What is Linux Compared to Windows - Software Installation Reviews Part 2

First Impressions - What is Linux Compared to Windows - Software Installation Reviews Part 2

by Larry Neal Gowdy -September 11, 2011 (updated February 20, 2014)

About Linux CPU Usage

As mentioned in What is Linux Compared to Windows - Software Installation Reviews Part 1, Linux® has advantages and disadvantages compared to Windows®. It is recommended that you read Linux versus Windows - How to Choose Which to Use before deciding whether or not you will be pleased with Linux or Windows.

One of the more serious disadvantages on desktop versions of Linux as compared to Windows is high CPU usage.* All computers that I have installed Linux on have had similar CPU usage, whether the computers be a Pentium® 3, Pentium 4, or AMD® socket A2+. It may be possible to find an old version of Linux that would be better capable of functioning in a modern computer with less CPU usage, but an older version of Linux would come with the cost of decreased dependability and increased demand of the user's computer skills.

Screenshot Zorin Linux CPU Useage

Screenshot of the Zorin Linux CPU Usage at 88.4%.

The Zorin® version of Linux has attractive appearances and has copied several of the features of Windows XP and 7. Everyone has different tastes, but for me the main thing that I like about Zorin is the over all theme, especially with the solid taskbar. The main thing that I do not like about Zorin and almost all other Linux desktop distributions is the excessively high CPU usage. On a 2.0ghz Pentium 4 computer with 1g RAM, with a browser open, two Flash® games in the browser, my homepage in the browser, a MP3 player playing music, an HTML editor open, and the CPU monitor open, CPU usage stayed at around 88%. Any activity in the programs caused the CPU usage to jump to 100% and bring the computer to an almost complete stop.

Running the same number of programs and open windows in Windows 2000 on the same computer, the CPU usage hovered at around 15%. The lightweight Audacious® and Chrome® should have allowed Zorin to run more smoothly than Windows' Media Player and the FireFox® browser, but even with lightweight programs Linux used almost 600% more CPU than the old Windows 2000 on the same computer.

Screenshot Windows 2000 CPU Useage

Screenshot of the Windows 2000 CPU Usage at 15%.

As a comparison, on another computer running a 2.3ghz AMD Sempron with 2g RAM and XP, and with the Jasc's® PaintShop® Pro graphics program running alongside the same types and numbers of open windows and programs as Zorin and Windows 2000, CPU usage ranged from 0% to 2%. At one time Zorin was installed on the XP computer, but Zorin still had the same problem of excessive CPU usage. On the AMD computer Zorin typically used around 1,000% to 5,000% more CPU than XP.

On the tests above, all programs were running in open windows. Minimizing a program helps to lower RAM usage, but all programs were left open so as to help illustrate the differences between the different operating systems. To date, with Linux installed on about half a dozen different computers, the CPU usage of Linux has remained very similar.

Screenshot Windows XP CPU Useage

Screenshot of the Windows XP CPU Usage at 0%.

Why Linux CPU Usage is Bad

Of the more than 50,000 electrical devices that I have repaired over the years, one of the more common reasons for the devices to fail was due to heat, with the heat itself being caused by running the device beyond its designed limitations. As an example, a typical ceiling light fixture rated at 60 watts can easily handle 120 watt light bulbs, but within a few years the wiring will have oxidized and deteriorated to the point that the wiring breaks, requiring that the light fixture be completely replaced.

A general rule of thumb is that an electrical device should not be operated at more than 25% of its rated capacity. An electrical component operated at under 10% of its rating may likely last a lifetime, whereas the same component operated at 100% of its capacity may fail within weeks or months, if not sooner. Similar to how you would not expect a car engine to last long if it were continually running at maximum rpm, so likewise will electronic devices fail when operated at maximum.**

Running a CPU at or near 100% will cause the CPU to run hot, as well as place added stress on the motherboard and power supply. A decent CPU and motherboard costs around $150.00 plus installation time, which is considerably more expensive than a Windows upgrade. If there is a specific reason why you must use Linux with animated visualizations (fancy desktop themes), then I would recommend an investment into one of the latest quad-core CPUs with a rating of no less than 3ghz, plus 4g RAM for 32 bit systems, and 16g RAM for 64 bit systems. Additionally, a 1g video card is also recommended so as to help relieve some of the CPU stress.

Puppy Linux

Of all Linux versions that I have tested, Puppy® Linux has proven to be the most stable, and too, to use the least CPU. Puppy still averages around 40-45% CPU usage where Windows would normally be at around 2-10%, which is not great but it is low enough to enable you to multitask and do stuff with your computer. I have not yet had the opportunity to test new notebooks that are selling with Linux preinstalled, but it is expected that the notebook manufacturers have invested the time and materials to ensure that Linux runs smoothly and with usefully small CPU usage. Nevertheless, I would still expect Windows to have lower CPU usage on the same computer.

It is strongly recommended that before installing a Linux distribution on your computer that you use a live version so as to determine whether or not the Linux distribution will work on your computer. A live version is simply the Linux operating system installed on a CD. By inserting the CD into the CD drive when first booting your computer, the Linux operating system will load itself into memory and run without your having to install it on your hard drive.

If you are using Linux for the first time, I recommend that you use the Puppy version at Puppy Linux download. Puppy has worked well for me on all tested computers, and Puppy has a lot of help screens for new users.

To create a live Puppy Linux CD, first download the ISO file and save the file to your desktop or in a directory that you can easily find. If you do not already have ISO burning software, you can download a free copy of CDBurnerXP. An ISO file is different than normal files, and so you must use burner software that can handle ISO files. Simply insert a blank CD in your CD drive, click on the burner software to burn an ISO image, wait for the burning to finish, and you will then have a working Linux operating system.

Another thing that I recommend strongly is that if you should decide to install Puppy or any other operating system on your computer, it cannot be emphasized enough to use a new or reformatted hard drive for the new installation while keeping your current hard drive unplugged (both the power plug as well as the IDE/SATA plug fully removed from the old hard drive). Bad unhappy things do happen, and if the new operating system installation goes south, you can very easily plug back in your old hard drive and have everything working perfectly again. New hard drives are now fairly cheap, and the drive will seem even cheaper if/when you discover that you want your old operating system back.

* (Update March 04, 2014) The newer Linux distributions that I have been evaluating have proven to now have low CPU usage for normal computer use (office suites, graphics, audio, etc.). Nevertheless, if the user chooses to install visual animations that run continuously, then the user must accept higher CPU usage regardless of the operating system.

** (Update March 04, 2014) Current testing with Lubuntu has produced favorable results of having low CPU usage for desktops and laptops. Meanwhile, many new Windows computers are being manufactured with CPUs of only 1ghz to 1.5ghz, which simply means that the CPUs must work harder, longer, and hotter to perform the same function that a 2ghz CPU could do in less time and with less energy.

Also see:

What is Linux Compared to Windows - Software Installation Reviews Part 2

What is Linux Compared to Windows - Software Installation Reviews Part 3

What is Linux Compared to Windows - Software Installation Reviews Part 4

It is also recommended that you read Linux versus Windows - How to Choose Which to Use before deciding whether or not you may be pleased with Linux or Windows.

Unless otherwise stated, all content and graphics are Copyright©2011-2014 by Larry Neal Gowdy.
No content nor graphic may be copied or reused without written permission.