Discriminating indiscriminately...

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Those precious seconds

I've been using a ThinkPad T60 at work for the last year and a half, and when I first got it, I thought it was fantastic -- very responsive, hardly ever crashed, and the battery life is quite good.

However, I now find that startup -- whether resuming from standby or cold booting -- is an interminably long process. This is probably partly because NTFS gradually degrades due to fragmentation (something that defragging now and then doesn't really seem to affect in a perceptible way), but the reasons seem to be different depending upon whether it's bootstrapping or resuming (more posts than you can shake a stick at here).

When bootstrapping, the execution of multiple applications seems to kill performance, mainly due to disk access requirements. Whether this is due to multiple processes trying to load libraries at the same time, bad virtual memory implementation (perhaps also a side effect of the massive paging file being easily subject to fragmentation), or no prioritisation between background app loading to guarantee UI responsiveness, I don't know, and frankly don't care. A good analysis is here on the ThinkPad forums, including recommendations for removing various superfluous ThinkVantage startup software items.

When resuming, I've found the biggest improvement was to disable the anti-virus service that came pre-installed by the company IT department (in this case, Trend Micro OfficeScan). This service seems to cause at least five minutes of disk thrashing as it does some sort of resume-check. It could be that this is due to the interaction of the scanner with some other software, like Skype, but disabling the service does mitigate the problem to some extent.

Perhaps this is due to Microsoft not coordinating with software vendors to really test OS responsiveness under real-world conditions: namely, having multiple programs installed and frequently sleeping and resuming. One shouldn't have to dig into the registry to disable prefetch as a matter of course (it didn't work for me anyway).

The sad thing is that my old Apple Cube (literally a museum piece), with a 1.7GHz PowerPC CPU accelerator installed, seems faster and more responsive than my T60. Good news though, James Fallows is finding the MacBook Air a more than adequate replacement, and some former MS junkies now catalogue the reasons to switch to a Mac!

1 comment:

Walter said...

I seem to have a bad relationship with PCs. My 6 month old work HP/Compaq laptop is in the shop due to extreme flakiness on its part and I've been using Charis' 2 year old MacBook very happily for the last week and a half. MacBook seems faster and more reliable to me, so I'm hoping the HP comes back, still doesn't work and I can request a MacBook as a replacement.