Clear Linux Review: The McLaren of Linux Distros

Clear Linux Feature

Most users are familiar with what are often called “Mainstream” distros. Ubuntu, Fedora, Mint, CentOS, Arch, you name it – they’re the distros that are most often targeted by guides, and they’re the distros that are supported most widely. However, there are other distros that are excellent for specific purposes.

A great example of this tailored distro is Clear Linux. Clear Linux is a Linux distribution created by Intel, and it’s tailored to developers, researchers, and anybody who’s using Linux as a tool rather than a desktop. Here we take a look at Clear Linux, the McLaren of Linux Distros, and see who it is and isn’t for.

The Reason for Clear Linux

Clear Linux was created seemingly for a few reasons, but one of the most important was to maximize the performance on Intel platforms. Running the same workloads, Clear Linux performs better universally on Intel platforms and is even more efficient on AMD platforms. For users looking to get the absolute most out of their machine, particularly an Intel machine, look no further than Clear Linux.

The Clear Linux Installation Process

If I had to guess, there’s not much about the Clear Linux installer that you’ve experienced before. It’s honestly refreshing, as I’ve spent so much time with the Anaconda installer that the user-friendliness of this installer is a shock. It still has many options, like the Anaconda installer, but it performs better and looks much nicer.

I particularly like that you can disable telemetry from the installer, which makes you feel that you are in control of your distro rather than Intel.

Clear Linux Telemetry Off

You can also disable automatic updates from the installer.

Clear Linux Auto Updates Off

And, you can install a bunch of additional software packages for scientific, mathematical, or other work purposes.

Clear Linux Additional Packages

The installation process is almost seamless, and I greatly appreciate the simplicity of it. It makes the idea of imaging, wiping, reimaging, or reinstalling on a workstation seem much less daunting.

Clear Linux First Impressions

Many things about Clear Linux seem superfluous and unnecessary, but there’s much more here than meets the eye. First of all, it’s not vanilla GNOME Shell. GNOME normally tries to hide much of the workstation/administration features behind a curtain, but Clear Linux makes some focused changes to GNOME Shell that make it seem much more catered.

They put the Terminal app in the favorites.

Clear Linux Terminal In Favorites

And they put the default apps into folders in the app drawer.

Clear Linux App Folders

The resource usage is much better than standard GNOME Shell. On Fedora, which is as close to upstream GNOME as it gets, RAM usage hovers around 1 GB on a fresh boot, whereas Clear Linux sits around 500 MB.

Clear Linux Fedora Htop
Resource usage on a Fedora VM…
Clear Linux Htop
And resource usage on an identical Clear Linux VM

Plus, there are some other little usability tweaks made, like adding minimize and maximize buttons, a couple of mail apps preinstalled, and a nice, modern app theme that doesn’t get in the way.

Clear Linux Performance

If I had to use one word to describe Clear Linux, it would be fast. Even running in an identical VM to the Fedora 33 VM I used for testing, it boots faster, uses less resources, and performs better in benchmarking. To be fair, the CPU in my current machine shows up in VMs as an Intel Xeon CPU, so it should perform better given Clear Linux’s promises, but VMs always have a performance overhead.

Linux Kernel Compression Test

Compressing the Linux Kernel is something that may not seem useful, but compression and decompression of the Kernel are a vital part of setting up and executing the boot process on Linux. I use this test as a performance marker because tar is a generally single-threaded task, unless you use an extension of it to make it parallel, and most tasks that people ask of their machine on a daily basis are fairly single-threaded in nature.

I issued the same command for each machine to ask them to compress kernel 5.10-rc3 with one core using tar:

tar -czvf linux.tar.gz linux/

With the time command in front to tell me the time, the results are fairly staggering.

Clear Linux was able to compress it using 1 core in 1 minute 43 seconds.

Clear Linux Time Test

While Fedora took 2 minutes 48 seconds.

Clear Linux Fedora Time Test

That’s about 61 percent of the time. This isn’t necessarily a perfect indicator, but it’s a useful measure to show how even in a virtual machine with a generic “Xeon” CPU, Clear Linux will push the limits of what’s possible.

Software Availability

One of the main concerns that I had when I first experimented with Clear Linux a little while ago was the lack of available software. It felt way more specialized than I wanted, and I felt limited. However, Flatpaks are available for Clear Linux, and that adds a whole separate avenue through which you can get software. You can get things like GIMP, Audacity, Microsoft Teams, GNOME Boxes, Slack, Zoom, and LibreOffice on Clear Linux through Flatpaks, which makes for a relatively convincing professional workstation.

If you just want a machine that works and ekes out the most performance possible from your Intel CPUs, there’s no other choice than Clear Linux. You may have some kind of distro loyalty, like many others in the community, but it’s important to keep in mind that work needs to be done, and Clear Linux is an excellent way to do that.

Who Should Use Clear Linux

Anybody looking to get absolute efficiency out of their Intel-based systems should use Clear Linux. It’s a distro aimed at workstations and their power-users, with no frills and no distractions.

If you enjoyed this Linux Distro review, make sure to check out some of our other Distro reviews on EndeavourOS, GalliumOS, and Deepin Linux.

John Perkins
John Perkins

John is a young technical professional with a passion for educating users on the best ways to use their technology. He holds technical certifications covering topics ranging from computer hardware to cybersecurity to Linux system administration.

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