A look at Ubuntu Studio 16.04

It has been a while since the latest Ubuntu Studio 16.04 has been released. I couldn’t resist to make a live pen-drive with it and boot it on my Apollo. I also wanted to see how it performs with respect my Arch Linux. This is not going to be, however, a full review (like for ArchBang). The reason is that I did not install the system. I think that the only way to fairly compare OSes is to install them on the same hardware. I lack, sadly, a test computer. My Apollo is all I got and I must stay productive with it…

Anyway, lets have just a quick look at the features and let’s see if we can figure out what Ubuntu Studio 16.04 has to offer!

Audio Configuration

When I used Ubuntu studio for the last time it was at release 12.04. Back in then Ubuntu Studio was indeed a cool project, but not really much was done by the developers to configure the system. I clearly remember having to mess with conf files in order to achieve optimization. I am not sure when this actually changed, but for sure Ubuntu Studio 16.04 is ready out of the box!

Before to proceed, I had looked at Ubuntu Studio few days after its release. The following might have been already changed by updates.

The kernel

Ubuntu Studio ships with a lowlatency 4.4.0-21 kernel

$ uname -a
Linux ubuntu-studio 4.4.0-21-lowlatency #37-Ubuntu SMP PREEMPT Mon Apr 18 20:20:26 UTC 2016 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux

Let’s have a deeper look at the kernel. The configuration can be retrieved with

cat /boot/config-4.4.0-21-lowlatency

The important configs for audio are the following:

CONFIG_HZ_1000=y
CONFIG_HZ=1000
CONFIG_PREEMPT=y
CONFIG_DEFAULT_IOSCHED="deadline"

Which are good parameters for a non RT kernel intended for audio workflow (see here and here). Still, the IO Scheduler could be required to be changed to noop for solid state drives. This can be done at runtime without having to rebuild the kernel (see this for links to Arch Linux wiki pages).

Overall, the kernel is a standard kernel with all the fundamental configuration in place for audio. Probably the developers tweaked also many minor parameters for various different reasons. I wish there was some kind of documentation of that… But anyway, this should be a good kernel for making music!

The Audio Configuration

As I said, in ancient times the user had to do most of the Pro Audio Configuration by hand. Nowadays things seems to have changed. The quickest way to check the Pro Audio Configuration is realTimeConfigQuickscan. Let’s have a look at what it says about Ubuntu Studio 16.04:

== GUI-enabled checks ==
Checking if you are root... no - good
Checking filesystem 'noatime' parameter... 4.4.0 kernel - good
(relatime is default since 2.6.30)
Checking CPU Governors... CPU 0: 'powersave' CPU 1: 'powersave' CPU 2: 'powersave' CPU 3: 'powersave' - not good
Set CPU Governors to 'performance' with 'cpufreq-set -c <cpunr> -g performance'
See also: http://linuxmusicians.com/viewtopic.php?f=27&t=844
Checking swappiness... 10 - good
Checking for resource-intensive background processes... none found - good
Checking checking sysctl inotify max_user_watches... >= 524288 - good
Checking access to the high precision event timer... readable - good
Checking access to the real-time clock... readable - good
Checking whether you're in the 'audio' group... yes - good
Checking for multiple 'audio' groups... no - good
Checking the ability to prioritize processes with chrt... yes - good
Checking kernel support for high resolution timers... found - good
Kernel with Real-Time Preemption... not found - not good
Kernel without real-time capabilities found
For more information, see http://wiki.linuxaudio.org/wiki/system_configuration#installing_a_real-time_kernel
Checking if kernel system timer is set to 1000 hz... found - good
Checking kernel support for tickless timer... found - good
== Other checks ==
Checking filesystem types... ok.
ok.

During the test my Scarlett 2i4 was attached and the environment variable SOUND_CARD_IRQ set to the irq of my card (you can see here and here how to find it). We see that most of the fields end with a nice “good”. The only “not good” fields are about CPU governors, that can be changed by the user at any time, and the RT kernel, which of course is not present.

As a conclusion, the system is configured out of the box! There is no need to mess with conf files.

The software version

The whole of the installed packages is reported here, probed with  dpkg-query -l. Software is reasonably up to date. I feel like I could be productive on this setup fairly easily. For example, Ardour is at version 3.4.6 (4.7 on Arch), Guitarix at 0.34.0 (same on Arch) and Calf 0.0.60 (same on Arch), Hydrogen at 0.9.6.1 (same on Arch). These are my favourite packages and all of them contain most of the functionality I need even at the Ubuntu Studio version. For other users, needing other packages, it might be different. However, it should be easy enough to add external repositories (like KXStudio). Se here for an example.

As a last remark, Ubuntu Studio comes with XFCE, which is light enough to not get in the way of your audio workflow.

A test run

Having found that the configuration and the software are cool, I plugged my guitar and did few tests. I tested two jack setups, my “extreme” one and my “conservative” one:

Extreme (~6/7 ms roundtrip latency measured by jack_iodelay):
/usr/bin/jackd -P98 -t5000 -dalsa -r96000 -p64 -n3 -D -Chw:USB,0 -Phw:USB,0
|
Conservative (~16/17 ms roundtrip latency measured by jack_iodelay):
/usr/bin/jackd -P87 -t5000 -dalsa -r96000 -p256 -n2 -D -Chw:USB -Phw:USB

They perform pretty much like on my Arch Linux + RT kernel + GNOME 3. The Extreme setup works well as long I use Guitarix and Calf only, for lowlatency effects. To record without xruns I need to use the Conservative setup.

As a conclusion, I feel confident in saying that (at least on my hardware) the Ubuntu Studio performances are as good as they can get (with a fully fledged DE). However, I cannot be that sure since I was running on live. Installing the system could produce differences and require specific optimizations. Indeed, a live system, being loaded in ram, is usually more responsive. Also, it might be required to optimize SSD drives if any. As such, take this conclusion with a grain of salt.

The CrocoDuck’s Official Rate

As I said, this is not a full review. However, I will treat is as such here as I think that the Official Rate is a good way to summarize the impressions I had. Also, it will give me the occasion to expand few points. As always, keep the following with a grain of salt and refer to the Definitions.

 

  • Packages and Package management: 6/10. It should be a 5/10 since not all the software is at the same version of upstream. However, it must be taken into account that HUGE repositories of up to date software can be added easily. Apt is not my favourite package manager, but it does the job.
  • Beginner friendly: 10/10. I think this is a very good distribution for a beginner as it comes with good software and it is already configured for audio. The learning curve will be still slow for a novice, but this is due to the way Linux audio is, not really because how the distribution is set up.
  • Documentation/Support: 4/10. Well, the Ubuntu Studio documentation is outdated for the most part and lacks important information. This is where probably more contribution for the project is needed. However, the people on the forums are kind and supportive and will be helpful in most cases.
  • Audio stability: 5/10. Well, I am starting thinking this scale is kinda harsh… Anyway, the system can perform in practically lowlatency conditions for few tasks (effects, for example) but not always.
  • Audio ready after install: 8/10. All the configuration is ready out of the box and (for sure depending on the hardware) the user can get stable lowlatency audio workflow. The fact that, at least in my case, stability might need to be enforced by a more conservative setup prevents a 10/10.
  • Stability: 7/10. This judgment is based on my previous Ubuntu experience and many things might have changed. However, I reckon my installation becoming sluggish over time, even with LTS releases. Still, I have an Ubuntu Studio 10.04 desktop I messed very little with which is still going well. As such, I would say that stability would in general decrease, but the user can prevent this to escalate taking care of maintaining the system a clean as possible.
UStudio1604Rate
Rate Summary

I would say then that the Ubuntu Studio developers put together a really nice release, on top of which I hope they will keep on improving!

 

 

3 thoughts on “A look at Ubuntu Studio 16.04

  1. Funny the only thing I can do “out of the box” is play videos or listen to audio files. Nothing connects to anything. Just like in 12.04 I’m going to have to scour the web for days to find a way to make anything happen. It damned near makes me want to go back to Windows (eeeek).

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s