The 64-Bit Experience With Ubuntu Feisty Fawn

by Caitlyn Martin

Over the past couple of weeks I've been able to borrow a friend's laptop: a Gateway Over the past couple of weeks I've been able to borrow a friend's laptop: a Gateway MX7626, model W730-K8X (Athlon Mobile 4000+ processor, ATI X600 graphics, 1024 RAM). She has the 64-bit version of Ubuntu Feisty Fawn installed. I've installed and worked with 64-bit Linux on servers over the past couple of years, mainly running Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4, but this is my first chance to play with 64-bit Linux extensively on a laptop.

First, the machine is wonderfully fast at everything I've tried to do with it. 64-bit Ubuntu does have some minor quirks. The most noticeable one is that sometimes sound works and sometimes it doesn't. If I don't hear anything when GNOME starts then I won't have sound until I reboot. She obviously has ALSA configured correctly since there is sound more often than not. I also noticed that some graphical apps don't have .desktop files in /usr/share/applications and consequently don't show up in the menu. When it comes to anything truly important, though, 64-bit Feisty does seem to work very well.


Elaine Normandy
2007-08-08 04:52:00
I've been running 64-bit Feisty Fawn on a desktop my husband built. I do run firefox32 so I can get flash, but otherwise am running the standard set of apps without any problems. Since I use my PC for web surfing and standard desktop applications I haven't notice much improvement in speed, except when I open several large files in The Gimp.
Glen Turner
2007-08-08 05:04:50
Hi Caitlyn,

The average computer user doesn't need a 64-bit machine. But when you do need one, well you really need one.

Firstly, 64-bits get you more than 3GB of memory. If you run an engineering desktop for electronics design or CAD then 3GB isn't enough. Think about the drawing of a modern car.

Secondly, 64-bits get you more memory that can be used for DMA buffers (this "lowmem" is limited to 0.5GB on 32-bit Intel machines). These buffers are used for disk and network I/O. So if you have an application that does a huge amount of that I/O (like a networked backup server) then you may want to run 64-bit Linux so you get more memory where you need it.

What is pushing the average person to 64-bits is simply the amount of RAM they want to install. Mainly this RAM is used for disk I/O buffering and graphics objects. But that's OK, you'll notice that disks are one of the few parts of the machine not getting any faster.

Caitlyn Martin
2007-08-08 09:05:52
@Glen: Some 32-bit distros, notably Red Hat Enterprise Linux/Centos, have a hugemem kernel that gets around the 3.5GB limit for RAM. Having said that I am not familiar enough with those kernels to know if they can utilize the memory in all the ways a 64-bit OS can. Other than that I agree with all of your comments. The typical consumer or business desktop machine still typically has no more than 1-2GB of RAM.

@Elaine: Yep, Flash is one of those apps that just isn't there yet in native 64-bit form. Hopefully that will push web developers to seek out Open Source alternatives.

2007-08-08 13:17:26
Sounds like you have been enjoying yourself on some updated hardware. :)

For flash I just used the nspluginwrapper and flash works pretty well now. There's a guide on the Ubuntu forums.

Caitlyn Martin
2007-08-08 13:23:17
@another geek: New toys are always fun, especially when they make work easier. Thanks for the tip on Flash.
2007-08-10 02:34:43
64 bit Ubuntu should install 32bit Firefox by default because 64 bit Firefox lacks the Flash plug-in and many other plug-ins.
2007-08-10 02:50:06
What exactly is this article about? Seems like people write just to have something written. What is the point of asking a question whether I need a 64bit OS or not... if I have 64bit hardware? Why would I go for a 32bit OS then if everything works fine for me in 64? Especially why would I do it, if like me, I need to do memory expensive computations? Flash, Java plugin this or that -- does it matter? It takes 10 minutes to configure your 64bit Linux box (any, not only Ubuntu) to use 32bit Firefox or to have qt3-mt installed to have skype running and apart from these 3 things you will hardly need anything else that does not run on 64bit. So what exactly does this article try to ask or to answer?
2007-08-10 03:20:45
I have an amd64 dualcore and I run Ubuntu. Mostly it's ok; but some programs refuse to run. With Skype I have tried, and tried - but to this day without success.
2007-08-10 03:41:47
I tried 64bit Ubuntu. Didn't notice any more speed (but I'm not a very demanding user). Anyway, I had to switch back because qmpd-client wouldn't run in it. suxx
2007-08-10 04:33:24
32bit OSes can't fully use 64bit CPU features e.g. relating to memory management/security.

Most desktop users don't have/need 4Gb RAM, however the more people that install native 64 bit OSes on their 64bit hardware, then the better support will be (many OSes and apps. phone home with hardware and software configuration for their developers).

All mainstream CPUs are now 64 bit, so new versions of software should bias to that really. The next version of MS Windows will be 64bit only (what Vista should have been), enough said.

Caitlyn Martin
2007-08-10 08:43:19
Oleg: It's not just Java or Flash or Firefox. Two other apps were mentioned by other commenters (qmpd-client, Skype). There are enterprise apps that don't run as well. There are bugs that don't exist in 32-bit operating systems. I wanted to point out both the advantages and pitfalls of moving to a 64-bit OS. The point, also, is that this is a blog and sharing personal Linux experiences is very much on topic. If that doesn't interest you, well... nobody is forcing you to read or comment.

PJ: There is still plenty of 32-bit hardware being manufactured and there is recently sold 32-bit hardware that needs to be supported in coming years. Via's low energy consumption (green) CPUs are all 32-bit, for example. Going 64-bit only would be a mistake for any distribution. For now both architectures should be supported. As I have already pointed out there are workarounds (i.e.: Red Hat's hugemem kernel) to allow memory addressing on a 32-bit OS >4GB. I certainly hope you're not claiming a 32-bit system can't be properly secured.

Finally, and this remains an important point, there are 32-bit distributions that are faster on 64-bit hardware for many applications than 64-bit distributions. Look at this review of Wolvix Hunter 1.1.0 for an example. My own experiences with Wolvix 1.1.0 (both Hunter and Cub) confirm this. Only when you truly need 64-bit processing (i.e.: serious number crunching, intensive graphics work) will performance prove to be better than a well-optimized 32-bit OS.

Tim Wright
2007-08-10 09:13:39
"Some 32-bit distros, notably Red Hat Enterprise Linux/Centos, have a hugemem kernel that gets around the 3.5GB limit for RAM. Having said that I am not familiar enough with those kernels to know if they can utilize the memory in all the ways a 64-bit OS can."

It cannot. Hugemem is a horrible hack with a 10-15% associated performance penalty (segment register switching which is very expensive due to the associated TLB flushes). It doesn't make a big difference to userspace anyway. Normally that's 3GB. It was the 1GB kernel virtual space that hurt on large systems.

Ia32 is a very weird architecture. The physical address space is larger than the virtual address space. Without resorting to games with segments (which kills performance and why nobody does it), you cannot "see" more than 4GB at a time. The x86_64 has a 64-bit virtual address space and at least a 40-bit physical address space (processor-dependent). You can have an 8GB process on x86_64 - something that is completely impossible on ia32.

Henry S.
2007-08-10 12:42:02

I appreciate the article, as I haven't looked into 64-bit linux in a while. I am running 32-bit Suse on a 64-bit laptop. The last time I installed (6-10 months ago), there was much discussion about problems with 64-bit installs. I did try to install a 64-bit linux, but it failed during install. I *need* my laptop every single day for my job, so I can't afford to spend several days getting everything to I gave up and have been running 32-bit ever since. Perhaps when Suse 10.3 comes out, I may give 64-bit another shot.

For the person who said "It takes 10 minutes to configure your 64bit Linux box," I just wanted to say that many Linux folk write off Linux problems with sentences like that. To measure the amount of time to fix a problem, you can't measure how long it takes to apply the fix, you have to measure the time it takes to find the fix. It takes me 10 minutes to get Compiz on a machine today...but the first time took a whole weekend.

Henry S.
2007-08-10 13:01:06

One more thing...a question to any Java programmers out there. Any problems compiling and distributing Java applications on AMD64? Can you run Tomcat and deploy web applications and all while running in 64-bits?
Caitlyn Martin
2007-08-12 10:17:28
UPDATE: In the article above I mentioned intermittent problems with sound. My friend who owns the laptop decided to try and correct this problem by upgrading ALSA and decided to use Ubuntu development packages for Gutsy Gibbon rather than removing the existing ALSA packages and compiling from source.

Installing the new ALSA packages forced her into a new version of glibc and, well... you can see where this is going. In the end she did a full fledged

apt-get dist-upgrade

and is now running Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon Tribe 4. Yes, this fixed her sound problem. It also installed new kernel packages, first and then to The increase in speed was dramatic. Running 64-bit Ubuntu with the new kernel her system just flew.

I'll have use of the system again later this week (I hope) and I will probably write about the beta version of Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon as it appears even from the beta that the new version will be a major improvement over the buggy Fiesty Fawn.

2007-08-13 07:13:11
Very interesting and informative entry (including comments).

Can't wait till your next entry regarding your experience using 64-bit Gutsy Gibbon Tribe 4.

2007-08-13 21:02:38
Just wanted to say that Feisty went on pretty smoothly. There is the issue with some programs such as Java and Flash but the solutions can be found on the Ubuntu forums. My broadcom chipset took all of 5 minutes to configure for wireless and I have not had any blips since then, except after the initial upgrade to Gutsy. and that took 3 seconds to fix.

I know for many that Feisty was buggy but after coming from SUSE 10.0, it was an absolute dream. LOL.

The sound issue was driving me nuts, I like to listen to music while I work and surf. I am not a developer and many cycles go into rendering 3d scenes and basic modeling work. All that I do know is that the install was pretty painless and I am happy with the end result. I make mistakes along the way but have not killed the system yet.

For those going into 64 bit, research your hardware and print out what you find. That way if there are issues, you will have the fixes ready to roll.

For the average user who may not know much? It is getting there. Not even the mighty MS has flawless installs or upgrades to new drivers. It takes someone who wants to know how things work to get over the minor hurdles that tend to pop up, regardless of our OS of choice.

2007-08-15 23:27:19
for what it's worth so many days later, i enjoyed your perspective and learned a bit from you and various commentators. i just spent the last two days getting ubuntu to run on a dell installed originally w/ vista. my choice in installing 32bit v 64bit had more to do w/ getting the thing up and running. but in the end, i don't think installing a 64bit version would do me much good. (i have to get back to real work, now!)
2007-08-22 17:03:09
I found this interesting because I have a 64 bit box, and I've spent the past several days researching which distro might best suit my needs. Not once, until way down in the comments on this article, have I encountered the phrase "the buggy Fiesty Fawn", yet it seems to have been accepted as a well known fact of life. This is pretty troublesome to me, since Ubuntu is almost universally presented as the frontrunner among distros. What's a newcomer to think? Isn't their philosophy supposedly "It should just work"?
Caitlyn Martin
2007-08-23 08:45:52
@DavelnAz: I have yet to run into any OS that doesn't have bugs. Windows is generally among the worst of the lot. Having said that, I can point you to many articles pointing out that Feisty Fawn was probably Ubuntu's worst release in a long time, as in since Hoary Hedgehog. Ubuntu doesn't "just work" and despite their claims to be newcomer friendly if you had read my reviews of their OS you'd know that I don't think it is. One commenter to an unrelated article of mine crossed out Feisty Fawn, changing it to "Crappy Cow". That should let you know that I am not along in my thoughts.

A newcomer to Linux is going to have a steep learning curve regardless of distribution. Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, once compared changing operating systems to "performing brain surgery on yourself". I don't think it would be any better for someone who never used Windows to move from Linux. It would probably be far worse. You have to be motivated to do it. In my experience most people absolutely hate Linux during their first few weeks using it simply because it's not what they know. If they persevere within six months they wonder how they ever got by with Windows.

What are you to think? I haven't the foggiest idea. Easiest entry points for a newcomer: Probably Mandriva. I haven't tried Freespire yet but they seem to be aimed at the newcomer. Read my review of Wolvix. It's probably a good choice too.

Janez Dolinar
2007-08-24 01:10:32

I just wanted to add that Gentoo 64bit was NOTICEABLY faster than it's 32bit version on the same hardware. Besides, hardware requirements are increasing as software complexity. 64bit is the new way as it was switch from 16bit to 32bit.

For sound problems try some other distributions or update the system - a lot of newer hardware has problems with linux.

Best regards,

2007-08-24 09:28:14
Hi Caitlyn,

I installed Feisty Fawn 32-bit on my 64-bit laptop, just in order to not have problems with any proprietary apps (and the OSS ones possibly as well). I am prefectly fine with it. No problems, just a satisfied user :-)

2007-08-24 13:05:53
In general, the only reason you want to run 64bit Linux is if you have more than 4GB of RAM. If you do not then you will not notice any difference. 64-bit Linux won't help with number crunching.
Caitlyn Martin
2007-08-28 09:49:53
@Anonymous: My professional experience says that you are just plain wrong about number crunching or any other CPU intensive applications. The 64-bit code is just plain faster. Don't discount the experiences of Janez Dolinar or Laptop Owner or anyone else who has experienced an improvement,

@bobrik: There is no doubt that 32-bit code will run just fine in most cases on 64-bit machines. Look at my review of Wolvix for an example of a 32-bit Linux distro that performed flawlessly on a 64-bit laptop. The only times a 64-bit OS matters is when accessing memory >3.5GB or in CPU intensive processing.

ALL: My personal take on 64-bit vs. 32-bit boils down to this: If you have a 64-bit machine run a 64-bit OS unless doing so makes it impossible to run an app you need.

2007-08-30 13:42:37
Caitlyn Martin
2007-08-30 14:07:28
@Jerry Nash: You can certainly format the partition and reinstall. However, if you read my review of Xubuntu Feisty Fawn (32-bit) and the various comments you know I think that the 32-bit version is equally buggy. 64-bit isn't the problem. Ubuntu Feisty is.

My suggestions: go back to Edgy Eft -OR- choose another distro.

2007-08-30 14:40:02
I love being on a 64-bit system because it means I won't be tempted to install Flash and other crappy non-free pieces of software that are more trouble than they're worth.
2007-08-31 18:09:25
I'm running 64bit Kubuntu FeistyFawn WITHOUT any problems on my desktop pc. I installed firefox32 and Skype painlessly. No problem with the audio.
Caitlyn Martin
2007-09-01 09:58:33
@Phil: Flash (32-bit) can be made to work with 64-bit Ubuntu. Unfortunately until an OSS replacement is mature I see no alternative to installing Flash. Too many websites I want to be able to visit use it.

@Claudio: I'm glad you didn't have problems with Feisty. That doesn't negate the problems so many others have reported. I also suspect your desktop hardware may not be exactly the same as some of the laptop hardware that's been quite problematic. "It works for me" is no response to well documented bugs.

2007-09-01 11:26:18
For sound I have the ATI SB400 AC97 and more than a few have had a problem with this chipset. There is a topic in the Ubuntu forums called Comprehensive Sound Problem Solutions Guide which provides a pretty good checklist to run through.
2007-09-13 15:01:16
serious number crunching or serious multimedia work

Does that include gamming?

Caitlyn Martin
2007-09-13 16:14:10
I'm not a gamer so I may be the wrong person to ask and I'm not sure you're going to get other answers on such an old article. In any case it would depend on what the game does and how it's written.
S Kuppa
2007-09-14 11:18:38
I recently build a system with Sempron 64 bit processor with 1GB DDR RAM for < $100. I used the PCI card, which had aethros chipset. The Feisty Fawn Ubuntu detected the device but it is very unstable with wireless network and eclipse (java IDE) does not work. Finally, I reinstalled Feisty Fawn 32 bit and everything works great and no issues.
2007-09-18 12:50:31
What problems are you exactly experiencing with Ubuntu Feisty Fawn? I have to say I have never used nor installed it, the last version I installed (for someone else) was Dapper Drake and it seemed to work fine. I have lately installed Kubuntu Feisty Fawn for others and haven't heard of too many problems with it.

For my personal en professional use I have come to rely on Slackware and I have ported it to both MIPS and SPARC. On the latter platforms there is not much use for 64-bit applications except when you need to address more than 4GB of ram. That's why I am running a 64-bit kernel with a largely 32-bit userland.

On x86 on the other hand 64-bit binaries are generally not slower than 32-bit and they have the potential to be much faster, so there is no reason not to run 64-bit binaries on a 64-bit processor. There are also many assembly optimisations for 32-bit code that haven't been done for the x86_64 platform yet.

I have a question about possible performance benefits too: why are we keeping only one binary set for 32-bit and one for 64-bit x86? We could enjoy much better performance if we had Intel and AMD versions for both x86 and AMD64.

Then you could squeeze the last drop of performance out of your processors, particularly now that they are integrating more and more mutually incompatible extensions. This would be essentially what Gentoo/LFS are doing except you're getting a stable platform instead of one that's undergoing perpetual change.

2007-10-08 15:00:18
I'm running 64 bit Feisty on my Thinkpad T61, and I can't say it's really much faster than the previous 32 bit that I started with.

I *can* say however that the lack of a decent 64 bit java plugin drives me nuts, and literally prevents me from using this for work due to needing java for my mainframe interface and for supporting customers via my next vacation day will be spent reverting back to 32 bit and getting all my personalizing features back..sigh...

2007-10-19 09:34:45
Elaine Normandy, you can use flashplayer with firefox 64 bits, you just need nspluginwrapper. About Ubuntu Feisty, there are so many bugs...
2007-10-25 15:37:50
Womans using Linux, WOW! ...

I invite yours for test the new Ubuntu Gutsy 64bits (7.10), simply: all works! i.e. Flashplayer can run on Firefox 64bits version, it's not a new, nspluginwrapper plugin exist ago, however this Ubuntu version install it automatically for you, in a transparent way.

2007-11-05 00:52:31
Re: 64 bit Java plugin...

describes a fix, which worked for me. It takes quite a while to rebuild the Java apps locally (don't know exactly, but it's more than 3 hours) but I ended up with a fully functioning Java plugin.

2007-11-09 20:59:45
"Womans using Linux, WOW! ... "
Sir that was the most utterly pointless comment I've read in this forum yet.
2008-01-04 17:08:51
"Sir that was the most utterly pointless comment I've read in this forum yet."

lol, you are smart! be happy!