Plasma System Monitor & custom graphs

Updated: June 1, 2022

As you probably know, I'm not very happy with the new Plasma System Monitor. It came around a couple of years back, hailed as a successor to the venerable KSysGuard, a badly named but otherwise most capable tool shipped with Plasma desktops since the dawn of humanity. The refreshment wouldn't be bad if it didn't harm the very essence of what it's meant to do - display data in a meaningful manner.

I've discussed this and then some in my article above, and throughout various distro reviews here and there, lamenting the rather toyish car-rev slash dial/pie graphs on the main page, the truncated CPU legend labels, the CPU graph grouping, the lack of meaningful axes information, and all the rest that makes graphs true art. Well, with my Kubuntu 22.04 review stowed away, that still stands. However, I do want to actually show you how you can turn the Monitor's pointless defaults into something a bit more useful. After me.

Problems

Behold the essence of the problem. The CPU graph. Truncated labels. The graph range that is ridiculous. Inability to see meaningful information. Memory information that is weird. No separation of network adapters, so you don't really have any idea what's happening. And more.

Monitor defaults

Remedy: Create new custom pages & sensors

What you want to do is several things. First, you can click on Add New Page in the sidebar to create a new view, which you can then populate with one or more graphs of different types. Second, you can right click on the listed pages in the sidebar, and edit them. This will open a menu that lets you choose the default view when the program starts. At the very least, you can avoid having to land on that useless Overview page. However, the drop-down selection only works for the predefined pages - you will need to use the "Last selection" option for any custom page you create (and select, of course).

Menu

Edit pages

Once you create a new page, you can then populate it by adding rows. Then, in the new sidebar that opens on the right, you will have the option to define various parameters for the graph. You will need to choose the title for the displayed graph, and the display style. Feels like working in a spreadsheet tool, except you don't get paid to produce charts for your boss.

Create new

Details

Not happy with the text overflow on the right ... More bugs.

You can tweak several other options, including the min/max y-axis range, the default x-axis range (seconds), the time interval between graph refreshes (default is 1 second), and finally, select the sensors you want displayed. At least this part is pretty straightforward. You can select one of the top categories, like Disk, Network, CPU, and alike, and then choose a subset of data, like total CPU utilization, download rate, cached memory, etc.

Custom page created

If you're not happy with the default colors - and they can be a bit weird - you can change them for any of the shown graphs. Simply click on the color rectangle for any which sensor, and choose a different color.

Custom colors

Custom colors selected

After you make the necessary tweaks to the desired pages and graphs (rows), you can save them, and then, always go back to making further edits if you need to. Cough, another visual bug here: the edit page for existing graphs is decidedly nicer than what you have for when you're just creating a new one. For starters, the options aren't truncated to the right. This could also be the small matter of window size and positioning, but that doesn't make it any better. That Appearance block should always be left-indented.

Page edit

Page edit, zoomed

Optional: edit existing pages and graphs

There's another way forward. If you don't feel like starting from scratch, you can also tweak the default set of sensors and charts given to you by the Plasma System Monitor. One needs to ask themselves, why then bother with the tool to begin with? But one can also slightly mollify themselves with the fact the tool is highly customizable, so there's that. Then again, system monitors need to be amazing as a rule. Data art is hard.

Defaults tweaked

The standard set, with non-stacked CPU graphs. So much better and more logical.

Conclusion

The new Plasma System Monitor is a great example of the wider Linux ecosystem. There was a tool, called KSysGuard, which worked pretty well. And so, a new tool was created, which for quite a while lacked the functional parity and was far buggier. This new tool was called Plasma System Monitor. Now, it has become the Plasma default, the old tool is gone, but you still don't quite get the functionality equivalence, and the graphs are significantly worse (by default and else). Feels like a lot of unnecessary effort. Linux, and modern software to boot.

That said, Plasma System Monitor is an extensible program, and you can tweak its look & feel. You can add new custom graphs, edit the existing ones, and make it work the way you want it. This is great, for tinkering nerds who want to invest time in something like this. This is horrible for the average user, who just needs to see some basic metrics for their system. But hey. The wheel of code must forever turn. Hopefully, this tutorial slash rant provides the necessary guidance to help you tame Plasma System Monitor to your liking, so that you can have a reasonably productive and accurate experience. Now you have the tools to be your own ... whatever. Thank you for reading, and see you soon.

Cheers.

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