(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.

Display

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.

Performance

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.

Battery runtime

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.

Stability

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.

NVME disk

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.

WLAN

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).

Touchpad

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.

Conclusion

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.

12 Comments

  1. Nice to know linux is working well on this laptop, i’m planning of getting one myself.
    Also can you share that wallpaper? looks great…

    1. Careful. It does have an extra slot, but it is not connected if you got it with the PCIe drive only. You MUST purchase the connector separately from Dell as a spare part. On Reddit/Dell they have been discussing this for a while.

  2. Thank you for your post.

    Maybe you are able to answer my question. Does new XPS15 have extra slot for SATA drive beside PCIe one?
    I contacted 3 time dell help desk and got 3 different answers.

    Thanks

    Peter

    1. Depends on which model you get. When you get the one with the 84 Wh battery then not, as it uses the space the sata drive normally uses. The 56 Wh has an extra slot.

      1. Careful. It does have an extra slot, but it is not connected if you got it with the PCIe drive only. You MUST purchase the connector separately from Dell as a spare part. On Reddit/Dell they have been discussing this for a while.

  3. How has your experience been with Windows. I’ve only just finished installing Arch and my Windows partition has been behaving strangely. My main concern right now is that when I close the lid when I’m booted to Windows 10, when I open it again, the computer starts up as though it were shutdown, losing all active state. Are you experiencing anything like this?

    Great write up. It was an inspiration for me getting my XPS 15 9550!

  4. Regarding extra sata… If your battery is a maxim um (84Ah) – the slot is blocked by it ((
    So you have to downgrade the battery to have additional drive ((

  5. Thanks for this, it was really useful.

    I was just wondering if you’ve managed to get HDMI output working on an external monitor?

    I’m struggling to figure it out using xrandr – just getting ‘no signal’ on the monitor.

  6. hi, your site’s certificate has expired..

    after unmute master(intel sound card) it did output sound, but when headphone is plugged in, there will be burst/crack sound when switching songs, did you encounter this problem?

  7. Thank you for your post. It helps me to install Arch Linux in my new XPS 15 9550.

    My touchpad with evdev driver did not work. I installed synaptics and it works.

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