Xubuntu 18.04 on Dell XPS 8930

TLDR: XPS 8930 works perfectly with Xubuntu 18.04. Installation only requires one minor tweak.  Like the system but it seems a little cramped.

My primary home system (E5-2660 v0, 24GB RAM, GTX960, SSD boot, NZXT H440 case) has been getting a little long in the tooth.  I haven’t update it in several years other than to add additional drives.   I had been telling myself that processors and things hadn’t really gotten much faster but most of the servers I am using now have NVMe and they are ridiculously faster than before.  So, I started looking around for an upgrade.

I don’t stay on top of the hardware changes as much as I used to.  I couldn’t tell you which brand of motherboard, memory or other component is the best or worst.  I also didn’t want to make the mistake of purchasing something that would give me trouble running on a Linux system.  I knew most of our dell equipment was fully compatible with Ubuntu and their XPS line looked pretty nice.  So, I have been watching the sales and finally made a purchase this past week. I picked up the Dell XPS 8930 for $1420. There was supposed to be some $85 credit for the system that could be used to purchase other items from Dell like keyboard, speakers, and similar accessories.  My credit card company is offering 5% cash back on electronics purchased as well.  So, total cost after all that is around $1269. I ran all the components through PC Part Picket and it looked like it would cost around $1700 to build a similar system so I decided to go for it.

Dell XPS 8930

Intel Core i7-8700 (6-Core, up to 4.6Ghz)
32GB DDR4 2666
Nvidia GTX 1060 6GB
Gigabit NIC, 802.11ac, BT 4.1
2 Year on-site warranty ugrade

I didn’t need the DVD but you can’t remove it from the options.  It also included some useless software like Windows, McAfee, MS Office trial. I believe I could have called and ordered it without that software and pre-installed with Ubuntu.  I would have been reloading it anyway since I use Xubuntu and dislike the new Ubuntu 18.04 desktop even more than the Unity desktop. So, to speed up the deliver I simply chose the standard package with the upgrade to 32GB RAM and 512GB drive.

The system arrived very quickly, shipping from Mexico which surprised me.  I ordered it on Monday and it arrived on Friday.  It was smalled than I imagined, close to what I would call a mid-tower desktop. It is very light and the case feels a little “plasticy” but not flimsy.  I don’t know why but I was expecting the Special Edition model would be real metal – the front might be but the rest isn’t. The box was well padded with the desktop centered using large foam supports so even if FedEx had thrown the box I suspect it would have been fine.

It came with a power cord, keyboard, mouse and a few pieces of paper. Nothing else in the box.

What I do not like about the system:

  • Not enough drive slots. There are 3 slots for drives, one of them is used by the tiny 1TB that was included. There are no 2.5″ mounts, but there is a little room on top of the bottom drive slots to rest an ssd. That is within a few inches of the GTX card though so it may get a little warm.
  • Only 4 SATA ports. Two were in use by the DVD and 1TB drive.
  • Not a lot of room.  It feels like a small form factor PC inside.  I was expecting something a little larger.  There are a couple of open PCIe slots but I don’t know what could fit in them.
  • Airflow is questionable.  I don’t see any air inlets on the front, even though the 1TB drive is mounted immediately behind the front.  I don’t see how that is going to be cooled.  The other two drives are under the exhaust for the GTX 1060, with no fan to direct cooling.
  • None of the USB ports on the back appear to be able to power a Qi charger.  I use a Qi charger on my desk for my phone. I plug it into a 4 year old USB 3 port on my old PC.  It works fine. None of the rear USB ports on the XPS would power it.  Front probably would but I try to avoid a bunch of cables hanging off the front of the system.
  • BIOS had the drives set to RAID by default.  This caused issues with the first attempt at installing Xubuntu.
  • It should have shipped with a wireless keyboard and mouse by default. The rebate they offer isn’t available for 30 days.  It would have been better if it could have been applied at the same time to upgrade the keyboard and mouse.

What I like about the system:

  • It is very fast.
  • It is very quiet.
  • It appears to keep fairly cool.  I leave my computer running 24/7 so I can access it remotely as necessary.  I also tend to leave the A/C on 86 during the day, having it drop to 78 at 6:00PM so the house is cool by the time I get home. Idle temperature on the CPU cores right now is 38C/100F. Not great but not bad either.  I’ll leave a script running tomorrow to see how how it gets while the house is hot.
  • Other than a small issue with installation, it appears to be fully compatible with Xubuntu 18.04


Installation Issue

I had read some reports of people having problems getting Ubuntu distributions installed on systems with M.2/PCIe drives.  Some people had problems with the GTX 10XX cards as well.  Most of those I assumed would be fixed by upgrading the kernel.  I specifically waited for 18.04 to be released and reach a point I considered stable before purchasing a system because of these two issues.

Installation was fairly straightforward.  I booted to a standard USB flash drive with the latest Xubuntu 18.04 ISO.  It did not see the PCIe drive on the first attempt.  I rebooted into the BIOS and noticed the drive was in RAID mode so I switched to AHCI and tried again.  The installation picked up the drive just fine, but when it went to install Grub it reported a problem.

I was going to pull the 1TB drive anyway and replace it with something larger so I decided to try that first.  I pulled the power and SATA cable from the drive and rebooted.  Installation completed normally and the system was able to boot into Xubuntu 18.04 without any problems.

I went to Microcenter and purchased 2 new 8TB drives, some right-angle SATA cables and SATA power splitter. I also picked up a Microsoft wireless keyboard and mouse. Say what you want about their operating system, but their keyboards and mice are dope. After I got back I installed the new drives in the system.  I also pulled the 1TB HDD out, and replaced it with a 4TB I pulled from the old system.  I removed the DVD power and SATA cables and used them for a 1TB SSD I pulled from my old system which I use for virtual machines. I was worried the system wouldn’t boot after installing those but it booted just fine and recognized everything without any issues.

Overall, it was a pretty painless procedure to get Xubuntu up and running.  Everything works – audio, video, network.  I use a Sceptre 4K 50″ TV as my desktop monitor and it had no problem dealing with that.  Only issue is my old system would run at 60Hz over HDMI and the new one only hits 30Hz.  I believe that is related to the Nvidia card as I’ve seen reports regarding this issue.  I’m ordering a DisplayPort to HDMI cable to resolve this issue. I don’t run a lot of games so it really doesn’t make much of a difference to me.