Thursday, October 14, 2010

Is Arch Linux Really Faster Than Ubuntu?

Often when we are preparing for cross-distribution comparisons or benchmarks of different operating systems (like our recent Mac OS X 10.6 vs. Windows 7 vs. Ubuntu 10.04 benchmarks) we are often asked to include Arch Linux in the mix. This is usually on the basis of including a rolling-release distribution to provide a performance look at a constantly evolving distribution with many of the most recent open-source packages rather than a traditional distribution with packages that may be months older. Many of those requesting Arch be included in our testing mix also claim that Arch performs significantly faster than Ubuntu and our usual test candidates. The main reason we do not deliver many benchmarks of Arch, Gentoo, or other distributions that use a rolling release approach is that they are not very reproducible with their results since their packages are frequently changing and there are more end-user customizations going on compared to most other distributions. However, to test the performance claims of Arch versus others, we have compared the performance of the newest Arch 2010.05 media against Ubuntu Linux.

We performed a clean installation of Arch using the 2010.05 x86_64 installation media and then proceeded to install the GNOME desktop and our test dependencies with packages as of 2010-05-18. For our Arch Linux packages we ended up with the Linux 2.6.33-ARCH x86_64 kernel, GNOME 2.30.0, X.Org Server 1.7.6, NVIDIA 195.36.15 display driver, GCC 4.5.0, and an EXT4 file-system. The performance of Arch Linux was compared to Ubuntu 10.04 LTS (also the 64-bit flavor) with the Linux 2.6.32-21-generic x86_64 kernel, GNOME 2.3.0, X.Org Server 1.7.6, NVIDIA 195.36.15, GCC 4.4.3, and an EXT4 file-system. To rule out the GCC compiler playing any major role in the performance difference between Arch and Ubuntu, we also tested out Ubuntu when we upgraded against the latest Maverick Meerkat packages for Ubuntu 10.10 on 2010-05-18. For these Ubuntu Maverick packages the most notable version bumps were bringing the Linux kernel up to Linux 2.6.34-2-generic and the gcc-4.5 compiler.
Our testing was carried out on a Lenovo ThinkPad T61 notebook with an Intel Core 2 Duo T9300 dual-core processor, 4GB of DDR2-667MHz system memory, a 100GB Hitachi HTS72201 7200RPM SATA HDD, and a NVIDIA Quadro NVS 140M 512MB graphics processor. Tests we ran included 7-Zip compression, LAME MP3 encoding, FFmpeg, x264, World of Padman, OpenSSL, GraphicsMagick, Bullet Physics Engine, John The Ripper, SQLite, Apache, C-Ray, Unpack-Linux, PostMark, dcraw, Parallel BZIP2 compression, and MAFFT. Testing was done by the Phoronix Test Suite.

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