Single-core Intel Atom Netbook (investigation) 1: What’s the best Manjaro Desktop or Window Manager ?

Hardware investigated
Samsung N145 Plus 10” netbook: single core (dual-threaded) Intel Atom N455 CPU (1.66GHz); 2GB RAM; Intel GMA 3150 graphics; 1TB Samsung 850 Evo SSD, MBR (ext4) format.

Aims
The aim of this investigation was to find a suitable lightweight Desktop Environment ( xfce , lxde , or lxqt ) or Window Manager ( i3, or openbox ) for the above hardware, trying these out on three different kernels i.e. 5.3, 4.14 and 4.4. These Manjaro versions were chosen, as they were readily available for download from the Manjaro website. All versions were 64-bit, except xfce which was available as both 32 & 64-bit, and were installed on the same SSD, as a multi-boot set-up, alongside two other linux distributions. The initial installs were carried out with the 18.1.2 minimal iso versions, with the exception of xfce32 which used 18.0.4. Five criteria were used for ranking relative suitability for the hardware, i.e: boot-time, idle CPU & RAM activity, launch-time for an application (i.e. the terminal), and the time taken for the combined process of installing a package (i.e. kernel 4.19) & the subsequent updating of the multi-boot grub-bootmenu. The ability of the hardware to play HD quality videos, stored on the SSD, and livestream YouTube videos, was also checked. A limited statistical analysis was used, being presented as mean values ± standard deviation.

What this investigation is not …
Given my limited skills-base in Linux generally, and the obvious time-limitation, this is not an in-depth study, just a relatively quick “suck-and-see” to get a rough idea which Manjaro DE/WM might be suitable for the above low-powered netbook. Even as a superficial study, it has taken a significant amount of time, e.g. 96 separate boot-ups to determine package installation times for the different DE/WM x kernel combinations alone !

Summary of results

(a) Overall ranking
The rankings shown in the Table 1 are for the two LTS kernels combined, i.e. 4.14 & 4.4. Kernel 5.3 was excluded from this table, as it was unavailable for xfce 32-bit. Table 1 shows that lxle (2.2) and i3 (2.6) were the best, whereas lxqt was ranked as the worst at 5.2. Xfce64 was also considered unsuitable, as there was a frustrating lag generally, especially when opening applications.
RANKING_TABLE

( b ) Effect of Kernel (see Table 2):

  • in general, older kernel = faster boot-time
  • no significant effect of kernel on idle CPU activity
  • kernel 4.14 showed numerous ACPI errors on booting (not an apparent problem) as well as a significantly greater idle RAM usage than 5.3 and 4.4, for all WMs and DEs (except xfce32 )

( c ) DE/WM (see Table 2):

  • lxqt is not considered suitable for the hardware used, as idling CPU ran at 11-13%, while idle RAM usage appeared abnormally high (> 600MB), and baseline CPU temperatures were significantly hotter (~46°C) than for the other DEs/WMs (~38-40°C), at ambient room temperatures (17-20°C)
  • xfce64 was also unsuitable, as it was significantly slow when booting up and launching applications, as well as a high idle RAM activity (~500MB)

( d ) Playing videos:

  • Using mpv Media Player, videos of 2500 bitrate/50fps (stored on the SSD) were unplayable on all DEs/WMs due to lack of audio/video synchronisation, i.e. audio ran ahead of video. However this problem was solved by reducing frame-rate to 25 fps (using handbrake app), which gave an enjoyable viewing experience. Live-streaming of YouTube videos works well (only tested in lxde), though this needs to be at either a 360p or 480p setting for a good viewing experience.

To enlarge Table 2, just click on it (once or twice) for full-screen.

Conclusion
I'm in favour of an install of lxde, running on kernel 4.4 on this single-core Intel Atom netbook, based on the results of the investigation. However, I'm equally tempted by i3. Oh, decisions, decisions ...:stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes: !

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you could try wayfire wm.
its a wayland compositer.
of all the wm's i have tried its the most responsive and fast wm.
its best candidate for lightweight systems.

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I haven't heard of that one - many thanks :sunglasses:
Might try that another time.

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I don't know if this is relevant to the N455, but kernel 4.16 added more support for the atom baytrail (Z3775D) used in my system. This made my system useable without kernel patching. It might be worth looking at 4.19 vs. 4.14. But TBH, the distinction between kernels only seems to matter for the newest hardware. Using the oldest kernel that is still supported makes sense. 4.19 might eliminate the ACPI "warnings", but 4.14 is an extended LTS, whereas 4.19 will be EOL at the end of 2020.

But I too have seen that the newer kernels >5.0 are a bit stingier with RAM. Manjaro also seems to use less RAM OOTB than other popular distros.

FWIW, I can confirm that the Manjarox32 is more RAM efficient than the 64 bit version on my system. But that is offset by the shrinking availability of 32 bit apps.

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Thanks very much for your interesting feedback :sunglasses:
The reason I included 4.14, despite the irritating 'ACPI errors issue', is it appears to be the longest supported LTS kernel (at least when I last looked) - good till January 2024. I'm unsure if 4.19 will be better than 4.4 (supported till February 2022), as the older kernels do seem to run better with the older hardware and you yourself remarked that "the distinction between kernels only seems to matter for the newest hardware" - the Intel Atom N455 came out in 2010.

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You can make LXDE use i3 as its window manager instead of openbox.
LXDE doesn't have conky running that makes quite a difference. The CPU, RAM, network and temperature monitors in the LXpanel are a bit lighter on CPU and RAM than conky, in my experience.

I also like the 4.4 kernel series. It is perfect if you don't need the features which get enabled by newer kernels, filesystem enhancements (transparent encryption, compression) for example.

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You should try these three wm. bspwm, xmonad, and goomwwm(get out of my way window manager). These are some of the lightest window manager I tested. there a manjaro bspwm edition. goomwwm just need dmenu pre installed. xmonad may need a little config going. IMO, I always find fluxbox lighter than openbox.

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Thanks eugen-b :sunglasses:
I followed your idea, and using the pamac gui removed openbox, installed i3wm & rebooted to see what happened. Htop showed that idle RAM activity went up from 220MB (lxde+openbox) to 311MB (lxde+i3)

On rebooting the mouse cursor had disappeared but, despite not having a cursor, I could see when I was hovering over a panel icon as it's colour intensity would change, and so could open terminal and other applications. I'm sure there are probably a few refinements I need to do to make it work properly, and also reduce the idle RAM activity, but this is where my skills with Linux are limiting ...

I was able to temporarily reinstate the mouse cursor by going to Menu/Preferences/Customise Look & Feel/Mouse Cursor.

PS. Oops - I've inadvertently emoji'd myself (below) - silly me ! How do I delete this ?

Following your interesting comment, I installed kernel 4.19 in Manjaro-lxde on the single-core Intel Atom netbook & checked one or two things.

As you suggested, the 'ACPI errors issue' associated with kernel 4.14 are eliminated with 4.19. However, I found both kernels 4.14, and 4.19 (as well as 5.3) appear to give better support than 4.4 for the xfce power manager I installed on lxde. For example, the battery is not recognised in 4.4 so there is no information available for the amount of battery power remaining, but this problem appears resolved in the later kernels. Also, the power manager icon in 4.4 only appears in the panel a few minutes after boot-up. Again, in the later kernels, this is not an issue.

However, in all the four kernels tested (4.4, 4.14, 4.19, 5.3), xfce power manager provides brightness control for the display in Manjaro-lxde, using the Fn + arrow up and Fn + arrow down keys.

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Why are you even bothering with an old single-core Atom based notebook with only 2 gig of memory? I'm surprised your were able to get Manjaro to even run at all. At minimum any hardware to be of modern use should have a dual core/quad thread processor with 4 gigs of RAM.

Hell even modern Atom and ARM notebook have 4 cores now, making this a Fool's Errand to use anything less.

Some people like the challenge. To figure out how to make the used of your hardware and still some how keeping thing fresh. Is a fun off time activity. For me. I only have too new hardware to make such fun. That why I alt for harder window manager and linux distro. To see where my max bs I can handle. And yes, I do find that fun off time activity.

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Thanks for your reply.
The simple answer is it works well, for what I need it for, so why replace it? And Manjaro-lxde works well on it as I've shown in #post1. It's also good for the environment to use things for as long as they're useful, rather than upgrading merely for the sake of it.

It meets my needs while I'm travelling away from home: internet & email, work admin (LibreOffice), livestreaming youtube, listening to radio podcasts, watching downloaded TV programmes, and it has a usable keyboard (I just can't get used to the fiddly touchscreen keyboards of smartphones as I have large fingers). I don't need the gaming, virtual machine, or video editing capability, etc, so this simple machine fits the bill.

The other cool thing is you can now pick up these single- or dual-core Intel Atom netbooks secondhand on e-bay for less than $20, because a lot of folk throw them away, as they wont run on Windows OS any more.

Another thing that's cool about them is they consume so little energy (<20 Watts), keeping energy bills down. I have one permanently on, attached to a 4-channel datalogger so I'm able to get screen readouts of environmental data whenever I wish.

I was really pleased with the discoveries I made during the investigation in #post1. I learned a lot about the netbook I looked at, and will certainly hang on to it for as long as it remains useful to me - no fools errand here :sunglasses:

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Yes, that's true - I do get a feeling of great satisfaction when prolonging the useful life of something, or re-purposing it for something else. In the process, one can learn a lot too.

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