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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.

  • 10.10 is not the latest version nor does it use Unity by default. Are you talking about 11.10? Dec 12, 2011 at 18:24
  • Can you open the System Monitor and tell us which are you seeing. Is any program hogging the CPU?. Is any program using all the memory?. Having good knowledge of computers in general, I expect that you can find your way in System Monitor easy, if you don't, please ask. Dec 12, 2011 at 18:27

2 Answers 2


I'd suggest you this simple tips:

  1. Upgrade the RAM, it will make a huge difference.
  2. Use a lighter Desktop like LXDE, i even find LXDE+xcompmgr (a basic composite manager) faster than Gnome with default Metacity. Gnome is a "hog" in these netbooks.

    2.1 You can also use XFCE+Docky or Avant Window Manager to give your clients a more Unity-like feel without the need for it.

  3. The swap usage is set too high by default in Ubuntu, thus making these devices slower, change it to a reasonable level.

  4. Use lighter alternatives to your casual programs, Firefox and Chrome/Chromium are "hogs" use Midori or other light browser. Use Abiword instead of LibreOffice Writer or Gnumeric instead of Libreoffice Calc, etc.

  5. If you still want to run Unity despite the lag you'll get in there, Unity 3D is only officially available for 11.04 (based in Gnome 2, which you can't use it was never backported to 10.10) 11.10 (based in Gnome 3 which you also can't really use unless you update ALL of GNOME to ver. 3.0,also it wasn't backported to 10.10) and future releases i.e. 12.04. There is a PPA for 10.10 that let's you run Unity 2D the lighter version based in QT and that's all the Unity you can get in 10.10.

  6. Since you'll be deploying Ubuntu to production Systems, you might be looking at the wrong direction by giving them Unity (in it's 11.04 and 11.10 forms) or by installing 10.10 with the daily Unity 2D. Enter LTS release 10.04, yes it has older software but it's far more "stable" for production systems than the non LTS releases, as you can imagine living on the edge of released software isn't always the best of ideas.


     gksudo gedit /etc/sysctl.conf

Search for vm.swappiness and change its value as desired. If vm.swappiness does not exist, add it to the end of the file like so:


Save the file and reboot.



Please note that this PPA contains daily builds so it might break stuff so use it at your own risk!

     sudo add-apt-repository ppa:unity-2d-team/unity-2d-daily
     sudo apt-get update
     sudo apt-get install unity-2d-default-settings
     sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

i have no doubt ubuntu 10.10 is fast but with unity ..it lags with you configuration .. ..plus if you even upgrade your ram 1 to 2 gb .. it will still lag..

problem is not ram.. problem is processing power requirement to run graphical unity... I have also got ..almost same configuration netbook that you have..

Best alternative will be lubuntu 11.10 .. its blistering fast ..it just have different desktop envirnoment i.e lxde , User interface is dead simple and compatible with ubuntu packages.

lxde is faster than gnome, kde ,xfce.

Sorry i forgot unity 3d is not compatible with 10.10 but you can install unity 2D as mentioned by Uri Herrira.. also use light softwares again as mentioned by Uri Herrira..

But still my vote is for lxde or lubuntu.It has already got light packages installed by default..

In simple words unity for your netbook is ...slow +less productive + high memory eater.

  • Unity 3D is not available for 10.10, only 2D. Dec 12, 2011 at 18:59
  • That is if he means 10.10... Dec 12, 2011 at 19:00
  • what is your ubuntu version 10.10 or 11.10 ...
    – emtin4
    Dec 12, 2011 at 19:05

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