Tuesday , October 20 2020

Linux Distribution Review: Intel Clear Linux OS

Intel’s Clear Linux distribution has received a lot of attention lately due to its unsuitably high benchmark performance. Although the distribution was created and managed by Intel, even by AMD recommends Run benchmarks for the new CPUs on Clear Linux to get the highest scores.

Recently at Phoronix, Michael Larabel checked a Threadripper 3990X system with nine different Linux distributions, one of which was Clear Linux – and Intel’s distribution achieved three times as many results in first place as any other distribution tested. When trying to summarize all test results into a single geometric mean, Larabel found that the distribution results were on average 14% faster than the slowest distributions tested (CentOS 8 and Ubuntu Apr 18, 2003).

There is no question that Clear Linux is the best choice if you want to give the best possible benchmark numbers. The question not addressed here is what it’s like to run Clear Linux as a daily driver. We were curious and went for a spin.

Install Clear Linux

The installation for Clear Linux is similar to any other operating system: Download the ISO, save it to a USB stick, start and start. There are two installation versions available: a “server” which is only available in text mode and a “desktop” which uses a fully functional live desktop environment. We chose the desktop. On real hardware, Clear gave us no problems and installed immediately – but in a KVM environment, the installation initially refused, with the less helpful error message “Pre-installation checks failed”.

A small online survey showed that the Clear Linux live desktop environment starts in BIOS mode, but the actual operating system requires UEFI. In our virtualization environment – Linux KVM on Ubuntu 19.10 – new VMs use BIOS mode by default, unless you activate “Adjust configuration before installation” in the last step and then switch from BIOS to UEFI on the “Overview” tab. So we blew the VM away, recreated it with the appropriate UEFI firmware and were then on the way to the races.

After we improved the firmware architecture of our VM, installing Clear Linux in a VM was just as easy as on real hardware – that is, on real hardware with UEFI firmware. If you were hoping to install Clear Linux on older hardware that only supports BIOS mode, you’re out of luck.

The installer is clear and straightforward. You must choose a language (currently from a very limited list) and an installation target, and give the installer a username and password for the new operating system. You must also let them know whether you enable or disable the home telemetry used for QA and development purposes.

When setting an installation target, Clear Linux offers either a “safe” or a “destructive” installation. We didn’t test the secure installer, we installed Clear Linux as the only operating system available.

Once you’ve selected your options, installing Clear should take no longer than a few minutes. However, when you walk away and return, you should be aware that the screen saver lock screen may activate you. (If you’re not used to Gnome3, click and drag up to close the lock screen.)

After installation: The GIMP race

For the most part, it didn’t seem to make sense to run traditional performance benchmarks on Clear Linux. Phoronix has already done many of them – and no doubt Clear Linux is faster on average than most distributions. But winning benchmarks is not necessarily the same as feeling fast.

Without a reference point to compare – a watched and ticking timer or a head-to-head race – most people will notice as much as 33% time difference to get a familiar task done. A typical observer – one who doesn’t schedule things – who faces an hour-long task that takes 40 minutes to do will think, “Hey, that seemed to be quick.” The same observer who is waiting to complete a task for a second will usually frown for about 1,300 ms.

We should also point out that most Phoronix benchmarks focus on long-running computing or storage tasks. This type of benchmark correlates better with changes in hardware than changes in software at the distribution level. That is, even if Clear Linux creates faster benchmarks for a task relevant to desktop performance, the difference can be easily overcome by differences in the desktop – or in the specific application package itself.

When I installed and opened GIMP in a Clear Linux virtual machine, I thought “it feels fast” – but I was expect to feel it quickly. To test my initial perception, I also opened and counted GIMP on my Ubuntu 19.04 workstation Mississippi– It turned out that the Ubuntu desktop was actually twice as fast as the Clear desktop. So much for human perception? Maybe not – I work in VMs a amountMaybe I unconsciously compared the Clear VM to an Ubuntu VM, not Ubuntu on the host workstation.

To test this theory, I provided an Ubuntu 18.04.4 VM and a Clear Linux VM side by side, each with four vCPUs and 4 GB RAM. Then I installed and configured it NTP Daemon on both VMs to bring their clocks apart within a millisecond and install my own if it Planning utility. After all, the results of a “GIMP race” side by side were no different – even though everyone was assigned the same resources, the Ubuntu 18.04 VM was still “handy”.

Upon further investigation, I found that Ubuntu 18.04 uses an older version of GIMP than Clear. So I uninstalled the system-provided GIMP 2.08 from the Ubuntu VM and installed the latest version 2.10.14 – the same version that Clear uses – from a PPA. The result didn’t change much – GIMP was still opening faster in the Ubuntu VM, and you can see the results of this last “race” side by side in the short video clip above.

None of this should be seen as the final yardstick that Clear Linux turns out to be “slow”. But it shows the fallibility of human perception and the limits of how much influence a “fast” distribution can really have on the normal daily operation of a desktop system. Aside from booting, Clear Linux has not feeling In general use, much faster than Ubuntu – either in VMs hosted on my Ryzen 3700X workstation, or on a Dell Latitude with i7-6500U on which I installed it directly.

If you are the type of person who is really enthusiastic about compiler optimizations in Gentoo or Arch packages – or if you have a specific task that you may want to speed up by around 15% – Clear could be very good to you. But if you expect the kind of kick-in-the-pants acceleration that your friends will notice immediately and that you will drool over, you will likely be disappointed.

install a software

Ubuntu 19.10 and Clear Linux both use the Gnome Software Center as a GUI for software installation and removal. The most obvious difference right now is that Canonical is trying to make the repositories in their version of the software center more curated and well maintained. The Ubuntu Software Center offers outstanding editor’s picks and applications that Clear Linux doesn’t offer.

It is more important that Canonical has much deeper repositories under it than Clear – and that can also have an effect if both distributions offer a certain application. For example the game Frozen blister is available in Software Center for both distributions. At Clear, however, it is obtained as a Flatpak, which comes from third-party providers dl.flathub.org.

On Ubuntu Frozen blister comes from Canonical’s own universe repository instead of a third-party source. That may not sound important – but installing the game on Ubuntu from Canonical’s own repository took just a few seconds, while installing on Clear took almost ten minutes.

Will it be Chrome?

Neither Clear Linux nor Ubuntu bundle the Google Chrome browser. Installation on Ubuntu is as easy as on Windows: search, download, click and you’re done. The actual download you get is a native Ubuntu DEB file. In addition to installing the browser itself, your repository list will be updated automatically. From then on, Chrome will be updated by Ubuntu in the same way and with the same tools as the automatically updated standard system updates.

If you navigate to the Chrome download page in Clear Linux’s natively installed Firefox, you have the same choice between a .deb or .rpm download – but neither works “only”. On the Clear Linux command line, you can do a few tricks to download, extract, and install the RPM file, and then manually reconfigure it to make the fonts look strange.

Unfortunately Chrome habit They are updated automatically like on Ubuntu or most other desktop distributions. Instead, you need to remember to update them yourself and do the same steps on the command line (including reconfiguring the fonts) every time.

Package management

Advanced users are unlikely to be involved with the software center in either distribution. Ubuntu’s Debian-based distribution uses .deb packages under the hood, which can be installed, updated, removed and searched using apt Command line tool. Clear Linux is not used apt-or yum, zypper, pacman, pkgor anything else you’ve probably heard of. Instead, a separate command line package management tool called is called swupd.

Mainly, swupd works like any other package manager – there is one argument to install packages, another pair to search for either package name / description or files it contains, and so on. Unfortunately I have to admit that I found swupd consistently frustrating – in particular, the arguments are detailed and strangely worded.

In Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE, CentOS or FreeBSD you would install to install a new app from repositories, e.g. apt install gimp. But in swupd, You swupd bundle-add instead. You similar bundle-remove, bundle-list, bundle-info and so on.

That may sound like a small, small distinction, but I found it pretty disgusting. I fiddled with the syntax – for example, accidentally typed it add-bundle instead of bundle-add– much more often than usual when I use an unknown package manager.

The bundles themselves quite often violate relatively common naming conventions. For example, when I needed a specific set of headers that included Ubuntu uuid-devand fedora has in libuuid-develInstead she had Clear Linux in os-core-dev– and figuring that out was an enormous annoyance. I’ll try it swupd search uuid didn’t list that os-core-dev Bundle at all – and also not looking for the actual file that I needed swupd search-file uuid.h. (More on this topic later.)

Even though swupd worksIt feels a lot like the result of NIH syndrome. Intel claims that a lot of Clear Linux’s secret sauce is in the package, and that it may have really been necessary to create your own management tool from scratch. But from the point of view of this system administrator, it is difficult to see the benefits and to easily recognize the warts – a little more effort swupdPolishing and ease of use would go a long way.

Will it be ZFS?

Not everyone will care if you can get OpenZFS to work on Clear Linux. But I certainly interested, and I spent a ridiculous amount of time hunting this particular dragon. I seriously considered attaching my main laptop and reinstalling it for a long-term test drive with Clear Linux – but even on “just one laptop” I didn’t want to forego ZFS’s ability to replicate asynchronously, cryptographically recognize and repair Bitter redUse inline compression, etc.

The OpenZFS project itself contains no installation instructions for Clear Linux and a swupd search zfs came empty, so I went online. Searching for “Clear Linux ZFS” will quickly take you to Clear & # 39; s FAQ, which says that “ZFS is not available with Clear Linux OS” and alternatively offers btrfs.

Btrfs offers most of the same features as ZFS. However, if you use the most interesting of these functions, e.g. B. redundant arrays with data healing, fast replication or inline compression, this quickly becomes unreliable. (Yes, really – commercial NAS devices like Synology and Netgears ReadyNAS use btrfs, but they put it on LVM and mdraid, and for good reason. See Debian Wiki for more and note Red Hat’s decision to disapprove btrfs completely in RHEL 7.4.)

The Clear Linux FAQ also refers us to an older github problem in which a user requests a ZFS bundle and is shot down. Another user asks for help so that unsigned kernel modules work and receives a pointer to a documentation via a now dead link. I found a copy of the deadlink document on web.archive.org (and later a Clear Linux project member provided an updated link to the current document execution), but that didn’t get me where I had to go.

Install the linux-lts-dev The bundle was straightforward, as was creating a kernel configuration file that could be used to load unsigned modules. However, returning to the LTS kernel – necessary because the native kernel was a little too current for official support from OpenZFS – proved to be more difficult. Installation of the kernel was easy –swupd bundle-add kernel-lts2018– but actually make Clear Linux do it Boots it was a nightmare.

The distribution does not maintain its boot management configuration anywhere an experienced * nix user could search for –/boot, /etc/default, everything to do with it grubetc. I never found the actual location of the configuration data, but finally found that a Clear Linux user is expected to manipulate the boot environment with the tool clr-boot-manager. Unfortunately, clr-boot-manager set-kernel org.clearlinux.lts2018.4.19.103-113 followed by clr-boot-manager update– who should have chosen this kernel for the next start – did absolutely nothing, and I turned my wheels, poked around in things, started again and ran uname -aand still seeing a 5.5 kernel that has been running for some time.

I finally gave up clr-boot-manager set-kernel and tried instead clr-boot-manager set-timeout 10. That actually worked – after the restart I was shown a kernel list and I selected the 4.19 LTS kernel manually. Now, uname -a showed me that I was running the 4.19 kernel and was ready to compile ZFS!

Unfortunately, the problems were far from over. Download and extract the OpenZFS source tarball, chdirin and run ./configureI received an error: uuid/uuid.h missing, libuuid-devel package required. Unfortunately there is none libuuid-devel bundle in swupd– or is there libuuid, uuid, uuid-dev, uuid-develor anything else along those lines. Neither swupd search uuid Still swupd search-file uuid.h also came up with useful results – although they should have.

I finally opened a new one problem hoping that someone else got ZFS up and running on Clear, or that I can get enough information about the configuration script to try patching it myself with monkeys. Brian Behlendorf, founding developer of the OpenZFS Linux port and an all-round nice guy, also had no answer.

But Brian gave me the clue that finally solved the riddle – though swupd search-file uuid.h did not find the package I needed swupd search-file libuuid.so.1 did. So one swupd bundle-add os-core-dev later/configure and make install, both successfully completed!

The remaining problem I faced was the simple manipulation command for the Linux kernel module (LKM) insmod– with which you can specify a path to the module to be inserted in the kernel – does not resolve dependencies and so on insmod /path/to/zfs.ko failed with the error unknown symbol. The much smarter tool modprobe detects and fixes dependency issues, but does not let you specify the path to the kernel modules, and the installer has put them in places where modprobe did not know to look.

After some back and forth I finally simply have a symlink to each of the ZFS & # 39; package.ko Files – that were in individual directories under /lib/modules/extra– right in /lib/modules itself. So, modprobe zfs worked, and I had actually run ZFS on Clear Linux. Huzzah!

Although ZFS was now operational, there were still paper cuts to do. The zpool and zfs Orders were in /usr/local/sbinwhich is not part of the default setting PATH in Clear Linux. In addition, the ZFS module was not set to load automatically at boot. Fortunately, these remaining problems are fairly trivial to solve. To fix the path problem, either update yours PATH lock in /usr/local/sbin, or link the utilities there /usr/local/bin. Create a directory so that ZFS loads automatically when it boots /etc/modules-load.d, then create a file /etc/modules-load.d/zfs.conf and fill it with a single line that just says zfs.

This shaggy dog ​​story isn’t Really about ZFS itself – it’s about the fact that problems that are relatively easy under widely-used distributions can be a big problem under Clear Linux. These problems can all be resolved, of course – but if you’re not ready and excited to be part of the effort to solve them yourself or for those who come after you, as a daily driver you should probably stay away from Clear.

The good

  • Clear Linux is supported by Intel, one of the world’s largest and leading IT companies
  • Clear Linux has a precise, clear mandate: be sure, be quick, do things right
  • Most things work with little or no optimization
  • If you are determined to have the fastest Linux in the West, this is the distribution for it – sorry, Arch and Gentoo users
  • “This is Linux! I know that!”

The bad

  • Although most Things work without optimizing most user will quickly want something that doesn’t
  • Intel swupd The package management tool is chunky, warty, and doesn’t seem to index all packages correctly
  • There are so few users that looking for help can seem like a journey back in time (who were you? DenverCoder9? What you saw?!)

The ugly

  • Clear Linux is – at least for the time being – much better for simple repetitive tasks where execution speed is absolutely business critical than for extensive daily use for general purposes

Listing image by ollegN / Getty

About Ellice Watts

Ellice Watts is the child of a Greek family. He is a passionate and ambitious blogger who has lived in Manhattan since he was 20 years old.

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