Hello everyone, I figured I would create this article on my blog to detail my experiences with this laptop. I’ll write about any quirks, what I’ve found that works, doesn’t work, etc. I will update this post every now and then as I discover new things.
- System76’s Ubuntu install works perfectly out of the box, no issues that I’ve seen
- If you want to try a different distribution, you should take an image of System76’s install before doing so. I used Clonezilla to back up the factory install
- If you want to use a different distribution, it must utilize Linux kernel 4.4 or newer, otherwise there are some glitches (such as the 100% CPU bug)
- If you’re using a derivative of Ubuntu, see my notes below on how to install kernel 4.4
This laptop is absolutely amazing. I’m really happy with my purchase. If you want a great out of the box Ubuntu experience, this is definitely it. This laptop is sturdy, light, powerful, and a joy to use. The only thing that took some getting used to for me has been the keyboard, and that’s only because I’m accustomed to Thinkpads, but now that I have been using this laptop for a while, I ended up liking the keyboard quite a bit.
Although I have quite a few notes here regarding quirks and tweaks, nothing is the fault of the actual laptop, it’s just that Linux distributions don’t ship kernels updated for Skylake yet. But, by Spring, most of them will, so by then, everything will work out of the box on most distributions. At the very least, I predict Fedora 24, Ubuntu 16.04, and Linux Mint 18 will be updated with kernel 4.4 or newer this Spring. Arch will probably update to kernel 4.4 within the coming weeks.
Distributions that work/don’t work
This is a new laptop with a brand-new chipset, so many distributions available today don’t work yet since they need newer kernels to properly support Skylake. Here are some that I’ve tried.
- Fedora: Works, but no animations in GNOME
- Manjaro: Works (requires a special boot option)
- Ubuntu MATE 15.10: Works, but has the 100% CPU bug (see below)
- Debian Stable (Jessie): If you value your sanity, do not try this
A note about Manjaro
Current Manjaro install media uses kernel 4.1. Unfortunately, this won’t boot without a boot option being added (i915.preliminary_hw_support=1). If you don’t add this boot option, you’ll get a screen that reads something along the lines of “reached graphical environment” but no graphical environment will load. You will be able to use the shell and enter commands, but X will refuse to load. With the aforementioned boot option, I was able to boot into X with no issue. To do this, highlight the one of the boot options, and press “E” on your keyboard to edit the parameters. Move your cursor all the way to the right with your arrow key, and then add “i915.preliminary_hw_support=1” to the very end with no quotes. Press enter to boot. Thanks to Luke on Google+ for this trick!
However, please note that I didn’t actually install Manjaro, I just booted into live mode via USB. Therefore, I cannot tell you how well it works after installation. Theoretically, I predict the first boot will fail unless you add the “i915.preliminary_hw_support=1” option again before it starts. Then, install the linux44 package to upgrade to kernel 4.4. From that point on, you should be fine. This is just a theory though – I haven’t had a chance to try it. If you have done so on this hardware, please let me know.
A note about Debian Stable
I typically prefer Debian Stable on all my machines, but since Debian Stable ships with kernel 3.16, it doesn’t detect several pieces of hardware, and getting it to work on any Skylake computer is an exercise in futility. This makes sense, considering Debian Stable ships with pretty much everything old and outdated. Therefore, I really don’t recommend even attempting to get Debian Stable running on a Skylake computer. If you manage to do so, let me know what incantations you had to perform to get it to work. At the time of this writing, Debian doesn’t have a backported 4.4 kernel available, and their backported kernel doesn’t have wireless drivers for the iwlwifi module yet. Even though I love Debian, they’re behind everyone else, as always.
90-100% on one CPU core (unless a flash drive is inserted)
This is an odd one. While testing out Ubuntu MATE 15.10, I noticed that one of my cores is always spiking to 90% – 100% at all times. If I insert a flash drive, CPU usage returns to normal. This didn’t happen in the stock Ubuntu install from System76 (at least, not as far as I remember). It appears to be this bug that’s causing it. I’ve found that kernel’s and headers downloaded from here work fine. Note that I also see this problem with kernel 4.3.x, but with that kernel, there is no X display at all (I can see the CPU usage by using SSH to log in to the laptop).
So, to fix this issue in Ubuntu MATE 15.10 (also works in normal Ubuntu), this is what I had to do:
sudo dpkg -i *.deb
The more I use this laptop, the more I’m impressed with it. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to Thinkpads at this point. Now that I’ve installed kernel 4.4 (as I mention below) I have no issues whatsoever. I highly recommend you keep Ubuntu on this machine as System76 shipped it, but if for some reason you need to use something else, let me know and I’ll try to help you. As I write this, I’m currently running Ubuntu MATE 15.10 with kernel 4.4 installed from the Ubuntu mainline kernel PPA. This combination works beautifully. Since everything is working for me with this combination, I’m not really in a hurry to try additional distributions, though I may consider doing so if there is enough interest.
Thanks to Luke on Google+, I was able to successfully boot Manjaro install media. I updated my notes for Manjaro.
I changed the download links to the kernel packages, as I found the drm-next kernel versions don’t work well (constant screen flicker). The normal 4.4 kernel packages work better.
I’ve figured out that the minimum required kernel to get full hardware support on this laptop is kernel 4.4. If you’re thinking about changing the distribution, make sure it includes kernel 4.4 or later, or you may not have a good experience. At the time of this writing, few, if any, distributions ship with this kernel. See below for how to install this kernel on Ubuntu 15.10. For other distributions, most of the Spring 2016 releases should ship with kernel 4.4, so this won’t be an issue for very much longer. Basically, whether or not your Linux distro ships kernel 4.4 or later (or allows you to install kernel 4.4 easily) should be your deciding factor if for some reason you don’t want to use Ubuntu.