Ubuntu 14.04 (code named ‘Trusty Tahr‘) is the fifth ‘Long Term Support’ release, and being as such, these releases are thoroughly tested & include less features (since they demand too much changes being made to the codes) as the targeted audience is those who prefer a more stable OS that is backed-up by updates for a few years.
That being said, this LTS release does contain some noticeable changes most of which are not that visible to end-users. For instance, by following the footsteps of the regular 6 months based releases, 14.04 LTS now also uses the ‘Deadline’ disk I/O scheduler (that which governs disk input/output operations) instead of ‘CFQ’. Intel ‘PowerClamp’ is also included as attempt to optimize the thermal & power usage efficiency on Intel CPUs. This release marks the official support for ARM 64-bit architecture as well.
‘TRIM’ (a feature that significantly improves the write performance of SSD drives by periodically cleaning unused- marked as deleted, pages) is enabled by default from now on & ‘Nvidia Optimus’ is also enhanced, according to the release notes.
There are few user-interface related enhancements that I personally found to prefer a lot (more on those later). For this review I downloaded the 64-bit ISO disc image (about 964MB) & as always, although it is presented at end of the review, I measured the performance related data (boot-up times, memory usage, power usage …) before ‘touching’ the newly installed OS for keeping the readings as accurate as possible, and then compared the data from Ubuntu 14.04 LTS with Ubuntu 13.10 & 13.04.
Below is a brief description of my hardware:
Intel Core i3-2330M CPU, Intel HD 3000 GPU, 4GB RAM (DDR3), Toshiba 7200 RPM (320GB) SATA HDD, Intel N-1030 Wireless adapter, Realtek network adapter ('RTL8168'), LED display with 1366x768 resolution (60Hz/60FPS). It's a Dell Vostro V-131 notebook.
The Installation …
I do not think anyone would need an introduction to the Ubuntu installer so I will not say much. But as far as the installation was concerned, I came across no issue whatsoever (hardware detection, disk partition format, GRUB installation … all went good).
First Boot-up & the Desktop …
The default GRUB (ver. 2.02 beta2) screen of Ubuntu has always looked a bit too complicated from the perspective of an average computer user. I think ‘Memtest’ menu entries should also be displayed inside the ‘Advanced options …’ which in effect should make it look simple. Other than that, no complaints here either.
A subtle (but beautiful) change is noticeable when booting up, which is the slightly changed boot-logo. They have only added Ubuntu’s orange colors to the ‘circle of friends’, but it looks beautiful when compared with the old ones.
The Desktop …
*. The first noticeable change on the desktop is the new wallpaper (which I also happened to like).
*. The user menu is further ‘cleaned up’ by removing the ‘Restart’ entry, & ‘Lock/Switch Account’ being renamed to ‘Lock’. All in all it looks simple and clean.
*. Users can now find and select an application window by simple typing its name on ‘Application Spread’ mode which is only applicable for the multiple windows of the same application. You can also type and jump into any opened window (which consists of multiple instance of various different applications) through ‘Window Spread’ mode, by first pressing ‘Super Key + w’ keyboard shortcut as well.
*. Unity also includes brand new and a beautiful (and more login screen looking alike) lock screen.
*. The window corners are now antialiased and as you can see, now they look more sharp & clear.
*. Application windows are now rendered without borders and now they look more sharp (at lest to my taste).
*. File manager now finally displays its full menu on the Top panel on Unity as shown below.
In Ubuntu 13.10, some contents of this menu was accessible through the gear-icon on the file manager and the rest was displayed on the Top panel (this was due to the changes that had occurred on Gnome3) which I hated. With 14.04 LTS release, this is now finally fixed.
*. Speaking of application menus, for unmaximized windows, users now can make Unity display menu on the application title-bar (disabled by default) which saves the hassle of pointing the mouse pointer all the way up to the Top-panel. From users who use small screens (myself included) to those that use large screens with high resolutions will find a sense of relief in that. Another nice touch I must say.
*. Another change is the ability to minimize and maximize application windows by clicking on their respective icon on the Application Launcher. This feature however is experimental, works if you have opened single application window (per application) only, & has to be enabled using the ‘CompizConfig Settings Manager’.
*. Volume levels can also be increased beyond 100% through ‘PulseAudio’ (disabled by default) as well.
There could a few more changes that I missed, but these were the ones that I noticed the most.
Ubuntu 14.04 LTS ships with Kernel version 3.13, Xorg 15.0.1, Upstart 1.12.1, Unity shell 7.2.0, Firefox 28.0, Thunderbird 24.4.0, LibreOffice 4.2.3 (when compared to its previous versions, this one opens up a bit faster), Ubuntu Software Center 13.10, ShotWell 0.18.0, a completely redesigned ‘Video’ (movie player) that looks elegant … are just some applications to mention.
Performance Related Details …
Other than the power usage, CPU usage at idle & system responsiveness tests, I ran all other tests 5 times for getting average readings. Since it loads with a big delay after the desktop loads, I disabled ‘Software Update’ from running on system start-up for getting accurate memory usage readings.
Boot-up Speed …
Also after installing Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, I logged into the desktop, let it idle for about 40-50 seconds then rebooted it. I did this for about 5-6 times (sometimes I choose Shutdown) for letting things to settle down, but most importantly for letting ‘ureadahead‘ (a utility that significantly speeds up the boot-up process) to create its database. Then I started measuring the boot-up times & came up with the below graph for comparison.
As you can see, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS was 8% slower to boot when compared to Ubuntu 13.10 & 15.6% slower when compared to 13.04.
Memory Usage Upon Desktop Loading …
Here too Ubuntu 14.04 LTS consumed more memory than Ubuntu 13.10 (5.8%) & Ubuntu 13.04 (2.5%), but certainly not by that much.
Power Usage at Idle …
I kept Wi-Fi turned ON (connected to my wireless router), screen brightness set to maximum (had also disabled from it being dimmed and turned OFF) and as I have done in all other occasions, Bluetooh adapter was turned OFF.
I used ‘powerstat‘ for measuring the power usage at idle, and as you can see, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS actually consumed more power (around 7.3%) than Ubuntu 13.04 (I do not have power usage data for Ubuntu 13.10).
I do admit that I was a bit disappointed by this because there was a gap of 0.9watts, which is quite a bit as far as power consumption of a regular laptop is concerned. So out of my frustration, later I installed ‘TLP‘ (excellent & somewhat easy to configure tool that I have using for a long time which automatically reduces the power usage by applying various tweaks to your hardware) and without configuring anything, ‘TLP’ was able to reduce the power usage by around 1.08watts! (now the power usage readings were even below those of Ubuntu 13.04).
CPU Usage at Idle …
As you can see, other than the system-monitor itself that kept using 3-4% CPU cycles (it has been doing this in older versions and other distributions), all the other processes leave the CPU alone for very long periods. Excellent!.
Compiz FPS Benchmark at Screen Idle …
Why is this (‘FPS’ readings) important ?
Unnecessary frame rates mean more work for the GPU and that should lead to more power consumption & heat generation, in extreme cases. So a good operating system, when the screen is at idle (meaning zero activity) should keep the frame rate around zero.
This was the case in Ubuntu 13.10 & 13.04, and in Ubuntu 14.04 LTS also (below). So no complains here.
In Ubuntu 13.04 I discovered however that the frame rate had a tendency of being raised to higher values when ‘Dash’ was opened and kept at its idle state. This was finally fixed in Ubuntu 13.10 & I am happy to say that Ubuntu 14.04 LTS also sets the FPS around zero (below).
If however, I unmaximized ‘Dash’ on Ubuntu 13.04, then all of a sudden the fps gets increased to its maximum levels, which is around 60fps (for my screen). This was reduced to 10-11fps in Ubuntu 13.10, and in Ubuntu 14.04 LTS now it stays around near zero! (below).
If I had opened ‘HUD’ and let it idle on Ubuntu 13.04 then the fps levels gets again to their maximum possible values for my display hardware (59-60fps). This was reduced to 31-32fps (by half) on Ubuntu 13.10 and in Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, although it is not near zero by comparison, it stays around 2.5fps (below).
So all in all, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS has been able to address some issues that my hardware had faced, very successfully.
Hardware Recognition and ACPI …
Except for my fingerprint reader that is not yet supported by GNU/Linux, as usual, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS recognized and configured them without any major issues, though the display brightness gets reset to maximum on each desktop login. This happens with pretty much all the other GNU/Linux distributions that I have used so far though.
‘Suspend’ also works well and only takes about 1-2 seconds. But when waking up from suspend, for the first time within any given desktop session, Bluetooth adapter gets turned ON (not a big issue as I can simply turn it OFF).
After searching for an application and tried to open it on ‘Dash’, the desktop got stuck for a few seconds and then I received the following error. However, I have witnessed somewhat similar issues on earlier Ubuntu releases too, and in 14.04 LTS I came across it only this once.
System Responsiveness …
When the disk was put under a reasonable load (I/O) Ubuntu 13.10 & 13.04 had responded well, but not exceptional (when compared to Linux Mint 14 & 15 for instance). But the heart of the matter is, I was never dissatisfied with Ubuntu in terms of being a responsive OS.
So I carried out my usual test on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS also. While copying a file which was about 1.5GB in size within the ‘Home’ folder, I double clicked on a video file (yes I had installed the proprietary multimedia codecs manually) then I clicked on ‘Dash’ and tried to open ‘LibreOffice Writer’, ‘Gedit’, ‘Terminal’, ‘ShotWell’, then right clicked on the desktop and tried to open the background changer, clicked on the Application Launcher and tried to open Firefox & Ubuntu Software Center. How did go then ?
It was very satisfying!. Not only video playback was carried out uninterrupted, but ‘Dash’ also responded to the searches pretty well, except for Ubuntu Software Center, most other applications were opened before the file copy finished, & the mouse pointer sensitivity was never lost (except a very little on 2 or 3 occasions).
I would say that the responsiveness under Ubuntu 14.04 LTS was actually better than under both 13.10 & 13.04.
Shutdown Delay …
Ubuntu 13.10 was the fastest to shutdown while 14.04 LTS & 13.04 were equals. This was certainly a negligible fact since the difference was very small. Plus, on both 13.10 & 13.04, every now and then, my laptop took 9-12 seconds of delay (due to some service not being terminated properly) but on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS I had no such issue.
Final Words …
If one should mention one, then it should be the small delay in boot-up time, as far as issues are concerned in Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, and all the rest can be completely ignored, firstly because most of them are of such small magnitude, except for the power usage issue, but that too was easily fixable through ‘TLP’. Secondly, with this release Ubuntu has been able to successfully address few existing issues (at least on my hardware) & remember, this is a ‘Long Term Release’, so the OS is supported up to 5 years. Thus I think by now my choice should be clear to the reader which is plain & simple: If you are an Ubuntu user, then switch to 14.04 LTS!.
You can download the disc image from the official Ubuntu page. Thank you for reading.