2015-05-12

Debian on a Dell XPS13: Part 1 - Installation

The Hardware

When I needed a new developer laptop I decided that portability and a good display were high priorities.  After some research I decided to opt for Dell's 4th generation XPS13 Developer's Edition.  Cramming a 13" screen into a machine barely bigger than a standard 11" laptop was an appealing concept.  The fact that Dell are actively supporting Linux is also very attractive.

Machine duly ordered.  Obligatory wait as the hardware ships from the other side of the world.  The laptop arrived with Ubuntu 14.04.  Time to clean it up and install my preferred Linux distribution.

The Software

My goal was to install Debian 8.0.  I've been a Debian user for many years - probably going back to the late 90's.  It's a solid and reliable distribution which finds a good compromise between features and stability.  As it was just released I chose to try out the latest version - Jessie 8.0.

Initial installation

My first attempt involved the usual process of downloading a small-ish net install image and writing it out to a bootable USB stick.  Mashing the F2 key and selecting the UEFI USB boot option soon brought up the familiar Debian installation screen.  All went well until it was time to bring up the networking...

... oh dear.  Broadcom BCM4352 isn't supported in the stock installer...

No problem.  I completed the base installation without networking then jumped back to my other machine and downloaded the broadcom-sta-dkms package from the Debian repository.  Installing the package yielded another problem...

... oops broadcom-sta-dkms depends on DKMS which depends on a whole pile of GCC build tools...


At this point I realised I was about to head down a dependency chain I couldn't keep up with by simply downloading packages.  Instead I grabbed a copy of the larger Debian DVD disc 1 ISO and copied the file to a USB stick.  Having mounted up the USB stick on the XPS13 I told apt about the new source as follows:

# sudo mount -o loop /media/rightusb/debian-8.0.0-amd64-DVD-1.iso /media/cdrom
# sudo apt-cdrom add --cdrom=/media/cdrom -m


Once this was done a simple 'sudo aptitude update' followed by an 'sudo aptitude install dkms' allowed me to finally install the broadcom-sta-dkms driver.

Post installation network config

As soon as the driver was installed and working it was a simple process to get the wireless network up and running.  I used the info from https://wiki.debian.org/WiFi/HowToUse#wpa_supplicant as a guide to getting my WPA connection configured.

Tidying up

With the network running I edited the system sources.list to my usual config:
deb http://ftp.uk.debian.org/debian jessie main contrib non-free
deb http://ftp.debian.org/debian/ jessie-updates main contrib non-free
deb http://security.debian.org/debian jessie/updates main contrib non-free
deb http://http.debian.net/debian jessie-backports main

A quick round trip to aptitude brought the base installation up to date with the latest security fixes.  I now had a usable (but basic) system.  Part 2 will describe some of the initial tweaks I made to make the system more usable.

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