Ubuntu 12.04 Developers Working to Improve Energy Efficiency
Ubuntu 12.04 — the next longterm-support (LTS) release of the world’s most popular open source operating system — promises a lot of feature updates, including those involving the Unity interface and the Software Center. But if all goes as planned, your Ubuntu 12.04 laptop might last significantly longer on battery power as well. At least, that’s what Ubuntu kernel developer Colin Ian King promised in a recent blog post.
It seems to me that in general, software tweaks aimed at improving battery life are becoming less and less important these days. Power outlets are increasingly standard in places where once they weren’t, and as the cost of high-performance batteries continues to decline many machines are coming standard with batteries that deliver power for well longer than their owners need in most circumstances.
On the other hand, having been on 10 different flights and three long-distance trains in the last two months, none of which offered anywhere to plug in my netbook, I can attest anecdotally that anything that makes my computer’s battery last longer is welcome. After using the machine for two years, the six-cell device now holds a charge while unplugged only for about 3.5 hours, or 4.5 with wireless radio turned off, under Ubuntu 11.04 — and that’s with SSD storage, which helps to save a little power from the get-go.
Keeping Ubuntu 12.04 Awake Longer
I was happy, then, to read on King’s blog that kernel developers are busily working to implement new features in the Ubuntu 12.04 kernel that should help the system cut back on energy use, making it possible to use laptops longer without being tethered to a wall. (This is to say nothing of reducing power consumption on all Ubuntu computers, which is nice for the people who pay the electric bills and better for the planet.)
It’s true that the Phoronix folks, who are pretty rigorous in their tests, found not too long ago that Ubuntu 11.04 already handily outperforms Windows when it comes to power usage. On the other hand, Macs still (unsurprisingly, since Apple has much more control over the hardware it needs to support) come out ahead of both operating systems. Thus there’s still plenty of room for improvement for Ubuntu on this front, especially given Canonical’s intent to move into the world of mobile computing, where battery life is a major priority.
The plan for tackling this issue on Ubuntu includes coming to a better understanding of things that should have been figured out by now — whether i386 kernels are more energy-efficient than i386-pae or amd64 equivalents, for example — but haven’t necessarily topped kernel hackers’ priority lists in the past. (For what it’s worth, I’ll throw out the link to the relatively unscientific test I did a couple years ago measuring power consumption and other things on different types of kernels.) That’s not really too surprising, though, since most of the dollars supporting upstream Linux kernel development come from sources more worried about the server world, where energy consumption is less important than in the universe of desktop Linux.
As part of the effort to get these new features rolled out in time for the next LTS release in April, King has issued calls for volunteers to help test Aggressive Link Power Management (ALPM) and power.d code on their machines. Volunteers can also check the Ubuntu wiki periodically to learn about new tests that they might perform.
I’ll look forward to seeing where this effort leads the Ubuntu community ahead of the LTS release — and to the day when, just maybe, I can use my netbook for the whole duration of a transatlantic flight without having to pay the barbarous fees most U.S.-based airlines are charging these days just to get a seat with a power outlet.