Fixed: The Linux Desktop Responsiveness Problem?
Written by Michael Larabel in Linux Kernel on 4 August 2010 at 09:21 AM EDT. 60 Comments
One of the problems commonly talked about in our forums and elsewhere is the poor responsiveness of the Linux desktop when dealing with significant disk activity on systems where there is insufficient RAM or the disks are slow. The GUI basically drops to its knees when there is too much disk activity, which is far from being ideal. For many the problem has just been present for a year or two, but those experiencing these horrible responsiveness problems where it may take many seconds for a menu to appear when clicking on it or a half-minute to do a VT switch, there soon may be a fix.

Wu Fengguang and KOSAKI Motohiro have published patches this week that they believe will address some of these responsiveness issues, for which they call the "system goes unresponsive under memory pressure and lots of dirty / writeback pages" bug. Andreas Mohr, one of the users that has reported this problem to the LKML and tested the two patches that are applied against the kernel's vmscan reported success. Andreas' problem was the system becoming fully unresponsive (and switching to a VT took 20+ seconds) when making an EXT4 file-system when a solid-state drive was connected via USB 1.1. On his system when writing 300M from the /dev/zero file the problem was even worse.

The patches from Fengguang and Motohiro can be found in this Linux kernel mailing list thread. With the Linux 2.6.36 kernel merge window about to be opened, let's hope these patches work their way in there during this next cycle, but for those planning to run the stock kernel on Ubuntu 10.10 and other Q3'2010 distributions, it is already too late unless these small patches end up being back-ported.
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Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 10,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter or contacted via MichaelLarabel.com.

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