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Booting Ubuntu 16.04 off the USB Type C port on a Dell XPS 13 9350


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#1 DeimosChaos

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Posted 27 August 2016 - 10:27 PM

Since this isn't necessarily a tutorial, at least not in the conventional way, I am sticking this here in the general section of Bleeping Computer's Linux forum (and not naming it "how to"). This is more of a cronical of how I got dual booting off a external SSD on the type C port to work.... 

 

This journey started off with me wanting to dual boot my Dell XPS 13 (9350), but since I only had a 256GB internal SSD I didn’t want to break it up into separate partitions and lose space (especially since Windows is a storage hog). The great thing about the new XPS 13 is that it has the USB type C port on it (or thunderbolt 3). Its way faster than the USB 3.0 and can do a multiude of different things, you can get a dock from Dell that runs off the port and has everything a conventional dock might have. 

 

I had started off wanting to dual boot with Kali Linux (no I am not going to give you hacker wannabe script kiddies help with Kali – not that I know a ton either) but quickly discovered that Kali does not like this XPS 13. I had wanted a nice portable Kali install since I am actually in the security industry and have a need to learn more about doing penetration testing, but alas it wasn’t meant to be. So back to my typical Linux install, Ubuntu (in this case the new 16.04). 

 

So to cut the story short a bit and not to drag it out, I had messed around with how to boot off this external SSD I had gotten, but wasn't having a ton of luck (most of it due to Kali not liking the XPS and also not recognizing the type C port). There isn't a ton out there on booting off the type C and the XPS so I kind of had to muck around. One thing I knew, was that secure boot needed to be turned off. Luckily Dell kept their standard bios, even on the newer PCs. All you have to do is make sure fast boot is turned off (W10 or W8/8.1) and hit "F2" while the PC is starting. The option to turn off secure boot is in there. 

 

Once that was done I booted to Ubuntu from a flash drive (also had to enable legacy ROMS in the bios to do this) and was able to successfully install it to the external SSD. As a note, when installing to an external make sure you isntall the boot loader onto the same drive, that way you don't screw around with your main Windows (or whatever you are running) install. Now just to try and get this thing booted.... 

 

Restarted and went into the boot selector (hit F12 on bootup), well shoot, there is no Ubuntu listed even though I know I installed it. Long story short, and some more poking around in the BIOS (and a couple hints from off the internet) I discovered that there is an option to let you boot off the type C port, "Enable Thunderbolt boot support". Once that is checked you are good to go and can boot off the USB type C port! 

 

So what is the TL;DR of this you might ask (and TL;DR is 'too long; didn't read' for non reddit users)? Quite simply this: 

 

Step 1: Disable fast boot 

Step 2: Disable Secure boot 

Step 3: Enable Legacy option ROMS (so you can boot off the USB) 

Step 4: Enable Thunderbolt boot support 

 

So after that ridiculous wall of text, that only half of you read, that is how you boot off an external SSD on the new type C port. 

 

Oh, and for the few minutes I have ran Ubuntu off it, there is literally no performance loss that I could tell. Most than likely due to running off an SSD and the new Thunderbolt port being ridiculously fast. 


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#2 technonymous

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Posted 28 August 2016 - 01:07 AM

Sounds good. Not sure what problems you had with Kali but you shouldn't have to much fuss. Here's a wiki on that laptop. https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Dell_XPS_13_(2015) From what I gather in that article updating the bios is the key element in most cases.



#3 cat1092

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Posted 28 August 2016 - 05:34 AM

DC, I'm enthused by your project, Linux users benefitting from Thunderbolt technology, on the other hand, am not in the least surprised. :)

 

Because Linux has had features that Windows has lacked for years, stashed into the kernel. One example was in the case of my new build, had never heard of NVMe SSD's, probably only available to select industries then, at a steep price, yet the support has been there since Ubuntu 12.04/Linux Mint 13 LTS (2012), beginning with the 3.3 kernel. 

 

Am thinking of grabbing another MB that supports Thunderbird (ASUS has their own card) & running Linux Mint 18 externally, after all, why have something & not use it. In my present case, this isn't possible, though with a certain ASRock Z97 MB, it is, and the ASUS Thunderbolt card will install on it. Just need to look over the case that my current AMD ASRock build is in & see how tight of a fit things will be, and if any drive cage mods are needed, can get by with a single HDD, and use small 2.5" SSD's that can be secured with Velcro tape wherever convenient. 

 

Even the Thunderbolt powered SSD can be secured in this manner, one doesn't have to pay for pricey enclosures, just the right cable to connect a 2.5" SSD, if one wants (or needs) to hold down costs and/or space. :thumbup2:

 

The cool thing about ASUS Z97 MB's is that option 3 is native by default, this is not the norm for a UEFI install. 

 

 

 

Step 3: Enable Legacy option ROMS (so you can boot off the USB) 

 

The first two steps, I made as soon as the PC was setup, Secure Boot is one item that I despise, as does Linus Torvalds himself. When it was introduced with Windows 8 powered computers in late 2012, he went ballistic, and did everything within his power to discourage Linux distro maintainers not to accept the standard. After all, we've been fine w/out it for years, why do we now need the technology? Prevented me from reducing my page file from close to 6,000MiB to 800MiB, the minimum amount that doesn't give a warning, after the required reboot, and that was the only change made, here i was facing a violation of Secure Boot, only it was termed in another word. 

 

And despite all of the articles that supports the technology, I doubt that the first author of these tried installing a GPU that required a reflash of the BIOS to make it 'UEFI approved', as I did with my MSI brand of the AMD Radeon 7770 OC edition, shown in the 2nd Speccy snapshot. End users shouldn't have to be faced with this task, yet many have been & still are. 

 

As far as Fast Boot goes, there's two versions, one within the Power settings of Windows that should be disabled, this literally kills notebook batteries because the only times the system reboots is after a driver install, or after Windows Update gets through. Especially on notebooks, even hours after thought to be shutdown, one can slide their finger across the bezel where the power switch is, and can feel that it's still quite warm. This should be disabled, along with Hibernation, because Sleep will perform the same function, just recently by mistake, left Linux Mint 18 suspended for close to three days & only when my kitty was playing around the keyboard & bumped it, did I realize it was asleep. Yet it was fine, with just over a 1GiB Swap partition, and the open browser pages were still there waiting for me. :)

 

Only HDD users benefits from this version of Fast Boot. 

 

There's often a 2nd Fast Boot in the UEFI firmware settings that can be disabled to improve boot speeds, this one saves huge time if running a SSD, not so much if a HDD, though any saving of boot time can't be discounted. Some OEM computers has this setting, while others doesn't, even with the old school BIOS. Most all aftermarket MB's has this setting, and I always choose Fast Boot in the UEFI firmware or BIOS. :thumbup2:

 

Step 4, have yet to try, because at the present time, don't have a Thunderbolt card, though I see one coming in the not too distant future. :)

 

External SSD's are becoming popular, and the sizes are becoming larger to meet the need for many. How TRIM is implemented, I don't know, yet these portable drives are an option, often ran on promo on the Newegg site, and Amazon also carries these, usually Samsung models, though I'm sure there's others. One may also be able to build their own from a USB 3.1 enclosure (to have the Thunderbolt speed) & SSD of their choosing, as long as the enclosures are available. What I'm unsure of, if these are as fast as the Thunderbolt standard itself, which has became faster in recent years with newer revisions.

 

Everything hardware wise is getting faster & faster, yet are not reaching the ceiling of the standard of the port being plugged into. 

 

DC, great job that you've done! :thumbsup:

 

Cat


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#4 DeimosChaos

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Posted 28 August 2016 - 01:11 PM

Sounds good. Not sure what problems you had with Kali but you shouldn't have to much fuss. Here's a wiki on that laptop. https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Dell_XPS_13_(2015) From what I gather in that article updating the bios is the key element in most cases.

 

So, I had two issues with Kali Linux. One was that the trackpad didn't work. Second was that it didn't recognize the thunderbolt port. It may have been because it was running a little to old of a kernel and just needs an update (since Ubuntu 16.04 runs great). I could build it with a newer kernel... but I wasn't going to take the time to do it.

I also do have the bios all the way updated, it was the first thing I did when I got it (which was a month or so ago).

 

@Cat

Yeah seems to be working great with the newest Ubuntu! Literally no performance drop running off an external, which is fantastic! Since its an external SSD its super small and ultra portable so having that, my laptop (and the charger) takes up hardly any space and can be brought anywhere. Also super light.

 

Figured I would write up how I did it since there isn't a whole lot on the web about doing this. Like I had mentioned, I had to search around to really find things and even then I didn't find much (still pretty new to do this type of thing). What is great about booting off the external, you can have multiple drives with all different distros, and its just like booting off the internal drive. Super quick and responsive! Should come in handy that is for sure.


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#5 rufwoof

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Posted 28 August 2016 - 07:30 PM

I find even USB 2.0 can boot very quickly and appear no different to as though booted using HDD, if set up the right way. The only time its noticeably slow is if you save/write back to the USB.

 

Grab a USB, use gparted to wipe all existing partitions, create a single ext3 partition and set the boot flag for that partition.

Use grub4dos to install the bootloader to that USB

Grab a copy of Debian Live CD, whichever version you like beit KDE, gnome, XFCE ... whatever. Open (filemanager or mount) that iso and copy the /live folder from that to the USB so you now have a /live folder on the USB along with menu.lst and gldr (grub4dos files) in the root of that USB.

 

Edit the menu.lst file to contain a entry something like

 

title 0 Debian Jessie Frugal RO
find --set-root /live/filesystem.squashfs
kernel /live/vmlinuz boot=live config persistence persistence-read-only persistence-label=persistence quickreboot noprompt showmounts live-media-path=/live/ config
initrd /live/initrd.img

 

.... and boot that USB (I usually have to repeatedly press F12 after pressing the power on button ... and then select the USB 2.0 DISK entry in the menu to boot that USB .... which loads the grub4dos menu that enables me to select the Debian choice from that menu to boot.

 

If you want to preserve changes made in a otherwise read only session then change (or have another entry) similar to the above but without the persistence-read-only parameter.  That will need another partition that has a LABEL of 'persistence' (or another name if you change the boot parameter persistence-label= to whatever label you choose). That can even be the USB if you allocate that USB a label of 'persistence' - but that is slow to write do and writing often to the USB will shorten its life. The only condition to get saving working correctly is that in the root folder/directory of the persistence label partition you must create a file called persistence.conf that contains

 

/ union

 

i.e. slash and a space and then the word union. There must also be a newline after that line (press enter after typing / union before saving the file).

 

One one of my PC's USB can be slow, 30 seconds or so 'thinking' time. On another PC it starts booting up immediately. All depends upon the PC and USB.

 

BTW I'd recommend a USB of at least 8GB for the above. You can get away with perhaps as small as 2GB though as I've done that on a small micro SD card (thoughts at the time was one of those USB stick PC's that plug into the HDMI port on a TV and where the micro SDD card plugged into that USB stick and that contained the Debian image/boot loader).

 

There's an additional 'trick' that you can use with the first RO boot choice above ... as that stores all changes in memory and those changes are lost at reboot/shutdown, then you can write those memory based changes to disk using a script. So during a RO session where otherwise no changes would be stored, you can run that script and all changes up to that point during the session are preserved to disk. Its a very similar script to snapmergepuppy that's in puppy linux, but with a few modifications/changes. (see the flush2disk script here http://murga-linux.com/puppy/viewtopic.php?p=917473#917473 )

 

A key element of helping to speed things up is to use lzo compression of the /live/filesystem.squashfs as lzo is very fast to decompress and typically halves the size of a otherwise non compressed filesystem. Half as much disk IO (half the filesize) combined with fast decompression (lzo) using perhaps 4 cores tends to be quicker than reading the full uncompressed size via IO (disk). Its even better if you use lz4 (de)compression as that's incredibly quick, something like 400MB/sec per core, so with 4 cores doing that and you're getting up to decompression at faster than some ram speeds. Not many kernels support lz4 however, only the more recent ones and only then if it was compiled into the kernel. lzo by contrast is more common.

 

To rebuild a squashed filesystem using lzo you have to first extract it

 

unsquashfs filesystem.squashfs

 

and then rebuild/compress the new version

 

mv filesystem.squash filesystem.squashfs.original

mksquashfs squashfs-root filesystem.squashfs -comp lzo

 

and remove the extracted squashfs-root directory afterwards

rm -rf squashfs-root

 

That does need squashfs-tools (mksquashfs and unsquashfs ....etc) to be installed (often already available anyway, but not always). In Debian that's in the repository

 

apt-get install squashfs-tools

 

 

Generally ... seems to me and the type C port would perhaps be better suited to being a save partition (maybe a empty ext3 format with a partition label of persistence and a single file called persistence.conf in that ... that contained / union) and just boot off a normal USB (or even frugal installed to HDD). That way you could run continual writes (persistence boot parameter) as and when changes occurred, rather than deferred writes (persistence persistence-read-only boot parameters) combined with a periodic/single save to disk via a script (as and when run .. such as flash2disk (or snapmergepuppy combined with pup mode 13 boot)).


Edited by rufwoof, 28 August 2016 - 07:33 PM.

OpenBSD (-current)


#6 DeimosChaos

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Posted 28 August 2016 - 10:57 PM

 

Generally ... seems to me and the type C port would perhaps be better suited to being a save partition (maybe a empty ext3 format with a partition label of persistence and a single file called persistence.conf in that ... that contained / union) and just boot off a normal USB (or even frugal installed to HDD). That way you could run continual writes (persistence boot parameter) as and when changes occurred, rather than deferred writes (persistence persistence-read-only boot parameters) combined with a periodic/single save to disk via a script (as and when run .. such as flash2disk (or snapmergepuppy combined with pup mode 13 boot)).

 

Thanks for the input rufwoof... though I think you are missing my point. Sure if I wanted to boot off USB I could, and I did to install Ubuntu to the external type C SSD, which was pretty quick to boot. But why would I do that? I wanted a full fledged OS install contained all in one device. If I wanted to boot off USB I could... and probably would use puppy since it boots to RAM. But frankly that was just not the point of this entire write up, nor was it what I was trying to accomplish. I wanted (and needed) a full OS on the external which out having to muck around much, which was accomplished. Plus the type C port is virtually as fast as the internal M.2 SSD, so not much point to sticking with old, and quickly getting outdated, USB.

 

I don't completely get why you would think the external is suited best as just a save drive... when its more or less the same as having an internal one, but maybe I am missing something? Might as well just put the whole OS on there. There really aren't any draw backs to it that I can tell.

 

Anyway, I don't mean to bash you or anything, your post looked to have some good info in there in regards to booting with USB (and I'll read it a bit closer later, getting a bit late here and I am needing sleep!).


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#7 NickAu

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Posted 29 August 2016 - 06:44 AM

rufwoof

While your post is interesting, I fail to see how it relates to Booting Ubuntu 16.04 off the USB Type C port on a Dell XPS 13 9350.



#8 cat1092

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Posted 01 September 2016 - 02:55 AM

 

 

 Plus the type C port is virtually as fast as the internal M.2 SSD, so not much point to sticking with old, and quickly getting outdated, USB.

 

Exactly, and this one of the built in features on most all aftermarket new motherboards, as well as some installed by the OEM, the SATA-Express connection that can be used to install a Type C card instead of (can't have both), and even if ran outside of the PC, it's still seen & acts as an internal drive, with blistering speed. :thumbsup:

 

The Dell XPS line is considered to be their flagship one, and after reading the page on Dell's site about the notebook, one can see why the XPS models has carried the torch for over a decade. The early models (around 2004) even had a discrete video card with optical output (S/PDIF) also known as TOSLINK, that carries audio through an infrared cable. Looks to be a cable, yet no copper wire inside. Though this is no longer standard equipment, probably due to cost, it still goes to show that when it comes to OEM computers, be it a desktop PC or notebook, Dell's XPS lineup is a great one. 

 

The tradition carries on with the Dell XPS 13 9350, even if the dock is an optional add-on to the purchase, or the customer later decides the USB Type C port becomes wanted. 

 

This adds to the reasons why I felt that OEM's should never had went away from docking stations being stock equipment in the box (or offered) for all notebooks. Because all of my earlier Dell Latitudes had one, as well as my now seldom used IBM T42 Thinkpad that with it's included docking station, adds plenty of extra connections, to include a DVI (digital) graphics port, even with a 32MB GPU chipset. With a docking station, the possibilities are endless, especially today, as OEM's has had to reduce the number of ports, as well as optical drives, to keep notebooks (now ultrabooks) as light & slim as possible, yet just as fast as a desktop speed wise. Many features either a SATA-3 (6Gbps) or higher rated (10Gbps) M.2 SSD, and my guess that since DC's computer has the option for Type C, the M.2 SSD is of the 10Gbps type. Actually says 'up to' 40Gbps with a Thunderbolt connection, 2nd link, though this may be a different type of accessory than what DC purchased. :)

 

https://www.microsoftstore.com/store/msusa/en_US/pdp/Dell-XPS-13-9350-Signature-Edition-Laptop/productID.326871500

 

http://www.dell.com/us/business/p/xps-13-9350-laptop/pd

 

However, there's one part about Windows that isn't new, began with Windows 8 in 2012 & has improved with time. :thumbup2:

 

 

 

This journey started off with me wanting to dual boot my Dell XPS 13 (9350), but since I only had a 256GB internal SSD I didn’t want to break it up into separate partitions and lose space (especially since Windows is a storage hog)

 

Windows is no longer the 'storage hog' that is once was. In fact, if one has a 64GiB M.2 or mSATA cache drive installed, that's plenty of room for a W8.1 or 10 'C' partition. Not a single one of my W8.1 or 10 installs has reached the 40GiB mark for the long term (though will temporarily after an upgrade from Windows 7), primarily because I keep downloads on a data drive, or large USB card, if on a notebook, and be sure to delete the browser cache prior to every shutdown with CCleaner, as well as run Disk Cleanup using the 'Clean up System files' option after a new install & after every Windows Update run. Plus I don't install what's not needed & turn off any Store apps that's unused (even email) because I prefer browser access. 

 

Most of my W10 installs are barely breaking the 20GiB mark, especially after deleting the 'Windows.old' folder (if an upgrade). Once activated & imaged, I'll often clean install after a secure erase of the SSD, and this sheds a lot of unwanted weight. As can be seen here, am only using 12% of my available 'C' drive, while I use Data for storage. Amazing, considering for the time being, because am not quite through with my build, have System Restore enabled & that's set as 5% max. I don't want to disable & delete these restore points to prove I can drop below 10% usage at this time. When I'm finished, will drop to 2% & leave it, that'll allow me to get out of a fast jam. :)

 

UxbvAHJ.png

 

I only mention this because DC did in his OP, the last three versions of Windows (actually two, because 8.1 is W8 SP1) is not like W7 & older OS's by a longshot, does a much better job of cleaning behind itself, and if not desired, a 120-128GiB SSD is plenty of space for a 'C' partition, unless one craves speed, as I do, and for this, one needs a 256 to 512GiB SSD. I see that DC also has the 256GiB version over the standard 128GiB option, this is where the real speed is, anything 250GiB & above. 120-128GiB, though also fast, is limited as far as overall speed goes (benchmarks proves it), and this size of drive will also wear faster, as the total surface of it is written to more often than larger options.

 

DC, have fun with your new toy! :thumbsup:

 

Cat


Edited by cat1092, 01 September 2016 - 03:01 AM.

Performing full disc images weekly and keeping important data off of the 'C' drive as generated can be the best defence against Malware/Ransomware attacks, as well as a wide range of other issues. 


#9 DeimosChaos

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Posted 01 September 2016 - 08:17 AM

Had some hiccups recently. Went to boot it the other day and was a no go. Just kept sitting on the "Ubuntu" loading screen with the four little dots. Then it went to the black terminal screen and said to hit "Ctl-alt-d" though that didn't help. So I re-installed... and had some other issues installing it (I think that was due to booting the usb stick in uefi mode) so did it again this time under regular bios mode. Got it installed... but couldn't boot it again, had grub issues this time. Will re-do it again, but this time I'll delete everything, including the boot menu option for it in the bios (which had stayed there regardless).

 

So hopefully I get it working again and don't have any more issues.


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#10 technonymous

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Posted 01 September 2016 - 08:04 PM

Is that laptop a touch screen? The article I posted goes into some things that causes the kernel to crash at boot. They also got a link there to a forum discussing it.

 

 

This issue seems to only affect those with touchscreens. The fix consists in removing "keyboard" from the HOOKS in /etc/mkinitcpio.conf and instead using MODULES="atkbd.ko usbhid hid-generic" (if you need the keyboard hook). You will have to run mkinitcpio -p linux as root afterwards.



#11 DeimosChaos

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Posted 01 September 2016 - 08:18 PM

Yup it does. I'll take a look. Thanks technonymous.


Edited by DeimosChaos, 01 September 2016 - 08:23 PM.

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#12 cat1092

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Posted 02 September 2016 - 12:53 AM

technonymous, great find there! :thumbup2:

 

Hopefully it's the answer to DC's Ubuntu booting issue. :)

 

A few of your solutions has been used on Linux Mint installs with success for mine & mainly other's computers, while I didn't post for assistance, a Google search led me right to the Topics you posted in. This is the great thing about Google, and could care less about any privacy issues on their end, as long as they don't leak my personal info (and they won't unless one publicly posts it), one can search for a solution, and can find what's needed fast. I've tried other search engines with less success, Bing is probably 2nd to Google, because many uses it through IE & now Edge, while still maturing, is getting better. 

 

When one's working in someone else's home, there's no time for forum posting, the answer is needed on the spot, and on occasion have had to carry the computer home with me. Unfortunately, am unable to do in home assistance now, except for a few very select relatives & friends. 

 

At any rate, just wanted to acknowledge the assistance you provide to our community. :)

 

Cat


Performing full disc images weekly and keeping important data off of the 'C' drive as generated can be the best defence against Malware/Ransomware attacks, as well as a wide range of other issues. 


#13 DeimosChaos

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Posted 02 September 2016 - 08:31 AM

While that is a lot of good info in the Arch linux forum/install guide, I don't think its going to apply much to my Ubuntu install. One is that Ubuntu 16.04 is already installed on the Dell 9350 XPS version with the developer edition. So I know it works. Its just issues with getting grub installed right on an external drive. I think I might have found some things that will help though. So I'll be giving them a try tonight probably. I'll update later and let you all know if I got it working.

 

One interesting thing is that when I first installed Ubuntu to the external, was that the grub info was automatically installed to the EFI partition of my windows disk. I went in and even deleted that efi/ubuntu folder out of the windows EFI but have not been able to get Ubuntu to automatically install it again... ah well. I'll try the one method I found and hopefully it works.


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Custom Desktop PC / Lenovo Y580 / Sager NP8258 / Dell XPS 13 (9350)
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Bachelor of Science in Computing Security from Drexel University
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#14 pcpunk

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Posted 02 September 2016 - 10:45 AM

This appears to be an unusual fix DC but it's worth a try, I see many people with similar issues:

http://en.community.dell.com/support-forums/laptop/f/3518/t/19983555


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#15 DeimosChaos

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Posted 02 September 2016 - 11:20 AM

Thanks pcpunk.

 

Though I don't have any issue with it being unstable/unusable.


OS - Ubuntu 14.04/16.04 & Windows 10
Custom Desktop PC / Lenovo Y580 / Sager NP8258 / Dell XPS 13 (9350)
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Bachelor of Science in Computing Security from Drexel University
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