Tips for speeding up your Linux system

Hard Disk Requests Scheduler

Many of XanMod's benefits depend on the I/O scheduler. Historically, Linux has supported many I/O schedulers, but these days, the choice comes down to Multiqueue Deadline (mq-deadline), Kyber, and BFQ. Check their availability with this command:

$ cat /sys/block/sda/queue/scheduler

Multiqueue Deadline is an adaptation of the original Deadline scheduler, which was created to guarantee a start service time for a request. Our tests showed that mq-deadline is a good all-rounder with no drawbacks, yet with few advantages as well.

Kyber is a more recent scheduler tuned for fast multi-queue devices, such as modern NVMe drives. It has two queues: one synchronous and another for asynchronous requests.

BFQ is often advertised as the best scheduler of all. In fact, it provides the best interactivity for systems with relatively slow drives, including the low-end SSDs. If you wish to eliminate the slow I/O bottleneck and make disk read/writes appear to be faster, BFQ is second to none. Switch to the desired scheduler in the runtime using the following template:

$ sudo echo scheduler_name > /sys/block/sda/queue/scheduler

In the case of BFQ, it also makes sense to add the scsi_mod.use_blk_mq=1 boot option in the GRUB configuration (Figure 2).

Figure 2: To make changes persistent, edit the GRUB2 configuration.

Changing the scheduler affects the Linux system when it is under heavy workload. For instance, try to encode or archive something big (or otherwise load the CPU), and then try to copy some data on a flash thumb drive. Such an exercise will show how the system handles the huge flow of I/O requests, which could help you decide with the right scheduler.

Make the Processes Run Nicer

Modern Linux systems include several services that start during boot time. Some of these services may be unused and therefore disabled with no harm. The first step is to look at which services are consuming the boot time:

$ systemd-analyze blame

This command prints the list of auto-started services in the descending order based on how much time they took to start. If you don't know what a service is used for, don't disable it. However, if you are not managing a mail server, then it is safe to turn off Postfix. Also, consider if CUPS (for printing) and database services like PostgreSQL or MariaDB are there for any use. Disabling a service is as simple as:

$ sudo systemctl disable service_name

Use stop instead of disable to stop a service immediately. For the rest, re-sort and optimize the running processes using Ananicy. Ananicy [1], a third-party tool, consists of a shell script and a systemd daemon to control priorities of running processes and applications. This is solely a desktop-oriented tweak intended to solve such issues as, "Why does my game lag during kernel compilation?" Ananicy ships with a community-maintained list of rules, which are very sane for the most part. After installing the tool (follow the README.md guide), enable and start Ananicy as follows:

$ sudo systemctl enable ananicy && sudo systemctl start ananicy

The effect of tools such as Ananicy will be different across the endless variety of configurations, but it is always noticeable. Ananicy is perfect for laptops – it makes batteries last longer and fans behave more quietly.

Apply Filesystem Tweaks

In the past, it was common to hear the advice of using the noatime mounting option for partitions listed in /etc/fstab. This option is counterproductive in modern Linux systems that already use the less risky and performance-friendly relatime option by default.

For everyday scenarios with most major Linux systems, the most balanced and fastest filesystem is usually ext4, which is already tuned for the best performance in most mainstream distros. However, long-running Linux systems suffer from disk fragmentation, which leads to slowdowns. Fragmentation in Linux isn't a nightmare that it used to be in the Windows world in late 90s, but it is still a problem if your Linux machine runs intensive disk reads and writes for a long time. The solution is defragmenting. There is the universal script by Con Kolivas, defrag [2], that rewrites files in order of largest to smallest and works for any filesystem. But, for the extX filesystem family, a better solution is shipped within the E2fsprogs package. Start by examining the current state of fragmentation for a test /dev/sda3 partition:

$ sudo e4defrag -c /dev/sda3

Look at the 'Fragmentation score' and see if it is not too high (e.g., below 30). Even if the partition is healthy, the above command will list the files that have been fragmented and may suffer from longer access times. It is easy to defragment them with this command:

$ sudo e4defrag /dev/sda3

The e4defrag command also accepts directories, so that you don't have to process the whole partition if you only work with a given directory. More than that, defragmenting adjusts free extents to the size of the files that you store. So, if you run the e2freefrag tool afterwards, you'll see the table of extents of different sizes, adapted to the kind of information that already exists on the disk (Figure 3):

$ sudo e2freefrag /dev/sda3
Figure 3: Too many small extents will lead to file fragmentation on an ext4 filesystem.

In addition to traditional defragmentation, you can also improve ext4 filesystem performance by reallocating frequently used files using e4rat. This tool reduces disk access time utilizing the EXT4_IOC_MOVE_EXT ioctl feature of ext4 and doing so-called online defragmentation. Modern e4rat code [3] takes few minutes to build from source (see the project page for guidance). Normally, e4rat requires three phases: first for learning (collecting files), second for reallocating what has been collected, and third for preloading reallocated data to page cache (Figure 4). To get started with e4rat, enter:

$ sudo systemctl stop auditd // (auditd conflicts with E4rat)
$ sudo e4rat-collect // (start opening apps you want to optimize, hit Ctrl+C when done)
$ sudo e4rat-realloc e4rat-collect.log
Figure 4: Reallocating frequently used data can be a magic potion for systems with rotational disks.

This technique effectively makes every cold start of an optimized app feel like it is hot, which is a great aid for slow or low-end Linux systems.

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