Ubuntu Trusty Tahr 14.04 LTS on less-than-optimal hardware

Another time, another LTS release. It’s has been a while and our 12.04 LTS is now pretty old…time to switch to the new 14.04 LTS. Or maybe not.

The good news is that it’s completely possible to do an upgrade from 12.04 LTS to 14.04 LTS. The good news is this update can be partially done offline, using the 14.04 bootdisk, or and usb drive made with Ubuntu’s startup disk creator or your favorite bootdisk application. Another good news is that the in-place upgrade works, without the need of re installing everything. I am not a big fan of mayor number version upgrade, but it may come handy sometimes. Of course a good backup before upgrading is recommended and nearly mandatory. It may be necessary to re install some packages after the upgrade (I suspect this happens with third party packages). Unfortunately, the upgrade didn’t say which ones, or maybe I wasn’t paying attention. 

There are a couple of things one may say against switching towards the new LTS, that for now seems more like a LPP

  • Look & feel: it misses all the promised bells & whistles, it seems they didn’t make in the LTS version.
  • Performance: at least in my case it doesn’t come free on old hardware, it needs a bit of twiddling. Especially those without a good video card could find Unity a bit slow. It may also be completely unrelated to the video card…more on this later. Especially if you use a dual monitor setup: take a good rest and think before upgrading if your hardware it’s a bit outdated. Please consider LXDE or XUbuntu. If you really need Unity (why?) then read on.
  • Privacy: that Amazon logo and the Amazon  stuff coming up when you use the dash search bar feels like one of those Kindle coming at lower price with ads.

Now while the look & feel thing is more a pro than a con to me, the Amazon stuff coming up all the time is really PITA. It feels like being near your bookshelf searching for that math book you need for work and being constantly reminded by the bookshelf itself that there’s an interesting book about the mathematics of Love that you could find worth buying. In my opinion the entire paradigm here is failing: if I am going into the dash search bar, 99% of time I am going there for something I know it’s already there. I am not searching something worth buying. Even if I would occasionally find the suggestion handful, it would be definitely disturbing while seriously working.  Now taking that feature out of the way seems pretty easy [askubuntu.com], but since you may possibly need to remove unity-webapps-common, you loose all the webapps stuff. Personally I don’t care, but in my book tying a commercial feature to possibly useful components it’s called ad-ware. Anyway, since this web app stuff seems still at a beta stage, it may not be such a bad deal, so let’s take it completely out by nuking from orbit unity-webapps-common.

Performance is another issue. On outdated hardware performance out-of-the-box may be really bad.  One of the target machines, an old Intel ATOM with an Intel 945GME was useless for all purposes after the upgrade, despite the 2GB upgrade and despite promising a glxinfo report.

direct rendering: Yes
GLX_MESA_multithread_makecurrent, GLX_MESA_query_renderer,
GLX_MESA_multithread_makecurrent, GLX_MESA_query_renderer,
OpenGL renderer string: Mesa DRI Intel(R) 945GME x86/MMX/SSE2


OpenGL vendor string: Intel Open Source Technology Center
OpenGL renderer string: Mesa DRI Intel(R) 945GME x86/MMX/SSE2
OpenGL version string: 1.4 Mesa 10.1.3

Not software rendered: yes
Not blacklisted: yes
GLX fbconfig: yes
GLX texture from pixmap: yes
GL npot or rect textures: yes
GL vertex program: yes
GL fragment program: yes
GL vertex buffer object: yes
GL framebuffer object: yes
GL version is 1.4+: yes

Unity 3D supported: yes

They say that the performance of this specific netbook was good with 12.04 LTS/Unity 2D , I can see that after the upgrade the net book is now as useful as a big brick . Things get a lot worse if you use an external monitor. Well, as usual I did a few minutes of testing it myself while still on 12.04, the performance was not that exciting. But now it’s definitely a dog. The issue it’s quite common, as you can see here and here and finally here [askubuntu.org]. Everyone talks about an upgrade…I wonder if a fresh installation may help…but I digress.
Your mileage may vary, but three thing made my day to solve this performance issue:

  • Installing Xubuntu/xfce4, or Gnome flashback. Things get a lot better. Strangely the Unity lock-reboot-poweroff widget is visible also logging it in a Xubuntu Session. Of course it doesn’t work. Fixed replacing it with the relevant ubuntu applet in the panel, now I can use the applet.
  • It’s  seems an unity related issue, especially on a dual monitor setup. Performance is markedly better on using the LVDM or the external monitor only. In fact one fix for this issue seems to boot with the internal screen disabled (Boot with video=LVDS-1:d, see here [launchpad.net]). This really helps Unity performing better. Please see here [askubuntu.org] for adding (permantently or not) the boot parameter to your Grub configuration. This helps a lot if you need to stay on Unity.
  • Another big improvement on my opinion comes from DanL4096 here [thanks, askubuntu.org], who suggests an issue between broken update-apt-xapian-index cron job, and broken process scheduling in the kernel. Adding noautogroup in /etc/default/grub on  GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT and issuing update-grub helped these coffee grinders a bit working decently on Ubuntu/Unity.

In the end, you may want to shred the breadcrumb bar in the file manager in pieces…and show the Location entry don’t forget to install dconf-editor and bring back things in a more civilized state as detailed by HowtoGeek.com.


Now your 14.04 is more or less trusty…a slight bit of delay is still marked on the my test cases, but as I previously said before, their performance wasn’t exactly exciting before the upgrade, so they will have to live with it.