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I want to encrypt a part of my HDD. But before that I wanted to benchmark the different algorithm available wondering if I should choose aes-xts-256 or aes-xts-512.

Note: I don't have aes hardware acceleration. The benchmarks were repeated multiple times without much change. I'd like to state clearly that these benchmark are only valid on my computer (Debian, core 2 duo). This is not intended to be a complete LUKS-TrueCrypt comparison.

TL;DR: go to part 4

1- Cryptsetup

So I downloaded cryptsetup v1.6.0 to make use of the new cryptsetup benchmark command.


$cryptsetup benchmark


 #  Algorithm | Key | Encryption |  Decryption
     aes-cbc   128b   128,2 MiB/s   157,2 MiB/s
 serpent-cbc   128b    49,6 MiB/s    57,7 MiB/s
 twofish-cbc   128b   138,0 MiB/s   183,8 MiB/s
     aes-cbc   256b    97,5 MiB/s   121,9 MiB/s
 serpent-cbc   256b    51,8 MiB/s    57,7 MiB/s
 twofish-cbc   256b   139,0 MiB/s   183,8 MiB/s
     aes-xts   256b   156,4 MiB/s   157,8 MiB/s
 serpent-xts   256b    55,7 MiB/s    58,7 MiB/s
 twofish-xts   256b   161,5 MiB/s   165,9 MiB/s
     aes-xts   512b   120,5 MiB/s   120,9 MiB/s
 serpent-xts   512b    55,7 MiB/s    58,5 MiB/s
 twofish-xts   512b   161,5 MiB/s   165,3 MiB/s


  • In cbc mode, serpent is surprisingly fast at decrypting!
  • In xts mode, serpent is clearly the fastest.
  • The key size seem to have almost no noticable effect on serpent twofish.
  • aes does not behave well when the key size is increased.

Updates out of VM

2- TrueCrypt

I was really surprised as aes is known to be the fastest (even without hardware acceleration). So I downloaded TrueCrypt to double-check these results. TrueCrypt uses the xts mode by default so I assume it also use it in its benchmarks.


  1. Tools > Benchmark
  2. Choose any buffer size (here, 5MB)
  3. Click on "Benchmark"


 #  Algorithm | Encryption |  Decryption
         AES     106 MB/s      107 MB/s
     Twofish      78 MB/s       76 MB/s
     Serpent      41 MB/s       42 MB/s


These results corresponds much more to what is expected but do not match well with cryptsetup's results.

3- General thoughts

  • cryptsetup provided better general performance than TrueCrypt in this case. This could be explained the following way:
    • cryptsetup was compiled on my system with compiler optimization routines while TrueCrypt was already compiled in a generic way;
    • AFAIK cryptsetup uses kernelspace crypto modules while TrueCrypt uses userspace crypto routines.
  • However, I can't explain why serpent-xts-512 seems to be the way to go with cryptsetup while aes-xts the only cipher worth using.

4- Question

cryptsetup and TrueCrypt give completely different qualitative (relative cipher speed) and quantitative (actual speed of each cipher) results in in-RAM benchmarks.

  • Is that something you have already noticed?
  • Should I trust cryptsetup and use serpent-xts-512 cipher for speed?
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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

You don't have AES hardware acceleration, and were running the tests in a virtual machine. It's unlikely that your test results would be reflective of real-world results, as the encryption/decryption speeds heavily depend on the current CPU & disk loads. Your best bet is to create two independent Truecrypt partitions, and perform manual benchmarks by copying some large files to/from each partition.

LUKS and Truecrypt also have slightly different implementations, and as you said, "these benchmark are only valid on my computer". You need to actually test both on your system with actual file transfers to determine the true performance.

As for the differences, Truecrypt uses FUSE to implement a userspace filesystem, whereas LUKS is usually done in the actual kernel. For this reason, it's likely that you would get better throughput in a Linux system using LUKS/dm-crypt/cryptsetup as opposed to Truecrypt, although which option you choose depends on the requirements of your encryption (e.g. Truecrypt partitions can be transfered between operating systems if needed).

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Strange: I tried directly in my system and basically everything stands excepts serpent which became much slower. So the problem with serpent is solved. Twofish is still faster than aes in cryptsetup and slower in TrueCrypt. And I don't have aes hardware acceleration at all... this is not a VM thing... –  Gael Mar 7 '13 at 15:10
I updated the results. –  Gael Mar 7 '13 at 15:25
@Gael cryptsetup will be faster than TrueCrypt given the same encryption algorithms since TrueCrypt runs under FUSE (user-space file system), whereas cryptsetup uses LUKS, which is a kernel module. I mentioned the virtual machine as if you were running any other programs under your host OS (even background tasks), it would affect the results of your benchmarks. –  Breakthrough Mar 7 '13 at 20:27

Linux kernel has SSE2 and AVX optimized Serpent modules to accelerate parallelizable workloads (such as CBC decryption and XTS enc&dec).

Performance of Serpent in CBC decryption and XTS with those module(s) loaded should be at near same level as software AES and Twofish (slightly faster or slower depending your exact CPU model).

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Also note that SSE2 code run by guest kernel in some VMs is much slower than on host kernel. I have experienced this with Oracle VirtualBox. So the results for Serpent on VM might not necessarily correlate with expected performance on actual host.

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