Friday, December 12, 2008

Dual boot your XPS M1330

There are a lot of people with warnings and instructions on how to install Ubuntu alongside Vista on their Dell XPS M1330. Many of them talk about serious problems and total failure, and they are mostly talking about older versions of Ubuntu (8.04 and back). Last night I finally had some time to give it a shot and was left wondering: Why was it so hard for everyone else?

I am a Linux user. It was the Fall of 1999 and I was sitting at the desk below my bunked bed in our off-campus rental house, and Windows 98 had blue-screened for the umpteenth time while trying to burn a CD on my Panasonic 8x CD-R. I didn't go to bed until RedHat 6 was booting and burning CDs successfully while I *gasp* used the computer to do other things. So it may seem strange for me to care about dual-booting my new laptop, nearly a decade later. My only excuse is that sometimes you really just need to use a Windows application to get work done and you don't have time to wait for the community to write it. You also run into issues when the support people ask you to perform tasks in the Operating System that was shipped with the device when you have removed said Operating System. I figured it would be best to try not to invalidate the warranty on this thing before I got a chance to make sure everything works.

I'll detail the steps I took that lead to the most success. My laptop now boots Vista 64-bit, Ubuntu 8.10 64-bit, and Dell MediaDirect, and I didn't have to reinstall anything.

First, boot the Ubuntu 8.10 liveCD. To accomplish this, insert the disc and reboot/power-on the computer. You have a fleetingly short amount of time to hit the F12 button to get to the alternative boot menu, so start pressing it repeatedly now. Once in the boot menu, choose the CD/DVD drive. Ubuntu's boot menu will appear and you should select your language and then tell it to boot the live CD.

By default, the Dell 1505 Draft-n wireless is broken. It's a distraction at this point to get it working, but if you're just curious about playing with Ubuntu, you need to do the following: sudo rmmod sbb; sudo rmmod wl; sudo modprobe wl. The ssb module doesn't play well with the wl module. After updating my system, this problem went away, but if you need to update over the wireless post-install, use this trick to get things running.

The next step is to make some room for Ubuntu. Dell has taken up all of the primary partitions so you only have logical partitions left. Contrary to a lot of misinformation out there, these will work just fine. You need to create at least two new partitions, one for Ubuntu's root and one for swap. The tool we use is called GParted, and it is available from the menu under System/Administration/Partition Editor. Once you've started GParted, identify and resize the Vista partition. This will be the largest partition on the disk and is labeled "OS" on my computer. Shrink it from the right by the amount of disk space you wish to give to Ubuntu. Next, you need to increase the size of the extended partition. Grow it from the left until it touches the Vista partition. Finally, create the two new partitions in the space before the Dell MediaDirect partition, inside of the extended partition. Create the swap partition (the size here is somewhat subjective -- I created a swap partition that was as big as my RAM (4GB)) and set the type to Linux swap. Create your root partition with whatever space is left.

Now think carefully about what you're about to do before you do it. The final step of the partition resizing is to tell GParted to actually make the changes. These changes may cause you to lose all of your data. Have you backed up your Vista data? Oh good you have. In that case, click Apply and pour yourself a beer. This stage of the installation took 5 hours for me, so make it a good beer because you've got time to relax.

When GParted finishes, reboot into Vista. Vista will probably complain about its new cramped quarters, saying something about repairing the disk. Just say yes to whatever it wants and it will repair its partition. It will reboot and ask to check the disk; let it. Eventually you'll be back in Vista but with less disk space then before. Reboot, and boot the Ubuntu CD once again.

This time, you're ready to install Ubuntu. Boot the live CD and then double-click the Install icon on the Desktop. When you get to the partitioning, choose the guided install and it should find space to work with on your drive. Finish the install as normal and reboot. You now have the choice of Ubuntu, Vista, and MediaDirect. You can even launch MediaDirect with the special button. No doom, no fail required.


Kevin said...

Hello, I also own a Dell M1330 Laptop and i am having a few minor issues. Have you figured out a way to get the fingerprint reader and the webcam to work? I cannot find compatible drivers.

Kevin N.

Kevin said...

KevinN: My fingerprint reader and webcam both work. Which distribution are you using? The fingerprint reader code still needs a bit of work in order to be better integrated, but you can make some very simple adjustments to pam so that it works with sudo and gdm. Otherwise it works for me. The webcam worked out of the box with ekiga under Ubuntu.

Kevin said...

I'm currently dual booting Vista and Ubuntu 8.10.

I am new to linux

FPS & Sud Immobilier Bellac said...

Hi I am thinking of buying a Dell XPS and doing a dual boot with Ubuntu 8.10 -
Are you happy with your dell XPS?
Do you have any issues with graphics cards and comprix , is firefox with Flash non free working 64 bit version ?(i have has various problems in the past )

sorry for the bombardment ! Just don't want to rush in and regret it - thanks for your help !

Kevin said...

I like this laptop a lot.

The video card is the Intel card, not the nvidia. My research showed the the nvidia card had some issues and wasn't really worth the extra cash. Otherwise, the Intel card has been fine and is able to run Unreal 2004 at a respectable level. I don't use compiz on this computer so I don't know how well it will do, but I suspect it will at least give you reasonable performance.

No problems with flash on 64-bit.

Kevin Northrup said...


I do have the Nvidia card in my computer and it has not given me any trouble whatsoever running anything i have needed it to. It also is auto recognized by Linux.

Compiz works great for me.

R said...

Helpful article, but missing advice here. Be sure to defrag your NTFS drive in Vista before using Gparted on it. Windows scatters things all over NTFS and unless you move it all to the front of that partition by defragging it before you start resizing, you'll have problems. At best you will have damaged files (your music, videos, whatever), at worst, Vista will be damaged beyond repair.