Date Tags tech

Yesterday I got a new work laptop. Actually when I say new it's really more of an upgrade. I've been using the original Dell XPS13 laptop for the past 3 years as my primary machine. It's one of those "ultrabooks" as they like to call them, basically a super thin laptop with a pretty screen.

The best thing about the original XPS13 was the support for Linux out of the box, in fact Dell even sold the origiinal with a custom version of Ubuntu on it which wwas developed through a project they set up called Sputnik. All in all everything worked on the original and it was flawless.

So upgrade time had come, and obviously I wanted the new version, which has an even more aamazing screen, virtually no bezel and pushes 3200x1800 high resolution. I didn't even bother checking whether it was well supported with Linux as the previous one was, and yesterday morning at around 9am this turned out to have possibly been a dangerous assumption to make.

I started looking around and found a few primary sources (links below) that seemed to suggest I was going to be transported back to around 1999 if I was going to get this thing to work. By that I mean if I wanted all the features of the laptop, like suspend, media keys, touchpad, touchscreen etc I was not only going to have flash the bios but probably also compile a custom kernel too, not to mention recompiling the wifi modules each time.

This is unacceptable. It's not that I can't do it, it's that I don't want to do it. Also, the rest of the team use Macs and so I have too put up with their trolling about how everything works so flawlessly. As an aside, I don't totally hate OSX, I've just been using Linux as a desktop for so long now I can't do with OSX forcing me to work in another way that it thinks is best, plus the | key is in totally the wrong place for my brain.

Note: Before anyone tells me I can play with keyboard layouts and use an external keyboard I tried that. It was a pain in the arse.

So anyway, I set off on the task expecting pain and guess what, actually, it wasn't painful at all, and in fact, everything works for me just fine and this is only a month or so after some of the blogposts were written. My guess is that its related to the very latest BIOS update from Dell plus my decision to go bleeding edge with Ubuntu-Gnome 15 beta 2. Yee hah! So here's what I did.


Get a USB/Ethernet adpater before you start. You can try to use the Wifi but you will have to go through extra steps as per the guide links at the end of this post. Seriously though, don't bother if you don't have too. If you use ethernet the wifi gets set-up automatically during install with this version of Ubuntu.

Update the BIOS

Boot up into Windows 8. It's a pain but you really have to do this as you need to install the BIOS update and its one of those "run in Windows and auto reboot" type things. Once youve got yourself past the hell that is the panel touch screen - I actually screamed "what do I do!!!!" when I was presented with it - you need to head over to Dell's website and grab the BIOS update and install it. The BIOS version at time of writing was A03.

Create a restore disk

Now the BIOS is updated you have a decision to make. You can go right ahead and install Ubuntu and trash the entire disk, or you can create a factory reset for the Windows installation. Oridnarily I would probably just trash the whole thing, however, if you want to sell the laptop at a later date then you should probably not do that as you will limit the market on who you can sell too.

Boot back into Windows and on the right-hand side of the hellish slate interface you should see a "Dell Backup and Recovery" option. Use this and create a bootable start-up disk and keep it safe somewhere. If you don't do this and ever want Windows back for some reaosn then you're going to be doing it under warranty to Dell or paying them probably.

Disable "secure boot"

You will need to disable the "secure boot" option in the BIOS now. The easiest way to do this is to hit F12 when the Dell logo shows on boot. In the menu you get there is option to change the boot process to turn secure boot off. Do this.

Install Ubuntu Gnome 15.04

Grab the ISO from Ubuntu. The latest at time of writing is beta-2. On another machine you need to use something like UNetbootin to create a bootable USB stick.

Boot off this disk by hitting F12 again when the Dell logo comes up. You should see an option for Legacy boot and UEFI boot. Don't use legacy as this will cause you problems during install as Ubuntu will tell you you need a boot disk. Use the UEFI option and select your USB stick.

You should see a Grub loader that is ridiculously small and high res. Choose the option to "Try Ubuntu Gnome without installing". Fingers crossed within a matter of seconds you should be in Gnome.

Create some install space

Assuming you are not going to wipe the entire disk you need to create some space. Fire up gparted. If your XPS13 is like mine, then /dev/sda5 will be where Windows is and it's labeled OS. You need to shrink this disk. As you can see, I shrunk mine to 35GB.

It's entirely up to you what you want to do with the free space. I used to create a /home partition but these days I can't be bothered as important stuff is stored in one or more Cloud solutions so I don't particular care if I lose my local disk so to speak. I just did a great big / partition on /dev/sda7

Get on the network

You did get that USB/Ethernet adpapter didn't you?

Run the installer from the Live environment

You're now good to run the installer for Ubuntu from the Live environment. Remeber to choose "Something Else" when the disk option comes up obviously and then target the installer to the relevant partitions you created. If you don't create swap it will complain but you can ignore it, again, it's entirely up to you if you want to bother with a swap disk when you have 8GB of RAM.

What works?

For me everything worked except the microphone which is no biggy personally. The touchscreen seems to be working flawlessly. The touchpad has yet to freeze on me. Suspend works too when I close the lid - although not when locked. Audio is good. One wierd thing was the set up of the Media keys.

Basically the media keys appeared to work without pressing the Fn key, and, if I wanted to get access to F keys I had to use Fn. This is flipped to normal behaviour and it's set by Dell in BIOS. If you hit F2 during boot you can go into the BIOS and change this behaviour.

One other thing I've noticed is that screenshotting with PrntScn key is very hit and miss. Sometimes it works and other times it just creates blank images. I expect this will get fixed at some point though.


UPDATE - 18th June 2015

Since installing all the updates and a few iterations of kernel releases via apt, the microphone is now working just fine as too is the PrtScn issue.


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