New machine, new challenges

dimanche, 27 décembre 2015

After years using an old eeePC from Asus as my only laptop (and therefore the only computer I can use when I'm not at home), I finally switched to a brand new Dell ultrabook.

It took months to make a clear choice, but a lot of exchanges about laptops with friends oriented me to a Dell XPS 13 computer.

No touchscreen on mine : I wouldn't have used it, no QHD+ either since it's only available on touch-enable machines. The setup is good though : with a i5 6200U processor, 8GiB of RAM and a 256GiB SSD it's a huge step away from the low-perf eeepc.


First step with the machine in hands : install an fresh ArchLinux.

The model I have is the 2016 version of the 13" laptop (9350). As it just went out, there's no official support yet and some components are not working out-of-the-box.

It's the case of the Broadcom wifi chip (sic), fortunately, I had an old Sweex wifi-usb dongle lying around (there's no Ethernet socket on the XPS).

The Arch install went smoothly, as usual: fdisk, mount, pacstrap, chroot and here you go ! The newly named cedar is born !

Be sure to change the SATA-controller settings to AHCI or Off instead of Raid On in the BIOS before trying to boot on USB.

Emancipation from the dongle

After reading the great-as-usual page about the XPS on the Archlinux Wiki, I decided to switch to a linux-mainline kernel (available from the AUR). The kernel compiled in a reasonable time and after adding the right firmware blob for the wifi card everything went well.

About Keyboard lights

A dive into /sys/class tell you that you can control your keyboard backlight through /sys/class/leds/dell::kbd_backlight/brightness. Googling around, and crawling the AUR, I found kbdlight, a C utility able to control keyboard backlight of MacBooks.

All you have to do is forking it, modify the line 5 to /sys/class/leds/dell::kbd_backlight/ and then :

$ sudo make PREFIX=/usr/ install

Fix the permissions on the brightness file and here you go !


On the past few days, I used the XPS a lot (since I had to prepare it for an overbooked first week of January).

My first impressions are excellent : the chiclet keyboard is pretty comfortable and the InfinityEdge display is awesome, really. I enjoy having a powerful 13 inches ultrabook with such a small size.

I may need an adapter to get additional USB & HDMI from the Thunderbolt port since 2 USB are clearly not enough for a day to day use.

I didn't try the camera yet, but it seems that given its position (bottom left of the screen) it'll be noisy and poorly framed... I don't really care : it'll still be sufficient for my scarce webcam usage.

Final setup

As I never detailled my setup, here it is :

This new machine was finally a way for me to tidy a bit my dotfiles repo! Pick what you need !