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In my previous posts (First Post, Second Post) on using Fedora on my Dell Precision 5520, I described some of my experiences in using Fedora on that laptop. This is a quick update on those experiences, with a few pleasant surprises.

Fedora 28

Since the previous post, I have updated Fedora to version 28. The update was very smooth using the command line instructions from Fedora Magazine--check out their latest articles for a variety of things about Fedora and Linux more generally.

As with Fedora 27, I have found Fedora 28 to be quite usable on a daily basis. Some of the nice features of the latest release of Fedora Workstation that I have taken advantage of are:

  • Easy access to some third party repositories directly from Fedora: I have used this already for installing the proprietary NVIDIA drivers (more below).
  • Improved battery life: I have seen a significant improvement of the battery life of the Precision 5520 with this release, going from 2-4 hours to maybe 6 hours. I haven't run a lot of extensive testing, but the improvement was noticeable.

Precision 5520 Firmware Upgrade Directly in Linux

Another recent, pleasant surprise I've had is that firmware upgrades were supported directly in the GNOME Software application for the Dell Precision 5520 laptop. I have had problems using my Thunderbolt-based Dell TB-16 Dock. Mainly, I would get complaints that the dock was not providing enough power to charge my laptop early in the boot process (apparently in the UEFI firmware). One day when looking for software in the GNOME Software application, I noticed that there was a firmware update for the laptop and I applied the update from within the Software application. After rebooting, I was running the updated firmware.

I suspect the firmware update was to take care of some of the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities that we learned about earlier in the year. In any case, the firmware updated made a huge difference in the compatibility with the TB16--I no longer get the complaints at boot time and things seems to run smoothly.

Dell Business Thunderbolt Dock TB16

As a side note, it is very nice that I only have to plug in a single USB-C-style Thunderbolt connection to my laptop and I get connected to multiple external monitors, a wired Ethernet connection, my keyboard and mouse, and other devices. Additionally, the laptop is charged at the same time with the single cable.

While I am sure this is possible with other laptops and docks, I never quite got to this level of simplicity with my Apple MacBook Pro. It required at least power and a Thunderbolt cable, though, for various reasons, I would have a Mini DisplayPort cable for one of the two external monitors.

With the TB16 and the NVIDIA proprietary drivers, I can drive two Dell UltraSharp 32 UltraHD 4K monitors. It works pretty well with the Plasma Desktop Environment that I have been using for months now. I did try using a Belkin KVM that was supposed to support the two monitors with full 3840x2160 via DisplayPort, but there must be some signal integrity problems because I would get strange visual noise on the external monitors. I also tried this same configuration using the Intel integrate graphics, but I could only drive one external 4K monitor with the integrate graphics--Plasma wouldn't let me try otherwise. I didn't get the visual noise when running at lower resolutions, though.

NVIDIA Drivers from Fedora Third Party Repositories

In trying to debug the KVM problem, I removed the proprietary NVIDIA drivers that I had installed from negativo17 and tried using the Intel integrated graphics (see Part 1 of this series for more details) that are also included with the laptop. As I mentioned, the Intel integrated graphics didn't provide support for the two 4K monitors, so I went to install the NVIDIA drivers again. This time I enabled the third-party software packages that Fedora 28 now supports using:

sudo dnf install fedora-workstation-repositories

and then I enabled the NVIDIA driver repository:

sudo dnf config-manager --set-enabled rpmfusion-nonfree-nvidia-driver

At this point, I just installed the NVIDIA drivers by executing:

sudo dnf install nvidia-driver

I haven't noticed any large difference between running the RPM Fusion version of the drivers versus the negativo17.org version. As I mentioned above, though, the proprietary drivers allowed me to use two external 4K monitors simulataneously--I might try the nouveau open-source driver for compatibility at some point, but things have been busy.

Tethering with an iPhone 7

I have used the Wi-Fi personal hotspot capability of my work iPhone 7 many times with my Precision 5520 since there are no special requirements for using the feature--as long as your device supports Wi-Fi, you should be able to use this feature.

While traveling, I needed to charge my iPhone and connected it to my Precision 5520 running Fedora. When I turned on tethering, I noticed that the Precision 5520 was tethering over USB! I was a bit surprised that this just worked, but this may have been a standard feature for a little while. I suspect there are some USB networking standards that make this work. In any case, tethering over USB to my iPhone 7 worked quite automatically under Fedora 28.

Evolution

GNOME's Evolution continues to be a daily workhorse. It handles my huge Inbox (as mentioned in Part 2 of this series). The weakest part I notice regularly for the Microsoft Exchange support seems to be the calendaring support (so far). It works fine for looking at the calendar, but I have run into a few situations that have provided some surprises.

Recently I was updating a meeting on the calendar that has been scheduled for a regular basis for 2-3 years. I was just trying to add a new attendee going forward in Evolution, but it seemed to go back to the beginning of the calendar item and it sent all attendees (past and present) multiple meeting requests (I am assuming ones that I modified for some reason), confusing several folks and embarrassing me. I need to submit this as a bug when I get a chance.

Likewise, I can't use Evolution (that I can tell) to schedule Skype for Business meetings like I can with Outlook, which adds all of the meeting information directly into the meeting invitation.

With all of that said, creating new invitations works fine. For now, modifying some calendar items is better done with the on-line version of Outlook for our organization (or a Mac or Windows Outlook client). For viewing the calendar items and creating new calendar items, Evolution has worked well.

Plasma Quirk

I have noticed a quirk recently with Plasma's screen lock program. Basically, I can use the mouse, but the keyboard doesn't seem to do anything. The work around I have found is that I click the "Unlock" button with the mouse, causing the unlock to fail, but, at that point, I can use the keyboard again to enter my password--weird.