Clear feedback and review

Introduction

A few days ago I got a message from @biapalmeiro about writing a post covering my usage and impressions of Clear Linux* OS. It’s cool to be involved and I hope this post will help the developers. :smile:

Context

My everyday device is a Chuwi LapBook 12.3, with the following hardware:

  • Intel Celeron N3450 CPU
  • Intel HD Graphics 500 GPU
  • 6GB of DDR3 RAM
  • 64GB eMMC
  • 128GB M.2 SATA SSD
  • 12.3" 2736×1824 display

More info can be found in this NotebookCheck review.

Clear is installed on the SSD while on the slower internal eMMC there is Windows 10.
My main OS is Clear and I boot on Windows if I need to run Office or watch Netflix, which does not have a native GNU/Linux app. I select the boot drive via UEFI as needed.

This laptop is a low power device, so I opted for Clear to squeeze it as much as possible and not waste the already limited hardware potential. I understand Clear is targeted towards developers, so — given my desktop usage — this post may have little significance for professionals. Despite that, I find it awesome for everyday computing.

My usage as a student is quite standard and it’s closer to a desktop than a developer one. It consists of web browsing, chat, PDF reading, some writing, and text formatting. Sometimes I do relatively simple coding in Fortran or C, and I will start a machine learning class in the next semester, in which I’ll presumably use Python.

On the download and installation process

The graphical installer improved a lot recently, now it’s almost on par with other distributions install managers.

Few things I may find useful are:

  • A torrent link on the main download page. I find torrents faster than direct downloads (tried on Ubuntu and elementaryOS web pages) and — as far as I know — they automatically verify the integrity of the download without the need to manually run a sha512sum --check.
  • The support for installing multiple operating systems on the same drive, as I’d like to have both Windows and Clear on the SSD.
  • The possibility to choose the default desktop environment on the first install.

If I have to only install without trying, I prefer the server image because it has a smaller size, and selecting the desktop-autostart additional bundle from there basically gives the same system.

A great thing about Clear is that the installation is plug-and-play in comparison with Windows. On the latter — with the same Intel hardware — I have to search, install and update each driver manually on first boot and periodically. Swupd is an awesome tool for that, as it does everything silently in the background. It is my favorite Clear feature by far. :clap:

Everyday usage

My current daily setup consists of the i3 window manager with a slightly customized config and .Xresources files. I don’t boot often into Gnome and rarely run the apps that come with its bundle.
I made this choice mainly because of its lightness and simplicity. Once learned and customized it can be really efficient while remaining minimal. In fact, despite I really like Gnome’s intuitive interface — and also wrote a post about that — it has some issues with low power devices and high resolutions, so it stutters enough to be completely unusable on my laptop. I’m waiting to see improvements with the imminent 3.34 release.

Currently, i3 idles at ~240MB of RAM, running also /usr/libexec/gsd-xsettings to import Gnome preferences and GTK themes. In comparison, Gnome defaults to ~1GB, Windows and KDE Plasma stay respectively on ~1.5GB and ~580MB. I cannot say if it’s a good or bad thing, as I don’t know the technical reasons for those amounts.

The tools I’m lacking on i3 at the moment concern color management for ICC profiles (as xcalib) and backlight (brillo or maybe clight, which I didn’t try yet but seems interesting). My laptop would benefit from loading a custom profile, since the default white temperature is too high.

A common issue with both i3 and Gnome on Xorg is diagonal tearing, I already wrote a post about that. It could be solved by bundling the Compton compositor, but I would love to switch to Sway, which is a Wayland tiling compositor. It seems to be slightly more performant even in comparison with i3wm without compositing. However, I didn’t investigate on the method used for the benchmarks. I may try to compile and bundle it as soon as I have some free time. At the moment I only tried it on Ubuntu and I was pleasantly surprised by its plug-and-play compatibility with i3wm config files, hi-DPI screen support and smoothness.

A great thing about Clear: now I have the longest battery life I ever experienced both with other GNU/Linux distributions (Ubuntu and elementaryOS) and Windows. My impressions on this are purely anecdotical, I didn’t benchmark the power usage.

Apps I use

  • I constantly run DNSCrypt-Proxy with blacklisting to block ads, malware sites, fake news blogs, and trackers at the DNS level, and use DNS-over-HTTPS. I installed it following the standard procedure on their GitHub wiki. I don’t think there is a bundle for it.
  • The app I use the most is Brave Browser, as a “debloated” Chromium version, with some further adblocking extensions (Nano Adblocker and Nano Defender), mainly to remove the empty boxes in webpages left by DNSCrypt-Proxy.
  • Sometimes I use Firefox, but I prefer Brave for the capability of playing videos and GIFs out of the box, without having to compile FFmpeg.
  • Telegram’s flatpak for chatting.
  • I mainly write — usually lab reports — with markdown in Neovim on UXTerm, because of the reduced typing latency (I hope it’s not just placebo).
  • I typeset the reports in LaTeX on Overleaf, as I didn’t try using the LaTeX bundle yet.
  • I code in Neovim on UXTerm too for the already mentioned reasons, I use gfortran and gcc as compilers and will use python or cython for machine learning. I may also consider using Google Colaboratory in Brave as a browser based Jupyter notebooks environment.
  • I also use redshift to automatically change display color temperature at night.

Given my usage, I would love to see some natively optimized bundles for Brave and Telegram, but I’m of course not aware of third party support or legal obstacles. Telegram would not benefit particularly from performance optimizations, but it’s the only flatpak app I use, and a native bundle would save me several MBs of runtimes to download.

Other distributions

I also tried different distros in the past, and the following two are the ones I used the most over time. It may be interesting to compare them to Clear.

Ubuntu

+ There is a huge amount of existing documentation, blog posts, tutorials, and software packages.
It doesn’t have all the specific optimizations turned on, and I didn’t find it as energy efficient as Clear. It uses apt and has a slower release cycle.

elementaryOS

+ It has a better design consistency for everyday usage and for desktop users who are approaching GNU/Linux for the first time. It runs its custom Pantheon desktop environment, apps, and software store. Ubuntu’s advantages also apply here.
It’s based on Ubuntu so it shares the same problems, also, it’s updated even more slowly.

Of course, for any clarification or question, I’ll be happy to elaborate in the comments. :grin:

9 Likes

It is so so awesome! Thanks for sharing your experience with Clear Linux OS so far. I’m sure other users can benefit from your comments here. Also, I can see a lot of opportunities to improve our project based on what you described.

Thanks for being part of the community!

1 Like

I have the same laptop. Bought it because it has a nice screen and it is super cheap. Of course, I also have that issue with diagonal tearing and low framerates which bothers me. Thank you for your posts and guides :star_struck: Now I subscribed to the gnome gitlab issue that you posted. I hope new gnome release will make things a bit better.

P.S. Recently I switched to Wayland and diagonal tearing disappeared. I was soooo glad :slight_smile:

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Welcome @rieznik! Love to hear your thoughts too.

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I’m glad to hear that! :grin:

I don’t know if you tried this yet, but loading the ICC profile uploaded on the NotebookCheck review will make it even better. Of course it will not be perfect, since each display has production differences, but it’s definitely an improvement over the default profile, which has a too high white temperature.

Yes, Gnome on Wayland solves the tearing problem, but the low frame rate persists and it’s extended to the cursor too. Hopefully the recent improvements will solve those issues. I considered using KDE Plasma, which runs smoothly, but I find it quite heavy and overkill for the simple tasks I usually do. :smile:

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Oh my gosh, that new color profile :heart_eyes: Thank you very much!

Yeah, I noticed that something is wrong with the cursor but I could not understand what. I am not very technically experienced. Anyways, diagonal tearing is much worse issue for me than cursor, so I decided to live with that.

Same here :slight_smile: Though I tried Nitrux OS which is powered by KDE technologies. I assume that KDE Plasma has the same amount of settings :astonished: I like gnome for its simplicity and glad that Clear linux uses it :blue_heart:

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I find this to be quite surprising! I’ve always found Plasma to be much lighter than GNOME. As a comparison, with 6 tabs and dropbox open, I was still only hitting 1.4GB. After closing, only 450MB (400 on a clean boot). Though I do find some of their applications to be quite heavy, like their mail software with the akonadi backend which I evidently don’t use…

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Thanks for this @sunnyflunk.

I tried KDE Plasma several months ago — based on what you wrote — I should try it again. I will update the main post with my thoughts. :smile:

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I have a fairly clean and lean install (by that I mean no gnome bundles with their extra services, so just desktop-kde and a few of the good apps, but nothing that really starts on boot), don’t have akonadi running, and have baloo (the indexer) on a lighter profile. So interesting to see if the default settings lead to a significantly higher RAM usage than what I use (and it’s basically the same memory usage I would expect based on previous distro).

Of course then things like dropbox (250MB alone) and browser chew up all the RAM I’m not using for the desktop :sunglasses:

@sunnyflunk, I just installed the desktop-kde bundle. Plasma slightly improved recently, but still idles around ~1.3GB. I have some issues with hi-DPI support in the login screen too.

Also, I added a bullet point about programming I forgot to write before.

Have you tried something lighter, like LXDE / LXQT or XFCE ?

If you are able to take a screenshot of ksysguard with it sorted by highest Memory use I’d love to see it (ideally after a clean start so it’s not full of user programs). Without a Plasma ISO, it’s a bit harder to test some things out.

Not yet, but I heard they have problems with hi-DPI displays.

I think you’re right, and I certainly need to edit those RAM usage numbers. I was reading them from htop, but I think they include the disk access cache.

The following image is my ksysguard screenshot… is it normal having Gnome services to start even in KDE Plasma?

Yes and no. Some services will start regardless, gvfsd most likely. The main issue I would imagine is that you probably have sddm (desktop-kde bundle) and gdm (desktop-autostart bundle) trying to start up on boot. I’m not sure which wins or if both start. I think gdm now closes down after login (it used to remain open!), but if you logged in via sddm then it would remain open forever. GDM is pretty heavy as you can see which is great if you run GNOME as the full session is already loaded/cached effectively to RAM, but horrible if it doesn’t shutdown!

For me plasmashell uses a bit over 100MB on boot and gets a bit higher depending on what I’m doing. Much of the difference is likely due to the graphics card and possibly screen resolution (I’m 1440p).

I have to admit, I’m a big advocate for not installing multiple desktops as such issues as this aren’t uncommon. While I tend to have a love/hate relationship with bundles, shipping a desktop as a bundle vs 50-100 packages certainly made it easy to cleanly remove GNOME! But obviously use whichever one suits you best, just thought the higher RAM usage was odd :laughing: