Curious to know more about Unity low graphics mode in Ubuntu? Canonical has explained more. 

We first reported that Unity 7 was getting low graphics mode back in July. Since then, the feature rolled out as part of Ubuntu 16.10, and the first LTS point update to Ubuntu 16.04.

‘Improving the performance was quite challenging; Unity 7 uses a lot of visual effects’

Canonical software engineer Eleni Maria Stea is part of the team working to reduce the amount of visual effects that the Unity desktop uses when running in low graphics mode.

In a session held at the Ubuntu online summit she explains that “most visual effects are widely used in the modern desktop environment due to the performance of modern high-end GPUs […] tend to slow down the desktop to the point where it becomes unusable in software rendering.”

But it wans’t easy.

“Improving the performance was quite challenging because Unity 7 uses quite a lot of visual effects. We didn’t want to sacrifice the user experience by disabling well-known and broadly-used plugins or effects. But we really wanted to make it faster,” she says.

The good news is she managed to do just that; the performance of Unity 7 in low-graphics environments has increased thanks to a slate of optimisations, bug fixes new features – plus ‘a lot of debugging, profiling and stuff like that’, notes Stea.

  • Reduced animations in launcher, windows, menus, etc
  • Reduced various window and UI shadows
  • Disabled blur effects
  • No fade in/out effects 

But just how much of an improvement do these changes really deliver?

To answer that, Stea shares some rather stark before and after videos.

Taking an Ubuntu install running inside virtual machine with software rendering (no dedicated GPU or acceleration) she shows how “well” Unity 7 performs when all of its visual effects are enabled, and how well Unity 7 performs when all the bling is turned off and/or reduced.

The clips cover the following areas:

  • Opening the Dash
  • Opening Dash Previews
  • Moving windows
  • Open and closing Windows
  • Resizing Windows
  • Workspace expo
  • Scale (‘expose’) mode
  • Show desktop mode
  • Switcher (‘alt+tab’)

Check out the full video at the top of this post to see the improvements in action.

Wondering how to enable Unity’s low graphics mode on Ubuntu? We’ve written a hand how-to that can help.

compiz Unity uos