- Author: Yves Hoppe
(Arch) Linux on an Dell XPS 15 9550 (2016 Skylake)
I have been running Arch Linux on my Dell XPS 15 9550 (Intel Skylake i7 6700HQ, 4k UHD display, 512GB NVME) for a couple of days now. This review focuses on how the Notebook performs with Linux. Installation instructions and notes can be found here.
This is a ongoing review and it is going to be updated from time to time with new screenshots, hints and observations.
At the native scaling the 4k UHD display text is far too small. Gnome and KDE automatically scale to 250 DPI, which is mostly working fine (imo better then on Windows). If you are using other window managers, you probably need to set it yourself with:
xrandr --dpi 250
As i am mostly using i3 as window manager, i added the above command to my .xinitrc file. There are still some applications (like Netbeans, Eclipse etc), which ignore the xrandr setting.
The touch screen also works flawlessly out of the box.
Everyday performance on Linux is great so far, even better then on windows in my opinion. On windows i had lags and stutters very often (i thought because of the Intel GPU + 4k UHD Combo). For example Chromium really lagged on Windows (hardware acceleration was turned on) when i just scrolled websites. On Linux this is working far better and it feels a lot snappier. The integrated Intel GPU is really doing an awesome job with the UHD display, in comparison to the Haswell GPU this is a big step.
I am currently not using the integrated Nvidia GTX 960M card (Nouveau driver is not working with 4.3 on this one – have not tried 4.4 yet), so i disabled it using bumblebee. Going to try the proprietary Nvidia driver when i have some time.
With Backlight set to 30% (
xbacklight --set 30) i get around 5-6 hours battery life (84 Wh model). According to powertop the system uses 11-17 W during normal usage. When watching an UHD Youtube video (HTML5 with Chromium) the usage goes up to 30-40W. This is a really impressive runtime for a UHD Linux notebook. With Windows 10 installed i had roughly the same.
Currently running Bios 1.0.7, which should throttle the CPU to 2.6 GHz (without power adapter). On Linux this seems not to the case, i get the full turbo boost speed also in battery mode.
No issues so far. For stability with the integrated Intel Skylake GPU you should add intel_idle.max_cstate=1 to your kernel parameters.
Standby and Hybernation are working well (including suspend to disk) too. Including automatic detection when you fold in and out the lid.
The Dell XPS-15 comes with an M.2 Samsung PM951 NVME hard disk (i got the 512GB variant), except the labeling (
/dev/nvme0n1..) there is not much difference to an S-ATA SSD. As i am using full disk encryption i am not going to publish any benchmarks (The CPU is the limiting factor here – got 99% cpu usage on bonnie++). But it overtakes an normal SSD by far.
Noise / Temprature
During normal usage the coolers are mostly silent. Just jumping in when you put heavy load on the CPU or GPU. CPU temperature stays far below 50° Celsius during normal usage, even with silent coolers.
Going to make some stress tests in the next couple of days, haven’t seen the CPU temperature going above 70° degrees Celsius yet.
The Dell XPS 15 comes with an Broadcom Corporation BCM43602 802.11ac Wireless LAN card, which uses the brcmfmac module.
The card mostly worked out of the box, with some issues on Linux 4.2 and 4.3 Kernel (basically just error output, but without resetting i could only scan once). With 4.4 RC7 the card is running without issues (tested 5 GHz band only).
It is by far the best notebook touchpad (on Linux) i ever had! Even overtaking the one from the MacBook Pro. Still using evdev instead of synaptics, because it is working so well. Going to try synaptics soon.
Sound / Microphone / Webcam
The integrated Intel Sound card also works out of the box, including the microphone. Same goes for the webcam.
After some days of usage i am still really amazed how well the Dell XPS 15 performs. Yes, it requires some hand work to get it running, but it’s totally worth the effort. You could also just wait some time, with for example the next Ubuntu 16.04, showing up in April, it is going to be much easier to set up.