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Can't afford to be that cheap
Published: 23 Oct 2015 08:01

The Acer C720 Chromebook that I have been using as a daily driver for the last 5 months has given me a bit of trouble the whole time. I would be the only one in a group of laptop users to experience wireless disassociations for example. It only has 32 GB of SSD, which is painfully small. Most concerning, I would regularly see dmesg errors:

[    8.531792] Adding 1310716k swap on /dev/mapper/aronian--vg-swap_1.  Priority:-1 extents:1 across:1310716k SSFS
[    8.580097] input: Cypress APA Trackpad (cyapa) as /devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:15.1/i2c-1/1-0067/input/input12
[    8.582917] __add_probed_i2c_device failed to register device 2-4a
[    8.583496] __add_probed_i2c_device failed to register device 2-44
[    8.583508] platform chromeos_laptop: Driver chromeos_laptop requests probe deferral
[    8.654586] __add_probed_i2c_device failed to register device 2-4a
[    8.655155] __add_probed_i2c_device failed to register device 2-44
[    8.655160] platform chromeos_laptop: Driver chromeos_laptop requests probe deferral
[    9.569683] Console: switching to colour frame buffer device 170x48
[    9.576158] i915 0000:00:02.0: fb0: inteldrmfb frame buffer device
[    9.576161] i915 0000:00:02.0: registered panic notifier
[    9.605673] [drm] Initialized i915 1.6.0 20080730 for 0000:00:02.0 on minor 0
[    9.607712] __add_probed_i2c_device failed to register device 2-4a
[    9.608340] __add_probed_i2c_device failed to register device 2-44
[    9.608412] platform chromeos_laptop: Driver chromeos_laptop requests probe deferral
[    9.613726] snd_hda_intel 0000:00:03.0: irq 61 for MSI/MSI-X

So for the last week or so I’ve been searching for a replacement. My goals remain the same:

“You can’t afford to be that cheap” is a phrase that a friend of mine said when I was mentioning how I was experiencing problems with my “cheap” Chromebook. His reasoning was that it’s worth it to spend more money once rather than buy cheap many times. An extension of this reasoning is that spending money on quality tools is never a bad idea.

I’ve been using Chromebooks for the last year or so, each one with more than a few problems. The idea of a laptop more fully supported by the mainstream Debian kernel started to sound too good to pass up.

I eventually decided on the Dell XPS 13 (2015 edition). The InstallingDebianOn wiki page for this machine mentions:

This is a very nice ultrabook which is able to run Debian pretty well. It ONLY requires one non-free firmware to fully operate (the wifi), no extra privative (sic) drivers required. The only major tuning it needs is about the Intel driver, whose current Debian 8 version doesn’t support Broadwell yet.

I’m running Debian unstable on it so that I can have Linux 4+ and the xserver Intel video driver packages.

The big caveat with that “InstallingOn” page is that it recommends the following GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT options to reduce power usage:

pcie_aspm=force i915.enable_fbc=1 i915.enable_rc6=7

Setting these caused visual flickering and tearing for me so I removed them. Everything else works out of the box - audio worked only after removing the pulseaudio package though.

Post-Debian-installation, I installed battery-status-collect as a cron job with the intention of monitoring battery decay over time. I also wrote a similar cpu-temp-collect script.

The machine’s hostname is magnus after Magnus Carlsen:

jwm@magnus:~$ uname -a
Linux magnus 4.2.0-1-amd64 #1 SMP Debian 4.2.3-2 (2015-10-14) x86_64 GNU/Linux