Newberg to Carlton, the desktop upgrade

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I made the move to Linux in '08 for a variety of reasons better explained in historical documents.  Newberg to Carlton sounds like a move, but in this case it isn't geographical, but more virtual.  My old workstation 'Newberg' is getting very long in the tooth, it's an old eMachines wherein the hardware was orphaned before I got it, but that ran Kubuntu 9.10 64bit very fast and empowered me to play with Vbox and Opera's 64bit browser each of which had lots of learning curve and a little bit of enjoyment.

Now we've got a new year and it's time for me to confront the upgrade to Kubuntu 11.10 because I like living on the TRAILING EDGE of technology rather than being the one that finds the potholes that need to be filled, however I've also learned that it's better to do the upgrade prior to Canonical releasing their next version in their 6 month development cycle.  I'm still running Natty Narwhal on 'Newberg' and it is time to confront the upgrade to Oneiric Ocelot before the release of Precise Pangolin happens in April.  This also means it's time to think seriously about a hardware upgrade as well.  Newberg blows out capacity at 2GB RAM and that's just plain not enough in our new 64bit world.  With my need of Vbox, 8GB is really a minimum and 16 or 32GB would be nice.

image of Smiley's desktop widget showing processor load, temperature, RAM and swap usageWhat's my obsession with RAM?  When I made the move to a 64bit Operating System (OS), I also moved into a realm created by assumptions from the developers of my OS.  A 64bit Linux kernel can address RAM measured in Terabytes rather than the 64GB of a 32bit kernel, so the OS and Application developers can feel free to use large gobs of it with seeming impunity.  Here's a shot of my desktop widget that gives me cool info about my system.

The temperature gauge is measuring for each of my processors, though there is only a single chip, Linux thinks Intel's dual-core is actually two physical processors, so shows two gauges.  Below (left to right) that is a bar graph of processor load, then RAM usage and finally Swap file usage.  When I started life with Newberg, the Swap never got touched, even though I was using Vbox which carves out a chunk of RAM for every virtual machine I create.  The RAM graph would hover around the 70% mark and I enjoyed fast response even with four desktops loaded with open applications all the time.

Then KDE4 came into my life and I noticed the swap graph actually had a color and was getting used.  Hmmm, okay, performance is still very acceptable and I didn't have to change any of my habits, so let it go.  Now add 64bit versions of Opera, Thunderbird and I don't know what else and I'm starting to see that swap file grow and my performance go out the tubes.

snippet from smiley's system monitor file showing Opera and Thunderbird using almost a gigabyte of RAM

Check it out, half of my RAM is being used by six of the 14 applications I've got open right now and Opera is the worst offender, though I've only got 8 tabs open in Opera and I've got 7 tabs open in Firefox.  

The wake-up call came when I opened a Vbox session of Win2Kpro and froze my desktop because I'd gone to almost 2GB of swap and it took 30 to 45 seconds for a response to my clicks.  Thus came the "habits change" I deplore.  If I want to open a Vbox session I have to close Opera and Firefox and Thunderbird which I consider to be a royal pain.  Time marches on and so do system requirements, so I guess it's time to look for a budget so I can get up to 64bit processors with 8GB of RAM.

Hmmmm.  Now that I'm writing this up, I realize I might be able to buy myself another year with this system just by going to a small Flash drive to put Swap on.  That'd be a fun experiment and it's certainly cheaper than buying a new Mobo, RAM and processor and even if it doesn't do the trick I've been wanting to play with a Flash drive anyway.

Smiley.

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