Fedora 25 on the Dell XPS 13 (late 2016 model)

Posted on Dec 11, 2016 in Blog, Linux | 23 Comments

Fedora 25 Workstation runs beautifully on the new Kaby Lake Dell XPS 13 ultrabook. And since Fedora ships with an up-to-date kernel, everything works out of the box.

Hardware Features

Dell XPS 13 model 9360 (late 2016)
The worlds smallest 13.3 inch laptop
7th gen Intel Kaby Lake i5-7200 processor

8GB dual channel LPDDR3 1866MHz memory
256GB PCIe solid state drive
Intel HD Graphics

Windows vs Linux Version

Dell sells the XPS 13 laptop with either Windows or Ubuntu pre-installed. I wanted to support Dell’s Linux efforts and planned to purchase the Ubuntu version. However, when I bought my computer there was a sale. The discount was only for the Windows version.

The discounted Windows 10 model also came with 256GB PCIe Solid State Drive compared to a 128GB SATA drive. So I purchased the Windows model for the better price, and slightly better hardware.

Dell XPS 13 Rose Gold

I had to purchase the rose gold version to get a discount. I didn’t think I would like it, but its copper-like appearance is more attractive than I anticipated. Photo courtesy of Dell

Glossy Touch vs Matte Non-Touch

The Dell XPS 13 ships with 2 different 13.3 inch screen options:

  • Matte FHD 1920 x 1080 non-touch screen
  • Glossy QHD+ 3200 x 1800 touch screen

I can’t stand super reflective glossy screens. I am not interested in a touch screen on my laptop. And I’ve heard scaling a HiDPI screen in Linux isn’t ideal. So I went with the 1920×1080 matte screen. Unfortunately, if you want 16GB of RAM, the touch screen version is the only option.

WiFi: Goodbye Broadcom, Hello Killer

Previous XPS 13 models included a Broadcom wireless adapter which required proprietary drivers. I believe Dell included those drivers with their version of Ubuntu.

However, the Braodcom card was problematic for people who wanted to run a different Linux distribution. I read that many people would replace the adapter with a more Linux friendly Intel WiFi card.

Searching for proprietary drivers, manually updating the kernel, or replacing the WiFi card is no longer necessary. The late 2016 models ship with Killer WiFi adapters. The Killer cards use a free, open source driver.

There is nothing you need to do to get WiFi working.

XPS Side View

Everything Just Works

The last time I bought a new laptop, it took a bit of work to get everything working. That’s not the case with the Dell XPS 13.

  • All the function buttons work (volume, brightness, playback buttons, etc.)
  • The backlit keyboard works
  • Suspend on lid close, and resume when opened, work
  • My Apple Bluetooth mouse works
  • The webcam works
  • USB-C appears to work (I don’t have any USB-C devices, but it worked with an USB-A adapter)

Battery Life

On a full charge, I got approximately 6.5 hours of use. 5.25 hours of regular use + 1.25 hours playing video games.

Not surprisingly, playing video games on Steam eats up the battery quickly. If you aren’t playing games, or streaming a lot of HD video, I think you can get a lot more use.

Because the battery life more than meets my needs, I didn’t try enabling TLP or powertop.

Blue XPS

Installation Notes

I couldn’t install Linux until I disabled UEFI and switched to Legacy Mode in the Bios. You can enter the bios by hitting F12 while the Dell logo is displayed during boot up.

I also swapped the function keys by pressing Fn+Esc. By default, when you press F1 – F12 you get the secondary function. I prefer it the other way around.

Wayland Problems

I didn’t expect to use Wayland. I thought I would just play around with it for a while, and then switch back to the X desktop session. However, Wayland has been running great. The only problems I have come across so far are:

  • Occasionally, a thin black boarder will briefly appear around windows when they are drawn to the screen
  • Gpick – the color picker and palette editor can’t see the screen and select colors
  • GIMP – like Gpick, the eye dropper tool isn’t able to select colors from the screen

Left: Wayland (Gpick can’t detect colors on the screen) | Right: Xorg (Gpick detects the magenta color on the screen)

My Experience with the Dell XPS 13

After using the Dell XPS 13 with Fedora 25 for a couple of weeks, I’ve really fallen in love with this little laptop.

I was worried that after using the gorgeous, extremely well built Samsung Series 9 for the past 4 years, I wouldn’t find another laptop/ultrabook that was both Linux friendly and beautiful. I was also skeptical of Dell’s ability to make a laptop that felt premium, not mediocre. However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. This is a great laptop.

It may not be as thin as my old Samsung Series 9 ultrabook, but it is smaller. Because the screen is almost borderless, Dell is able to fit a 13-inch laptop into a 11-inch body. This makes it super portable.

The computer is fast, super portable, has great battery life, feels robust and looks great. I am very happy with my purchase.

Pros

  • All the hardware works out of the box in Fedora 25. No customization is needed.
  • It is the smallest 13-inch laptop available.
  • There is no glare/reflection on the beautiful matte screen.

Cons

  • The 16 GB option isn’t available for matte screens.
  • Oddly, it is the most difficult laptop to open that I’ve ever used.
  • The webcam is located in the bottom left of the screen.
  • The audio quality from the speakers isn’t great

23 Comments

  1. John Posavatz
    December 20, 2016

    Alas, I had nothing with trouble with the XPS 13 9360 (DE), and wound up returning it. With the pre-installed Ubuntu 16.04.01, the wireless card dropped out completely about 30 feet away from my access point. Same story when upgraded to 16.10. Based upon this blog post, I also tried Fedora 25, but got continual popup nags about the kernel having failed, and also spotty (though occasionally better) wireless. Bummed, but I prefer something that “just works”, and the DE didn’t deliver.

  2. Tim
    December 17, 2016

    It is possible to add 16 gb of RAM to this Model ?

    • Rye
      December 17, 2016

      No

  3. Dave
    December 13, 2016

    What is the app (w/ the ascii art) you are running in the first photo?

    • Rye
      December 13, 2016

      screenfetch -it should be in the Fedora repos

  4. Rod
    December 13, 2016

    I have had the XPS 15 with touch screen with 512Gb SSD for a month now. Ordered it online and got it in about 10 days. Super fast which is very obvious when scrolling through photos and when rendering video with KDenlive. Ubuntu has HiDPI support and even pinch works on Chromium. I was able to install using EFI but I had to re-create my USB image. I was able to shrink Win 10 to about 260 Gb which left me with about 220 to install Ubuntu. I also tested OpenSuse, Mint and Sabayon on it. Sabayon looked great but wrecked the dual boot. Rather that sort that out I’ve gone back to Ubuntu. Disclaimer, I’m a former Dell employee. Good luck with it.

    • Rye
      December 13, 2016

      It’s nice to hear the XPS 15 works well with Linux :) I haven’t heard from anyone running Sabayon in a long time.

  5. leomwa
    December 12, 2016

    I’m struggling to find a dock they works with this laptop through Thunderbolt 3. Does anyone have recommendations?
    I haven’t tried windows yet, but might end up there. I really want to avoid that though.

    I’m currently running Arch Linux and everything works as well including the touch display on my 16GB RAM version.

  6. Kevin
    December 12, 2016

    Being in Canada, does it come with the US style? I’ve been considering ordering from the US, as I don’t want to adapt to the odd keyboard layout that you see here in BestBuy Canada.

    • Rye
      December 12, 2016

      I didn’t realize there was a difference. It looks normal to me. I guess I’ve just become used to the Canadian style keyboard layout all these years.

      • Andrew
        December 13, 2016

        He means a bilingual (English/French) keyboard with narrower Enter and left Shift keys and a few extra keys for special characters.

        • Kevin
          December 14, 2016

          Yes, the bilingual keyboards typically have a vertical “enter” key, while the US style have a horizontal enter key. The shift keys are also a different size as Andrew mentioned. It’s enough to throw a crusty programmer for a loop. :)

          All of the Dell pictures are of the US style keyboard even on the Canadian website, so it’s hard to know ahead of time what you’ll be getting but it’s a deal breaker for me.

          On some past laptops I have purposely ordered a replacement keyboard from the US, but that is normally an expensive proposition on a new laptop model.

  7. Brandon
    December 12, 2016

    I was able to install Debian in UEFI mode on mine. It’s currently set up to dual boot with Windows 10. Debian required a firmware package for the wifi, but it was available in the repos so it wasn’t a big deal. Everything else worked out of the box.

    • Rye
      December 12, 2016

      Fedora should be able to install in UEFI. Maybe there was a problem with my Live USB (I used the suggested Fedora Media Writer tool). Unfortunately, the installer couldn’t see the local hard drive until I changed to Legacy Mode.

      • Michael Kidd
        December 13, 2016

        In order to install with UEFI enabled, you must boot into BIOS/UEFI of the PC and change the SATA settings from RAID to AHCI/SATA mode. After that, it installs just fine.

        Hope this helps.

        • Rye
          December 13, 2016

          Thanks for the info! That probably explains why the installer couldn’t see the hard drive.

  8. Jan
    December 12, 2016

    Can you hear any coil whine? I heard some people complaining about that.

    • Rye
      December 12, 2016

      No coil whine. I read about that as well. I think maybe is was just problem with older models.

  9. Chris B
    December 12, 2016

    Are GNOME’s animations smooth? Sometimes they lag on my desktop.

    • Rye
      December 12, 2016

      Everything has been nice and smooth for me. Wayland and Intel’s open source drivers are a good combination.

  10. Jason Hamilton
    December 12, 2016

    How much did you end up paying for it?

    • Rye
      December 12, 2016

      About $1400 CAD, plus tax.