Wednesday, March 29, 2006

laptop computer speed

My cousin-in-law asked me last week what I'd choose between a computer (laptop, actually), with a 1.xGhz CPU and 512MB of RAM and a 2.xGhz CPU with 256MB of RAM. I said I'd choose the first.

I've been monitoring CPU use on the laptop I currently use (icewm makes that really easy, with CPU and network monitors on the taskbar), and I just don't see a lot of CPU peaking. There are occasional peaks when a scheduled rsync job runs (copying data over a vpn from the office to my laptop, cheap remote backup), and when i run xboard+gnuchess. When I test one or another program I'm developing I may see some peaking, and sometimes when I run vmware (not a lot of that though).

Mainly, though, my CPU usage stays pretty low.

I recently finally built a kernel that works well with my mobile AMD CPU and now I'm able to set the CPU maximum speed to a large range of speeds (.66Ghz to 1.7Ghz, plus 6 other speeds in between). I've also got the cpufreq/scaling_governor set to ondemand. The computer pretty much ALWAYS stays at the slowest speed all the time except when running xboard+gnuchess or very occasionally, when something CPU intensive runs. When an application needs more CPU, the CPU speed ramps up immediately, and when it's no longer needed, the CPU slows down to .66Ghz.

From the fact that the scaling_max_freq pretty much stays at the slowest speed except for very short periods, my opinion on which laptop to buy is reinforced. The icewm monitor also displays related information (e.g., how much IO is occurring) and I find that the laptop slows down more due to waiting for IO (well, laptop drives are slow) than due to needing more CPU. So more RAM will help with the IO requirements (the OS can cache more of the disk), speeding up the general experience, more than higher CPU speed.

Actually, his original question had to do with a celeron (or some other internal-cache-challenged CPU) versus a full CPU at the same or a higher frequency. I think that RAM is still more important, generally, than CPU speed.

Of course, if the main use of the computer is going to be for photoshop or corel draw effects or CAD and 3D rendering, then I'd go with all the CPU power I could get PLUS all the RAM I could get. but for general use, even for a software developer like me, any 1.3Ghz box with more memory is probably going to be the better deal than a higher frequency box with half the memory.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

mozilla extensions

I've been wary/skeptical for a long time about mozilla/firefox extensions. Firefox is a memory hog as it is, and there are some hard to isolate weird CPU hogging things in there too. So, while I love the browser, I go out of my way to NOT make it any more memory/cpu hungry. And in general, for complex things that have weird behaviors, I prefer to keep things as simple as possible so that problem isolation is easier, or at least that the chances of tickling a bug are lower.

Late though, and strangely enough, because I saw a link to an article that discussed how to make firefox eat less memory and use less CPU, I followed another link and decided to install a few very conservatively chosen extensions. I'll add links at some point, for now, just discussion.

NoScript is great. I have it block all javascript by default. And then, for sites that need scripts, I turn javascript on either temporarily (current session) or permanently. Very nice since most of the time I don't want javascript and it just slows things down anyway.

AdBlock works pretty well. Some ads get through and it's not convenient to point them out to AdBlock, but all in all, it's great. I wish I could *unblock* google ads. They're not intrusive, no moving graphics and crap like that, and they're generally relevant, although I rarely click. I'll figure out how to do that at some point.

Tab Mix Plus is great. There are lots of features there, most of which I don't know how to use. The main thing for me is that it has tab memory like Opera has. That is, it's possible to configure it so that when the browser starts, it will auto-load the tabs that were there when the browser was last closed. It also saves tab status while browsing, so that firefox and crashes (rare, but not completely eradicated) don't completely wipe me out. If I've downloaded 15 tabs to view, then tab memory will bring them all back up when I restart firefox. It seems to work better than Opera's memory, but I haven't used Opera in 2 years. I'm sure Opera has made their tab memory much more robust by now, although it was already a great and wonderful feature when I used it back then.

PDF download is convenient since I've never been able to stand acrobat reader displaying itself in the browser and then taking up so long to start. Not that I have acrobat reader on this computer anymore, or any computer I use, but the extra control over PDF downloads is nice. This is a relatively low profit item for me though, I may drop it.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Work hard, crash

I've been working very hard for about six months now, since I took over management of the development team at work. Previously I'd been a consultant, project based. That was fun. Lots of work, but no management responsibilities.

The company insisted on hiring me on though and after some resistance, I accepted. Things are still fun, particularly when i get to code, but there's too damn much coordination and meeting. All very necessary, but it sure reduces time available for programming.

After six months of this though, reality catches up. I got a very bad sore throat some other stress related infections and just general weakness (due to the combined infections, probably). This happens to me, once in a while. After a sustained period of late nights, not enough sleep, stress, my body crashes for a short period. If I don't get enough of a break, my mind snaps too and I quit ;-). Not going to happen with this job, but it's sure happened before.

Five days of rest have made for an improvement. Not enough though, still going to be weak tomorrow. Damn. I'll rest again on Wednesday.