posted by Thom Holwerda on Sun 27th Dec 2009 14:12 UTC
IconSince the stream of news is still pretty much dry, I figured I'd throw in something I've been meaning to talk about for a while now, but really didn't dare to: KDE4's performance. Since experiences with KDE4 seem to widely differ between people, it might be a good idea if we, together, can find a common cause among those of us having problems.

Before we get into all this, I want to state that KDE4 is a very ambitious and revolutionary desktop environment. Where GNOME, Windows, and Mac OS X seem content to basically keep their desktop unaltered (since god knows how long), the KDE team took the bold step of starting from scratch, and to rethink all set conventions.

Yes, I consider KDE4 to be revolutionary. Where its competitors are all rusted-stuck in a particular way of thinking, a particular layout, a particular modus operandi, KDE4 and Plasma are free to be moulded into anything you want - as evidenced by how relatively easy it was to come up with the Plasma netbook layout.

Sadly, as with any new technology, there are problems, and in this discussion, that's what I want to focus on. Specifically, I want to focus on the question of stability and performance. I've used every version of KDE4 since 4.0 came out, and all of them have given me considerable headaches in both performance and stability.

Applications randomly crashing, background services suddenly deciding to call it a day, Plasma copping out - I've seen it all. In my latest KDE4 stint, version 4.3, I couldn't go a day without at least 4 random crashes. "Random" is really the key word here, as the randomness of it all makes it virtually impossible to turn them into bug reports - I can't even reproduce the crashes.

The performance problems are probably even more troublesome, as you encounter those continuously. Especially in the area of responsiveness, KDE4 is lagging for me greatly. Resizing windows, moving them around, opening menus, playing with Plasma widgets - it feels like everything is covered in a thick layer of molten sugar. Opening applications does not really pose any problems, by the way - they open reasonably fast. It's the GUI operations that are slow - not the applications themselves.

It's been suggested to me countless times that my problems are caused by my hardware, which seems ever more unlikely an explanation as time goes on. KDE 4.0, 4.1, and 4.2 were tested on my previous computer (Pentium 4 2.8HT, 2GB RAM, GeForce 6300 128MB RAM), while KDE 4.3 (and 4.4B2) were tested on my current machine, which is ridiculously powerful (AMD Phenom X4 4x2.2Ghz, 4GB of RAM, Radeon 3200HD).

Both of these machines simply cannot pull KDE4 along, and I find it hard to believe both machines are somehow broken, especially since they pull other operating systems without a hitch. Both of them perform excellent, without any lag or stickiness, when it comes to Windows 7 and GNOME/Compiz. In fact, I would even go as far as to say that Windows 7 has reached BeOS-like responsiveness levels (mind, though, that it takes BeOS only a fraction of the power to get there).

Basically, I'm interested in your experiences with KDE4. Do you experience any problems? What hardware are you using? Which distribution(s)? What driver version? Try to be as detailed as possible. I'll start - I've already listed my experiences, so here's a detailed overview of my hardware:

  • Foxconn A7GM-S 2.0 motherboard
  • AMD Phenom X4 4x2.2Ghz
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM
  • ATI Radeon HD 3200 (on-board)
  • Realtek ALC888GR audio chip (on-board)
  • IDE hard disk
  • Benq G2410HD display
  • Distribution: Kubuntu 9.10
  • KDE SC 4.3.4 (also tried KDE 4.4B2; slightly improved performance, but can't comment on crashes since it's just a beta)
  • Proprietary ATI driver version: 8.660-0ubuntu4 (from official repository)

With some luck, we might be able to determine some common factors among those with problems (or among those without, of course), so that those of us having problems might be able to do something about it. I really want to use KDE4 (I actually like it), but I won't settle for mediocre performance and stability.

Rests me to say that this story is not about bashing KDE - I'm genuinely interested in finding out why I and others are having problems when so many others have no problems at all. I want to use KDE4, because it's a great environment with new and revolutionary ideas, and it sucks that I'm being held back by something as silly as bad performance. I'm sure many others with problems feel the same way.

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