For some months I've been meaning to try out WattOS, an Ubuntu derivative that claims to do more than providing simple desktop theme changes and other high-level customizations. It seeks to provide a simple and fast desktop that's also said to conserve more power and run better on older hardware, but is this actually the case? Here are benchmarks of WattOS R4 compared to the upstream Ubuntu 11.04 release from which it's derived, and the numbers are quite revealing.
The tag line for WattOS is "light fast now" and just last month the developer behind this lightweight Linux distribution released WattOS R4, which is derived from Ubuntu 11.04. Its release announcement states, "wattOS R4 is released NOW! - loads of new improvements, programs, and new fun. Head over the forums for brief details. Download it NOW! wattOS is a lightweight Linux operating system remastered from the core Ubuntu Linux build. It is a free operating system that focuses on a small footprint, low power, and a simple quick interface. Bring your old computer back to life again with a fresh install of wattOS!"
WattOS R4 uses the LXDE desktop environment for providing a light desktop experience while some of the bundled applications include the Chromium web-browser, the Sylpheed email client, the Fotoxx photo editor, Gnumeric, AbiWord, VLC media player, Xfce power manager, and other applications. With the WattOS target of old computer hardware, it is currently only spun in a 32-bit version with a CD ISO. The focus of this article though is to look for any performance and power consumption differences between it and the Ubuntu 11.04 release for which it is based.
Two of the oldest laptops that I have in my labs were tested: an IBM ThinkPad R52 and a Lenovo ThinkPad T60. The R52 has a 1.86GHz Pentium M CPU, 2GB of RAM, an 80GB Hitachi IDE HDD, and ATI Mobility Radeon X300 graphics. The ThinkPad T60 has an Intel Core Duo T2400 1.83GHz, 1GB of RAM, 80GB Hitachi SATA HDD, and ATI Mobility Radeon X1400 graphics.
The stock WattOS R4 kernel is based upon the Natty 2.6.38-10-generic i686 kernel, which is newer than the Ubuntu 11.04 stock of 2.6.38-8-generic Linux kernel. However, it is not based on a different major kernel version. It's a bit surprising though to see a power-focused Linux distribution targeting old hardware that's running a post-2.6.37 kernel considering all of the power regressions/changes as of late.
In addition, what was rather odd is that WattOS R4 does not ship with the Intel PRO/Wireless 2100 firmware. The integrated Intel wireless adapter on the ThinkPad R52 works "out of the box" on Ubuntu 11.04 (and practically all other Linux distributions for years), but not under WattOS R4 by default. At least the ThinkPad T60 did and the R52 can be made to work since they keep the Ubuntu package repositories enabled by default.