NixOS and Windows 10 on the XPS 13 9370
I recently purchased the XPS 13 9370 (Notebookcheck felt the least biased) and have been spending the past couple of weeks tinkering and playing around with my dev environment to see what felt the best. It turned out that dual-booting NixOS (or any Linux distro for that matter) and Windows 10 side-by-side was non-trivial given the factory laptop configuration.
This will be a series of posts that aims to document my process so that those interested can get up-and-running with a bit less pain. Note that this first section goes into what went astray purely for contextual reasons, the helpful instructions follow-on after. I should also mention that as always, the Arch Wiki has greatly facilitated the learning process.
If you chose to have Windows 10 installed by default, the XPS 13 should come with about five
partitions. Running Windows 10 Disk Management should show something along the lines of
for the boot partition,
~220GB for Windows 10, and three other
mystery partitions. I could not stand having, unexplained, occupied space on my drive, so with
a bit of help from a colleague,
diskpart, and the internet, we found
out that said mystery partitions contained Dell’s factory install data for recovery purposes.
Going forward, I shrunk the Windows 10 partition down to
~90GB to create
~130GB of unallocated
space to install NixOS in. I would only be using Windows sparsely for some light gaming
(think Subset Game’s FTL), and perhaps a touch of Photoshop,
etc. so I didn’t need too much space there.
Secure Boot, SATA mode, and Bitlocker troubles
Against the instruction of the NixOS manual, I used Rufus to create a bootable USB drive with the latest minimal (no-GUI) disk image of NixOS (18.03 at the time of writing). Rufus settings were pretty-much default - I tested both MBR and GPT partition schemes and either worked fine for booting the USB drive in UEFI mode, which was what I wanted.
In order to boot via the USB drive, some UEFI options were changed. Most importantly, Secure Boot was turned off. This is covered in more detail in the latter instructions. Once I was able to boot into NixOS on the USB drive I began to follow the instructions in the manual.
lsblk showed the only drive available (under
/dev/sda) was my USB
drive (I’ve had to make up the output here as I am recalling from memory).
NAME MAJ:MIN RM SIZE RO TYPE MOUNTPOINT sda 259:0 0 16G 0 disk ├─sda1 259:1 0 ??M 0 part /boot ├─sda2 259:2 0 16G 0 part /
Where was my internal drive? To my understanding, it turned out the default Linux drivers included in the kernel do not support NVMe SSDs unless the SATA mode for the drive is set to AHCI. This setting can be controlled via the UEFI options, however, changing the mode makes Windows 10 inaccessible unless it is started in Safe Mode. Further exacerbating the issue, turning off Secure Boot meant Bitlocker would kick-in whenever I tried to start my Windows 10 partition. This required me to log on to my Microsoft account on another device and copy a large number of digits to proceed with the boot process.
Unfortunately, this long string of obstacles ultimately led me to re-partition and format my SSD, before making a clean installation of Windows 10 alongside NixOS, with my SATA mode set to AHCI from the get-go. In hindsight, this was definitely the right choice as I decided to free up the space occupied by the recovery partitions and gain control over my installation options and drivers.
Installing everything, fresh
So, how do we go about having a clean dual-boot set-up on the XPS 13 9370? The process is pretty straightforward if you have ever done anything similar. If you haven’t, I would be wary about tinkering too much, on the off-chance you “brick” your laptop. I am not responsible for such scenarios.
The installation begins to become interesting when configuring NixOS (link to come). For this setup, I decided not to encrypt any of my partitions, though it is something I would like to explore in the future.
To begin with, prepare a bootable USB drive for installing Windows 10. I’ll assume there are enough resources out on the internet to learn how to do this. TLDR, run this tool. Remember to keep a copy of the Killer wireless drivers on the USB drive. I made the mistake of not doing so beforehand and had to USB-tether via my phone to download them once the install had completed.
Before beginning with the installation, you will need to change some UEFI options. To do this,
F2 when you first see the Dell logo appear on start-up. It is recommended not to hold the
button (it may be interpreted as being stuck), so I tap it rhythmically instead. The following
options are necessary:
- Secure Boot
- Secure Boot Enable
- Secure Boot Enable
- System Configuration
- SATA Operation
- SATA Operation
You may also have to set Fastboot (under POST Behavior) to Thorough. Only the right-hand
side USB-C port can be used to boot into the USB drive. To enable the use of the ports on the
left, Thunderbolt Boot Support (under System Configuration, USB/Thunderbolt Configuration)
should additionally be enabled. To choose the boot drive, tap
F12 when the Dell logo first
Partitioning and formatting can be done during the Windows 10 installation. The only things to
keep-in-mind are to preserve the boot partition (this was the first partition, in my case),
and that Dell may-or-may-not be happy to provide support if the recovery partitions are wiped.
This time around, I made my Windows partition
~100GB, and left the rest unallocated, leaving
~140GB for NixOS.
- Start-menu Personalization
- Any settings/changes I made to the start-menu were not being saved. Rummaging on forums suggested it would fix itself after a couple of days, which it did.
- Night Light
- This option is greyed out for some reason.
Once Windows 10 is on its feet, we can replace the Windows 10 image with the NixOS installer.
As suggested earlier, using Rufus with default settings works fine. If given the option,
dd to perform the write. Booting into the installer is the same as Windows 10.
For the most part, I followed the NixOS manual to do the installation. Some pointers:
loadkeys ukfor British keyboard layout.
ip linkto get the list of network interfaces. I have:
1: lo: <LOOPBACK,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 65536 qdisc noqueue state UNKNOWN mode DEFAULT group default qlen 1000 link/loopback 00:00:00:00:00:00 brd 00:00:00:00:00:00 2: wlp2s0: <BROADCAST,MULTICAST,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 1500 qdisc mq state UP mode DORMANT group default qlen 1000 link/ether 9c:b6:d0:8e:7d:d3 brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff
wlp2s0is the name of wireless interface.
In which case
wpa_supplicant -B -i wlp2s0 -c <(wpa_passphrase "foo" "bar"), substituting
foofor your the SSID (name) of your network, and
barfor the password, will get you connected.
- The internal SSD shows up under
/dev/nvme0n1. I prefer
gdiskfor managing my partitions, it works well with GPT. The Arch Wiki has a lot of pragmatic example layouts. Here is my current table:
Number Start (sector) End (sector) Size Code Name 1 2048 1333247 650.0 MiB EF00 EFI system partition 2 1333248 1595391 128.0 MiB 0C01 Microsoft reserved ... 3 1595392 206395391 97.7 GiB 0700 Basic data partition 4 206395392 495802367 138.0 GiB 8304 Linux x86-64 root (/) 5 495802368 500118158 2.1 GiB 8200 Linux swap
As I work with large amounts of in-memory data, potentially boasting
> 8GBin size, I opt-in to a couple GB of swap (woes of CG/VFX software)!
- As Nix installs all software, including user packages, under
/nix/store, I would suggest making your
/rootlarger if you are considering separating
- Remember to
mountall your partitions before running
nixos-generate-config --root /mnt. If you’ve forgotten any, you can mount them after and run the NixOS command again and it should update the file at
/etc/nixos/hardware-configuration.nix. I recommend inspecting this file to see the options the installer detected and verify the disk UUIDs are correct.
Aside from the UEFI options to-or-already set in
/etx/nixos/configuration.nix. The final thing
to note before running
nixos-install is the
boot.loader.grub.useOSProber option. Setting this
will allow GRUB to detect our Windows 10 partition and provide it as an option on start-up. We
want this. Also, unless you’ve configured a display manager and/or desktop
environment, you will only be able to log-in to the command line (no
Of course, if you realize you’ve misconfigured something, the magic of Nix is the ability to re-build your configuration or rollback to the last working derivation, but more on this in the next post.
On a side note - I occasionally found that after starting the NixOS installation process, the USB drive would somehow become corrupt. Reading the drive in Linux or Windows seemed to fail. The most effective method of recovering the drive that I found, was to use ImageUSB to zero-out the drive, before using Rufus to re-write the NixOS image for me.
Hopefully, this post has been insightful/helpful in some way. For those of you that are interested, I aim to go over my own configuration and the decisions I made in the next post, which is available here.
- NixOS Home page
- NixOS Wiki entry on dual-booting
- Arch Wiki entry on Dell XPS 13 (9360)
- Arch Wiki entry on Dell XPS 13 (9370)
- Blog entry by Zimbatm
A friend mentioned swapfiles which I had completely forgotten about.
This is helpful if you have limited disk space - which my laptop does - because the file
can be dynamically re-sized on a needs basis. I’ve made a post on my process
of updating the partition table and expanding the filesystem at