Super User is a question and answer site for computer enthusiasts and power users. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I realize that by asking this question I have already labeled myself as "unprepared" for high-performance workstations, but whatever, you have to start somewhere!

I would like to know how different linux distributions handle multiple cores and multi-threading, so as to help determine which might be best for an HPC workstation.

By default I know that Linux takes advantage of several cores, but does anybody have reference links to how it handles multi-cores (in English, i.e. I don't want to read the source code ;) ) as well as performance comparison charts (re: core utilization over time, thread distribution, compile times, etc). I understand that applications must also be optimized for multi-core support, but the first step is getting the most out of the operating system.

Or am I wrong, and is Linux inherently the same in this regards, no matter the distribution, and instead performance will be all application based?

share|improve this question
This question might as well be titled. "Begin a flame war over which Linux distro is best below." Honestly, for the question to be answerable, we need a bit more to go on than just "high performance". If your question is really "Do distributions differ in how they handle multithreading?" then ask THAT question, not this one. – frabjous Oct 11 '10 at 6:00
I don't mean to start a flame-war :( I hate them as much as the next practical individual. I will rephrase my question. Sorry. – Jonathan Oct 11 '10 at 6:12
I thought the question was posed pretty well, then again I'm all for knowledge and don't care much for flaming. It's a question I'd like to see answered... – invert Oct 11 '10 at 7:52
wez, the question has been changed since I wrote my comment, and much for the better! (Originally it was something like "which linux distro is best for high performance?") – frabjous Oct 11 '10 at 15:53
up vote 3 down vote accepted

How do different Linux distributions handle multiple cores and multi-threading?

The scheduling of processes is really up to the kernel. See a, b, c and d. Yes, there's sourcecode in some of those links. But it's not really avoidable when dealing with something this low-level.

share|improve this answer
These are great sources, thank you! – Jonathan Oct 11 '10 at 9:18

There will be minor differences between distributions. Ubuntu might use XYZ scheduler and Fedora might use ABC scheduler and that results in a X% improvement. But the bigger problem is application support. You can have a single-core CPU or a 12-core CPU, but if the application is single-threaded, you're going to end up with the same performance. In this situation, I would use whatever I felt more comfortable using in the long run.

share|improve this answer
I thought the scheduler was part of the kernel. Sure, someone could change it, but that seems like it'd be a lot of work. Distros often have subtly different userspace stuff, but how many actually make a major change to the kernel itself? – cHao Oct 11 '10 at 7:50
@cHao - there are different schedulers that you can tell the kernel to use. – Oct 11 '10 at 9:11
Your answer is very helpful, thank you, but I really like the sources that taspeotis provides below. Thanks to everyone for their help! – Jonathan Oct 11 '10 at 9:20
@cHao - the kernel has several scheduling options precisely because what is optimal for some CPU arrangements and tasks is very much not optimal for others. Most stock kernels have them all compiled in so you can switch between them as a boot-time option, the most desktop distributions will default to the one that is commonly held, at the time of that distro's release, to be the best choice for general desktop use. – David Spillett Oct 11 '10 at 9:44

Linux distributions have been multi-core and multi-thread in the kernel via SMP for years now.

It is not the distribution that is important in this case, but the kernel. And since all major distributions are today based on the same kernel, just take your pick.

This website should help decide among Linux distributions : Comparison of Linux distributions.

share|improve this answer
Thanks for answering. I have been using linux now for almost a decade, so I have a pretty good handle on the general-purpose differences between each distribution. I was particularly hoping to focus on multi-core aspects and performance metrics related to those. But I am struggling as to how to word what I want. Cheers! – Jonathan Oct 11 '10 at 8:08
In this case you might stay with what you know best. – harrymc Oct 11 '10 at 8:56

Though most distros use the stock kernel there are a couple that have differences that affect specific computing requirements. Redhat ( and SUSE ( both have realtime kernels which affect how threads are scheduled.

share|improve this answer

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .