High performance Linux distributions Super and ... - Linux Magazine

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High performance Linux distributions Super and ... - Linux Magazine

REVIEWSSuper and Underground DesktopBMW AGHigh performance Linux distributions Super and Underground DesktopBUILT FOR SPEEDExperimental Linux distributions can take risks to reach for better performance.We investigated a pair of promising experimentals: SuperLinux and Underground Desktop. BY MARCEL HILZINGERThe beauty of Linux is that youcan shape it to do whatever youwant it to do. Several distrosfocus on high performance. Of course,there are always many paths to any solution,and all the high performance Linuxdistributions take a slightly different approachto delivering better performance.This article examines a pair of promisingbut relatively unknown Linux distributionsbuilt for speed.Super Linux is a Suse-based distrodesigned to serve as a testbed for newopenSuse technologies. Super is essentiallya faster and more bleeding-edgeversion of openSuse. The Super developersprovide higher performance by embracingtechnologies that are consideredtoo risky or too new for a mainstreamenterprise product such as openSuse.Underground Desktop Linux takes adifferent path to achieving high performance.Unlike many derivative distros,which are based on the code of mainstreamtitans like Debian, Suse, and RedHat, Underground Desktop comes fromthe high performing and minimalist ArchLinux distribution. Arch is specificallyoptimized to deliver high performanceFigure 1: The text-based Underground Desktop installer just needstwo partitions and the root password.Figure 2: Before launching into the install, Underground Desktop displaysan overview of critical parameters.36 ISSUE 65 APRIL 2006 W W W. L I N U X- M A G A Z I N E . C O M

Super and Underground DesktopREVIEWSon the i686 architecture, and UndergroundDesktop delivers the optimizationsof Arch to a friendlier desktopLinux environment.We’ll show you what we found whenwe took these high performing distrosfor a test drive.Installing Super LinuxSuper [1] and Slick [2] started life asseparate projects. Both are based onSuse Linux, and both aim to add featuresthat Suse does not officially support. Asthere was a lot of overlap between thetwo projects, the developers recently decidedto focus their energy on a singleproject.If you are interested in replacing yourSuse Linux with Super Linux, you candownload one of the three ISO imagesfrom [3]. super-open-SUSE-final-20051003- standard-minimal.iso comprisesthe basic system without a GUI.The super-openSUSE-final-20051003-standard-kde.iso and super-open-SUSEfinal-20051003-standard-gnome.isoimagesare feature-rich CD images with theKDE or Gnome desktop. Check the “AcceleratingSuse” box for more informationon converting an installed SuseLinux version to Super-Suse. The Superinstallation is not much different from astandard Suse installation.We notice two things in our lab:• Super opens port 22 for remote SSHaccess by default.• Super disables automatic login via theK Display Manager by default.When you reboot, Super sets up the Prelinker,which helps programs launchmore quickly. To do so, the Prelinkermodifies all your binaries and libraries.Depending on your CPU, this processcan take up to 45 minutes. When finished,you can log in to KDE or Gnomewith your normal user name.UndergroundThe Underground Desktop [4] install istext-based. Underground Desktop wasformerly based on Debian and had agraphical installer. The developer decidedto move to Arch Linux. Version020 is now based on Arch Linux “Noodle”and, just like Super Linux, it addsperformance-tweaked CK patches to thekernel [5]. Underground Desktop usesReiser4 for the root directory and theRC1 version of KDE 3.5.After booting fromthe CD, a welcomescreen appears listingthe individual steps(Figure 1). Click OKand select the diskwhere you will be installingUndergroundDesktop. Click theentry showing thesize of the disk, andcreate a swap partition,and a root partition,as a minimumrequirement. Choosetype 82 for the swappartition, and type 83for the root partition.When you are done,quit the menu, and Guzuta.then press DONE>>to continue. In our lab, UndergroundDesktop could not handle existing partitionsand displayed the following error:/bin/setup: 473: Syntax error:U5245191 32098/1000000After we deleted two partitions and rebooted,the cfdisk tool performed as expected.If you prefer to format an existingpartition, select DONE>>.Use the next two dialogs to specify theroot partition and the swap area for UndergroundDesktop. You can either selectthe partition you just created or chooseto format an existing partition. Set theroot password in the next dialog. UndergroundDesktop now displays an overviewscreen (Figure 2) for the installation.The whole procedure takes lessthan ten minutes. You can then log on asroot in the new KDE desktop. UndergroundDesktop did not detect our labProfile: Super/ SlickTarget group: Power users with a fastInternet connection who are not afraidof experimenting with a new Linux distribution.Advanced Suse users whowould prefer a leaner basic system.Special features: Three different ISOversions available: A minimal ISO with a290MB footprint but without a GUI desktop,or a full 650MB ISO for KDE orGnome. CK patches for improved multimediasupport.Not suitable for: First-time Linux users.Users without an Internet connection.Figure 3: Underground Desktop’s GUI-based package manager,machine’s hardware correctly. Thescreen resolution was set to 1024x768 insteadof the optimum 1280x1024, and itwas impossible to enable 3D accelerationsupport for the ATI card.Finishing TouchesUnderground Desktop and Super bothdisplayed the graphical KDE login screenafter the install. The Super desktoplooked neat and tidy and stuck to theAccelerating SuseIf you already have Suse Linux on yourmachine, and you would like to enhancethe current distribution with the Superfeatures, there is no need to reinstall.Just launch YaST and select the aptpackage for installation. Then, workingas root, open the /etc/apt/sources.list filewith your favorite editor and insert thefollowing line:rpm http://ftp4.gwdg.de/pub/Ulinux/suse/apt SuSE/10.0-i386 Urpmkeys base java update extra Ususer-jengelh suser-guru Ususer-jogley suser-agirardet Upackman packman-i686 Uwine suse-people securityIf you have worked with Debian or aDebian derivative in the past, the nextfew steps en route to converting Suse toSuper-Suse should be familiar to you:apt-get updateapt-get install kernelapt-get dist-upgradeW W W. L I N U X- M A G A Z I N E . C O MISSUE 65 APRIL 200637

REVIEWSSuper and Underground DesktopFigure 4: The KDE system monitor graphic showing regular CPUpeaks in Underground Desktop.Suse defaults. Underground Desktopputs numerous icons on your desktop,some of which can help you configurethe system, but also including fourgames.We tested Internet access first. Supergave us DHCP-based Internet access atfirst asking. Underground Desktop set upa static IP address. But you can click theLan Setup icon on the desktop to switchto DHCP. There are also ADSL andmodem connection icons on the Undergrounddesktop. Underground does notsupport ISDN. Sound and printingworked out-of-the-box.The GUI-based Underground Desktoppackage manager, Guzuta (Figure 3),comes pre-configured. After launchingthe program and clicking on Refresh, youcan install packages from the full rangeof Arch repositories: Community, Current,Extra and Testing. pacman addscommand-line package managementsupport.Super involves more effort. Start byadding the required Apt repositories toProfile: UndergroundDesktopTarget group: Advanced users withbroadband Internet connection. Debianor Arch Linux experienced preferred,but not essential.Special features: Reiser4 as root directory,current KDE 3.5 version. Jampackedwith beta software. Archck5patches for excellent multimedia performance.600MB ISO.Not suitable for: Suse newbies who justwant to try something new. Linux newbies,or anyone with a nervous disposition./etc/apt/sources.list. See the “AcceleratingSuse”box. Super doesnot have a GUIbasedpackagemanager for Apt.You can give thefollowing command:apt-get installUkynapticto install the Kynapticpackagemanager. Followingthis, even newcomers should haveno trouble installing packages.Pros and ConsSuper and Underground Desktop are designedto be high-performance desktopdistributions, although version 020 ofUnderground is obviously intended as atest version. However, we were a bit disappointedwith the Underground’s enormousperformance problems. DVD andvideo playback was jerky. Other programsdid not launch as fast as wewould have liked, and froze on occasions.Some research on our part exposedReiser4 as the culprit. Reiser4 puts themachine into a split-second freeze whilesynchronizing the filesystem. The KDEtools ksysguard diagram in Figure 4gives you a clear view of what is goingon. A workaround that does not actuallyremove the issue, but at least gives youreasonable performance, is to stipulatethe noatime,nodiratime mount optionsReinstating LiloIf you try to replace the Lilo boot managerwith Grub after installing UndergroundDesktop, you may not be able toaccess Underground Desktop at all, asGrub does not support Reiser4. You canuse the rescue system from Suse 10.0 toreinstate Lilo, however. To do so, bootthe rescue system, and then load theReiser4 module by entering modprobereiser4. Now mount the UndergroundDesktop root partition in a temporary directory.The command for /dev/hda7, forexample, is mount -t reiser4 /dev/hda7 /mnt. No set /mnt as the new root directory(chroot /mnt) and then give the lilocommand to reinstall Lilo.for the root directory in /etc/fstab. Interestingly,the problem did not affect all ofour lab machines, and we are still workingon discovering the cause.Underground Desktop has a good selectionof programs: Mplayer and Xineare both on board, and Libdvdcss is preinstalled.System notifications are configured,and Underground played audiofiles out-of-the-box. Underground Desktopperformed well in our stress test,which involved burning a CD, compilinga program, and playing MP3s at thesame time.Admittedly, we did find the choice ofprograms for the basic system slightlystrange, as it lacked common packagessuch as openssh for remote access, orhdparm for hard-disk tuning. We weresurprised that the distribution used theLilo bootloader. Grub is far superior, especiallyon machines with multiple distributions.We assume that the Underground developerschose Lilo on account of Reiser4.Underground Desktop’s boot timeis fast – 35 seconds – but the systemfailed to live up to the expectations wehad for Reiser4. It remains to be seen ifthe Reiser4 bug has been eradicated bythe time version 021 is released, and ifso, the next version will definitely beworth looking into.There were no performance issueswith Super/ Slick. Using Ext3 as its rootfilesystem, Super set a new boot recordof just 29 seconds. Super wasn’t fazed inthe least by our stress test, which involvedburning a CD, compiling a program,and playing a DVD at the sametime. The only niggle we had with Superwas that the distribution is too similar toSuse Linux to be really cool. On a morepositive note, the developers are workingon a new version with a modified KDE.The new version should be available fordownloading by the time this issue hitsthe newsstand. ■INFO[1] Super:http:// www. opensuse. org/ SUPER[2] Slick: http:// www. opensuse. org/ SLICK[3] ISO Download: ftp:// opensuse. linux.co. nz/ pub/ SUPER/ iso/[4] Underground Desktop:http:// www. ludos. org/ Underground/[5] Arch CK Packages:http:// iphitus. loudas. com/ archck. php38 ISSUE 65 APRIL 2006 W W W. L I N U X- M A G A Z I N E . C O M

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