I wanted to install Ubuntu on my Dell XPS 15 to try out Steam for Linux. This was not the enjoyable experience I had hoped for since a lot of things did not work perfectly out of the box. Below are some steps I had to take to get the system going.
Fixing the graphics
My laptop has NVIDIA optimus technology which automatically switches between Intel’s HD 4000 graphics card and the faster NVIDIA Geforce GFX 640. Apparently, optimus support on Linux is not good.
In Ubuntu, I had no 3D support and the graphics would spontanously turn off after a restart so I was presented with only the terminal. Fortunately, there are some nice people that are maintaining a project called Bumblebee which adds support for optimus in Linux. After installing this, my graphics system has been fairly stable. Just do this:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:bumblebee/stable
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-x-swat/x-updates
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install bumblebee bumblebee-nvidia linux-headers-generic
I also recommend the primusrun package:
sudo apt-get install primus
With the above installed, it is possible to run programs specifically with the NVIDIA card like so:
Fixing the mouse
Yes, the mouse did not work. Well, the touchpad worked but my wireless Logitech M705 mouse did not. The problem, it turned out, was the Logitech Unifying Receiver. It is a small USB thing that is plugged in for a mouse and external keyboard and is used for many Logitech devices. After searching for many hours, somewhere on some forum, I found the following simple command-line trick:
while :; do dmesg|grep logitech-djreceiver|tail -1|grep -q -c "failed with error -32" || exit; echo -n `date`" Driver Reload" ; rmmod hid_logitech_dj ; modprobe hid_logitech_dj ; dmesg|grep logitech-djreceiver|tail -1 ; sleep 1; done
You can also find it as a github gist here.
The script simply tries to reload the receiver with modprobe and it works. Sometimes after one loop, sometimes after ten. And it is a pain in the ass to run it at every startup.
Getting Steam to work
The real reason I wanted to try Ubuntu again was the recently released Steam for Linux client. After installing Bumblebee, Steam actually installed and ran quite well. However, it is worth taking a look at this guide for running programs with optirun/primusrun.
In the above, I left out the fact that before finding the solutions, I had to reinstall Ubuntu three times because of playing around with graphics drivers that broke the system until finally figuring out about the Bumblebee project. This is definitely something most users would not want to mess around with. Not only that but my mouse is still not working after a restart and sometimes I am still greated with the terminal login instead of a graphics login. It is quite random, actually.
I should also note that I have had similar experiences with Ubuntu in the past. I love Linux but it just does not work like Windows or Mac. As soon as you are faced with a weird hardware problem, good luck fixing that without the command-line!
Therefore, I have to recommend not installing Ubuntu at the current time — at least if you have dual graphics card with optimus technology or you are not willing to spend hours trying to fix things. It is a big shame because the Linux platform and Ubuntu in particular shows great promise. But it is not for everyone. It is not ready for primetime.