say is true. Optimizations are not for all cases, hence the reason they had to be performed. Had that not been the case, they would have been ubuntu defaults. As for reducing swappiness, it improves responsiveness in general. I don't see how it can't help the OP's case. Jul 3, 2014 at 0:14
  • As for the points 5,6,7 being generic, the point here is that when you apply all these optimizations, you will see a noticable performance difference. Any one, or few points may not make a difference, hence the entire list. Jul 3, 2014 at 0:15
  • 1
    Isn't #3 already taken care of by ureadahead? Also, careful, ufw is the firewall, you might not want to disable it.
    – alexia
    Jul 3, 2014 at 11:45

Install ccsm, open terminal (Ctrl + Alt + T or from the dash) and paste line below:

sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager

Run it from the dash or in terminal ccsm. Choose OpenGL in General category and change Texture Filter from Good/Best to Fast. Go back and choose Ubuntu Unity Plugin in Desktop category and change Dash Blur from Active Blur to No Blur


I believe what you are looking for is ubuntu's 2d mode, but it was removed in 12.10. I found an article that mentions a way to disables some of the additional eye candy.

I'm not sure if this is still available in 14.04, but you can try it by adding 'export UNITY_LOW_GFX_MODE=1' to the '.xprofile' in your 'home' folder. If you want you can just run the following in the terminal

echo "export UNITY_LOW_GFX_MODE=1" >> ~/.xprofile


Overall unity is hard to configure performance wise, though on those specs it should run reasonably well. If you have a chance to upgrade the ram, I recommend it highly, though it should run just fine on that for normal use (just don't expect to be doing video editing/custom rom compiles/basically any modern games)

  • Thanks @sbergson, won't be used for gaming. Just some image manipulation and watching series and basic stuff like that.
    – Jonny
    Jul 2, 2014 at 15:40
  • 1
    overall gimp would not run perfectly on it, but if they are thinking of simply using paintdotnet or something I'm sure they could do that. As for watching internet videos, I don't know how perfectly that would go but it would be possible. They might try using gnome 2 with cairo-dock for an experience visually identical to mac, and a bit better performance than unity. basically, if xp ran fine on it ubuntu will not have a single problem
    – sbergeron
    Jul 2, 2014 at 15:44
  • I will look into the cairo-dock. I am still very new to ubuntu, how would I go about 'downgrading' to gnome 2 and installing cairo-dock? Thanks in advance @sbergeron
    – Jonny
    Jul 2, 2014 at 18:13
  • it would be easy to do that. I currently have kde with cairo dock so I have a windows7-esque taskbar with lancelot launcher and cairo dock set to display when i hover over the "taskbar" I have set up. I ran this at first on a computer with 2gb of ram and it ran just fine, though i currently use a computer with 4gb of ram that lets it run without any hiccups whatsoever
    – sbergeron
    Jul 2, 2014 at 18:29

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