Saturday, December 20, 2008

How to really boost netbook performance

With boosting netbook performance I mean how to improve system responsiveness, application speed, boot time.

You can significantly improve netbook performance by boosting at least one or more core subsystems: processor, memory and storage. Netbooks currently on sale are tiny laptops designed to run easy tasks and especially with low cost in mind. Unfortunately the three subsystems are often a bit too slow....

What about graphics acceleration? Nvidia Ion platform (GeForce 9400M) and similar chipsets won't help boosting netbook performance, it helps (a bit) in running 3D games and some special applications (e.g. video encoding/decoding). However don't expect desktop level graphics performance! More in a next post...

Update: see posts on Nvidia Ion

Netbook Performance - Processor

UPDATE:
Keep in mind that we talk about overall system cost in the range $200-$500, price range of modern smartphones!
Intel Atom N270 CPU is current market leader. Especially if compared to "normal" laptop processors, Intel's Atom N270 isn't really a benchmark champion, nevertheless Intel engineers reached a good balance between the three P: Power Performance and Price, especially if the netbook runs Windows XP or Linux. The Atom N270 is a bit too slow for Vista, on the other hand it seems that Atom N270 systems will be ok for the upcoming Windows 7.
VIA C7 and current MIPS based processors do not reach Atom N270 performance levels.

A higher processor clock and especially the first dual core CPUs can definetly boost netbook performance. Intel already announced netbook dual core Atom CPUs for end of 2009 and I'm pretty sure that we'll see soon a single core Atom processor clocked at higher frequency. The Atom N270 clock of 1.6GHz is well below the maximum clock frequency allowed by the technology, a realistic maximum value should be slightly above 2GHz. Intel's competitors don't sleep... in 2009 we'll probably see a handful new netbook processors platforms from VIA, Qualcomm, Nvidia and AMD. More in a next post...

Netbook Performance - Memory

Many netbooks are still sold with only 512MByte DDR memory, this is the biggest performance bottleneck, especially for netbooks running Windows XP. Linux netbooks run a bit faster with half GByte memory.
No question: at least 1GByte is required for acceptable performance, 2GBytes are required to boot Vista.

Netbook Performance - Storage

The storage subsystem has also a major impact in overall netbook performance. Many netbooks are sold with cheap SSD disk, this can be really a pain. Although the low access time, the transfer rate of cheap SSD drives can kill overall system performance. I guess that in two-three years max we'll get affordable and quick SDD drives, in the meantime the best solution is a quick 5400 2.5-inch hard disk.
UPDATE: SSD Disks for Netbooks?

You can use the netbook bestseller database to find the perfect netbook ;-)

Relevant posts

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

interresting reading :-)

i also did some usual trimming, and installed a extremely lightweight version of windows xp and office2003

the computer starts fast and is very responsive because nothing unneccesary is running in the background all the time hogging cpu and ram.

word 2003 starts in 1 second (=almost instantly)... compared to a much faster core2duo system configured with normal windows xp and office 2003, this atom netbook starts office much faster and it boots faster as well

kind regards / simon

ProDigit said...

Dual core Atom processors have been available for over 3 months now (at least they're older than february 2009), so their availability was not not the end of 2009, but rather the beginning.

If they would clock the Atom processors higher, they would develop a higher thermal envelope. At 1,6Ghz the Atom runs factory default, but many tests have shown that it's overclockable to a stable 2Ghz. Like any processor, the thermal envelope shows that around 1,8Ghz you have the best performance increase over powerdraw. But increase of clockfrequency also means lower battery life.
So it's not recommendable to increase the clock freq. At least, I would not do it, unless it gives crucial results, like playing back 720p or 1080i HD video a bit laggy, or playing games at a minimum fps at 19fps, and an average of just over 23fps, the overclock could be the determining factor of viewing fluid framerates both in those type of games and movies.
But in most cases this small overclock would do very little to nothing. (eg: Playing heavier games at avg fps of 15fps, or watching 1080p video with an average fps of 1 frame every second; in these cases the overclock will not help you achieve fluid framerates, and it is even questionable if a 2Ghz overclock would help here.
Also know that netbooks are small, and the extra heat of the overclocked processor could cause discomfort.

About the memory, 512MB is the recommended minimum a netbook needs to run XP. That would be 256MB for certain Linux versions. XP could run with performance degrade on 256MB RAM, and Linux on 128MB of RAM. But every netbook should be upgradeable; most of the time there are couple of screws to loose, and the SoDimm DDR2 RAM stick can be replaced by a 2GB RAM stick. Often you would have minor improvements due to more modern RAM, processed on a smaller die, and having lower latencies. This could result in a 1fps gain on 25fps, and 3fps gain on a 50fps movie or game. Also battery life will not suffer from adding a larger more modern RAM stick (than a 512MB one), because of the smaller manufacturing process. I would recommend this upgrade to any netbook,save those where the bios or OS limits the user to 800 or 1024MB of RAM, and one can not get around this by using third party software of any kind.
There are few netbooks on the market using these limits.

Fast SSD drives have already become available through many retail channels. They often lack diskspace and are in the likes of 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, or 128GB. The 16, 32 and 64GB ones make most sense pricewise to upgrade your netbook with. Their performance clearly outruns any HD you could put in netbooks, including some more higher end 7200rpm 3,5" hard drives, but they lack disk space.
They also have a clear advantage on power consumption,where they often save between 25 to sometimes even 75% of energy.
Most SSD's you reviewed are SSD's from major companies aimed for notebooks or desktops, not PCIE SSD's aimed for netbooks. You can find out more about SSD's for netbooks on jkkmobile.com.

ProDigit said...

To the topic of to boost the performance on netbooks, here are some ideas for the viewer to upgrade your netbook to make it run faster:
1- Replace any internal HD, with an SSD for notebooks. See JKKmobile for graphs and advise on the best SSD for your netbook.
2- Do a clean install, prevent from using Vista, but stick with XP. Make sure all bloatware is removed, and your system is upgraded for XP to SP3. Try not to install any of the .net frameworks if possible, since that will slow down your computer considerably. Though some programs might need those to function.
3- Disable Windows services you may not need in computer management.
4- Try to optimize Windows for programs and speed. Having a theme, background picture, loads of icons on the desktop and many programs installed will slow down the booting process and system responsiveness. Disable Windows themes (WinNT/9x/Me looks).
5- Remove as many startup applications as possible; like quickstart for office or Adobe (unless you use these programs very often), and limit booting to only programs you absolutely need.
On the EEEPc that could mean the systray contains: Your wireless/wired network icon, your audio volume(if necessary), your battery meter.
6- Once your system is up and running, make a backup of it on a DVD or external HD. One that in case it crashes you can quickly, easily and effectively restore the system. If you know of a good program like this (sometimes compressing the whole hard drive to an external HD, and using a second computer to uncompress and overwrite the original HD would work); you can actually remove any anti-virus and perhaps pop-up blocker or anti-ad/spyware program. Also you can disable any Windows recovery. This will relieve the system of a heavy task, and in case you do get infected by a virus, the easiest thing to do is just reformat, and restore your system.
The other way is to keep all above services active,and use a virus scanner, but then your system will be noticeably slower, and more diskspace is needed. Also be aware Windows XP can only handle a finite amount of programs. If too many programs are installed (above 180 is my closest guess),XP will stop functioning normally as the register becomes too overcrowded with data.
7- It is better to buy a small SSD, and save any data,documents, or downloaded info to an SD card, than having a large disk that is slower. SD cards fit perfect in most netbooks, and cost very little. They can come in upto 16 or 32GB most commonly, but I would not recommend buying them as they are too expensive. Often an 8GB card can host quite an amount of data and costs you reasonably little.
8- There are 3 programs that I know of that could boost your netbook experience.
-1-Eboostr. You can find it at http://www.eboostr.com; it is a program is recommendable for harddrive users, but will make little difference on netbooks equipped with SSD's. It uses a USB stick as ramdrive to boost the performance of the overall system. The cons are that you will have one USB port taken by a USB Flash drive. A recommended drive would be a high performance USB drive, but it does not need to be a large drive. EBoostr will analyze your system, and load /cache files on the USB drive for faster access.
-2-GMABOOSTER found at www.gmabooster.com/. It will 'overclock' the Intel GMA graphics card found in most atom powered devices. This program will not help in accelerating 2D like video or older games, but only in 3D (eg games)will you see benefits. Very maybe it might accelerate 2D where large maps (like bitmaps or raw picture data) are used.
-3-EEECTL. For the EeePc there's a program that can boost the CPU's core speed, (I think) by increasing the multiplyer. it can be found here: http://cpp.in/dev/eeectl/
EeeCTL does also boost wifi reception,more as an automatic result of increasing the CPU voltage on the Celeron M processors.