Posted by & filed under Linux.

The XPS13 2016 edition (the 9350) runs Linux pretty good, gets 8 hours of battery life, that is after you’ve done a bit of configuration. With this machine sporting a bleeding 6th Gen Intel Skylake you’ll need to upgrade the Linux Kernel.

Upgrade BIOS

The BIOS is a bit outdated. With the old BIOS you’ll find that audio sounds pretty bad. Upgrading the BIOS really isn’t that hard.

If you’re still on the Windows OS it ships with, download the 1.3.3 EXE and double click it to install.

If you’re already in Linux, believe it or not you’ll still need that EXE:

wget http://downloads.dell.com/FOLDER03596893M/1/XPS_9350_1.3.3.exe
sudo mv XPS_9350_1.3.3.exe /boot/efi/

Once the file is there reboot your machine, press F12 to go into BIOS settings, go the the BIOS update screen, select the EXE file from the menu and install it.

Note: The BIOS from Dell has been updating pretty regularly, so keep an eye on the Drivers Page for the latest version.

Replace Broadcom WiFi

The wireless card which ships with the device has poor range and poor Linux compatibility. I swapped mine out with the following card and I recommend you do, too:

Intel 7265 IEEE 802.11ac Bluetooth 4.0 – Wi-Fi/Bluetooth Combo Adapter ($28 on Amazon)

When I first tried to use pure Debian, I found the driver wasn’t present (it’s non-free ya know) and had to download the Linux 4.3+ Driver. Mint shouldn’t need it, but just in case:

wget https://wireless.wiki.kernel.org/_media/en/users/drivers/iwlwifi-7265-ucode-16.242414.0.tgz

Kernel Upgrade

By default Mint 17.3 comes with the Linux kernel 3.19. A bunch of new Skylake compatibility arrived in kernel 4.4, 4.5, and 4.6. You’ll want to upgrade to that:

wget http://kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/v4.6.2-yakkety/linux-headers-4.6.2-040602-generic_4.6.2-040602.201606100516_amd64.deb
wget http://kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/v4.6.2-yakkety/linux-headers-4.6.2-040602_4.6.2-040602.201606100516_all.deb
wget http://kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/v4.6.2-yakkety/linux-image-4.6.2-040602-generic_4.6.2-040602.201606100516_amd64.deb
sudo dpkg -i *.deb

Once you reboot you’ll have the option to use the new Kernel in the GRUB menu. Stability has been fine for me with 4.4, 4.5, and even 4.6.

Uninstall VirtualBox Guest Addons

For some reason the VirtualBox client was installed both on my Dell XPS and Lenovo laptop. I’m guessing this is a flaw with Linux Mint. With these present I was seeing shutdowns hang.

sudo apt-get purge virtualbox*

Enable Suspend on Lid Close

Not sure why this wasn’t configured to happen automatically, perhaps the feature wasn’t compatible with the default kernel. By default closing the lid will simply lock the screen (and catch your laptop bag on fire).

vim /etc/systemd/logind.conf

Either uncomment or add the following line:

HandleLidSwitch=suspend

Pending a reboot (perhaps simply a logout) should enable suspend on close.

Configure Trackpad

The Trackpad is a bit fickle. Coming from an Apple computer, this is the biggest shortcoming for me.

What I did was create and edit a /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/50-synaptics.conf file and add the following content:

Section "InputClass"
  Identifier "touchpad"
  Driver "synaptics"
  MatchIsTouchpad "on"
    Option "PalmDetect" "1"
    Option "HorizTwoFingerScroll" "1"
    Option "TapButton1" "0"
    Option "TapButton2" "0"
    Option "TapButton3" "0"
    Option "MaxTapTime" "0"
    Option "VertScrollDelta" "-50"
    Option "HorizScrollDelta" "-50"
    Option "VertEdgeScroll" "0"
EndSection

Basically this enables palm detection, increases scroll speed, adds natural scrolling, and disables tap to click (otherwise anytime I type, something is getting accidentally clicked). These settings get me closer to how the MBP feels.

External Video over USB-C

If you want to get external video working you’re going to need to upgrade to at least the 4.5 kernel (go for the 4.6, it’s ok!), and you’ll want to buy a compatible device.

I purchased this one from Amazon for $50 and video, ethernet, VGA, and USB 3.0 ports all work great, video displays at 60Hz on my 1920×1080 external display.

201014-BLK-N

Cable Matters USB-C to HDMI / VGA / Ethernet / USB Multiport 4K UHD Adapter

What Doesn’t Work?

  • Fullscreen Youtube videos have a flickering HUD
  • Fullscreen Minecraft can have visual defects (maximized = OK)
  • Playback of some MKV videos are vertically flipped
  • When the machine boots there are horrible popping noises and 60Hz hum
  • Occasionally the machine will stay awake when the lid closes, be careful!

Thomas Hunter II

Thomas is a published author and a prolific public speaker with a passion for reducing complex problems into simple language and diagrams. His career includes working at Fortune 50's in the Midwest, co-founding a successful startup, and everything in between.
  • Richard

    Any luck with synaptics driver making touchegg work? Currently touchegg doesn’t detect gestures.

    • I’ve not attempted to use touchegg (had no idea what it was until now).

  • Erik

    Thomas,

    Great article, thanks! I installed Mint 17.3 on my 9350 with full disk encryption which works fine. However, when try to boot into the 4.4 kernel, it doesn’t find the encrypted volume. When you start in recovery mode, it just stops with a message saying that it is waiting for the encrypted volume. Did you try using full disk encryption?

    • Erik,

      I have not attempted yet to use full disk encryption. I will probably enable it at some point, although with the issue you’re having maybe it’s not worth it.

  • Long Wu Yuan

    Trackpad is giving me hell not only on linuxmint but any Linux. with ubuntu16.4 xenial, even the wifi works but trackpad hell is not allowing me to use Linux or liuxmint.

    there is a DELL link to download a zip file and intall some deb packages on Ubuntu 14.04 trusty hencec linuxmint 17.3 and reduced the pain but still my older freaking Lenovo/thinkpad runs any Linux just simply beautifully without trackpad hell (sometimes needs wifi driver but kernel 4.4 solves Broadcom and intel wifi driver problems ).

    humble request. can you confirm that trackpad is fine on your XPS 13 9350 with Skylake. specifically trackpad hangs (supposedly waiting for GPU event to finish) or jumps around on its own or clicks occur on their own during scrolling with 2 fingers.

    Also there is no output for “synaptics -l” as no synaptics driver is installed on linuxmint-cinnamon. Can you kindly confirm that you are using linuxmint-xfce. if not which is it. mate or cinnamon or kde or xfce.

    much much much gratitude for posting this. I can only try kernel 4.4 + linuxmint after you confirm.

    Best regards,
    ; Yuan

  • John

    Thanks for this write up. I want to put Linux Mint on my Dell 9350, but don’t want to change wifi hardware. Is that possible yet? I have just run Mint 17.3 from a USB, but no wifi. (Please use small words when replying – although I have used Linux for 5 or 6 years, I am very computer illiterate and have to spend hours on Google for the smallest problems.)

  • John

    Thanks so much for this post. I have been trying for three weeks to get full functionality from my XPS13 9350 with Linux Mint. Unfortunately every time I upgrade the kernel my boot fails and drops to BusyBox shell with the (initramfs) prompt. (I have tried 5 different kernels and 3 different install methods, including yours above.) A helpful guy on the Linux Mint forum has shown me how to get my wifi and audio working without changing kernel, but I still can’t get bluetooth or lid suspend. I tried your method above, but it doesn’t suspend – just the screen goes off. Can you please confirm that yours actually suspends after editing /etc/systemd/logind.conf as described?

    • Si

      John, don’t know whether you’ve got this sorted now. When I was shoe-horning linux mint onto an HP Stream 11 and upgraded the kernel I was struggling with this same issue. (see http://farrin.me.uk/linux-mint-on-hp-stream-11). I found that there were a host of other kernel packages that needed to be added which seemed to resolve that problem. Now that was kernel 3.19 and I’m not sure if 4.4 has the equivalent packages, but it might be worth a try.

    • Are you having issues after upgrading to a very recent kernel? I’m using 4.6 without issue. Suspend works correctly 95% of the time.

  • John Smith

    Thanks for the helpful info! I would love to take advantage of all of these tips but I am having trouble actually getting Linux Mint 17.3 onto my Dell-XPS 13-9350. Do you think you could quickly explain the steps you took?

    If my bios boots in UEFI mode, the LM installer only sees 8gb and refuses to install due to lack of space.
    If my bios boots in Legacy mode then the LM installer able to see all of my partitions and go through the install process but then fails towards the end due to an incorrect boot loader?

    Did you run into any of these issues as well? I appreciate it!

    • I don’t remember exactly what I did to get it to install. I do believe I booted using UEFI, disabled secure boot, but then I had to tweak a few settings and burn the ISO a few times to get it to boot.

      You might want to boot a live CD, run gparted, and wipe out the SSD first to get more space available (assuming you want to totally remove Windows).

    • Simon

      I received my Dell XPS 13 9360 (Note the newer version) this morning but have been unsuccessful today installing Linux Mint 18. I created a bootable USB stick with Mint on it and inserted the USB stick. I then changed the BIOS to disable Secure Boot. I then changed the Boot Sequence to have the USB stick run first. Mint booted, but could not see the SSD, I created a GParted boot USB stick and booted from that. GParted’s boot menu appeared, but upon running a couple of the options, it just hung after a while before it got out of the ASCII text screen. I tried enabling Legacy Option ROMs in the BIOS but GParted still failed. I then changed Fastboot from Minimal to Thorough and went back to boot the Mint USB disk. This time the Mint installation recognized the SSD and it was a different boot sequence – no boot options were asked for in Mint. To be sure, before going any further with the installation, I changed Fastboot back to Minimal, restarted the Mint installation but oddly, now, it still recognized the SSD, which takes me to that comment here from Thomas of “I had to tweak a few settings and burn the ISO a few times to get it to boot.” Burn the ISO a few times? It’s quite confusing. I’m going to keep working back to the original BIOS configuration to see when Mint doesn’t recognize the drive again. It’s weird. But then, since UEFI, Linux installations have often been tricky. Restore Settings to BIOS Defaults, then upon reading more, rebooted and Restored Settings to Factory settings, then made sure Fastboot was still Minimal, Boot Sequence was UEFI, Enable Legacy Option ROMs was Disabled and Secure Boot was Disabled. This was everything I had played with and it was back to the defaults the machine came with this morning. I then rebooted and found that I was back to where I started with the Linux boot options and it couldn’t see the hard drive. So, I then went back again to try what made it work. I just changed Fastboot to Thorough. That didn’t work. Disabled Secure Boot. Didn’t work. Enabled Legacy Option ROMs (Without then changing the setting from UEFI to Legacy). Didn’t work. Changed the Boot Sequence to Legacy (The default was Diskett, HDD, USB, CD).

      Bingo! The “Starting Linux Mint in 9 Seconds” graphics mode screen appeared, which was different to the Mint startup selection screen in text mode, which ends up not working. Then I ran the “Install Linux Mint” icon and it sees the disk.

      I have not done the installation yet, but I am getting closer to figuring out what needed to be done.

      It seems that “Enable Legacy Option ROMs” is required, which requires that Secure Boot is disabled, but also that once the Legacy Option ROMs are enabled, you also have to select Legacy in the Boot Sequence.

      Interestingly, the Boot Sequence had HDD first but it still ran the USB with Mint on it. Maybe because Windows was a UEFI setup.

      I can’t say whether Fastboot had anything to do with it. Haven’t disabled that option yet and tried.

      I’ll keep plugging away and see if there’s anything else noteable. Disappointing that UEFI could not be selected as the Linux documentation said it is supported, but there is no way I could get it working with that selected, just as there is no way I could go with Secure Boot, even though there are others that said they can install Mint just fine with Secure Boot.

      To each their own I suppose.

  • Xam

    Hi. I could install the kernel 4.2.0-41 but not newer than that : the WiFi is working great, the trackpad is working after the second restart (?).

  • Nicolas Jafelle

    I was planning to buy a dell xps and install linux but apparently it is not the best option right? I mostly worry about the adaptive brightness but seems that is not an issue on Linux Mint, I am right? Wifi simply do not work out of the box? That is a big problem if you do not have the ethernet adapter…

    • The XPS13 is a pretty good machine once you’re using the latest kernel. USB-C finally works, battery life is good. Spend the $20 to swap out the WiFi and you’re good.

      If by adaptive brightness you mean the screen changing brightness to adapt to the environment, I have no idea if it’s possible on this machine.

  • Maris Kurens

    Just installed Lime Mint Linux on a hi-rez XPS 13. The fonts are so small that the machine is absolutely unusable.
    Any advice on how to fix would be appreciated.

    • Simon

      I had the same problem on my Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus with its QHD screen. Windows that it came with managed the font scaling reasonably well, but when I replaced it with Mint, it was unusable. Mint was not handling scaling well.

      I ended up just going to a lower resolution. It wasn’t perfect, as any time you go to a non-native resolution you give up a bit in terms of clarity, but Mint worked much better so I just left it in the lower res mode. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really notice.

      QHD on notebooks is pointless. Disregard what some people say, nobody’s eyes are good enough to discern the difference between HD and QHD on a 13.3″ monitor. That’s why Apple went with 1440×900 on the 13.3 Air. It increases battery life, is cheaper to make and nobody can tell the difference. Other Ultrabook manufacturers are forced to go with higher specs to help sell their products because they don’t have the branding and customer loyalty that Apple has. Apple didn’t bother with a touchscreen either. It adds weight, size, cost and battery life. Apple clearly didn’t think the benefits of a touchscreen outweighed all that. The ATIV had a touchscreen, but I rarely used it. Made a mess of the screen. It’s a personal choice.

      As a result, when I ordered my Dell XPS13, which I just received today, I decided on the HD resolution and no touchscreen. It was just going to be harder to get Mint working properly based upon my previous experience. The touchscreen worked fine with Mint, but the resolution didn’t.

      Reduce the screen resolution. It’s the easiest route.