It’s a universal truth that all PCs are slow. All of them, no matter the hardware, no matter the OS, they’re slow. The faster it goes, the faster we want it to go. It’s never enough.
Now, when it comes to speed, Windows doesn’t offer much. XP is rather speedy but ancient. Vista is new and so slow it couldn’t catch up to a crippled 100-year old turtle on a hot day. 7 promises to address this issue, but it doesn’t exist yet.
Linux is slow too. Take Ubuntu, or OpenSuse, or Mandriva. They’re certainly faster than Vista, but compared to XP, not so much. And don’t get me started on booting, because Windows always has had the advantage there.
That’s why distributions always promise to be faster the next release, or why Red Hat/Fedora are developing Plymouth (which should make booting faster and more attractive). I must say I never noticed much difference between releases. Real speed umprovements for me came from using Arch, which is compiled for i686 computers, or ditching Gnome/KDE for lighter alternatives like Openbox.
Enter ext4. I timed some actions on the new XFCE install on my test-system, and to my surprise it’s faster than the IceWM install on another partition on the same PC…which shouldn’t be possible. They’re both Arch, and while XFCE is claimed to be lightweight, it’s still a DE and not a WM like IceWM. Yet, XFCE was faster, not by a big margin, but faster nonetheless.
Then, I started to measure boot-times. In a previous article I compared the boot-times of the IceWM install with those of an XP-install on a laptop, so I knew it booted around 52 seconds. That’s the time from pushing the main button to a fully loaded desktop.
The XFCE install booted in 36.5 seconds. That’s a huge difference, and it has nothing to do with XFCE.
In short, the ext4 filesystem made a DE outperform a WM, and that’s something special indeed. I’ve been using Linux for over 5 years now, and never before has a technology appeared which makes that much of a difference, speedwise.
The only downside is that I had installed and configured my main system just before the latest Arch Linux ISO was released…which means it’s still ext3. And I really don’t feel like going through all that configuration again.