Linux audio distro on wimpy laptop?

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West
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Linux audio distro on wimpy laptop?

Post by West »

Hey all, it's been ages since I posted anything in here.

I have a question though and considering this forum's high percentage of Linux users, I figured it might be just the right place to ask.

Anyway. I have an ageing budget laptop (ASUS X58C) presently running Windows XP. But I'm thinking of setting up a dual boot with some nice audio distro, mainly just for playing around and checking out what Linux has to offer these days.

This is not a very powerful machine though. It has a 1.5GHz Celeron 220 processor and 4GB RAM. Will it be able to run a modern Linux distro or would I be wasting my time?
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Re: Linux audio distro on wimpy laptop?

Post by Dugi »

Modern operating systems tend to use lots of RAM space rather than CPU. If the OS is at rest, it uses little CPU. When some programs or the OS are loading, it is rather reading data from disk than using CPU. You have quite a large RAM, so you should not have any problems.

Anyway, I am using Linux (Ubuntu distro, almost newest) and can tell you how is it going. When I am running two web browsers (Opera and Firefox), music player, system monitor, file browser, e-mail service and Qt creator, the total CPU usage is 45% of one of four 2.27 GHz cores (it could be decreased by further 15% if I used a less CPU hungry environment). So I suppose that with a 1.5 GHz processor, you shouldn't have problems with normal stuff.

The most common Linux distro used is Ubuntu, and if you used the CPU-friendly Gnome2 environment without any fancy decorations, you shouldn't have any problems with it.
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Re: Linux audio distro on wimpy laptop?

Post by West »

Thanks Dugi, I'm installing Ubuntu Studio as we speak. Running it from the DVD seemed to work fine so I figured I might just go ahead and try. We'll see how it goes.
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Re: Linux audio distro on wimpy laptop?

Post by Crow_T »

On my first gen Macbook 2 GB RAM I was running Ubuntu with Gnome Classic 32 bit, it was pretty snappy. Are you running the 64 bit or 32 bit version? I daresay you could get away with the 64 bit version even, I have 8 GB RAM on my desktop and I rarely touch it, even with doing 3D stuff (the only time I ever maxed it out was on purpose seeing how many subdivides I could do in Blender Sculpt mode). If you want to free up a little bit of RAM try installing lxde.

*edit I don't do audio however, although an old friend used to make music on it using garageband in OSX when it only had 512MB RAM :hmm:
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Re: Linux audio distro on wimpy laptop?

Post by West »

Well this could have gone better. I've now tried Ubuntu Studio and Tango Studio. Both were unusable. The general performance was acceptable but both distros had the CPU running hot as heck -- ~70C as opposed to ~45-50C in Win XP. I've now installed Crunchbang, which is of course not an audio distro but I wanted to try something more lightweight to see if it it helped. And it did. Only problem is that none of the three distros will let me run the display at its native resolution... :/
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Re: Linux audio distro on wimpy laptop?

Post by fabi »

Hello West, I guess installing the right display driver will solve your resolution problem.

Can you run "lspci" on a commandline and paste the output?
It will identify all the hardware on the pci bus, we can judge which driver to install from it.
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Re: Linux audio distro on wimpy laptop?

Post by West »

It's an SiS something-or-other card... after having gone through the whole xrandr song and dance routine a couple of times without success I suspected that it might indeed be a driver issue. So I went looking for SiS drivers but according to the info that I found SiS drivers should already be present in the linux kernel. Or something like that. I was pretty sick of it all at that point so maybe I didn't understand it correctly.

I just got home from work and I haven't unpacked my lappy yet, I'll post the lspci output later tonight. Thanks for helping fabi :)
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Re: Linux audio distro on wimpy laptop?

Post by fabi »

And please add the vendor and exact model name of your Laptop.
I will check if there is an entry at http://www.linux-laptop.net/ about it.

edit: Sorry, I missed that you already did so in your first post.

Sadly, it seems your Laptop is one of the still too many machines which don't run properly with Linux operating systems.
There is no entry at linux-laptop.net, but enough places confirm that the graphic card is poorly supported.

http://askubuntu.com/questions/101102/i ... -asus-x58c gives a description how to solve the resolution problem,
it should be adaptable to any (or most) Linux distributions.

I suggest you try it with Ubuntu Studio again.
The waste of CPU time should be caused by the Desktop Environment (Unity ?) used by the default installation,
combined with the lacking of a proper driver.
If you try the procedure (especially the switch to 2d should do the trick) at askubuntu and maybe (if it is not enough) switch to a less hungry one (Desktop), the result should be similar to using a light weight distribution.

What makes the Ubuntu Studio behaving well with audio applications is the fact that it comes with some sort of "real time" kernel.
It tries to be fast with handling the audio (and other) hardware causing small delays when it comes to audio output.
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Re: Linux audio distro on wimpy laptop?

Post by West »

Thanks fabi!

Ubuntu Studio does not have Unity, it runs Gnome. I even tried turning compositing off to see if it made any difference on the high CPU usage, but it didn't. I actually don't think it's a graphics issue, I read several posts from other people having the same issue with various flavors of Ubuntu and from what I can recall graphics never came up. More like something to do with the way Ubuntu handles (or more correctly doesn't handle) processor idling.

As for the realtime kernel, you can switch kernels can you not? At least I did that with Linux Mint a few years back and it wasn't overly complicated IIRC.

I'll try the fix from askubuntu, if that doesn't work I'll just forget about the whole thing. It's simply not worth all the time and hassle. Sadly this is yet another example of why I always end up abandoning Linux everytime I try it: doing anything beyond basic everyday tasks is so absurdly convoluted and user-unfriendly that it's not worth using it unless you have all the time in the world.
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Re: Linux audio distro on wimpy laptop?

Post by fabi »

West wrote:Thanks fabi!
You are welcome :)
Ubuntu Studio does not have Unity, it runs Gnome. I even tried turning compositing off to see if it made any difference on the high CPU usage, but it didn't. I actually don't think it's a graphics issue, I read several posts from other people having the same issue with various flavors of Ubuntu and from what I can recall graphics never came up. More like something to do with the way Ubuntu handles (or more correctly doesn't handle) processor idling.
Oh. Handling the processor idling isn't a problem of Linux I ever heard of, but it might be in combination with a certain north/south-bridge.
I will see if I can figure out why the distribution you tried later does better.
As for the realtime kernel, you can switch kernels can you not? At least I did that with Linux Mint a few years back and it wasn't overly complicated IIRC.
If your distribution comes with a real time kernel in its package system, it is a cakewalk. Otherwise it might be a little more work. Maybe even including the need to compile the kernel yourself, but that is only minor black magic :wink:
I'll try the fix from askubuntu, if that doesn't work I'll just forget about the whole thing. It's simply not worth all the time and hassle.
Indeed, maybe as a musician, Linux is just not the right choice for you anyway. The best operating system is always the one that gets you the work done and you like most.
On the other hand, my last flatmate used to produce composed music (similar in style to Wesnoth's) and he told me that Linux is much better when having several tracks playing at once (The real time kernel thing?).
Sadly this is yet another example of why I always end up abandoning Linux everytime I try it: doing anything beyond basic everyday tasks is so absurdly convoluted and user-unfriendly that it's not worth using it unless you have all the time in the world.
Well, adjusting the Linux to the hardware is not needed that often nowadays anymore and it is not really complicated if you are used to editors and the commandline. The good news is that you need to do it only once. When you get everything working the system is reliable and it is nice to see what is going on. On other operating systems I feel like the system owns me, not the other way around.

My trick is to always buy the hardware I use with Linux in mind. The other way around, can be painful.

I have some Linux installations to maintain at noobs/newbees Desktop's and that works surprisingly well.
On the Windows machines I need to clean all sort of Malware and reinstall all the stuff regularly, but they nearly never manage to break Linux.
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Re: Linux audio distro on wimpy laptop?

Post by West »

fabi wrote:Indeed, maybe as a musician, Linux is just not the right choice for you anyway.
It isn't, I know that. But against all odds I like Linux and I'm sort of nurturing the hope that some day, preferably soon, it will do what I need it to do without quirks and bugs and having to spend days reading message boards to solve seemingly straightforward problems. I'm pretty sure it will get there but it will be long after I have lost all interest :(
fabi wrote:The best operating system is always the one that gets you the work done and you like most.
So true. Windows has always gotten the job done for me, and that's why I'm sticking with it. Pragmatism, not fanboiness.
fabi wrote:On the other hand, my last flatmate used to produce composed music (similar in style to Wesnoth's) and he told me that Linux is much better when having several tracks playing at once (The real time kernel thing?).
With ASIO drivers Windows can get crazy low latencies so the realtime kernel is probably not what makes the difference here. I'd say it all depends on what hardware setup we're talking about. I have no doubt that Linux can provide better and more stable performance at really low latencies as it can be optimized in a way that Windows can't. As long as you have hardware that Linux plays well with, that is.
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Re: Linux audio distro on wimpy laptop?

Post by fabi »

Well, I can offer you to fix most things remotely.
That means some work to get me an access to your system and you need to trust me by giving the root password away, at least for a short amount of time.

Of course I would be able to install all kind of backdoors on your system.

edit: I guess the asio drivers are more or less the equivalent to installing a real time kernel.
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Re: Linux audio distro on wimpy laptop?

Post by West »

fabi wrote:Well, I can offer you to fix most things remotely.
That means some work to get me an access to your system and you need to thrust me by giving the root password away, at least for a short amount of time.

Of course I would be able to install all kind of backdoors on your system.

edit: I guess the asio drivers are more or less the equivalent to installing a real time kernel.
That's very generous of you fabi, but I don't want you wasting your time setting up something that I only want to use out of curiosity. :) If I decide to install Linux on my stationary machine again, I'd be happy to take you up on your offer if I run into problems though. So thanks, but no need. In fact it's probably better for me in the long run if I try to learn how to solve these issues myself, as frustrating as it may be.

Speaking of latencies, ASIO drivers and realtime kernels, here's something I've been wondering. There are lots of bare-bones Linux distros for specific uses. Like firewalls, HTPC systems etc. Why hasn't anyone tried applying this thinking to audio processing? (Or maybe someone have, and I just haven't heard about it). I'm sure most of us who are into computers have some old parts or even whole obsolete machines lying around. What if we could turn that old hardware into effect racks for running, say, a super high quality reverb that wouldn't be practical to use on the same computer that's running the DAW and all the tracks? After all, the processing power of hardware effects are FAR below that of a PC, even one that is ten years old. It's just that they aren't burdened with the overhead of running an entire desktop OS, so they can happily spend all their time processing audio. In fact this is such a great idea that I would be surprised if someone hasn't thought of it before me ;)
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Re: Linux audio distro on wimpy laptop?

Post by fabi »

West wrote:That's very generous of you fabi, but I don't want you wasting your time setting up something that I only want to use out of curiosity. :) If I decide to install Linux on my stationary machine again, I'd be happy to take you up on your offer if I run into problems though. So thanks, but no need. In fact it's probably better for me in the long run if I try to learn how to solve these issues myself, as frustrating as it may be.
Okay, the offer still stands, don't hesitate to ask.
Speaking of latencies, ASIO drivers and realtime kernels, here's something I've been wondering. There are lots of bare-bones Linux distros for specific uses. Like firewalls, HTPC systems etc. Why hasn't anyone tried applying this thinking to audio processing? (Or maybe someone have, and I just haven't heard about it). I'm sure most of us who are into computers have some old parts or even whole obsolete machines lying around. What if we could turn that old hardware into effect racks for running, say, a super high quality reverb that wouldn't be practical to use on the same computer that's running the DAW and all the tracks? After all, the processing power of hardware effects are FAR below that of a PC, even one that is ten years old. It's just that they aren't burdened with the overhead of running an entire desktop OS, so they can happily spend all their time processing audio. In fact this is such a great idea that I would be surprised if someone hasn't thought of it before me ;)
I will ask my former flatmate, most likely he knows if something similar already exists.
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Re: Linux audio distro on wimpy laptop?

Post by Elvish_Hunter »

West wrote:Anyway. I have an ageing budget laptop (ASUS X58C) presently running Windows XP. But I'm thinking of setting up a dual boot with some nice audio distro, mainly just for playing around and checking out what Linux has to offer these days.
In that case, I suggest you to take a look at Xubuntu. Granted, it isn't an audio distro (so I don't know if all the tools that you need will be available), but it runs fine even on slower computers than yours. For example, I'm using it on a system with 512 MB of RAM and yet it almost doesn't use swap - even with LibreOffice and some other programs open...
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