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TB 3.0.4 *extremely* sluggish on TS16GSDHC6 Flash card

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VulcanTourist
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TB 3.0.4 *extremely* sluggish on TS16GSDHC6 Flash card

I tried out Portable Thunderbird (via the full suite) installed to a Transcend TS16GSDHC6 16 GB SDHC Flash card. After installing the suite, I copied my existing mail stores to it, following the published instructions; copying the entire profile resulted in Thunderbird failing to start, so I backpedaled and copied the recommended minimum files. That worked, though I was missing a few UI customizations and some extensions.

Thunderbird running from this card, however, behaved VERY badly. The UI would ignore the mouse and user input for extended periods of time, during which I could see that there was heavy I/O activity to the card. I suspected that the write rate of this card is not up to the task.

I dropped a languishing 2.5-inch laptop SATA drive - a tortoise-slow 200GB 4200-RPM model focused on power conservation no less - into my drive dock, and transferred that same installation to it. Though I can connect the drive dock via either USB or much faster eSATA, I deliberately chose the slower USB connection.

Thunderbird is much, MUCH more responsive on this external disk drive, as comparably slow as it is (it was replaced in a laptop, for that reason, with a drive that performed THREE times faster). There were no significant noticeable UI lags with the same setup running from this drive.

I haven't really tried out the other Portable apps yet, but I think with Thunderbird in particular there needs to be some conspicuous warnings about trying to install and use it on Flash media. The experience is NOT going to be pleasant, though it does nominally work. I didn't see any such warnings when I investigated, downloaded, and installed the suite. For the time being I now have to give up my dream of having Thunderbird as portable as a postage stamp, and spend some money buying an external enclosure for my somewhat less portable disk drive.

John T. Haller
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Reader

If you're using a built-in reader on a laptop or desktop, they often have poor drivers that spike the CPU and destroy performance. There's usually no way around that, unfortunately. You could try a well-rated external USB-connected reader to get around it.

Sometimes, the impossible can become possible, if you're awesome!

VulcanTourist
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I was in fact using the

I was in fact using the built-in SD slot on a Toshiba Satellite P105, and I didn't try it with a USB reader as I figured the built-in slot should be better. I have a mini-reader that came with the card as well as two others. I'll have to copy the dataset back to the card and try that.

VulcanTourist
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I tried it with the included

I tried it with the included USB card reader, and it was somewhat more responsive. It was definitely still not as responsive as it was running from the slow external disk drive; it's clear that the I/O limits of the Flash media plays a significant part. I wish I could recall whether I was seeing CPU spikes during the first attempt in the laptop's built-in card reader; either it was affecting the I/O rate or it was affecting the CPU usage, but I don't know which.

It's more usable in the external reader, so now I just need to decide if the remaining "lag" will be too annoying over time to justify the alternative limitations of using an external disk drive (bulk, battery drain). Lord knows I don't want to keep copying 7GB of data back and forth between the two!

VulcanTourist
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Just as bad with much faster Flash drive

I spent $40 to buy a new Mushkin 16GB USB Flash drive (MKNUFDMH16GB), which has a rated write speed of 17MBps. I have found that Portable Thunderbird is just as unresponsive with that as it is with the much slower Transcend SDHC card.

To better describe this, the UI becomes so unresponsive that I an unable to type a new message or reply, because the keystrokes are ignored for up to 10 seconds at a time. I have a hard time selecting messages to delete from the main view, because it stops responding to both mouse and keyboard for the same periods of time.

It is clearly some background thread of Thunderbird that is getting waaaay more attention than it deserves, and the culprit seems to be the message indexing. It also seems to be behavior somehow specific to the nature of Flash media, since this USB Flash drive is substantially as fast as that external hard drive which I found doesn't cause this behavior. If it was just related to read-write speed, it shouldn't now be happening.

This really needs to be investigated further.

VulcanTourist
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I/O intensive, not CPU intensive

Since I'm being treated like a pariah now here, I contacted Mushkin to get their take on the situation. They actually suggested something I hadn't thought of: formatting the USB Flash drive as NTFS rather than FAT32. At their suggestion I've tried that as well, but still the same unresponsiveness. When it takes up to ten seconds for a clicked mail item to simply be marked as selected in the main view, something is very wrong.

I can also rule out the problem being caused by a CPU bottleneck. I was closely monitoring the CPU load this last attempt, and during the periods of unresponsiveness there was marginal CPU load. However, as I suggested before, I found that there was very heavy I/O to the USB drive, and that was causing the unresponsiveness. In essence, one thread performing heavy I/O - apparently the message indexing - is hogging the media and preventing even the minimal I/O needed for the UI to function properly. Is the write speed of even this Mushkin product still inadequate? If so, then this Portable Thunderbird needs to do things differently to eliminate this behavior.

ottosykora
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not sure what is wrong

on your side, but thousands of people are using it on slow sticks like those cheap-charlie things with red6/write3 speed and it still works perfect.

Certainly, when you first install or use the software, there are few things which have to be solved, like some indexing in TB or loading remote antiphishing base in case of Firefox.
But if left for some time , those apps sort out all and work then perfect even on very slow devices.
Now you say that TB responds slowly to key strokes. This has even very little to do with the speed of the stick. You are not typing something directly to the stick, this is done in ram, so even some heavy traffic on usb has no impact on it.

Formating stick to ntfs is no cure at all, for very slow and chap stick even contraproductive, since it writes somewhat more to the stick then on fat32.
Heavy IO on the usb might show, that your antivirus or similar app is trying to scan this 'new' disk to it. I experienced this behavior particularly on some mac systems.

Note also: heavy traffic over usb will definitely load the cpu heavily, so if you say you have almost no cpu load , but heavy traffic ober usb, this is very , very strange and might also be connected to some other devices like wireless mouse or keyboard etc.

What precess is cauising this heavy load? Is there a process with permanently incerasing ram amout and never decreasing?

BTW: what version of portable TB?

How do other apps run from the stick? Is only TB causing prblems? What antivirus or similar software are you using?

Otto Sykora
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I dunno either

I haven't really used any of the other Portable apps much, even though I installed the suite; I copied my Pidgin profile over to it and have fired that and Firefox up a few times. I didn't notice any misbehavior with anything except Thunderbird. The suite I installed in May, the latest version just days before I first posted here.

It hasn't mattered how much time I leave it alone initially to take care of business; the unresponsiveness is an ongoing issue that persists. It doesn't happen at all, ever, on the slow USB-connected 4200 RPM Fujitsu disk drive to which I copied the exact same setup. It has now occurred on both a Transcend SDHC card and a (allegedly) much faster Mushkin USB Flash drive. It also happens regardless what computer to which the media is attached. On one system I have Windows XP and no AV software at all, and the other has Windows 7 and MSE AV. What does that tell you? It has to involve the specific media and some characteristic of it. There is no RAM-sucking process that I could see. The only clue was the near-constant activity of the media; by contrast when I've used the external disk drive the activity will actually cease at expected intervals. The indexing seems to proceed at an unrealistically slow pace on the Flash media. At one point I tried to disable it, I thought, but it seemed to make no difference, so maybe it's something else entirely.

There might be something about the way I'm using Thunderbird - accounts or extensions - that is a catalyst for this behavior, but if that's true I doubt if anyone will ever get to the bottom of it. I don't think I have the patience to make a huge experiment out of my e-mail client when I already have a workaround - the external drive - that isn't too bothersome. I have a history of pushing the limits of software in unanticipated directions and finding bugs, though, going way back to my beta testing days at Quarterdeck, so my experience should be a warning that something needs attention. Thunderbird already has show-stopping bugs that have needed fixing for YEARS, like the way the new-mail status of messages disappears at the drop of a hat, so I don't expect this obscure problem will see any attention in my lifetime.

ottosykora
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ok, strange

consider the external hard drive in any case much faster then a flash stick. Hard drives will in such case use the max speed of usb2.

Question is, what version of thunderbird you have and not what was the date you installed the suite. This might have relevance, since not always all apps in the suite are uptodate. There has been some special problem in past with one version, but this did then produce big ram space.

Sure, we dont know what extensions you have, this is sometimes a problem, not extensions are portable. But how did you find about traffic over usb? Just by the LED on the stick or did you check measure with other means?

Did you try the TB only, without any extensions?

Q: did you set manually some apps to be used for certain types of attachments?
(e.g. some specific reader for pdf or similar)

As I mentioned, the traffic over usb must produce considerable cpu load, if not it is not present. Therefore saying there is heavy traffic on usb and no increase in cpu load is something impossible. Therefore my Q how did you measure the traffic over usb.
Typing and other operations on TB are happening in ram only, it has nothing to do with usb speed or usb traffic. The speed of usb is noticed at start (loading lot of things to ram) then when storing big things like attachments and other bigger operations, not typing or clicking on some simple mails, well if you have millions of them then I dont know, but in general it has no impact.

Are using IMAP? How long does it take until the folder structure is synchronized with the server? This is sure some special situation and can depend on the setup of the imap server itself.

Otto Sykora
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I was using Thunderbird

I was using Thunderbird 3.0.4. That is what was installed with the suite. I have no default actions defined for attachments. I tried it with no extensions early on, because when I originally tried copying my entire existing profile Portable TB didn't like it, and had to try again with just the mail files. Later I think I copied the extensions folder. In any case the problem occurred before I copied the extensions.

I was gauging the I/O activity by the LEDs on the USB Flash drive and the drive dock in which I put the disk drive. On both systems I have system tray utilities that show CPU load. Though I did see CPU activity, it didn't seem to correlate with the unresponsiveness, i.e. when the mouse and keyboard were being ignored the CPU appeared to have no load. What did correlate was those LEDs on the devices. If I recall from using HD Tune about the most load USB devices create is about 15-20% (on one core) depending on the device.

I have 2 GMail accounts configured as both POP3 and IMAP, some other POP3 accounts, and a dozen RSS feeds. I configured both IMAP and POP3 on the same accounts because I want local mail storage but I also want to be able to deal with GMail spam folders without having to resort to the Web site. I normally use the POP3 accounts, and only use the IMAP accounts for checking spam and managing GMail's archives. When I do use them, the spam folders are accessible in seconds, while the giant All Mail folders take a little bit longer but not so long that it makes me nervous.

ottosykora
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lets try

>about the most load USB devices create is about 15-20% (on one core) depending on the device.

Otto Sykora
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I performed some surgery on

I performed some surgery on my accounts and config and messages: I all but removed the IMAP accounts (only Spam folders subscribed and ALL stored messages removed, no local storage, no mail checking, etc.) and removed another POP3 subfolder that had 1.5GB of messages in about 3700 files (router logs actually, each about 500KB). I did leave indexing active, though. The result was that the footprint dropped from about 14GB to only 4GB. About 8GB of that was local storage of the biggest IMAP account. I compacted everything and let it sit overnight to make sure it had enough chance to make the indexes current.

Then I copied this setup to the Mushkin USB Flash drive again. SAME RESULT. You'd really laugh if you saw just how incredibly unresponsive it gets; I can't even select menu items and have to wait for it to stop daydreaming long enough to notice that the mouse is hovering over (e.g.) File. And then it goes right back to daydreaming!

I suppose next I kill the indexing, the RSS feeds, the IMAP accounts entirely, and even remove the extensions. I think you'll agree that if it STILL doesn't function right it's really not my "fault" at all. At that degree of crippling, Thunderbird would be rather useless for me anyway.

ottosykora
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well try simple install only

in such case one has to eliminate as much of strange things as possible.

I woul din such case also just take the new stick, install simply minimum suite on it for example, and try what does TB on it with just one simple pop account and no 8G profile with it.

Then try not put in the extensions, just to see if all still works.

Here I assume the big amounts of small mails, getting synchronized with server on one side, indexing on other is possibly little more expected then it can do.

I also think, some problem could have been caused by copying the profile, as such big amounts might give problems. Are those mails and messages in one single file? How does this work on fat32?

Simply try the pure TB without any fancy things and see if this works.

There are many thousands of people using the portable TB, if there would be a problem in it sure they will complain, so I think it might be one part of the message storage of the TB causing such big problem, it might not ven be the biggest one. Once long time ago , there was a problem when people did set for example some particular exe association with certain attachments, something like choosing a pdf reader on the stick rather then the one of the host. This did cause some problems in one of the versions, but this should be cleared long time ago.

Otto Sykora
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"I can't do that, Dave."

If I do what you suggest, I lose mail continuity, which is exactly what I'm trying to preserve by having those huge mail stores in the first place. If I set up a test with an account that *doesn't* include that mail history and then new mail arrives, it's now trapped in that pristine mail store with none of the history, isn't it? As a scientist I can see the value of doing it, but if it jeopardizes my goal then I can't do it.

Really, though, if Thunderbird can't function *in the way that I need it to function* on Flash media, then it really does defeat the purpose, doesn't it? Why should I care if it will work in some stripped-down fashion that isn't at all what I want? I already know it will function as I require on an external disk drive, and that the problem is restricted ONLY to Flash media. It's the "comorbid" contributor in my setup that you're suggesting I should identify, but that comorbid thing is likely more important to me than being able to use Flash media, if using it means I have to give up that comorbid thing. N'est-ce pas?

The only value I can see in identifying this comrbid thing is that perhaps it might allow a developer to eliminate the problem that Flash media is causing for it but, really, how likely is it that will happen in a time frame helpful to me? Remember, Thunderbird still "forgets" which messages are new simply from the acts of switching account focus or opening and closing a message in a new window, and has been doing this for YEARS without being fixed. Whatever the priorities of the Mozilla developers, they don't seem to be the same as mine. Excuse my cynicism, but it's rooted in experience.

ottosykora
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undertand , but

nothing will happen when you simply install TB on a fresh stick, give it some account for trying and see what will work. This will not do any harm to anybody or your mail accounts at all. You can after all set the TB to 'leave all messages on the server' which can be done with every POP account and is valid for any IMAP accouts anyway. So it will not disrupt anything on your mail server at all. Your mails are not dependent on the mail client, but on the server.

There are basically two things in this issue. One is that simply the typing and clicking is done in ram , thus it has little to do with hard drive or flash. Problems here are likely to be caused by some other software interfering with the TB. Therefore my advise to test the clean fresh install of TB without such heavy load and see if there is still some problem.
If there is problem with the TB installation itself, you can any time install it over the existing one on your stick, your data will not be touched by that.
This one other advise I can give, since copying might often break this and that, so reinstall over the existing install might be also useful.

Next thing is the huge size of the mail folder. I have never seen such mail volume. Our company mail server has a space of 80G , handling 20 employees , development, sales, accounting and all that. I have no clue how to fill some 4G or 10 G or so, but you should know, that TB stores all mails and attachments in ascii text format and will try to store them in one single file per account if this is possible.
Since you will not have probably so much ram, your big size volume of mails will be stored handled by swap file.

What I mean, you might have a problem caused by all that copying from one place to other, mail files becoming inconsistent by that, program itself got damaged or more likely some of the extensions.
Sure TB works perfect from flash, but everything can get broken if misused. Therefore a clean install is the best, if it works and all your extensions are in place, you can try to copy in the address book and finally also your mail folders one by one and you will see which one is causing the problem. The mail folder/file causing the problem will need anyway special attention later, since it might be broken and possible loss of data in future might occur.
The address book and mail files you will find under data/profile.

Simple trouble shooting will certainly bring you to result, there is probably not an issue with flash operation, but with copying, placing TB in other path then intended and similar.

External hard drive can be maximum abt double speed then current propper quality high speed flash stick. So the fact that it is now on flash is not making it alone unusable. It has to behave exactly the same way if on external hd or fast current technology flash. If it does not, it is not a generic problem, but something is interfering with the correct operation after you have copied to the flash.
OK, if you are handling such big data files, you might be better of with ntfs formating. But how was your external hard drive formated? fat32 or ntfs? You know that fat32 will suport max 4gb siles, but many apps will try to make the files max 2gb to make sure all remais consistent. Ntfs will make files of almost any size and transfering them to fat32 might be not possible so simple.
There might be one small restriction to flash operation. A file which has a size of let say 4gb and has to be permanently modified, should be on a flash of min 8gb size and the the other 4gb should be empty otherwise updating such file will become complex for the flash controller (built into the stick). In fact as every change to the file will need complete rewriting of the file on the flash and deleting of the original will need minimum exactly space as the file is.
This can not be solved on any software level at all. This simply how all NAND flash chips need to handle files. Nobody will ever be able to solve this on the side of software developers, this is simply matter of physics and technology. On magnetic drives the actual file can be changed and on only file allocation table will be changed after that.
On any flash (including the new solid state hard drives) the changed file has to be written to new place and the old file deleted and the the file allocation table written (and its copy) to new place and old deleted too.
Therefore when I would have let say one single file with 4gb and few other small files on a stick and would like to change the 4gb file frequently, I would choose a flash of minimum 16gb with very fast write cycles, something like corsair flash voyager GT, with write speed of some 24mb.

>Thunderbird still "forgets" which messages are new simply from the acts of switching account focus or opening and closing a message in a new window,

Otto Sykora
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One last try

I tried two more times to get it working with the fast USB stick that I bought before I returned it. I removed IMAP accounts, archived most mail, removed extensions, significantly changed the way I'd been using Thunderbird for years, and edited prefs.js to remove everything that didn't involve critical account settings. I also suspected that I'd mistakenly run a normal Thunderbird update on the Portable install once, and that seems to be bad, so I reinstalled Portable Thunderbird 3.1 from scratch as well.

Same behavior. And it still works fine from the external USB disk drive.

Maybe one of these days I'll copy it back to the SDHC card I tried first, install some demo recording software, and post a YouTube video demonstrating just how useless Portable Thunderbird became in that scenario. Not today, though. I've expended a couple 8-hour days trying to understand and work around this, and I'm settling for the external disk drive.

One good thing came out of it, since I found a workaround for that awful new-status bug, involving a new tag, a filter, and a custom view. All new mail now gets TAGGED as "New" with filters for each account, and then the custom view lets me view those messages to make sure I don't miss "new" messages that arrive post-dated days late in my Inbox. That's the way the status flag should have worked all along and never has.

The portable app should have worked from Flash media for me, that's what you say, but it never did. But yeah, of course it's my fault. Don't bother trying to replicate it.

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One last try

VulcanTourist, Unfortunately you may have attempted to technical an approach, although you are to be commended because certainly not all USB hardware is suitable.

Version 3.0 of Thunderbird has numerous performance issues, which are certainly magnified in a USB environment. The issues are documented in bugzilla.mozilla.org, and in summary form at https://wiki.mozilla.org/Thunderbird:Testing:Memory_Usage_Problems

In short, you want to be on a version 3.1 system (3.1.4 is the current version of portable app). And some tweaks may be useful https://portableapps.com/support/thunderbird_portable#performance

John T. Haller
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Not Fast Enough

Quite simply, your drive wasn't fast enough for the performance you wanted. Remember, the ratings on the drives mean almost nothing when it comes to portable app performance. Things like SDHC cards are *specifically* tuned to deal with pictures and music and that's about it. To be more specific, files around 5MB. The wear leveling algorithm and the controller. And only doing one thing at a time, reading or writing. And that's what that '6' rating is in relation to. Also, don't forget that every power of 2 you go up size wise, the cards is slower even with an identical speed controller and RAM inside it in actual use.

Something like Thunderbird is making a lot of small reads and writes, interchangeably and non-sequentially, which your card is not meant to handle. There is no way for us to code around it. It's a simple matter of having a tool meant for another job, not for this one. As you noticed, your 'slow' external drive performed much faster, which is expected as it can better handle non-sequential alternating reads and writes.

Sometimes, the impossible can become possible, if you're awesome!

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