Alienware m15 slow resume fix with TLP

I’m happy to report that I finally got my new Alienware m15 properly configured. I got it through work via the Dell Outlet, and immediately wiped Windows off of it and installed Ubuntu. There were some issues. The unit shipped with a 256GB M2 drive and a 1TB hybrid. The 1TB was set as the primary drive, so I had to mess with UEFI/Secure boot to get it installed. However the main problem I had was with the power and sleep/hibernation functions.

The main annoyance was that opening the lid to resume the unit from sleep took upwards of half a minute to do anything. I tried a multitude of APCI settings in grub, poured through logs and updated to Ubunutu 19 with no fix, and had finally resigned to the issue.

This was especially frustrating since the unit this machine was obstensibly replacing, a seven year old Dell Latitude, had almost identical hardware and had no problems with the power — although it did have lockup issues related to running Windows in VMM….

This Alienware is quite the power hog, as the battery would only last about an hour on max charge. Again, quite frustrating given that my Latitude can easily get three hours or more. In installed prime-select to disable the GPU, but it didn’t seem to help. Then a few days ago as I was typing with it on my lap, I decided to do something about the intense heat coming from the metal heat grate on the bottom that had been toasting my legs. So installed the tlp advanced power management package. I saw a dramatic decrease in heat and fan activity, and was pleasantly surprised the next time I opened the unit and saw the lock screen almost immediately. Problem solved!

It’s only moderately improved the battery life though, maxing out around an hour and a half. I may experiment and pull the hybrid drive out to see if that is the culprit. I figure the 9th gen i7 should be more efficient that my older one, and with the same screen size there isn’t any other component that could be sucking the battery down like this.

Ultimately the issue is Dell’s lack of support for Linux. If I was going to recommend a laptop for a *nix user I would probably shy away from recommending Dell. They have dabbled with Ubuntu support in the past, and still may do so for their enterprise server lines, but you’re pretty much on your own if you’re using a desktop or laptop. That said, I haven’t run into many problems with the few deployments I’ve done. My old, old Latitude that I’ve given to my oldest works great, but I would probably go with a brand that is dedicated to supporting Linux if I was going to buy something out of my own pocket.

Hopefully this post will help someone experiencing similar problems. If so, please drop a line in the comments to let me know. Thanks!

Windows VM on Ubuntu

I’ve been slowly converting to Ubuntu over the years. Neal Stephenson’s In The Beginning Was the Command Line made Linux seem like such a rage when I read it years ago, but I had always been slave to the GUI. Things started to change a bit when Microsoft started pushing Powershell. My manager at the time said that it would “separate the men from the boys” and I’ve been making a push to start building out a library of PS scripts to use to during Windows Server deployments and migrations. 

I’ve been exposed to *nix plenty over the years. My first job after high school was at an ISP, and I remember watching in awe as the sysops guy would bash his way through things to disconnect hung modems or do this or that. I forget exactly when I started getting into actually using it, but I remember setting up LAMP stacks back in the day to setup PHP apps like WordPress or Wikimedia when I was working at the Fortune 500 firm. Cryptoassets led me further down that world, compiling wallets from source, deploying mining pools on AWS instances. Computer science courses opened me up to the world of sed and regex. I still haven’t gotten into emacs or vim — I’m not a sadist. 

As someone who’s been supporting Windows operating systems pretty much for the past 20 years, one of the realities that one often lives with is the reality of having to reinstall the operating system. I did so many during the time that I operated my service center that it was as natural as turning it off and back on again. Luckily I’ve managed to keep a few boxes up and running for several years now –knock on wood– but my primary work laptop hasn’t been so lucky. It’s five+ years old now and has probably been redone 3 times. The last time I went ahead and took the plunge and installed Ubuntu. I still run Windows in a VM since my job relies so much on it, but I’m becoming more and more comfortable in it that it’s becoming my preferred OS. 

One issue that I’ve been struggling with on this setup is that from time to time my system will halt. I might be in the VM, working on something, or browsing Chrome on the host and it will just lock. Sometimes it seems to be when I open a resource-heavy tab. I don’t know if it’s a resource issue between host and guest, but it’s been annoying while not bad enough that I can’t just reboot and keep going.

Today has been a different story. 

Earlier I noticed that the system was starting to become unstable. Fans were whirring, Chrome was starting to hang up intermittently, so I went ahead and restarted the guest OS. Only this time it wouldn’t come back up. Stuck in a automated system repair. I downloaded a boot disk and tried to mount the system. Wouldn’t even get that far. Finally I said ‘screw it’, unmounted the disk and started creating a new one. That’s when I started getting into raw vs. vpc vs. qcow2, ide vs. virtio, pouring over CPU and RAM allocations. I spent hours trying to get the disk to come back up. I think it had something to do with the format I used when I originally set up the disk. It might have been a swap issue or something, but since I’m running it off of virtio now it seems more stable. Time will tell. 

As for the original vhd, I eventually copied the data file off of the local file system on to an external, and was able to fire it up attached to another Win10 no problem. I deleted the original on my laptop and copied the copy back and was able to get it to spin back up. I think it  may be something to do with the fixed allocation of the vpc file vs. the dynamic sizing of the qcow format. 

Today has been a reminder to check backups on all of my systems. Thankfully Crashplan has Linux support now, so I’m going to get that deployed ASAP.