Updated: January 23, 2017
Recently, you may have come across my Chapeau review. This experiment prompted me to widen my Fedora family testing, and so I decided to try setting up Fedora 24 Gnome on my HP machine, a six-year-old laptop with 4 GB of RAM and an aging Nvidia card. Yes, Fedora 25 has since been released and I had it tested with delight. But we can still enjoy this little article now can we?
This review should complement - and contrast - my usual crop of testing on the notorious but capable Lenovo G50 machine, purchased in 2015, so we have old versus new, but also the inevitable lack of proper Linux support for the Realtek network card on the newer box. We will then also check how well Fedora handles the Nvidia stack, test if Nouveau is a valid alternative, and of course, pimp the system to the max, using some of the beauty tricks we have witnessed in the Chapeau review. Should be more than interesting.
Nothing special to report here. The system has a much simpler setup than the Lenovo laptop. The new machine comes with UEFI, Secure Boot, 1TB disk with a GPT setup partitioned sixteen different ways, with Windows 10 and some 6-7 Linux distros on it. In comparison, the BIOS-fueled Pavilion only dual boots. Prior to this review, it was running Linux Mint 17.3 Rosa Xfce, but it used to have all sorts of Ubuntu children on it, and I had used it quite extensively for arguably funny video processing and all sorts of games. The home partition dates back to the early setup, and has remained such since, including a lot of legacy config and many desktop environments.
I was able to boot from a USB drive, although I did use the Fedora tool to create the live media. I've never had any problems booting on this host, to the best of my memory, a far cry (not the game, just an expression, hi hi) from the Lenovo experience. There, before a BIOS update, Fedora would not even run, and a large number of distros used to struggle until very recently. All part of my great disappointment adventure with Linux.
Anyhow, this procedure went without any fuss. Fedora 24 took control of the bootloader, managing itself and the resident Windows 7 installation. If you're interested in more details on how to dual-boot, you might want to check these:
Ubuntu & Windows 7 dual-boot guide
Xubuntu & Windows 7 dual-boot guide - same same but different
CentOS 7 & Windows 7 dual-boot guide - fairly similar to our Fedora attempt
Ubuntu & Windows 8 dual-boot guide - this one covers a UEFI setup, too
It's pimping time!
My Fedora pimping guide has it all. I setup RPM Fusion Free and Non-Free, then installed about 700 MB worth of media codecs, plugins and extra software, including Steam, Skype, GIMP, VLC, Gnome Tweak Tool, Chrome, several other helper utilities, and more.
On the aesthetics side, I grabbed both Faenza and Moka icons, and configured half a dozen Gnome extensions, including the mandatory Dash to Dock, which really helps transforms this desktop environment into a usable product.
I also had no problems with my smartphones, Ubuntu Phone or the iPhone. Both setups worked fine, and this also brings the annoyance with the Apple device on Chapeau 24 into bad spotlight. Rhythmbox would not play from any external media, though. Fail.
This is a tricky one. First, take a look at my generic tutorial on this topic. Then, take a look at my recent Fedora 23 experience on this topic. Unlike Ubuntu, Red Hat distros do not quite like the whole pre-compiled setup. However, just to see whether things have changed in any way, I did use a helper tool called easyLife to setup the drivers. I've talked about this utility and Fedy in an OCS-Mag article, and how you can use them to make your Fedora experience more colorful. Bottom line: good for lots of things, not for drivers, though.
Yes, this resulted in a broken system. I had to manually installed the drivers - luckily I had installed the kernel sources and headers, as well as other necessary build tools, gcc and make, beforehand, to prepare for this kind of scenario. Be warned, kids. In the end, the official way is the best.
Nouveau vs Nvidia, which is faster?
I did something you would not really expect. I benchmarked the actual performance of the graphics stack with the Nouveau driver first and then the closed-source blob, using the Unigine Heaven tool. This gives clear results on how the two compare.
Remember, this is an ancient laptop, and it does not stack well against modern tools, so you will not be surprised to learn that Heaven reported a staggering 1 FPS for Nouveau, and it took me like 5 minutes before the system actually responded, and I was able to quit the benchmark.
Nvidia gave much better results. To begin with, I was able to use the system while testing, and Heaven responded to mouse clicks and key strokes, all the while reporting a very humble 5-6 FPS, which means it was roughly 500% more efficient than the Nouveau driver. That tells you all you need to know, ladies and gentlemen.
Also, Steam would not run at all with Nouveau, so there's that to consider, too. Funny how system requirements creep up over time. I used to play, I mean test Call of Duty, a highly mediocre and arcade-like shooter on this box on the highest settings, but that feat feels like a completely different era.
Things were quite all right overall. All of the Fn buttons worked fine, and so did the web camera. Power management also did its thing well, dimming the screen and whatnot, but we cannot really judge the battery life, as the cells are six years old now and quite broken. They only lend about 40 minutes of juice in the best case.
Bluetooth did not work at first, but this is because crucial packages are missing.
You can resolve the issue using dnf:
dnf install blueman bluez
Suspend & resume
No issues, even with the Nvidia drivers. The whole sequence was quick and smooth, about 2-3 seconds each direction, into the land of sweet dreams and out of it. I do recall some problems with this in the past, but not any more. Happy sailing.
We can again compare Nouveau with Nvidia. But first, I had to sort out the swap partition setup manually, as Fedora refused to activate it. This is a big fail, and this happens consistently. Anyhow, the resource utilization with either one driver was almost identical. Both tolled a hefty 1.2 GB of RAM, and CPU ticked at about 2-3%, which is not really surprising, given the age of this machine. I did not see any big noise or heat difference the way we would witness it in the past, which is a testament to the improvements in the open-source driver, even though it fails on some of the advanced graphics logic required from it. But for normal use, non-gaming use, it behaves fairly well.
Well, I observed some interesting issues during my testing. SELinux complained about legitimate processes a few times, and this really annoys me. Now to troubleshoot this, all you need to do is expand the alert, check the details, and then vomit. Why would anyone let ordinary users ever see this. Why?
SELinux is preventing totem-video-thu from write access on the directory gstreamer-1.0.
***** Plugin catchall_labels (83.8 confidence) suggests *****
If you want to allow totem-video-thu to have write access on the gstreamer-1.0 directory
Then you need to change the label on gstreamer-1.0
# semanage fcontext -a -t FILE_TYPE 'gstreamer-1.0'
where FILE_TYPE is one of the following: cache_home_t, gstreamer_home_t, texlive_home_t, thumb_home_t, thumb_tmp_t, thumb_tmpfs_t, tmp_t, tmpfs_t, user_fonts_cache_t, user_home_dir_t, user_tmp_t.
restorecon -v 'gstreamer-1.0'
I want to execute something else, because hey, let us let developers be in charge of how things should be done. They know best, right! This kind of garbage is what makes zombie apocalypses happen, when you miscode the safety lock on a lab confinement.
Exploring the system with gconf-editor and dconf-editor, I found tons of leftover settings from my old Gnome 2, Xfce and Cinnamon setups, and one of the weird things was that Nemo would create, or rather, restore, several desktop icons every time I had it launched, and it did not cooperate with the global settings I configured through the Tweak Tool. In the end, I had to resort to some command line witchcraft:
gsettings set org.nemo.desktop home-icon-visible false
gsettings set org.nemo.desktop trash-icon-visible false
gsettings set org.nemo.desktop computer-icon-visible false
Finally, some sweet screenshots:
This was an interesting ordeal. It took me about four hours to finish the configuration and polish the system, the maniacal Fedora update that always runs in the deep hundreds and sometimes even thousands of packages, the graphics stack setup, and finally, all the gloss and trim needed to have a functional machine.
All in all, it works well. Fedora proved itself to be an adequate choice for the old HP machine, with decent performance and responsiveness, good hardware compatibility, fine aesthetics and functionality, once the extras are added, and only a small number of issues, some related to my laptop usage legacy. Not bad. Sure, the system could be faster, and Gnome isn't the best choice for olden hardware. But then, for something that was born in 2010, the HP laptop handles this desktop environment with grace, and it looks the part. Just proves that Red Hat makes a lot of sense once you release its essential oils and let the fragrance of extra software and codecs sweep you. It is your time to be enthused about this and commence your own testing.