What is the most efficient Linux file system for laptops?

last updated in Categories Ask nixCraft, File system, Howto, Linux

There is some debate going on and the question is:

What is the most efficient Linux file system for laptops?

I think ext3 doing well but again I donÒ€ℒt have complete answer here.

We have some smart people around here. So please add your thoughts and suggestion in comments. If you can’t offer a complete answer it’s still helpful to get things started and point people in the right direction for more information πŸ™‚

Posted by: Vivek Gite

The author is the creator of nixCraft and a seasoned sysadmin, DevOps engineer, and a trainer for the Linux operating system/Unix shell scripting. Get the latest tutorials on SysAdmin, Linux/Unix and open source topics via RSS/XML feed or weekly email newsletter.

17 comment

  1. i’m gentoo user for some years now.
    here is what i did with my hdd:

    i’ve made a 2gb partition with reiserfs for portage (the package manager of gentoo) which has a huge number of small files (ebuilds)… and AFAIK reiser is doing great with many and small files.
    the other partitions are on ext3 (for stability reasons)

    im using reiser and ext3 for many years now … my opinion is that reiser is more stable but when it crash … its your nightmare (i have 4-5 reiser crashes and only 2 was successfuly saved)…
    ext3 is easily repaired throught.

    before 2004 i was slackware user for about 8 years and i was using reiser a lot there … so there comes my opinion with reiser… from 2004 until now im a gentoo user with ext3 mostly.

  2. ext3 is the result of evolution of an ancient filesystem. Then there are many improvements that other filesystem do not has.

    When you have only one hard drive ext3 is an excellent idea.

    ReiserFS is the better in a raid environment.

    XFS is excellent for big files.

  3. Mixing filesystems on the same Linux install will result in slower seek times for hard disks as the kernel calls up different modules to read different filesystems…I’d say that ext3 straight across the board would be efficient enough for laptop use…until reiser4 comes along.

  4. 0xAF, Rodolfo and devnet,

    To summarize
    ReiserFS – Good for small files
    ext3 – Old good stable and sufficent for laptop usage
    XFS – For big files

    Appreciate all of your posts and suggestions!

  5. vivek:
    ext3 is not so old … ext2 is old … and ext3 is actualy ext2 with journaling support which makes ext3 up-to-date fs.

    i’m not sure mixing the fs will result in slower seek… its true that the kernel will call diff. routines for seeking, but i dont see how this will slower the seeking… IMHO it dosnt metter which routine will be called to seek becouse the call will be just one instruction in asm (JMP) and it dosnt metter which routine will be called … (thats my opinion)

  6. 0xAF,

    Oh, my bad, you are right ext3 is updated version.. I’m getting old πŸ˜‰

    I don’t think so mixing fs will result into seek issues.

    @Devnet: can you provide any link or document that supports your claim????

  7. @0xAF,

    None other than just thinking about what happens at the kernel level. In my thinking, calling on one filesystem module as opposed to two different calls should be faster. Not to mention that there are different check routines for booting when mixing reiser and ext3…and top it off with having to manage reiser ones differently should they become corrupt…the advantage you might get from having a reiserfs somewhere there wouldn’t cut it. I’d stick with ext3 until something better came along.

    So I have no concrete proof other than logical thinking :/

    I’m sure someone out there has done a filesystem comparison like this…I just haven’t read it πŸ˜€

  8. KISS = Keep it Simple Stupid

    I use my Linux laptop (luggable dare I say) for work everyday. So i need a filesystem that is robust and very easy to fix if something goes wrong. For this I use ext3. I don’t even use LVM.

    Stability and time to recovery are most important. If I really need a faster filesystem, I put a 7200rpm disk instead of a 5400rpm.

  9. Does nobody see JFS as beeing a good choice? As far as my research shows, the top three options would be:

    1. EXT3 (slower, less disk space, but more reliable for data integrity and recovery, and more tools for repair and recovery if something goes wrong.)

    2. JFS (The best all around for speed and reliability, but journals only metadata and does not have as much support for recovery in catastrophic situations as EXT3.)

    3. XFS (The best disk space utilization, and in many cases the fastest. Best handling of very large files. Best fragmentation minimization, and works best with multi-processor systems. The drawback is that this filesystem has the highest potential for data loss in a power outage or drive crash situation.)

    For mission critical, I choose old and boring: EXT3.

    If you’re making regular backups, you can get the best of both worlds by using XFS and backing up frequently.

    For a good balance, use JFS.

    Reiser FS doesn’t figure in because while it may be good for many small files, and be fairly quick, it has two major drawbacks:

    1. Extraordinarily slow mount and unmount times make large volumes halt the boot process for ridiculous amounts of time.

    2. If there is a problem, Reiser FS (in my experience) tends to be rather squirrely.

    Safe but slow: EXT3
    Fast but riskier: XFS
    Good balance: JFS

    Have fun.

  10. Yeah,reiser good but very slow at mount,

    I’m using ext3 xfs combination and performance is ok;

    bwt zfs is coming with FreeBSD 7.0..

  11. shannon, i’m new to the linux world, currently installing ubuntu on my desktop, and i found your entry to be the most usefull in choosing wich file system to use, i’ve got it narrowed down (from the huge list on the disk) to either xfs or jfx. just wonderin (for anyone to say) what “dont_use”, “efi” and “swap” are…..

    thanks everyone, and keep up the good work.

  12. I use Ubuntu on my desktop and one of my laptops.
    My other laptop (EeePC) I use XandrOS and Puppy linux. I have been using Linux as my main desktop for several years now.The main thing I like about Linux is not having to fight the virus.

    Well that’s my 2 cents worth.

  13. Being MCSE certified… I’d have to say windows is the common cold, I cant find a better OS than Ubuntu, for my MythTV box, desktop, and laptop. I just reuse the license and make a VM in ubuntu..

  14. I’ve been doing quite a bit of research into this field recently, as I am actually preparing to do a full Linux rebuild to bring in the new year. Now, before we get into it, I’d like to note that I use a LFS system, so I’m not really aware of things that are specific to one distribution or another. Additionally, I do not have any certifications to speak of, but I have been intimately involved in the Linux community for roughly 9 years now, and previous to that, I was heavily involved in NetBSD and the BSD community.

    Based on my original research, It comes down to what you are planning on using your laptop for. The best way to judge this is to write down all the things that you plan on doing on it, even the most minute things, and splitting them into three major categories. The first category would be Mission Critical Applications (MCA), the second would be High CPU Intensity applications (HCIA), and the third would be high IO intensity applications (HIIA).

    These are my recommendations as far as across the board filesystem options go. For a laptop that is going to be a host of MCA, choose ext3. For one that is mostly HCIA, choose JFS. For HIIA, pick XFS.

    Now, as to the comment about whether multiple filesystems will impact the efficiency of each individual filesystem, I cannot provide any conclusive data, instead, I offer my own personal viewpoint. Multiple filesystems systems CAN cause a loss of performance in each individual file system IF the file systems are compiled as kernel modules. If you instead choose to use a Monolithic Kernel ((at least as far as file systems are concerned)) there should NOT be a noticeable loss of performance. I will be testing this during my reformat, and I will post any noticeable differences from this theory if they arise.

    If you choose to go the multiple filesystems path as I am, ext3 would be best for /boot and /. JFS would be best for /tmp, if we assume TMP will be used for compiling. XFS would be the best bet for /var. XFS and JFS would be ideal candidates for /usr. As for /home, if you plan to continuously maintain backups, go with XFS. If you will be housing MCA data on your /home partition, go with ext3.

    I hope this helps, and I know that this topic is rather old, but seeing as it is the 8th result on Google for a search on Linux Filesystem Comparison, I thought I would add in this little tidbit of mine.

  15. I’ll think that ext3 is the bad ass filesystem for a laptop, cause it commit every 5s. The harddisk will never go to sleep and none power can be saved. JFS or XFS should be better, they commit only if required. Nothing is more ugly when waiting for a ext2 fsck when a laptop is just needed for something. Assume sitting in a train, check for mail shortly and fsck goin cligga cligga cligga cligga

    Have a question? Post it on our forum!