Friday, May 2, 2014

Ubuntu on Dell XPS 15 (8947-sLV)

The beta version of my excellent Dell Sputnik (XPS 13) wasn't quite cutting the mustard for some side freelance work I'm doing since it only has 4GB of RAM, but I loved the machine so much I opted to get its big brother, the XPS 15. Specifically I got this model, and yes since I needed it pronto I actually bought it in person at the Microsoft Store in Bellevue, WA. I'll always hate myself a little for going to a Microsoft Store but it was darn handy to have one nearby and just go get the new machine as opposed to waiting to have one shipped.

When I got it home I didn't even boot into Windows 8.1, I just stuck an Ubuntu 14.04 USB stick in the machine and installed that. The only trick to installing Ubuntu is you have to go into the BIOS, turn off Secure Boot, and turn on Legacy Boot Mode.

Once Ubuntu is installed everything works out of the box. The screen runs at the full, mind-blowing 3200x1800 resolution, and even the touch screen works. No issues with sound card, WiFi, or anything else. Awesome.

The only annoyance is the default settings for the Synaptics trackpad are a little jumpy. OK, more than a little jumpy. Luckily with a bit of research I found an easy fix that definitely did the trick for me. Basically you just need to change the FingerLow and FingerHigh settings to reduce the sensitivity and the cursor jumps around no more. I used the settings in the link but you can adjust as needed if those specific settings don't work for you.

Only remaining thing to figure out is what to do with this ridiculous amount of screen real estate. Couldn't be more pleased with this laptop!

16 comments:

ryan said...

Hey Matt, how's the battery life? Have you tried using TLP (http://linrunner.de/en/tlp/docs/tlp-linux-advanced-power-management.html)?

Matt Woodward said...

Hi Ryan -- I haven't tested in any organized fashion but I can say "several hours" as a general answer. One day I used it with no regard to conserving power (reducing screen brightness, etc.) and I got 6 hours out of it with plenty to spare.

I'll look into TLP and let you know how it goes -- thanks for the suggestion!

jeffbmartinez said...

Thanks for the post. I just picked up one of these and sure enough it all works out of the box. Now I'll touch the "publish your comment" button... :)

keith said...

Because of your blog, I too got one of these (now discounted at MS store) and wow! great machine running ubuntu 14.04.

ville komulainen said...

Thanks for the experience report. I might well go for this one as well.

One question though: How does Ubuntu handle suspend/resume when folding the screen up/down on XPS 15. I have had some problems with my older laptops and Ubuntu.

Matt Woodward said...

Happy to report that suspend/resume works perfectly.

Joonas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joonas said...

Hi Matt,

thanks for the report. I'm tempted to get one myself. Does your model have the NVidia Optimus graphics, and do you use an external display?

Matt Woodward said...

Mine has the NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M -- haven't used it with an external display.

Gerrie van Aswegen said...

Hi Ryan - is the ultra-high resolution on the XPS 15 (3200x1800) on a relatively small screen (15") not more of a hindrance than an advantage - very small icons etc ...??

Matt Woodward said...

Actually it kind of is -- you can mess with it but much as I love this machine in principle, I actually ordered a ThinkPad X1 Carbon today to replace this one. It just took too much tweaking to get it to work only kind of well because of the extremely high resolution, which is a failure of the Linux distributions, not of this Dell machine which is extremely nice. It just doesn't meet my needs well enough after using it for a while and I think the X1 with the lower resolution will work better as a development machine.

Stever said...

Cool Matt.. I have grown fond of Mint and use it daily. A coworker also got a system 76 model that I have seen firsthand and is also impressive for the price: https://system76.com/laptops/model/galu1

Steve Rueg said...

I'm thinking of getting an XPS 15 and installing Ubuntu, but a little concerned with the 'small' icons/text due to high screen resolution. Can't one "simply" change the display resolution in the System Settings and resolve this issue?

Matt Woodward said...

Yep you can change the screen resolution, it'll just start looking grainy. But that's the easy solution. The messier solution is use native resolution and start resizing fonts, menus, etc. accordingly, but it takes some time and doesn't "stick" (meaning I'd do that and it'd be messed up when I'd reboot).

Long and short of it is Ubuntu (well, Unity specifically I guess) needs a better, simpler way of dealing with ultra high resolution screens for it to be very useful. This is clearly a problem other operating systems have solved.

Blogger Sucks said...

Thanks for the advice that this thing just works. I can't stand Unity and recall some ability / limitations setting screen DPI config in kubuntu ... anyone been down this road and care to comment?

Our standard issue is 15" MBP, upon which I run Ubuntu in a VM. But since Yosemite the performance has been tanking so call me open-minded . . .

DANIEL said...

Hi, I just got a dell xps 15 but I cannot seem to boot from a usb. I have been trying for about a week now. Could you please point me in the right direction?