2015-05-12

Debian on a Dell XPS13: Part 2 - Console Tweaks

Screen config

Having jumped through some hoops in part 1 to get a working base system the laptop was now in a good, usable state.  On rebooting however it's clear that the standard linux console is a little strained when faced with a 13" 3200x1800 display.  To say the text is a bit on the small side is an understatement.

Initially I thought that this could be fixed by selecting a lower resolution using KMS (Kernel Mode Setting) parameters.  Grub2, the default Debian bootloader, allows these parameters to be set quite easily in the config file.  I changed /etc/default/grub by adding the following lines:

GRUB_GFXMODE=1024x768
GRUB_GFXPAYLOAD_LINUX=keep

Running 'sudo update-grub' will refresh the bootloader configuration with the new parameters.  After rebooting I was presented with a nice, clear (and much larger) grub boot screen.  Success!

This was short-lived however.  By the time the machine had reached a login prompt the framebuffer driver had kicked in and had overridden my attempts at reducing the resolution.  FOILED!

Getting nowhere with the framebuffer documentation meant that I needed an alternative approach... BIGGER FONTS!  In Debian the console font is set by default using the console-setup package.  To get a feel for which font to chose I had a look in /usr/share/consolefonts and used the 'setfont' command to try a few out for size.  In the end I found that TerminusBold16x32 worked very well.  To make this change permanent I reconfigured the console-setup package:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure -plow console-setup

Keyboard config

Now that the screen was usable I decided to fix the keyboard.  I had two niggles.  The first was that the keyboard repeat rate was very slow.  On Linux this can be controlled using the kbdrate command.  I experimented a bit until I found settings that I liked, then transferred the parameters to /etc/kbd/config:

...
KEYBOARD_RATE="30"
KEYBOARD_DELAY="250"
...

The next annoyance was the behaviour of the function keys.  By default these are mapped to various multimedia functions.  I prefer them to be in their standard F1..12 mappings.  To change this a simple option in the BIOS can be used.  Mash F2 on boot and navigate on the settings menu to POST Behaviour->Fn Lock Options.  On this screen just change the setting to "Lock Mode Enable/Secondary" to regain easy access to the function keys.  Apply and reboot.

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