Fastest Possible Desktop Experience - How?

I click on the clock on the taskbar - nearly a second before it opens. I click on a graphic design application - 10… 20… finally it’s open. I open a pictures folder, that green bar slowly ticks across the navigation bar at the top until a minute later it’s done whatever the Hell it was doing…

Suppose I am someone obsessed with getting all my interactions with the computer as fast as possible. Every slow response a torture. What can I do to ease my tortured mind? Does super-fast DDR5 improve desktop experience? Is Intel Optane better than a regular SSD because of random read latency? Ram disks? PCI-Ev5? Windows settings? Different DNS servers? Swap wireless mouse for wired (spoiler: already did this. Much better - no initial battery saving lag introduced when I first start to use it).

As it’s useful to have something concrete to discuss I have an first gen Threadripper 1920 on a MSI motherboard, all PCI-E v3 and a WD Black AN1500 the OS drive. 4 1TB WD Black HDs in a Storage Space for striped and duplicated, a couple of 512MB SSDs in SATA ports. But most of my operations are running off that AN1500. But it doesn’t have to be based around this. What is the dream configuration for the fastest possible desktop / Windows responsiveness?

My theory on the slow green bar is Windows has to re-cache/re-index a folder, it wouldn’t really matter changing a system from DDR4 to DDR5. Back when I did graphic design work along with web development, it was always interesting to compare Windows vs MacOS X on how long file folders would load(this was during XP & Vista) and both were equally slow.
In the 90s using RAM Disk on MacOS was common with graphic designers, you can shave off a ton of time opening files/batch processing–sadly the performance of such isn’t realistic on modern PCs when there is Optane.

My personal tweaks is use the fastest SSD for the boot/application drive, then use a dedicated SSD as a scratch drive if you’re doing batch processing–even budget cacheless SSDs are plenty fast for this kind of usage as many average 450 MB/s read and 400 MB/s write.

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There’s your BIGGEST bottleneck right there.

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I think this is the first true bottleneck, beside Windows itself.
To get the responsiveness you’re looking for you a processor that can boost very very quickly and to as high clocks as possible because those kind of interactions are usually very spiky for the CPU.

That’s a inherit problem of Windows that I’m facing too, especially in large folders of RAW pictures. Disabling indexing to save the SSDs has this unwanted side effect. Plus I guess it’s just Windows that’s slow AF for these operations because NTFS is a pretty old filesystem.

Not really.

I don’t think you could spot the difference using an Optane drive instead of a regular consumer SSD. There are not enough 4K random operations at low queue depth to see a difference.

Disabling ALL the fancy graphic stuff, like animations, shadows, transparency, windows peaking and alike will make the desktop feel snappier.

Skipping the DE and going straight up for a WM + bar.

For Windows I’d go for a custom installation (there are tools to make custom minimal images), minimal program installed at all costs keeping as much on portable version, a dedicated drive for Windows installation and a separate one for programs (but this step is too extreme, just a drive for Windows + programs is more than fine).

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Basically ya. I’m not computer scientist. All I know is in Windows I got the same issue with the loading bar in folders with lots of photos. In Linux, it’s not problem.

Seriously, try installing a linux distro on the same hardware and just try browsing the internet to see how much faster it is due to Linux doing less crap in the background.

It does depend on what you’re doing - but windows does a HEAP of stuff in the background that linux does not.

Check out task scheduler on a recent install of windows some time. Seriously…

As above too, TR1000 series has latency issues to overcome which don’t matter so much for batch work but interactive behavior will be compromised somewhat.

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The TLDR is that both Windows and programs designed for Windows are not really optimized for responsiveness in mind. If a user must wait 10 seconds to open an app that will then be open for hours, who cares amirite?

The long answer has to do with dynamic vs static linking, tiered storage, how a computer is designed and a lot of other fun stuff. I can do a longer writeup of what is going on when I have more time, sadly not enough available right now.

Some good stuff here, thanks!

I should have expected all the ragging on Windows, though! :slight_smile: It might not be a bad idea to try GNU/Linux again. It’s been a while since that’s been my primary OS. Means I’ll once again have to do battle with handling dual boot - if anyone knows of a good write-up on that as last time I did it recall getting into some big old mess with my Bitlocker’d OS drive.

Turning off all the flash in Windows is a good call that I’d overlooked. I used to do that then I didn’t on the latest install for some reason. Probably because I’d just put in the AN1500 and reinstalled and I was feeling things were fast. It wore off though so time to dig through all those hard to find settings. There’s one that controls how windows appear and disappear making them just blink in and out of existence. Can never remember what it’s called though.

The Threadripper CPU is an interesting one. So I should be looking for something with very high boost clocks, you say? Maybe time to look at one of the upcoming Ryzens. With larger storage capacities these days I might not need so many PCI-E lanes.

So what’s the fastest DE for GNU/Linux these days? And what’s a good distro? I used to use Gentoo but I hear there are better self-compiled distros now.

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sorry guys, I run linux on a 1900 and win10 on a 1920, and they are still perfectly responsive at running the desktop, and basic tasks, as long as one has an SSD and enough ram.

It is not the best for heavy workloads, and there can be some stutter / lag from the terribad NUMA set up, but not in itself bad (yet)

I would suggest OP might be having issues with bloat. either packages or updates, or both.

But, I guess I probably tweaked stuff, perhaps tightening timings or whatnot, and try to debloat where I can, so, it might be the very old system

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Why being sorry? You’re talking about your real life experience, I’m going off what I gathered in the first days of the Ryzen platform. Your opinion is surely based on direct experience and more valuable than just “the internet said”.

Yes, that might be an issue for sure. Good call!

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Those trype of CPUs tend to perform well when it comes to responsiveness.

It’s in the appearence something menu in the Control Panel. That’s where all the boxes to untick are.

XFCE is a good middle ground between looks and speed, you could try that.
I don’t know if it’s the fastest, but it’s surely very light.

I like Debian based distros soo an Ubuntu XFCE flavour would be my choice. Easy to install and manage, lot’s of support.

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I am curious as to what memory config OP has as it’s the only thing they haven’t mentioned.

To let my prejudice show:
Op has earlier TR, so doing real work means lots of dog slow ddr4 probably.

A gen12 or zen 3 r9 with slightly tuned memory will do wonders for responsiveness and beat mc performance if op doesn’t need a bunch of PCI lanes, and very much ram- but are not cheap.

I went from a Ryzen 1700 to a 3900X a year or so ago and the difference in responsiveness was staggering.

Other than that try a different file manager. On Windows I’ve used Directory Opus for ages and it’s very, very snappy.

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Okay, so here is the looooooooooong answer. You might want to grab a cup of coffee for this one. So why are applications so slow on loading? This has to do with several different parts, all which may or may not converge here.

  1. The sheer size of the application and all linked libraries. While RAM is plenty of fast these days, it takes time for a process to load into memory from storage. This is just basic physics.
  2. The speed of the RAM. Faster RAM leads to faster loading times, duh.
  3. The speed of the storage device. Faster transfer speed → faster loading into RAM → Faster startup.
  4. Lazily coded and/or poorly optimized programs. It is entirely possible to make a program that start up in a few nanoseconds and then stream their assets from there on out, starting chunks when they are ready. Many games actually does this, to an extent.
  5. If a dynamic DLL is already loaded, this will greatly reduce the time an application needs to open up.
  6. Most Windows apps does not have shared libraries, each app comes with their own DLL loaded. If the operating system is not restarted, these DLL files still live in memory, unless something flushes them out. Two or more DLLs that are identical can be reused though.
  7. Most Linux applications does heavily utilize shared libraries which does quickly respond in Linux, and leads to less RAM- and disk space utilization.
  8. Linux is, however, not immune. For instance, Firefox in Ubuntu 22.04 is based on the Snap technology, and due to the non-shared libraries, take 10 seconds to load first time on my machine. Second time it is lightning fast. This is due to Firefox not using the already preloaded shared libraries.
  9. If a computer have much crapware that goes above 30-50% CPU utilization, this will have an effect on responsiveness. This is true for any OS; however, the problem is far more common on Windows.
  10. Then there is the question of latency and how responsive a certain CPU is.

So, to sum it up, Windows does have longer loading times in general due to every app being their own island. This does come with some advantages though, not the least that of binary compatibility. However, in the end it boils down to poorly optimized apps, the choice of binary compatibility over faster loading times, and systems being bogged down with a ton of crapware. And no, Linux is not automatically the better choice here, though it often is much more responsive.

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The MS telemetry will slow down your internet speed but I think Chris Titus showed a fix for it.

Not saying its a major thing, but i even noticed the difference going from a 2700X to a 5900X in terms of snappiness (and before anyone says “well that’s because it was a fresh install” - it was the same install).

It’s subtle but its there. Not the difference between usable and not of course… but subtle. Even 2700x → 3300x was a snappiness improvement (perhaps due to the improved IPC, clock speed and lack of cross-ccx communication as the 3300x only has one CCX).

Going from first gen thread ripper to something newer will get rid of even more latency between cores.

And yeah this isn’t throughput, but instant response to input (i.e., click on icon → response, not app loading, just click to response - e.g., task switch). The 1920x will certainly grind through things faster than my 3300x, but in terms of UI response under light load, i’d bet my house that the 3300x would win/be perceptibly different.

Windows is certainly the bigger latency hit though.

edit:
Again, not saying TR is slow or anything, but the thread title is “fastest possible desktop experience”.

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I agree with most of the sentiments in the comments above. Windows is bloated and my 8th gen core i7 laptop with Windows 11 feels slower than my Raspberry Pi 4 running Linux, with swaywm as the… well… window manager.

The processing on web pages is indeed faster, but opening up programs is definitely slower. This is because of a few things:

  • On sway, I have no animations, so things will display as soon as they are processed
  • I use minimalist software, so besides Firefox, Thunderbird and mpv, not a lot else, maybe sxiv, which also opens instantly
  • I spend most of my time in the CLI, navigating through nnn on my dvtm tilled terminal window

The difference in experience is hard to believe and I’m certain the laptop running the same setup that I have on the Pi would smoke the Pi. But I don’t have a need for that much power on my daily activities, which is why the Pi 4 is my main desktop.

Now, there are some stuff that you can do in order to improve you experience on Windows. And that is to use Linux funnily enough…

You don’t need to throw away your old 1920x, you may either continue using it as your main PC and build a separate box, or use the 1920x for the next step and build yourself a faster PC. If you don’t need the PCI-E lanes, get a 5900x / 5950x or an Intel i7 12700k. I would suggest using the TR as a NAS and virtualization platform and building yourself a new system.

Use an Optane drive for the Windows boot drive. On the NAS build, do an all-SSD array and setup Samba on it and place all the things that can run from a shared storage there. Best part is that you get to offload some of the work that your machine does. Since you are running Linux on your NAS, your file system won’t be the dog slow NTFS. If speed is what you’re looking for, go for a md RAID 10 array, LVM on it and if you are working with many small files, do ext4, otherwise, do xfs. And make sure you have TRIM enabled.

Other than this, there isn’t really much else to do, other than reinstall Windows afresh and be mindful of what you install on your system. In all honesty, ever since Windows 10 came out, I didn’t feel a need to reinstall it because it was always getting rid of junk with every major releases. But that didn’t really last more than 2-3 years and I switched full time to Linux, but I kept running Windows on some VMs or side-computers and they didn’t need any fresh beginnings. It could be because I don’t install stuff on them, almost never, but before I switched to Linux, I used to do that, but I didn’t experience the slowdowns of the Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8.1 eras.

Last thing you could do, which doesn’t involve spending money, is to use alternative software. Replace the explorer.exe window manager with Cairo DE, switch the file manager with Saladin, don’t use Google Chrome, it’s an absolute hog. Edge is very snappy and I use it on my work laptop. Don’t judge, I already have to log in with a MS business account and do other stuff MS related, so using Edge makes sense, I don’t have to share the same data with Google as well. Besides, I’m not using it for personal stuff, so whatever data MS gets from me using it, is useless in terms of advertisement.

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