From the Canyon Edge -- :-Dustin

Friday, January 5, 2018

Dell XPS 13 with Ubuntu -- The Ultimate Developer Laptop of 2018!

I'm the proud owner of a new Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition (9630) laptop, pre-loaded from the Dell factory with Ubuntu 16.04 LTS Desktop.

Kudos to the Dell and the Canonical teams that have engineered a truly remarkable developer desktop experience.  You should also check out the post from Dell's senior architect behind the XPS 13, Barton George.

As it happens, I'm also the proud owner of a long loved, heavily used, 1st Generation Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition laptop :-)  See this post from May 7, 2012.  You'll be happy to know that machine is still going strong.  It's now my wife's daily driver.  And I use it almost every day, for any and all hacking that I do from the couch, after hours, after I leave the office ;-)

Now, this latest XPS edition is a real dream of a machine!

From a hardware perspective, this newer XPS 13 sports an Intel i7-7660U 2.5GHz processor and 16GB of memory.  While that's mildly exciting to me (as I've long used i7's and 16GB), here's what I am excited about...

The 500GB NVME storage and a whopping 1239 MB/sec I/O throughput!

kirkland@xps13:~$ sudo hdparm -tT /dev/nvme0n1
 Timing cached reads:   25230 MB in  2.00 seconds = 12627.16 MB/sec
 Timing buffered disk reads: 3718 MB in  3.00 seconds = 1239.08 MB/sec

And on top of that, this is my first QHD+ touch screen laptop display, sporting a magnificent 3200x1800 resolution.  The graphics are nothing short of spectacular.  Here's nearly 4K of Hollywood hard "at work" :-)

The keyboard is super comfortable.  I like it a bit better than the 1st generation.  Unlike your Apple friends, we still have our F-keys, which is important to me as a Byobu user :-)  The placement of the PgUp, PgDn, Home, and End keys (as Fn + Up/Down/Left/Right) takes a while to get used to.

The speakers are decent for a laptop, and the microphone is excellent.  The webcam is placed in an odd location (lower left of the screen), but it has quite nice resolution and focus quality.

And Bluetooth and WiFi, well, they "just work".  I got 98.2 Mbits/sec of throughput over WiFi.

kirkland@xps:~$ iperf -c
Client connecting to, TCP port 5001
TCP window size: 85.0 KByte (default)
[  3] local port 40568 connected with port 5001
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
[  3]  0.0-10.1 sec   118 MBytes  98.2 Mbits/sec

There's no external display port, so you'll need something like this USB-C-to-HDMI adapter to project to a TV or monitor.

There's 1x USB-C port, 2x USB-3 ports, and an SD-Card reader.

One of the USB-3 ports can be used to charge your phone or other devices, even while your laptop is suspended.  I use this all the time, to keep my phone topped up while I'm aboard planes, trains, and cars.  To do so, you'll need to enable "USB PowerShare" in the BIOS.  Here's an article from Dell's KnowledgeBase explaining how.

Honestly, I have only one complaint...  And that's that there is no Trackstick mouse (which is available on some Dell models).  I'm not a huge fan of the Touchpad.  It's too sensitive, and my palms are always touching it inadvertently.  So I need to use an external mouse to be effective.  I'll continue to provide this feedback to the Dell team, in the hopes that one day I'll have my perfect developer laptop!  Otherwise, this machine is a beauty.  I'm sure you'll love it too.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

Ubuntu Updates for the Meltdown / Spectre Vulnerabilities

For up-to-date patch, package, and USN links, please refer to:

This is cross-posted on Canonical's official Ubuntu Insights blog:

Unfortunately, you’ve probably already read about one of the most widespread security issues in modern computing history -- colloquially known as “Meltdown” (CVE-2017-5754) and “Spectre” (CVE-2017-5753 and CVE-2017-5715) -- affecting practically every computer built in the last 10 years, running any operating system. That includes Ubuntu.

I say “unfortunately”, in part because there was a coordinated release date of January 9, 2018, agreed upon by essentially every operating system, hardware, and cloud vendor in the world. By design, operating system updates would be available at the same time as the public disclosure of the security vulnerability. While it happens rarely, this an industry standard best practice, which has broken down in this case.

At its heart, this vulnerability is a CPU hardware architecture design issue. But there are billions of affected hardware devices, and replacing CPUs is simply unreasonable. As a result, operating system kernels -- Windows, MacOS, Linux, and many others -- are being patched to mitigate the critical security vulnerability.

Canonical engineers have been working on this since we were made aware under the embargoed disclosure (November 2017) and have worked through the Christmas and New Years holidays, testing and integrating an incredibly complex patch set into a broad set of Ubuntu kernels and CPU architectures.

Ubuntu users of the 64-bit x86 architecture (aka, amd64) can expect updated kernels by the original January 9, 2018 coordinated release date, and sooner if possible. Updates will be available for:

  • Ubuntu 17.10 (Artful) -- Linux 4.13 HWE
  • Ubuntu 16.04 LTS (Xenial) -- Linux 4.4 (and 4.4 HWE)
  • Ubuntu 14.04 LTS (Trusty) -- Linux 3.13
  • Ubuntu 12.04 ESM** (Precise) -- Linux 3.2
    • Note that an Ubuntu Advantage license is required for the 12.04 ESM kernel update, as Ubuntu 12.04 LTS is past its end-of-life
Ubuntu 18.04 LTS (Bionic) will release in April of 2018, and will ship a 4.15 kernel, which includes the KPTI patchset as integrated upstream.

Ubuntu optimized kernels for the Amazon, Google, and Microsoft public clouds are also covered by these updates, as well as the rest of Canonical's Certified Public Clouds including Oracle, OVH, Rackspace, IBM Cloud, Joyent, and Dimension Data.

These kernel fixes will not be Livepatch-able. The source code changes required to address this problem is comprised of hundreds of independent patches, touching hundreds of files and thousands of lines of code. The sheer complexity of this patchset is not compatible with the Linux kernel Livepatch mechanism. An update and a reboot will be required to active this update.

Furthermore, you can expect Ubuntu security updates for a number of other related packages, including CPU microcode, GCC and QEMU in the coming days.

We don't have a performance analysis to share at this time, but please do stay tuned here as we'll followup with that as soon as possible.

VP of Product
Canonical / Ubuntu