Loading the Dell XPS 13 with Ubuntu

What follows is a step-by-step look at installing Ubuntu on a new Dell laptop. If that’s not your bag, check out some other posts listed on my About page. 

I purchased the base model XPS 13 from the Dell website and paid the $25.00 for next business day shipping. It was worth it. I ordered the laptop on the 4th of July, an American holiday and it arrived at my door on the 6th. Fantastic.

In the day and a half prior to its arrival, I downloaded the 64 bit version of Ubuntu 12.04 LTS and used the Pen Drive Linux’s Windows USB creator program as suggested by this page on the Ubuntu website. This information was simple to follow and resulted in a USB stick that was ready to install Linux.

When I unboxed the laptop, it was fully charged. As a precaution, I plugged it into the wall charger for the duration of the install. I then plugged in the USB stick to the Left side USB 2.0 socket. This little tidbit was gleaned from a forum on the Ubuntu site. Don’t use the right hand side’s USB 3.0 for booting.

I then turned on the laptop, and pressed down on F2. This brought up the firmware boot loader. I changed it to boot from the USB stick. Otherwise, it would have booted into Windows. It worked flawlessly on reboot. The Ubuntu installer came up and I started the installation. It was fast, both due to the speedy processor and it being 64 bit. Part of the installation was to set the WiFi connection. Easy and it worked perfectly. Before rebooting into Ubuntu, be sure to change the boot loader back to boot from the Hard Drive.

After I rebooted, I started the updates and waited for several hundred packages to download and install. This also went flawlessly and was super fast. The final step was to install the special XPS fixes that Ubuntu and Dell developed as part of their Sputnik project. This also was super easy and went flawlessly. After the reboot, the computer was working perfectly including the track pad. (LINK UPDATED: 13 SEP 2012) Here is the forum post that tells you how to use the PPA’s from Kamal Mustafa Canonical that let the track pad work. The install went off without a hitch and I never had to see Windows. ;-)

I’ll have more to say about the laptop itself and how well it works with Ubuntu in future posts. My initial impression is pretty positive. I like how small it is and I love how fast Ubuntu is on the machine.

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36 Comments

  • Reply
    Richard
    February 13, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    Thank you for this post. This gave me the courage to finally replace Windows 8.1 on my Dell XPS 13. This was super easy. Following these instructions, I used the Pendrive Universal USB Installer to create the bootable USB stick. I used Ubuntu 14.04 LTS (64 bit). I turned on my XPS, hit F2 to change the boot priority so it would boot from the USB stick. I followed the install instructions and everything went very smoothly. I didn’t need to do anything else really. I have not installed any ‘special sputnik updates’ for the track pad etc. I have a feeling that Ubuntu has all those issues addressed in the more recent releases. The AutoUpdater did ask me if I wanted to install Ubuntu updates which I did.

    The only problem I did experience was that Firefox crashed on me 2 or 3 times before I could get it to work. Now it seems to be working fine.

    So, I am feeling pretty good so far (touch wood) – 10 minutes in to my switch from Windows to Ubuntu :-)

    Thanks again. Remarkably easy.

    Richard

    • Reply
      KenMcConnell
      February 19, 2015 at 11:00 am

      Cool, happy to hear it! Welcome to Ubuntu! ;-)

  • Reply
    Mike
    August 25, 2014 at 11:14 am

    Found this post very useful – thank you. Just got a new XPS 13 and wanted to install Ubuntu on it. This worked flawlessly.

  • Reply
    bbq4tw
    January 29, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    Can you please explain how you were able to boot off a USB key in BIOS legacy mode? I’ve tried every way I can think of and all I get is “operation system not found”. I can boot fine off the same USB key while UEFI is enabled (in windows 8 by holding down shift, clicking restart and choosing usb device). I just don’t know if it’s safe to install while UEFI is enabled in the BIOS.

  • Reply
    EvZ
    December 7, 2013 at 3:17 am

    Hi,

    Yesterday I installed Ubuntu 12.04 64 bit on my Dell XPS 13, the installation it self was very fast and the latest updates already included the brightness & track pad fixes. The problems begun later, battery indicator didn’t worked properly, had to restart my laptop at least 2 times last 24 hours because everything was stuck, Skype crashed on every call and so on…I would suggest to think twice before moving to ubuntu, it’s not that stable, many things are not available on ubuntu (like google drive) and if you are not a power user you have nothing to do with it.

  • Reply
    Alex
    July 18, 2013 at 4:52 am

    Hi, I just installed Linux Mint 14 on my new Dell XPS 13 (128 GB SSD, 4 gb RAM)) alongside Windows 7. It works amazingly well and Im very happy with this ultrabook. Im thinking of completely removing Windows from it as I use only Linux. I have a question: Im not sure if I can completely wipe of hard disk or is it better to leave partition “Dell Utility” on dev/sda1 fat16 wich takes only 39 MiB? I dont really know what this partition is for… is it important for the system?
    Thank you!

    • Reply
      admin
      July 18, 2013 at 6:07 am

      That’s either the Windows boot partition or the Windows restore partition. If you get rid of Windows entirely, you don’t need either. If you want to keep Windows around, or think you might revert back to Windows, leave it be.

  • Reply
    nra pistol targets
    May 12, 2013 at 8:56 am

    Hi! This is kind of off topic but I need some advice
    from an established blog. Is it difficult to set
    up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty quick. I’m thinking about creating my own but I’m not sure where to start. Do you have any tips or suggestions? Thanks

    • Reply
      admin
      May 12, 2013 at 10:03 am

      I’d start with the free WordPress site and then after you get familiar with the program and if you decide to pay for it, you can buy your own domain and run your own WordPress.

  • Reply
    admin
    March 6, 2013 at 5:38 am

    Haroldo, make sure you are using the left side USB port. If, however you have one of the latest versions of the 13″ XPS, you might be dealing with the UEFI Bios. I don’t have a solution for that.

  • Reply
    Haroldo
    March 5, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    I have the same problem as Ramón: suddenly I cannot boot from USB anymore on my XPS as it keeps saying “Operation system not found” for valid USB bootable sticks – any help ???

  • Reply
    Glenn
    March 1, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Many thanks for your instructions. I followed them and now I have Ubuntu on my Ultrabook XPS 13. MS Windows gone!

    • Reply
      admin
      March 1, 2013 at 9:39 am

      Sweet! I’m still loving mine.

  • Reply
    Bjoern
    February 20, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    So the only chance was to get rid of windows…but also the touchscreen is working out of the box – thank you

  • Reply
    Bjoern
    February 20, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    Hej I have the 12″ Dell XPS with the Touchscreen I want to install Ubuntu but it didn’t work. Have you changed something in the BIOS related to UEFI? Or did you just install Ubuntu and wiped Windows?

    • Reply
      admin
      February 20, 2013 at 1:25 pm

      Near as I can tell, my 13″ Dell XPS did not have the UEFI BIOS. But yes, I overwrote Windows and just use Ubuntu. I never even booted into Windows.

  • Reply
    Roel
    February 4, 2013 at 10:01 am

    You can install Win8 along side with ubuntu… first is to repartition your HDD.
    Install Windows 8 on the first Partition… Mine was 50GB for Windows 8.
    Ubuntu 12.10 is using another 50GB partion, 8GB for SWAP and the rest as my Linux Data Partion almost 130GB.

    After installing windows… restart and test if boot is ok.

    Restart XPS and place USB installer for Ubuntu… install ubuntu 12.10 and check afterward if GRUB detected Windows boot. If not you have to fix BOOT of windows 8.

    After verifiying that Win8 and Ubuntu is booting properly… add Sputnik PPA then update on the latest kernel of ubuntu… then thats it…

    My only problem in my ubuntu is my 2.0 USB can’t recognize my 1TB HDD (WD)… my wireless mouse (DELL) is pluged on USD 3.0 since its having some problem with USB 2.0 (Left side)… note sure why…

    • Reply
      admin
      February 4, 2013 at 10:06 am

      Thanks for the duel boot instructions Roel! I’m sure plenty of folks want this option.

      I’m not sure why Dell even went with a USB 2.0 port, especially with only two available.

  • Reply
    Priyank
    January 5, 2013 at 11:04 am

    ok..

    will keep virtual machine option in mind..

    But before that, will try installing ubuntu along side pre-installed windows 8 on xps 13 once i buy it, and will share my experiences here..

    tc

  • Reply
    Priyank
    January 5, 2013 at 10:48 am

    thanks for the quick reply..!

    Have you dual booted ubuntu 12.04 with windows 8 in dell xps 13 ? ( caz i found out that there are issues caused due to UEFI, secure boot in windows 8 )

    If yes, then can you please guide me through the process..

    thanks..!

    • Reply
      admin
      January 5, 2013 at 10:54 am

      I don’t, as they say, do Windows. But I understand you need to test with it. Personally, I would use a virtual machine for Windows.

  • Reply
    Priyank
    January 5, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Really useful post…!

    I am planning on buying a dell XPS 13 or XPS 14.. but really confused in choosing one..

    – Will be installing Ubuntu along side windows (dual boot)
    – Main purpose – web & mobile app development

    Which one, out of the 2 laptops has better Ubuntu compatibility and most apt for web development?

    Any help will be appreciated.

    • Reply
      admin
      January 5, 2013 at 10:42 am

      I’d stick to the 13″ simply because that’s the only one Dell actually supports. The repositories are specific to the 13″ due to the requirements of the developer version “Sputnik”.
      I think it will work great for web and app dev. Happy coding!

  • Reply
    steve
    December 29, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    I bought one of these so I can run Ubuntu / Sputnik, the idea being to divorce Apple.

    I used plain vanilla 64 bit 12.04, and the first time I added the ppas I didn’t get the new kernel and drivers, second reboot did it I think.

    Overall, very nice. As soon as I’ve finished a Uni project I’ll be moving over full time. Here’s how it went:

    http://www.hutsby.net/2012/12/divorcing-apple-trying-windows-7-and.html

  • Reply
    Ramón
    December 14, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    I bought this incredible ultrabook with Win 7 pre installed. I changed to Win 8 just to test and it works great. Nevertheless, Win is not my favorite OS, so, I wanted to change to Ubuntu. I followed the instructions step by step, but I’m not able to boot with my usb pendrive. This message appears when I try: “Operation System not found”. I tried on another laptop (Dell Studio 1558) and it boots with no problems. I’ve tried with both usb ports (right and left sides) and nothing changes. Any suggestion?

    Thank you in advance. Regards from Mx.

  • Reply
    Sean
    December 12, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    Just FYI, the instructions are there for adding the PPA to your system, but it does not describe how to actually get the contents of the PPA installed. A PPA by itself is just a list of packages, which doesn’t actually do anything.

  • Reply
    admin
    September 13, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Brandon,

    If you follow the link to Kamal Mustafa’s page in my post, you can click on his link: “Read about installing”, to see how to apply the PPA’s. It involves using the terminal and a bit of typing but its not hard.

  • Reply
    Brandon
    September 13, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Hi,

    Could you possibly put up instructions on how to install via ppas, I do not know if ive done it right as I’ve never used ppas before,

    -Brandon

  • Reply
    Ken McConnell
    September 1, 2012 at 9:00 am

    Ryan – Thanks!

    Mario – I get about 4 hours with average use. Not spectacular. I still carry my power supply with me.

  • Reply
    Mario
    September 1, 2012 at 8:32 am

    Hello Ken,

    Useful post.

    How long can you get to run on batteries using your XPS and Ubuntu? I mean in normal browsing/LibreOffice activities.

    Thank you.

  • Reply
    Ryan Bond
    August 29, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    Thanks for this. I found it rather comforting.

  • Reply
    KenMcConnell
    August 9, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    Glad you like it, Matthew!
    Did you boot from the right side with the USB? The Ubuntu forums recommended not using that port to boot from. After install, it should work fine.

  • Reply
    Matthew Lechleider
    August 9, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Picked up a Dell XPS13 today and installed Ubuntu faster than any other computer. Works great! Thanks for the inspiration to finally spend the money :)

    Question..why did you note say “Don’t use the right hand side’s USB 3.0 for booting.”. USB 3.0 port worked perfectly fine for me.

  • Reply
    KenMcConnell
    August 3, 2012 at 9:19 am

    Val: I started using Linux back in Red Hat 5.2 days. I’ve used Red Hat, Mandrake and Fedora before settling on Ubuntu. It’s been a long time since I used an RPM based distro (ie Red Hat) but back in the day, package management was a nightmare. I switched to a Debian based distribution because you could install and update programs with no dependency issues, direct from the terminal.

    Ubuntu now has the widest audience, although I think an Ubuntu clone, may be gaining on them. I’ve stuck with Ubuntu because it’s easy to use and I don’t need to fiddle with all the millions of options that Linux can provide you with. I just want to write and do my business. Ubuntu lets me do that without drowning me in options. It also looks pretty darn sharp, which never hurts.

    Ty: I’m working on an update post. Stay tuned! In short, I’m loving it!

  • Reply
    Ty
    August 3, 2012 at 12:42 am

    Eager for an update :) How’s the battery life? Any gripes regarding the XPS 13 and how it works with Ubuntu?

  • Reply
    Val
    July 10, 2012 at 8:15 am

    I’ve always wanted to ask you…what made you select the Ubuntu flavor of Linux as your OS of choice? It’s my understanding that there are several different distributions available, so your criteria, or maybe philosophy, behind the choice would be relevant to my interests (grin).

    I also want to know who has been talking smack about Linux; they need to be kicked in the ankle, right on the bone so it really stings for about five or ten minutes. It’s your computer, you get to pick the operating system you want. Period. So there.
    –Val

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