Linux on the Dell XPS 13 (9315)


Running Linux is Fun!

by Craig Miller

After 12 years it was time to upgrade my trusty MacBook (running Debian 11) laptop. There is Linux support for the new Apple MacBook M1 (an ARM processor), but it is still not quite there. I like Apple Hardware, but have become less enamoured with the ipadification of MacOS.

I decided to look upon this as an opportunity. After seeing Lynn's Dell XPS 13 in the flesh, and hearing that she was running Fedora on it, I opted for one.

The Dell XPS 13

The specs are out on the internet, but in a nut shell:

Which Linux Distro to run?

Although I am a certified Redhat Certified Tech (RHCT), I have moved away from RPM-hell quite a while ago. In fact, I had some basic criteria in what I was looking for in a Linux Distro.

I tried the following out in a VM (on my desktop linux machine) to see how the live install images looked, and then did a real install on the XPS 13

MX Linux

According to Distrowatch, the number ONE linux distro right now. The user interface looks great. The distro gives you the choice to run (or not) systemd. Actually, if you choose not to run systemd, it still uses a couple of the systemd utils (login, for example).

Unfortunately, on the XPS 13, it did not detect the Wifi card, or my Ethernet dongle. So no internet connectivity at all! Very secure, but less useful. Next


A systemd-free version of Debian. The VM looks like debian, just no systemd lurking underneath.

Unfortunately, it would not install on the XPS 13. For some reason it wanted a clean hard drive (I had improperly shut down windows, what did I care, I was going to send it to bit heaven). Next


A systemd-free version of Arch. I have been running Artix on my desktop (an Asus PN50 with an AMD Ryzen CPU) for over a year now, and it has been pretty good.

Unfortunatley the software repository seems to be on auto-pilot, and software that won't compile for the distro, just gets left out. I found many of the sofware packages that I wanted, such as wireshark, tcpdump, nedit, pdftk, telegram-desktop, and audacious were just not available. Next

Distros with systemd

I had run out of the systemd-free distros, perhaps I could swallow my pride, and just go for a Linux Distro that would support the hardware, and have the software I wanted.

Debian 11 (aka Bullseye)

I have been running Debian as the main OS on my MacBook for over a year now, and it works reasonably well. Because the MacBook is old the hardware is well supported by Debian.

Unfortunately, the XPS 13 is too new, and like MX Linux, Debian did not recognize either the built in Wifi or my Ethernet dongle. No internet. Next

Linux Mint 21

I have heard alot about Linux Mint over the years, but never thought to give it a try, since whatever distro I was running was working well enough. But I was getting desperate.

To my surprise, Linux Mint 21, not only installed easily on the XPS 13, but it had too hardware support, including the Wifi and Ethernet dongle. Sure, it had those funky systemd interfaces name like wl0p52s34hike! but as I discovered there is a way around that, and restore your interface to sane names like wlan0.

I ran Linux Mint through the paces, and found it only lacking hardware support of the:

Turns out there is a solution for each. Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, which has had a Hardware Driver app for years, which pulls in non-open-source software. This provides support for hardware which is not currently supported by open source. This was the solution for the webcam which has an IPU6 (Image Processor Unit version 6).

Webcam fix

The webcam fix comes in 2 parts. First download the oem-sommerville-psyduck blob deb package, and install with:

apt install ./oem-somerville-psyduck-meta_20.04~ubuntu1~202111110603git857f13a~ubuntu20.04.1_all.deb 

Then run the Driver Manager, the webcam driver 'libcamhal-ipu6ep0', restart, and the webcam now works!

Finger Print Reader fix

The Finger Print Reader is supported by open source. There is a good blog entry on how to set it up. Basically it is:

sudo apt-get install  libpam-fprintd
fprintd-verify      # test finger
sudo pam-auth-update

Now the finger print reader can be used in leiu of a password (sure, this isn't the best security, but it is convenient, and you can always delete your finger print with the fprintd-delete command).

Running Linux on the XPS 13

Once you find a distro you like, and that supports the hardware, it is easy to run Linux on the XPS 13. I ran it for about a week, evaluating what Linux Mint included, and what could be done.

And then I reinstalled with full disc encryption, which is part of the installer (you have to enable it when selecting use entire disc or use existing paritions.

Support for IPv6 is as you would expect, and I have been running it on my IPv6-only network at home without any problems.

This is my first device to support Wifi6E (the new 6Ghz band). Although there are a few Wifi6E Routers out there, none are supported by OpenWrt (yet). Once one is, I'll have to play with all those new channels in the 6 Ghz band.

The Dell XPS 13, is a relatively light machine as many modern laptops are these days. It would have been nice to be able to order it without Windows, but installing Linux Mint 21 is easy, and support for the hardware is quite good.

2 September 2022