Updated: July 5, 2021
All right, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another installment in the Adventures of the Curmudgeon. Today, your favorite chipper Internet persona will try Fedora 33 (not 34, not a typo) on his latest test-dedicated box, one Lenovo IdeaPad 3 laptop, currently triple booting Windows and a couple of distros. What makes things extra interesting is the AMD processor + Vega graphics combo.
Now, as you know, I've already tried Fedora 33 on my older G50 box, and it wasn't a very good experience. I did manage to make the system work and behave after a series of rigorous tweaks, but in essence, tweaks are the nerd's nature's way of compensating for inherent failings in the default design. That is unlikely to change much today, so if you are not in the mood for yet-another-Gnome-not-Gnome review where the person talks about buttons and Activities and whatnot ... skip this. Otherwise, proceed to read, pray.
Wait, what? What about Fedora 34!
Aha! Dedo did a doodoo. Dedo forgot to publish this article a while back. Quite a while back in fact. It got lost in the many an article stashed in the to-post plethora box. So I got meself thinking. Scrap it, or publish it with some major, major delay, but then, also with findings that will nonetheless be valuable to Linux users?As a primer to a soon-ish Fedora 34 review, plus a few more upcoming laptop revival/refresh articles, I decided to go forward this piece, after all. Won't hurt right? 'Tis an experience. To be fair, my findings Fedora-wise and Gnome-wise have been quite consistent in the past few years, plus it would be a good exercise to see how well the distro cooperates with my latest test machine. With all that said, we can now safely proceed.
Commence to Fedora
The live session started fine. But then, to start with, slowness - Activities, search for an app, and the whole system lags/freezes for a good second. The screenshot tool always takes 2-3 seconds to save images to disk. Moreover, you can't save a file with Enter - nothing happens - you must click the button with the mouse. Also, if you use a "wrong" suffix for an image file, the Screenshot tool will balk. This goes against the Linux convention of using file extensions as a nice-to-have thing rather than an obligatory format identifier.
The desktop itself was sprightly enough, despite the Activities hangs. The fonts are okay but they feel extra pale, one because they aren't the best and most ergonomic color, two because Fedora uses grayscale hinting instead of subpixel (yields better results most of the time), three because this IdeaPad has a suboptimal screen quality, which makes any bad font stuff even more prominent. But then, fonts remains one of the worst aspects of the Linux desktop usability in general.
Screenshots - mandatory shadows. I find this totally wrong. Not just that, it's a contradiction. All of the so-called "modern" operating systems go for flat designs, and then you get gradiented shadows in screenshots like it's 2005. Decide. Either you go full crayon mode or full cardboard mode. But mixing these doesn't help. Not Gnome specific in any way, just sad.
I promptly committed the distro to the disk. The installer remains confusing and not fun, the Blivet partitioning tool is slow, even when working with the NVMe storage. It takes a good 2-3 seconds for the GUI to respond, when you want to select or edit partitions. Then, if you resize the sidebar to see the full disk info, you will notice the horizontal scrollbar in the partitions list - totally unnecessary, and yet, it's there, and no you can't resize the list. It's funny, because a tiny 16MB partition gets its share of width, but then a 100GB partition gets only four or five times as much width, but why really? It's not like we're going for a true up-to-scale representation.
The installation was quick enough - 5 or 6 minutes. The user setup happens on first reboot. Nothing dramatic or special there. Language choice correctly used and not localized to some useless dialect I don't need. Wireless settings, also preserved, which is nice as it's becoming rarer in the recent years.
Some rather interesting observations here. The boot sequence is super-slow - 26 seconds, which is 2.5x more than even the slowest distros on this box. That said, the boot is also super-clean, not a single line of text or such, and everything looks consistent. The updates were fast, but not as fast as one would expect, and Fedora still gives you that "reboot + apply updates" option, which feels Windowsy and wrong. What's the point?
Customize, ponder, use
Well, I spent a fair deal of time making things usable and efficient. Gnome Tweaks, windows buttons, Gnome extensions, Dash to Panel, new icons - La Capitaine, new fonts - Ubuntu, and even without any color change, the clarity is instantly oh-so much better. New wallpaper, RPM Fusion free and nonfree sources, extra software, inhale, exhale, relax.
Now, in this guise, Fedora looks presentable - enticing, useful. You don't need to waste mouse clicks on basic things, the drab yellowish colors and blurry fonts are replaced with nice, sharp stuff. Similar to what I've observed in my previous tests, like say Kubuntu, Fedora seems to favor ~90% brightness on this box.
This is a big one. And also ... an impossible one. Whole-integer scaling, nah. 2021, that's like nah. So I had to do the same thing I did in my MX Linux MX-19.3 test, and that's to scale the fonts only. Worked fine, with good clarity. So this is a reasonable compromise until Gnome gains the ability to do proper fractional scaling, without big experimental tweaks, that is.
This may sound strange, but ... Fedora popped the Accessibility applet as soon as I changed the font scaling. You can then toggle the scaling back to 1.00 instantly if you like. I find this quite useful. The problem is, though, if you decide to use the high contrast theme, it not only changes the window theming, but also the icons, and you cannot change the latter separately (alongside the high-contrast theme). Shame, because the high contrast set is incomplete. And weirdly, the all monochrome icons are super-cool and I like them, but they are most likely less accessible than the normal ones.
Performance, resource utilization
Very interesting. Slow boot ... but fastest Samba performance I've seen on this box, 18 MB/s. The record so far stands at 17 MB/s. Memory usage is very high. Now, first, let's look at the numbers after some usage, because it will help us understand what the Cache section mentions - as you can see, the Cache is bigger than the used memory (which should be the sum of all RSZ and shared memory). This means that when we're looking at after a fresh boot, the "used" piece won't include caches.
And so, the number stand at 1.4 GB memory and the CPU ticks ~1%. The swap is correctly defined, even though I've not manually specified this anywhere during the installation, so 'tis a nice thing. The system is fairly responsive, but not as nimble as what we've seen with say Manjaro or Kubuntu on this machine. The occasional hangs and slow application response never quite go away, even though the system is fast enough in its own right. Feels like there are two parts to Fedora, one that is undergoing improvements and optimization, and another that isn't.
The big question is, how does performance and whatnot affect battery life. Seems quite reasonable. So, I installed the distro without plugging the box into the magical juice fountain in the wall, and after roughly an hour of fairly high usage (installation, updates, browsing, etc), at 90% brightness, the system still reported roughly 2:45 hours at 71% charge. This translates into 4 hours med-high usage, most likely 6-7 hours light usage at 50%. We shall explore that, but the numbers are quite encouraging. Very good.
The result of this review depends on where you start collecting impressions - before or after my customization. In its default form, I find no use or value for Fedora 33 or any distro that hides the basic functionality away. Therefore, the changes I made are a must for efficient, intuitive desktop usage. Or rather, without them, there's no point to any of this. In a way, you can't really ignore them from the overall review, so there's that.
All that said, Fedora did okay in quite a few areas - network speed, consistency, font scaling, stability, general performance and battery usage. It didn't do well in boot speed, frequent hangs when using Activities, memory utilization, poor default ergonomics and software selection, or the lack of proper HD scaling. Not bad, but ultimately, not that good. Average. Other distros do more with less, other operating systems offer more. In isolation, Fedora 33 does its thing, but it has few if any killer features for the common user. Anyway, the testing today went okay, but for me, the best Fedora releases remain 24-25. This is just coasting on inertia.