Further adventures of a Mac Mini…

My poor old 1.66 Core Duo Mac Mini just wasn’t performing quite as well as it used to and it was time to do some cleanup. Well it occurs to me that it might actually just run Linux pretty well. With it’s poor little 512MB of RAM, Linux gives me a bit more control over exactly what’s going on and what’s using resources! Time for the ISD-Inexorable to switch to Ubuntu 10.4 (Lucid Lynx) beta!

Adventure number one: booting off a the CD.
For some reason neither the Alt nor the C keys are triggering the bootloader to attempt to boot off the disk. This isn’t going to be a dual-boot machine, so I’m not interested in bootcamp. Turns out the rEFIt project solves this problem quite nicely! Quick install there and away we go.
Worth noting that you have to reboot twice before rEFIt shows up at boot. Got a little worried when I rebooted initially and didn’t get a bootloader menu.
So now we’re installing! Clean partition of the drive and away it goes!

Adventure number two: laggy graphics.
After rebooting out of the installer everything looks great, except that the UI is responding exceptionally slowly. Bringing up apps is slow, switching between apps takes over 30 seconds. This doesn’t seem right at all! My 1.5ghz PowerBook G4 performs far better than this! To add to the mystery the processors aren’t doing more than 15%, and I still have 100MB of RAM free. So what’s going on here?

It doesn’t seem to be the driver. The driver for the Intel integrated GMA950 doesn’t seem to have any known issues, and hasn’t in a while… glxgears appears to work fine, but when I move the mouse over another app the gears slow way down. This sounds like a window manager issue to me. Time is spent researching if GDM may have issues on this card. Nothing is found.

Then I randomly stumble across a forum post that points out a simple solution:
sudo aptitude install xserver-xorg-video-intel
I try this, without doing any further research about what it is or what it does. Quick reboot and presto, full speed GUI!

While I don’t have any true benchmarks to compare, the machine is running both faster and cooler under Lucid Lynx than it was under OSX Snow Leopard. The OS is more responsive and taking up less memory, and video performance is improved! Under Snow Leopard the machine would lag for 10-30 seconds loading Hulu or TED videos. Even just opening a new tab in Safari would take a couple seconds. Not so anymore! I’m really very impressed Only difficulty I’m having currently is I keep using CMD- instead of CTRL- for keyboard shortcuts. I’m sure I can remap that. 🙂
Only other problem that I’m going to face is reading/writing to OS-X file systems. More on that later if it turns out to be interesting.

I’m amused that I managed to stay inside the “big cat” operating system names. In the battle of Lynx vs. Snow Leopard, the Lucid Lynx is coming out on top in this case.