Boot me up, faster

I don’t hear many people complaining about this, but to this day, computers take up way too much time to boot up and become ready for working on.

I remember how things were over 10 years ago when my dad got us our first computer back in 1997, with probably the first Pentium processor ever made and less memory than my phone has today.
And I remember timing it: it took 2min and 32sec to boot up Windows98 at the time.

Over a decade later, my Core2Duo powered workstation supposedly clocks at over 2Ghz, has 2gigs of memory and all the fireworks. But still takes it over a minute to boot into the OS, setup everything and in short, become useful.

Leaving aside all the facts and jargon about all the advancements in computing technology, memory management and the boot sequence; for the average guy on the street who doesn’t give a hoot about all this, it’s still a long shot.

Once when I was showing off my new laptop, my brother (who’s not too much into technology) remarked,
”Yeah I’m sure its got the fastest processor on the market, but can’t this stupid thing turn itself on any faster than that? When are they gonna make ‘em like a TV so you can just pop it on and get to it right away?”

And coming to think about it, I don’t think that was ever on any manufacturer’s mind. True, you have blazing graphics, real surround sound and enormous number-crunching capabilities. But a computer that just boots instantly?
We are still waiting...

24 comments:

Firas MR said...

Dr. Con Kolivas (http://rds.yahoo.com/_ylt=A0oGklbK7PtHKGEBYptXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEzZjBnc2FkBHNlYwNzcgRwb3MDMQRjb2xvA3NrMQR2dGlkA1FSVzFfMTEx/SIG=11siaru1e/EXP=1207778890/**http%3a//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Con_Kolivas), no longer the hobbyist linux kernel dev he used to be, discussed this very same issue in his interview at (http://apcmag.com/6735/interview_con_kolivas). With the rise of a monopoly of a few hardware manufacturers, technologies such as the Amiga, etc. that exemplified hardware-driven and software-drive innovation came to a screeching halt. Check out the Syllable OS website (http://web.syllable.org/pages/about.html). It's devs want to tackle these very same issues.

Again, a great post. :) Keep up the good work!

Jaffer said...

That's a very good point ARN. Windows Me was the fastest loading system and surprisingly today, Windows still loads significantly faster than most Unix systems (including Mac).

When A computer boots the kernel searches retrieves all hardware information and loads appropriate drivers.

I've learnt how to build and compile my own FreeBSD Kernel. Which means loading only those drivers needed by the system. This has significantly shortened boot time. But I still require extra services on Boot time like searching for Network, Time Sync, Plug and Play etc.

Once the computer has booted, the next step is loading the GUI or a Desktop Environment (GNOME/KDE) and that takes up more time.

I think in theory, for instant startup, part of the kernel and GUI must reside in memory and that would mean some creative thinking for computer engineers and software developers.

What do you think ?

Firas MR said...

we need quantum computers/computing :)

Firas MR said...

@Jaffer: Puppy Linux boots entirely from RAM .. I wonder how that goes.

Firas MR said...

sorry for the scattered comments guys :) ...just sending em as they come :) ....i guess one of the key things is software optimization for hardware architectures... it shouldn't just stop at OS 64bit or 32bit, etc...thing's have gotta be more like Gentoo Linux, etc. only a lot more computer idiot friendly. the Gentoo guys have been working on a GUI on that front btw...still a long way to go though.

rahman said...

Woah....Jaffer, Firas.
Guys that's a load of stuff up there I didn't make sense of...one of these days I need to seriously look beyond windows :D

@Jaffer:
I was thinking something more like a solid-state device where entire kernels and the core OS would reside and replace BIOS altogether. In theory, your computer would never really turn off.

@firas
Dude, I've no clue abt quantum anything.
Mind helping me out with a coupla links?

Firas MR said...

@ARN
Dude ever since I discovered Linux, I realized what an enormous world outside of Microsoft and Mac lies out there. Hundreds of projects on Linux, BSD, OpenSolaris, Haiku, BeOS, Syllable, etc. exist. Most opensource OS's are listed at www.distrowatch.com

That the choices before us are overwhelming is truly an understatement!

And Quantum Computing is at (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_computing) .Could possibly be powerful enough to break present day cryptographic tools.

And ever heard of Optical Computing? Using photons to transmit data can in theory take CPU ability to the farthest horizons!! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optical_computer)

Keep up the great writing dude..love your stuff!

Jaffer said...

If you invented computers that would never turn off, that would trigger another energy crisis - considering the millions of computers out there.

David Suzuki would be very sad !

I attended a seminar about quantum computing last year. It was exciting but I snoozed off somewhere and woke up toward the end !

@Firas:
Puppy Linux is a LiveCD distribution. You pop the CD in your computer and boot your computer from the CD and the kernel and other essentials load in the RAM.

If you've installed Ubuntu/Kubuntu yourself you know what I'm talking about (unless you opted for a text-based install)

But LiveCD's use a ton more resources compared to those installed on the local hard drive. It's not worth it !

maniaravings.com said...

Re-reading your comment again, What you are saying is get rid of the BIOS ? But You really need some sort of software hard coded to perform a sanity check on your computer.
We can't depend everything on a single Operating system !
What if you wanted to install a different operating system ? That would make things impossible.

By the way, BIOS is going to die soon and is being by a faster and more efficient an Extensible Firmware Interface.

What you may also be asking for is a "Real Time Computing" examples of which can be found in mobile phones, ABS brakes and other mission-critical equipment.
A Real Time Operating system is also used in in Booking Flights and reserving Hotel Rooms. These systems work only on a specific task with the clock and have to work within a given deadline. They're not for Office and Home Computing !

I think we are reaching some sort of a barrier where the speed of electrons in today's semi-conductors will not be enough.
Optical Computing in this case makes a lot of sense.

Ironically, Electrons that move faster than speed of light - emit light ! [Crenkov Radiation]

Experiments have been conducted by sending pulses over long distances faster than the speed of light.
But now the challenge remains on how can we send "information" faster the speed of light.

Firas MR said...

@Jaffer
Yeah I did know about Puppy being a Live CD thing. But I was under the impression that its contents don't expand as much and eat up RAM. Most Live CDs like Knoppix/Ubuntu, have a ton of stuff compressed on a 700MB disc. I'm not sure if Puppy is like that. But I've never used it, so I can't really tell. Techies like you would know better :).

There was some interesting talk on LUG-radio (www.lugradio.org) recently, on what a guy could do with a terabyte of RAM. Some uber-geeks in the Linux world are actually working on developing an OS for that technology. Who knows, hard-disks could become obsolete. SSDs and conventional HDs are no match for RAM. The computer idiot in me learned that as a consequence of setting up swap partitions for my Ku/Ubuntu installs. :)

the victorious.. said...

I too wish for a comp that started like a TV..
:D
Btw, I felt totally lost seeing the comments above.. :P

rahman said...

^^
Well if its any consolation, didn't understand most of the Linux talk either
:D
Man, I never knew doctors did so much computing!

Firas MR said...

@ ARN :- LOL! Thanks for the compliment dude! :D . You know once you come down the Linux road, you're bound to learn a lot of comp stuff one way or the other :) . The next version of Ubuntu Linux ..version 8.04 ..has a nifty little thing called wubi (http://wubi-installer.org/) using which you could install/uninstall it just like any other program on Windows. Give it a spin and see how it goes for you! One thing that I absolutely love about Linux is how flexible it can be. And that's because of its inherently modular nature. You could install a custom kernel as per your needs. You also have the choice of a wide variety of GUIs ..besides GNOME and KDE. Not happy with the way software applications are installed/uninstalled on your system? Just use a different 'package manager' as it's called. And the list could go on and on. As a matter of fact, check out the Mac4Lin project (http://howtoforge.com/mac4lin_make_linux_look_like_a_mac)to see how you can have your very own Mac lookalike all without spending a dime! Want to take advantage of those powersaving features built into your CPU? Intel has this thing program called powertop (http://www.lesswatts.org/projects/powertop/) that allows you to tweak your system to the max. Really, I'd think that if you're a techy and if you know what you're doing, you could seriously get addicted to Linux! If you're new to Linux, I'd recommend trying out either Ubuntu/Kubuntu Linux (www.ubuntu.com www.kubuntu.com) or PCLinuxOS Linux (pclinuxos.com) as a start.

Happy exploring!

G U R U said...

"it took 2min and 32sec to boot up Windows98 at the time."

Man, that was hilarious :-D More so, because I can directly relate to it -- check out this post of mine I wrote a couple of years ago, when you get a chance:

http://jilponks.blogspot.com/2006/04/patience.html

Alok said...

The way computer architecture has been built, it is necessary for it to be "booted up" to work. So it's more of a design problem rather than an implementation problem.

Software has its limitations, but yes, this area definitely needs to be worked upon. Something else that bugs me about Windows is that it progressively clutters up with old junk. I mean there should be a mechanism detecting old unused things and it should prompt users about removing them.

Linux takes much more time than Windows. And it requires such a lot of effort from the user, it's never going to reach Window's hold over the OS scene. Surely it has a lot many advantages over Windows, but is not at all user friendly.

rahman said...

@alok
I'm not too sure if this would really be a design problem - remember Vista 'shuts down' into a low-power standby mode (by default) giving the impression of instant shutdowns/startups.

And yeah I agree; Linux maybe geek paradise but as long as its missing the good old user-friendliness of MS, windows still rule...at least the non-geeks among us!

Firas MR said...

@alok and ARN:

IMHO, when it comes to OS's the divides have become much less black and white these days what with the diversity we've come to have. It isn't easy to slap a label on an OS without risking mythifying it. "Linux ain't idiot friendly" has its protractors and detractors. The ASUS EEE PC with its Xandros Linux operating system no doubt has changed the dynamics of such debates. Major Airliners use Linux on their inflight entertainment systems. Many devices such as cellphones actually run embedded Linux. It is interesting to see how there's more to a tech story than what meets the eye!

@ARN: Is this your most popular post ever? :)

Firas MR said...

@alok:
I wonder if the way Windows handles software application libraries has anything to do with it slowing down over time. I've learned of a fundamental difference between *nix and Windows platforms in this regard. Interestingly, when you install multiple applications on Windows that might depend on certain back-end libraries, with each application install you essentially install additional copies of the same old libraries. Each application has its associated copy of libraries stored away in its configuration folder. Not only that, when you run two or more of these applications simultaneously, multiple instances of the same library processes run. This could have something to do with the fundamental way Windows came to life. Its developers never really intended it to be much of mutli-user, networked operating system at the beginning. Windows 2000, etc. have begun to change that, I think.

*nix Os's (meaning operating systems belonging to the Unix family, such as Linux, BSD, etc.) were designed to handle multi-user networked environments from the very start. *nix platforms don't install multiple copies of the same libraries or run multiple copies of them afaik. Mac OS X is one odd-ball from the Unix family that I know of that behaves very much like Windows in its handling of libraries.

Any ideas, anyone?:)

Firas MR said...

@everyone:

Speaking of idiot-friendly technology, I just wanted to share this hilarious episode of LUGradio (http://www.lugradio.org/episodes/99). They discuss 'computers and dumb people'. At one point there was a questioner who predicted that computers could one day become smart enough to read dumb people's minds so a point could come where the important question would no longer be if dumb people could use computers but if computers could potentially use them instead!! LOL!! Check it out! :D

rahman said...

@firas

Actually, this post is starting to have so many comments, I'm losing track of who said what anymore :D
Maybe its time I quit talking abt stuff I don't understand much (Linux would top the list here!)

Alok said...

Firas,

On the "friendliness" issue:

Not everyone is willing to rise above the "idiot" level. It depends on what the person wants from the system. Take, for example, Mounting a new hard drive. While it is much more easier to have it done on Windows, with Linux, you have to face issues like no detection, lack of drivers or libraries, and sometimes incompatibility.

What I want to mention here is that Linux is of course a very stable, secure and powerful system. But to be able to use it, the user needs to put in a lot of effort and understanding.

Would you rather use a TV with a remote control or a TV where you have to get up to change channels?

It all depends on what the user wants. I want something from a device. I will always prefer a device much more easily accessible to me.

Agreed that Windows has extreme problems (I've been a fellow sufferer), and that is surely due to the lack of effort by Microsoft. But Open Source is not at all a solution.

I've used Linux, and it irritates you to the core if there's something advanced that needs to be done. The reason is that it's not made to be an accessible operating system. A lot needs to be done with regards to that. I hope you get the point.

If someone out there targets this issue (and is willing to work for free) then I'm sure Linux will be something that Microsoft needs to be afraid of.

On the Cluttering of Windows:

Yeah I've observed that. Not only that, the registry keeps retaining a lot of useless entries, even if it is no longer necessary.

Windows has extreme inefficiencies as a software product. Hopefully they'll soon address this issue.

Alok said...

Relevant to the original topic of the post:

There are supposed to be three fundamental passive devices in Electrical Engineering : Resistors, Capacitors and Inductors.

The invention of Active circuits like Transistors made modern computing possible. And computers rely heavily on DRAM, which loses everything that it stores once the power is switched off. Hence the need to boot up.

A fourth Passive element was postulated n 1971, called the Memristor, and it wasn't until the 30th of April 2008 that it could be finally realized in its true form.

This device is capable of acting as a memory device without the use of extra power. Thus it's a passive element which acts a memory.

It can be used to fabricate memory that would replace transistors and DRAM.

Thus, when you turn off the computer, it would no longer need to boot itself up after being turned on! It would turn on in the same state as it was turned off ! :)

Firas MR said...

@alok and ARN:

Man, I hope ARN is super happy with this post. The discussions still continue! Great work ARN!

@alok:

I totally see your point. I'm not particularly into the OS wars or for that matter browser wars thing :-) . My motto has always been, go for something that works for you.

When Ubuntu 6.06 LTS was out, I was stymied by the effort required to make stuff work and quickly switched back to Windows XP Pro. But many Linux distributions have come a long way since then. Ever since Ubuntu 7.04, I've hardly ever needed to boot into Windows. I currently use Kubuntu 8.04 LTS and can't even recall the last time I needed to boot into Windows! It's worked that beautifully for me. I don't have to constantly run stuff like ZoneAlarm, Norton, etc. and best of all, the updates for my system are solid. Not only do I not need some paid subscription for them, but these updates cover me for ALL of the applications installed on my comp, including OpenOffice, etc. I've all the bang I need inspite of having only 256MB RAM and old crappy hardware!

Newer versions of these 'idiot friendly' distributions are pretty trivial to operate for all but the geekiest of things.

Whether or not Open Source isn't a solution, I don't care, although I do respect the entire philosophy. I care about end results. But frankly, with stuff like Firefox, etc. I think there definitely is some merit in open source.


For me the most important things are cost and reliability. If the thing works, and comes free, I'm just game :-) . I can't imagine how people spend like a gazillion dollars on Windows or Microsoft Office. What's worse, is that you need to shell out all this money with every new version they bring out. Not only that, the license allows you to install it on a single comp! It's just greedy capitalistic exploitation man! I'd rather spend all that money on food supplies!

There are always shady options like cracks, keygens, etc. but how safe are they? I've never had to resort to such stuff on Linux. And that's neat.

In the end, I suppose all OSs are work in progress. Be it Windows, Mac, Linux, BSD, etc. - none of them are at the perfect stage yet. I think it's up to the end-user to decide which one of them sucks least and go for the one that works best for him/her.

As for people willing to explore Linux, I recommend that they start using free (free of cost) software like OpenOffice, Scribus, Bluefish, GIMP, Skype, MPlayer, VLC, Pidgin, etc. on their current OS. These applications are cross platform and pretty soon you won't make the difference between Linux and Windows/Mac when deciding to switch.

The Ubuntu wiki has some nice lists on some of these free alternatives:-

https://help.ubuntu.com/community/SoftwareEquivalents

https://help.ubuntu.com/community/FreeSoftwareAlternatives

https://help.ubuntu.com/community/WindowsApplicationsEquivalents

Memristors sure could revolutionize computers. You bring some very interesting points about them!

Thanks for visiting my website and being kind enough to leave behind your comment :-) .

mydominanthemisphere said...

^^
Check out the Linux Alternative Project for a very comprehensive list of software apps that can be used on Linux. Just discovered this website a moment ago and thought like sharing :) .