Last October I wrote about running Ubuntu 9.10 with older PC hardware, but over this past weekend I restored an even older Phoronix test system to see how it runs with the most recent Ubuntu 10.04 LTS release and the very latest Ubuntu 10.10 development snapshot in relation to the older Ubuntu 8.04.4 LTS. This antiquated system has an Intel Pentium 4 2.8GHz CPU, 512MB of RAM, an 80GB IDE hard drive, and an ATI Radeon 9200PRO AGP graphics card.
The complete list of system components for this retired test system include an Abit SG72 motherboard with SiS 661FX chipset, an Intel Pentium 4 C 2.80GHz CPU with Hyper Threading, 512MB of DDR-400 system memory, an 80GB Western Digital WD800JB-00ET hard drive, and an ATI Radeon 9200PRO (0x9560) graphics card. First this system was tested with a clean install of Ubuntu 8.04.4 LTS boasting the Linux 2.6.24 kernel, GNOME 2.22.3, X.Org Server 188.8.131.52, xf86-video-radeon 4.3.0, Mesa 7.0.3-rc2, GCC 4.2.4, and an EXT3 file-system. Ubuntu 10.04 LTS was tested with its Linux 2.6.32 kernel, GNOME 2.30.0 desktop, X.Org Server 1.7.6, xf86-video-radeon 6.13.0, GCC 4.4.3, Mesa 7.7.1, and an EXT4 file-system. Lastly, the Ubuntu 10.10 snapshot from 2010-07-11 contained the Linux 2.6.35 kernel, GNOME 2.30.2, X.Org Server 1.8.2 RC2, xf86-video-radeon 6.13.1, GCC 4.4.4, and an EXT4 file-system.
Tests that were run via the Phoronix Test Suite included OpenArena, Apache, PostgreSQL, C-Ray, 7-Zip, PostMark, Gcrypt, Himeno, and TTSIOD 3D Renderer.
Starting off with OpenArena it was rather interesting to see such a sizable performance drop with the recent Ubuntu releases compared to Ubuntu 8.04.4 LTS from two years ago. While newer distributions tend to offer faster OpenGL performance due to maturing open-source Mesa/DRM support, this was not the case for this ATI R200 ASIC that has been supported via the open-source ATI Linux driver for a number of years now. The R200 performance is likely suffering following the switch to the DRI2/KMS support and the open-source developers focusing their effort on the newer generations of graphics cards and the Gallium3D driver, which doesn't support the older R100/R200 hardware.
Not only did the OpenGL gaming performance degrade with Ubuntu 10.04 and the latest Ubuntu 10.10 snapshot, but so has the Apache web server performance. Between Ubuntu 8.04.4 and 10.04 there is a significant drop, which largely may be attributed to the migration from the EXT3 to EXT4 file-system by default. Between Ubuntu 10.04 and 10.10 there is looking like there will be a modest boost in performance for this old Pentium 4 system.