I see that most people tend to make
/boot, swap, Windows System partition, etc first. And some say that it'll be faster to do so, while others say 'outer tracks' faster. Could you tell me which one (or both?) makes sense and why?
Yes. Data located at the outer edge of a traditional hard disk will be sequentially read faster than data closer to the center of the platter. This is just physics. The tangential velocity of the outer tracks is faster than inner tracks so the rotational latency is lower.
The easiest way to see this is to look at any disk drive test tool which graphs the throughput of a drive. The highest throughput will be at beginning of the drive which is located on the outer edge.
Now whether or not that matters in any significant way with doing the more typical random accesses an OS is going to do with a /swap partition is more debatable. I'm also not sure how relevant the /swap partition is these days when the size of RAM memory is typically a few GBs. FWIW, I usually don't bother with this. But to each their own ...
If you're using a current version of Ubuntu the Disk Utility app has a "benchmark" function which can give you a rough idea of what sort of a difference there is between the "outer" and the "inner" parts of your drive.
Hard disks are most definitely faster on the outer tracks (use a utility like HD Tune to see for yourself), so I always want my Windows system partition (typically the C: drive) to be the first partition created on the disk. The ability for a hard disk to read and write data efficiently is by the biggest bottleneck in today's computer system. That is why the solid state disks are becomming so popular as prices fall. Their read and write speeds far exceed that of mechanical disks.
The outer tracks are usually faster. Whether or not this corresponds to how partitioning software visualises the table is another matter.
Performance benefits depend on use. I would want to move my Windows System partition away from beggining of disk to make space for data volumes from which I stream media in real-time software, because real-time streaming performance is more important to me than programs loading faster.
I'd be surprised if it made a noticeable difference for a desktop user given modern drive controllers.
... "So this small differential may be the only thing to distinguish drives; and small differences are what you are likely to see..." -- pcguide
From the list of partitions you mention it sounds like you're talking about a Linux/Windows dual-boot system, and in that case it's worth mentioning that the Windows installer doesn't seem to work properly if you ask it to install on any but the first partition. So for that reason, a lot of people who run a dual-boot system install Windows on the first partition. After that, it probably makes sense to put the swap partition as far toward the outside of the disk as possible; since that's going to be caching RAM, it's probably more important for it to be fast than for the regular file partitions to be fast (although what irrational John says about the swap partition being less important when you have large amounts of RAM is true). But generally, I don't think the speed difference between the inside and the outside of the disk is going to be a big issue. No matter where you are on the drive, it'll be slower than RAM access and faster than network access.