Installing Arch on a Dell Precision 5530

Published August 2, 2023
Updated November 22, 2023

I recently installed Arch on my laptop, and while it went about as smoothly as a fresh OS install can go, there were a few footguns I ran into that I wanted to document.

Preparation

If there is wiki information about the specific hardware you are installing Arch on like there is for the Precision laptops , it’s a good idea to read that first.

Installation

Following the Arch install guide will get you to a working install. Eventually.

I missed a few crucial steps in the guide that are particularly important if you don’t want to keep having to boot into the live install. Reading all the words is helpful. Yes, even the small ones.

Disk Partitioning

The install guide gives a quick mention that you should use fdisk to create the partitions for your install. I was not super familiar with fdisk, so I needed a little bit more instruction. I ended up with three partitions for my single-OS install that I created with fdisk /dev/nvme0n1:

  1. EFI System - Starting at the lowest sector available, ending at +512M, and with a type of EFI System
  2. Swap - Starting at the next available sector, ending at +4G, and with a type of Linux swap
  3. Root - Starting at the next available sector, ending at the last sector available, and with the default type of Linux filesystem

In my case, these were /dev/nvme0n1p{1,2,3}, respectively. I then created the appropriate filesystems with:

mkfs.fat -F 32 /dev/nvme0n1p1
mkswap /dev/nvme0n1p2
mkfs.ext4 /dev/nvme0n1p3

Network Management

The installation guide leads you through connecting to the internet as one of the first steps. It is important to note that this does not carry over into the freshly installed system. Once you chroot into the new system, ensure you install a network manager . I went with NetworkManager because I knew it worked with the GNOME desktop environment I installed. Make sure it starts at boot with:

systemctl enable NetworkManager

Boot Loader

There are two very important lines in the install guide that talk about installing a boot loader. As I found out, if you manage to miss these two lines, your laptop will boot straight to Dell’s recovery software.

Also remember that if you’re installing GRUB, you can’t just install it and call it a day. You also have to generate the config with grub-mkconfig, or else you will boot straight to the GRUB shell.

Desktop Environment

I chose to use GNOME for my desktop environment. So far it works perfectly out of the box with proper display scaling and everything. In my opinion, the goal of the inital install is to get to a functional desktop environment connected to the internet as a normal user with admin privileges through sudo. The basic steps for this were to install all the software:

# I just accepted all the default suggestions
pacman -S gnome sudo

then create your normal user and set a password:

useradd -mG wheel my-username
passwd my-username

then make sure that user has admin access by enabling access for the wheel group with visudo. Finally, enable the desktop service:

systemctl enable gdm

After a restart, you should be able to log in to the desktop environment as a normal user, and have sudo privileges to continue configuring the system.

Thunderbolt

In order to get USB ports working on my Thunderbolt dock, I had to edit the BIOS setting for Thunderbolt enumeration to “Native”, and I had to add the following kernel parameters as described in this post :

pci=assign-busses,hpbussize=0x33,realloc,hpmemsize=512M nvme.noacpi=1

Without these changes, displays were working, but the USB ports on the dock were not functional.