Ubuntu on low memory subnotebook

UPDATE 2013-11-12 Added vrmlimit option for radeon kernel module

Ubuntu can be tricky to be used on old and slow hardware. This short article summarises my experience in installing Ubuntu on ASUS Eee PC 1015BX. This subnotebook is advertised as having 1G RAM but 256M of it are shared with video and there is no way to use this memory as regular RAM. In this model, RAM is soldered onto the motherboard leaving you with the only possible option of handling it somehow using 768M.

Ubuntu with 768M is very bad. Firefox/Chrome/whatever eats at least 1G for simple GMail+YouTube. When I tried Xubuntu, things started to feel better. Xubuntu is your choice for low memory.

Choosing Xubuntu doesn't resolve the needs of 1G for modern browser. The solution that handled it somewhat was to change the aggressive Linux settings for using swap. With the following changes, Linux will use swap only as a last resort:

$ sudo -i
# cat << EOF > /etc/sysctl.d/20-swapppiness.conf
vm.swappiness = 5
vm.vfs_cache_pressure = 50
# /etc/init.d/procps restart

Next step is dangerous and more complex. Be prepared for hangups during initial setup. Once setup it's working fine and without problems. It's about using video memory as swap. The following configuration works for ASUS Eee PC 1015BX but you have to adapt it to your case and graphics card.

$ sudo -i
# cat << EOF > /etc/modprobe.d/slram.conf
options slram map=VRAM,0xd2000000,+0x0e000000
options radeon vramlimit=32
# dpkg-reconfigure linux-image-3.11.0-13-generic # or whatever is your kernel
# cat << EOF >> /etc/rc.local
modprobe slram
modprobe mtdblock
mkswap -f /dev/mtdblock0
swapon /dev/mtdblock0 -p 10

Use the following resources for determining the precise arguments to modprobe slram:

Good luck!

There are some little things that can be done too. Disable scanning the disk every day for maintainance:

$ sudo -i
# apt-get purge apt-xapian-index mlocate
# echo exit 0 > /etc/updatedb.findutils.cron.local

You can also reduce the vertical space used by Xfce, leaving you more space for browsing:

  • Applications Menu - Settings Manager - Panel: Remove panel 1 and shorten vertical height by changing Row size (pixels) to 20. You may try Autohide but my personal preference is the clock to be always visible.
  • Applications Menu - Settings Manager - Window Manager: In Xubuntu 13.10, you may change Style - Theme to Daloa. It makes window title bar smaller.

That's it! I hope this was useful to you. Follow me on Google+.