Install Arch Linux on DELL XPS 15 9550 (Skylake 2016)

Installing Arch Linux on the new DELL XPS 15 9550 can be quite troublesome, here are some tips for the installation. This tutorial covers the UHD / 4k screen model with the Intel Core i7 6700HQ and the Samsung NVME SSD. If you have another model you have to adjust your hard disk path (probably /dev/sda instead of /dev/nvme0n1).

Bios

Enter the Bios by pressing F2 at the system startup and adjust the following things:

– Disable secure boot
– Set SATA mode to to AHCI (in Raid mode by default)

Save the settings and reboot

Installation

Use the normal dual iso from the arch website and dd it to an USB stick. (You can use any disk imager tool for this too). See this Arch Wiki entry for more details on that.

During startup press F12 to access the one time boot menu, select your USB-Stick there (UEFI!). The arch boot manager should show up. In order to prevent loading of the nouveau and i915 driver (both are not working with the 4.2 kernel), you need to add nomodeset as kernel parameter. (Just hit e to edit the entry and add it at the end of the line).

After this follow the normal arch installation / beginners tutorial until you come to Partitioning.

Partitioning

Please notice that NVME devices are not available as /dev/sdX, but as /dev/nvme (/dev/sda is probably your USB stick). Use lsblkto get an overview. If you want, you can keep your windows installation, but you need to resize the windows data partition (the big one) in order to get free space for Arch. Use ntfs-resize for that and cgdisk to recreate it with the new size.

I used the existing EFI system partition as /boot, if you deleted all partitions or want to start over (without Windows), you need to create it manually.

The final partition layout (depending on your setup):

/dev/nvme0n1p2    ext4    /
/dev/nvme0n1p1    vfat     /boot

Follow the Arch installation tutorial further (mount disks to /mnt and /mnt/boot, arch-chroot etc.)

Kernel

The current arch Kernel (4.3) does not work with the integrated Intel Skylake GPU (blank screen) of the Dell XPS 15.

As 4.4 has not been released yet (RC7 at the time writing), i needed to built the 4.4 Kernel myself. You could probably also use linux-git from the AUR repository

pacman -S xmlto docbook-xsl kmod inetutils bc git
cd /usr/src
wget https://cdn.kernel.org/pub/linux/kernel/v4.x/linux-4.3.3.tar.xz
tar -xvJf linux-4.3.3.tar.xz
make mrproper
zcat /proc/config.gz > .config
make oldconfig
make
make modules_install

Copy the kernel to the /boot directory:

cp arch/x86_64/boot/bzImage /boot/vmlinuz-linux
mkinitcpio -k 4.4.0-rc7-ARCH -c /etc/mkinitcpio.conf -g /boot/initramfs-linux.img

Boot loader

I use bootctl (part of systemd) as boot manager. As grub did not work out very well.

# bootctl --path=/boot install

Next create a boot entry in /boot/loader/entries/arch.conf

title        Arch
linux       /vmlinuz-linux
initrd      /initramfs-linux.img
options  root=/dev/nvme0n1p2 rw intel_idle.max_cstate=1

Modify the /boot/loader/loader.conf to use this configuration:

timeout 10
default arch

See systemd-boot entry for information.

Now just follow the rest of the beginners guide.

Going to write an separate article on how Arch performs on the Dell XPS 15 in the couple of days. Have fun testing!

11 Comments

  1. Hey man, great tips. I own the 9550 since early december, and had tons of problems with installing arch or any linux distro for that matter… But I had it kinda running before new year’s. Had a lot of issues with the 4.3 kernel, currently installing the 4.4 kernel. Please look over your installation guide for the kernel again, it is not very in-line with the arch wiki guide.

    Some more notes from my experience:
    nvidia graphics work fine /w the proprietary driver and bumblebee. 4.4 kernel is absolutely required for this machine, as every other kernel I’ve tried was unstable as hell, for example the current 4.3 version from arch/core repo was only booting on EXACTLY every 3rd boot (who the heck knows why??). Also I can recommend refind as a very well-working boot manager here.

  2. Did you have any trouble with the touchpad? I installed Gentoo actually. However, I was wondering whether the problems are similar. Additionally, I still didn’t resolve how to get nvidia-drivers going?! Was it any trouble for you?

    Thank you in advance for your answer.

    1. No, touchpad is working great with evdev out of the box. Proprietary nvidia driver with bumblebee // bbswitch from the github repo and primusrun also works. Never managed to get nouveau working though.

  3. Thanks for the great tips!

    I first tried with grub and no succes. For grub I had to create a /boot/efi to mount the EFI system.

    Thereafter I found your porst and tried it with the bootctl . But if I mount the efi partition to /boot the mkinitcpio so I used

    bootctl –path=/boot/efi install

    If I reboot then I can only boot into:
    – Windows boot manager
    – EFI Default Loader
    – Reboot Into Frimware Interface

    If I then click on EFI Default Loader:
    – Windows boot manager
    – Reboot Into Frimware Interface

    Any idea what I missed and how I can add arch as an option?

    Thanks!

  4. Can you specify which nvidia drivers you installed? I’ve tried nvidia-beta, installed mesa..xorg starts and when I try to install gnome it just crashes and the only option I have is to logout. I log out, then it reboots and tries to start gnome again only to go to the same screen.

  5. Mate, your blog posts made me try to install arch on my 9550, everything is working, but i’m new to bumblebee, and dual graphic card stuff, i’ve manage to install everything thats needed, but I wanted to ask, is there any way to ‘wake’ the nvidia gpu automatically?

    thanks for your posts!!!

    BTW would you mind sharing your /etc/bumblebee/bumblebee.conf

    and also let me know when you set your synaptics to try them too!

    greetings from argentina!

  6. Thanks! I’ve been thinking of buying this machine, it seems like a really good deal. It’d be great to have a full-on review too. Like: weight, screen readability in sunlight, screen reflections, keyboard layout, etc. I know there are reviews out there, but they aren’t too reliable. Probably only using the mouse and windows 10. Linux power users typically use laptops in a very different way. Thanks in advance!

  7. Hi great tips !

    Did you have got any trouble maintaining the existing Windows 10 partition ? ’cause changing the Sata mode to AHCI, after I’m unable to boot in windows facing “inaccessible boot device” message. Of course in this way booting in Arch, disk device is available… otherwise not.

  8. Pingback: Best Linux Laptop: What are the top options 2016 - Pick Notebook

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