How to make Ubuntu 18.04 work on Dell G5

Posted by thmyrk on August 14, 2018

Linux is great! It’s configurable, it’s perfect for developers and it gives you an overall nice experience. Unless… you are installing it on a new machine and something doesn’t go right.

You have to give it to Mac and Windows - they don’t offer the same flexibility as Linux systems, but at least they WORK OUT OF THE BOX.

This is a the story about how I made Ubuntu 18.04 working on my machine, which is a Dell G5 5587. This is by no means a general guide of how to approach the problem I encountered, but a list of step-by-step instructions which worked for me.

If you wish to skip reading about the installation process then go to the next section.

Ubuntu installation - in the beginning there was the USB stick…

So recently I bought a new laptop - a Dell G5 5587 with NVidia GTX 1060 Max-Q. It had a Windows preinstalled and two drives: SSD and HDD. SSD is 256GB and has Windows on it. I decided to divide this partition into 2 parts as I want both Windows and Linux to perform as best as possible. I shrinked the Windows partition using Windows disk management tool and left free space for Linux partition. After that I downloaded Ubuntu ISO from their official website.

Believe it or not, problems started at this stage already. After you download the Ubuntu ISO you have to install it on a flash drive. To do that I used Ubuntu’s built-in ‘Startup disk creator’ (I used another machine here). After installation finished and I booted Ubuntu from the USB with excitement and then it froze! I googled this issue I found that it’s best to run Rufus disk creator from Windows and look for bad sectors on on the USB stick. Indeed, turned out my pendrive was at the end of it’s life due to natural causes (it’s quite old) as Rufus detected some bad sectors. Fortunately I had another, newer flash drive that I could use.

Before you run the Ubuntu installation itself make sure to disable secure boot in BIOS settings. This will allow you to install third-party software during Ubuntu install and also it’s a recommended step to do, because secure boot may (or may not) cause some additional issues. Just remember to turn it on later.

Now boot from your USB and go through the installation process and make sure you have internet connection at all times.

It may happen that your installer crashed at some point during install - like mine did. You can try putting nomodeset in boot options when booting from USB. I’m not sure if this has any effect, because in my case installer crashed at random times so it could be that this time I was just lucky.

After it’s done click “Restart now”. This can crash, but no worries.

Graphics issues - nomodeset to the rescue

When booting ubuntu, insert nomodeset before quiet splash in boot options. If you don’t do this your laptop will crash somewhere around splash screen and you’ll have to force shutdown. When in grub menu go over Ubuntu and press e key. Find the line with splash at the end and put nomodeset before quiet splash. Continue with the boot process. If you don’t want to put nomodeset every time before booting, update your /etc/default/grub file and execute update-grub as root. Take note though that putting nomodeset in boot options is temporary.

Now you should be able to boot Ubuntu and login using Xorg. Because we disabled kernel graphics configuration (nomodeset), some features may not work. In my case, manipulation of the display was limited. I couldn’t change brightness using buttons on my keyboard and Night Light wasn’t working, but this is fine for now.

Now is a good time to make some research about the state of your system. Install lshw: sudo apt install lshw (remember about running sudo apt update before). This utility will provide you with details about your hardware. Execute lshw -C video. In my case, I got two entries, one from NVidia, other from Intel (Dell G5 has two graphic cards). Both of them had UNCLAIMED word next to them. This is due to the fact that we set nomodeset in the kernel. UNCLAIMED means that there is no driver attached to the hardware. Now the plan is to prevent the system from crashing and to get rid of nomodeset. In my case what worked was the installation of proper NVidia drivers, but I’ll come back to it in the last section.

Further examination

It’s best to find out as much as you can about the state of the system before proceeding to be sure about what you’re doing next. You can try lspci | grep -i vga to get a list of PCI video devices. Here I got 2 entries for both of my graphic cards (NVidia and Intel). Also run lsmod | grep i915. i915 is the name of the Intel graphics card driver. If it shows in the result of the command then Intel drivers should work properly without nomodeset. If it’s not there then maybe the name of the driver is different in your case, or maybe you need to install it first before proceeding further.

Now, I want to let you know that I spent figuring things out here for a looong time. I read blog posts and forum discussions, but either they didn’t exactly fit my case or people who had the same issues as me stopped posting on their threads. The reason it was so difficult was that I tried to make Ubuntu work without removing nomodeset from boot options. Here are some of the things which didn’t work:

  • purging nouveau - there is no need as nvidia drivers blacklist nouveau automatically
  • installing various NVidia drivers from version nvidia-390 to nvidia-375 and reinstalling / dpkg-reconfigured xserver-xorg related packages each time and rebooting. Here when reloading gdm sudo systemctl restart gdm, screen flickered a couple of times and didn’t start X server. When checked X logs for errors grep EE /var/log/Xorg.0.log I could see a message failed to initialize glx extension (compatible nvidia x driver not found). So the next step I took is I created the Xorg configuration file manually X -configure (when root) and added a couple of things to that configuration:

        Section "Device"
            Identifier     "Device0"
            Driver         "nvidia"
            VendorName     "NVIDIA Corporation"
            BoardName      "GeForce GTX 1060 Mobile"
            BusID          "PCI:1:0:0"
        Section "Screen"
            Identifier     "Screen0"
            Device         "nvidia0"
            Monitor        "Monitor0"
            DefaultDepth    24
            SubSection     "Display"
                Depth       24
                Modes       "1920x1080" "1600x1200" "1024x768"

    After setting this configuration and restarting gdm error message changed as in to “no enabled display devices found”. NVidia driver seemed to be loading though. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it work after this, so it looked like a dead end.

Final solution

The solution turned out to be much simpler. All you need to do is install the latest nvidia driver available (I installed the not-stable nvidia-driver-396) and then reboot Ubuntu without nomodeset option. Your Ubuntu should work fine after that.

I hope that helped! After spending so much time on the installation I had to put this in a blog post in case you also experience this problem. Ubuntu can be quite painful to setup sometimes, but once you overcome the initial issues you quickly forgive Ubuntu all the problems it gave you :)

Thanks for reading!