4 min read

Dell Latitude 5310 - bad performance on Linux

Pen holding up a laptop
Cooling your laptop with a pen - did not work

When I started my new job at gridscale (01.08.2020) I got a Dell Latitude 5310. Quickly I found out that this machine is not suiting me well and I want to share my experience.

Main workflow

This is not about bashing the Dell Latitude 5310. It might be a really good machine when running Windows, but I am running Ubuntu 20.04 or something similar. It also highly depends on your work.

Nut I am using Linux as my main operating system for the last couple of years at work now. That is what I know and what I am most comfortable with. So here we go.

My main workflow is using Slack, Chrome with Jira, Google Docs, and another gazillion tabs. For development, it's Docker, PyCharm, VS Code, and Android Studio. As I am working fully remote (even without COVID) I need to use Zoom for that matter. That is about it. Here and there is another application, but that is mostly it.

Problem

When having a few Chrome tabs open (I do not have a tab problem, I have a tab extension called Tabli to solve the problem), especially Jira AND Zoom at the same time during the standup, my Laptop is really, really slow.

I mean like slow in the 90s. I have to wait for click registrations in Jira and Slack for about 10 - 15 seconds. Sometimes the clipboard did not work and I can not use copy-paste when working with a coworker. Want to get a logline during a debugging session? Wait a MINUTE or even more. It is just frustrating.
And of course the fan. The fan is always in full blast mode, nice.

After some research, I could pinpoint the problem to the poor cooling solution.

Performance of

The top graph in the image shows the following values:

  • 70 degrees celsius: using zoom
  • 45 degrees celsius: doing nothing
  • 70 degrees celsius: using zoom

As soon as this laptop is hitting 70 degrees celsius the clock speed is locked around 2300 MHz.

Interesting. Let's verify that behavior.

Verifying

I create a clone of my SSD and put that onto some spare SSD I had around.
Now I can start the exact same operating system via USB-C on my laptop and on my PC.

First here are the PC specs from that time:

  • Intel i5-7600k 4 cores, no hyperthreading, 3.8 GHz - 4.2 GHz,
  • Thermalright Macho Rev. B
  • PowerColor Radeon RX 5700 XT Red Devil

When booting my PC from that SSD and doing work like normal I see a way different behavior.

The system is always snappy! No hangs. Copy-paste works always as fast as I can roll over my keyboard. Like a charm.

Unfortunately, I do not have a screenshot saved. But what I could see is: Still the system was using a lot of resources for zoom. Remember, zoom does not have full hardware acceleration on Linux. Only for receiving video at the time of writing this (26.10.2021). But I could see that the 4 cores did NOT get locked at a specific clock speed. They were able to burst on actions like opening a Jira ticket, working in Google Docs, while having zoom open.

I could verify this by booting up the laptop. Start a zoom call directly and work on Jira. The first few seconds everything was just fine. I could see the clock spike up to ~ 4 GHz when using Jira. Nice.

But after a minute or less the slowness started to begin. The cooling system was not able to move that generated heat out of the laptop. The clock speed was locked again.

Conclusion

Even though the Intel i5-7600k is older, has only 4 cores and no hyperthreading it was able to outperform the i5-10310U CPU @ 1.70GHz × 4 cores with hyperthreading. And that was only because of cooling. The Dell Laptop was in theory able to clock up to 4.4 GHz. That time window was short though. Zoom is just too demanding on the CPU and that needs cooling. The cooling solution is not suitable for that laptop with my specific workload.

And to be clear. As long as I did not run zoom or something demanding in the background the laptop was perfectly useable. As long as you do not need any CPU over a longer period of time this laptop could be fine for you...

Or you could just use that laptop outside. During winter. During a storm. Next to John Snow. On the wall.

John Snow in winter storm (Game of Thrones)

Solution

I ended up explaining my problem and findings to my team lead. The solution is buying another laptop.

The review for that new laptop will come up next. Stay tuned or just subscribe via mail! There might be other projects coming up, something useful or something stupid.