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Last Friday I upgraded my Ubuntu server to 11.10, which now runs with a 3.0.0-12-server kernel. Since then the overall performance has dropped dramatically. Before the upgrade the system load was about 0.3, but currently it is at 22-30 on an 8 core CPU system with 16GB of RAM (10GB free, no swap used).

I was going to blame the BTRFS file system driver and the underlaying MD array, because [md1_raid1] and [btrfs-transacti] consumed a lot of resources. But all the [kworker/*:*] consume a lot more.

sar has outputted something similar to this constantly since Friday:

11:25:01        CPU     %user     %nice   %system   %iowait    %steal     %idle 
11:35:01        all      1,55      0,00     70,98      8,99      0,00     18,48 
11:45:01        all      1,51      0,00     68,29     10,67      0,00     19,53 
11:55:01        all      1,40      0,00     65,52     13,53      0,00     19,55 
12:05:01        all      0,95      0,00     66,23     10,73      0,00     22,10 

And iostat confirms a very poor write rate:

sda             129,26      3059,12       614,31  258226022   51855269          
sdb              98,78        24,28      3495,05    2049471  295023077          
md1             191,96       202,63       611,95   17104003   51656068          
md0               0,01         0,02         0,00       1980        109          

The question is: How can I track down why the kworker threads consume so many resources (and which one)? Or better: Is this a known issue with the 3.0 kernel, and can I tweak it with kernel parameters?


I updated the Kernel to the brand new version 3.1 as recommended by the BTRFS developers. But unfortunately this didn't change anything.

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See askubuntu.com/questions/33640/…. I would add to his suggestions removing kernel modules one at a time to see if it is a specific one. –  Shawn J. Goff Oct 18 '11 at 12:47
@ShawnJ.Goff This is just a workaround provided by trial and error. But I want to know how I can identify the culprit with some (debugging) tools. This should then lead me to a kernel module in question. –  mailq Oct 18 '11 at 17:57
Try booting with pcie_ports=compat or pcie_ports=native. (Try 'native' first. It's less likely to fix the problem but less likely to cause other problems.) –  David Schwartz Oct 18 '11 at 22:02
@DavidSchwartz Didn't change. This would also be just a solution to avoid the problem. But I need to identify the problem myself to then elaborate on a solution. How can I identify the cause? –  mailq Oct 19 '11 at 8:32

4 Answers 4

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I found this thread on lkml that answers your question a little. (It seems even Linus himself was puzzled as to how to find out the origin of those threads.)

Basically, there are two ways of doing this:

$ echo workqueue:workqueue_queue_work > /sys/kernel/debug/tracing/set_event
$ cat /sys/kernel/debug/tracing/trace_pipe > out.txt
(wait a few secs)

For this you will need ftrace to be compiled in your kernel, and to enable it with:

mount -t debugfs nodev /sys/kernel/debug

More information on the function tracer facilities of Linux is available in the ftrace.txt documentation.

This will output what threads are all doing, and is useful for tracing multiple small jobs.


This will output the stack of a single thread doing a lot of work. It may allow you to find out what caused this specific thread to hog the CPU (for example). THE_OFFENDING_KWORKER is the pid of the kworker in the process list.

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Couldn't post a link to the ftrace.txt docuemntation because of my poor reputation, but here it is: kernel.org/doc/Documentation/trace/ftrace.txt –  anarcat Feb 19 '13 at 4:12
Thanks. I had to repeatedly cat the stack file until it got long enough to provide some info. In my case, I found "acpi_ds_create_operands" and "input_polled_device_work". A lucky guess made me try the -E option to sleepd, and the CPU usage disappeared! –  joeytwiddle Mar 11 '13 at 8:05

The solution is: I don't know how to find the cause. Nobody told me so far.

But talking with the BTRFS developers revealed a bug in the btrfs drivers when writing many many small files in a very short time period. This is an issue on kernels from 3.0 upto 3.1. Maybe it gets fixed in 3.2.

In the meantime I got a patch for the current kernel that solved the problem.

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echo N >/sys/module/drm_kms_helper/parameters/poll (in root mode)

Problem with Intel graphic card

not for me. It is default to N

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echo N >/sys/module/drm_kms_helper/parameters/poll (in root mode)

Problem with Intel graphic card

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How do you know that that is the cause? –  vonbrand Mar 3 '13 at 23:26

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