So I bought a new laptop this week, a Razer Book 13, and I thought it be helpful to others to write a few words about how well Linux works on this laptop. TLDR; despite Razer’s terrible reputation when it comes to Linux, things are pretty awesome with only configuration of the chroma keyboard missing.
I was looking for a machine for more portability then my XPS 15 since I bought a desktop server last year for all of my heavy workloads and didn’t need a super powerful laptop with gobs of memory any longer. As well my XPS 15 is almost four years old and was having issues with the touchpad and fans that were becoming on the noisy side. Going with an XPS 13 would have been the obvious choice but after four years with the XPS 15 I really wanted to change things up so enter the Razer Book 13.
First let’s talk a bit about the overall design of the laptop. It’s a stunning looking laptop with it’s CNC machined case that’s just gorgeous to look at. The display is very good though I do get a certain amount of IPS glow that is particularly noticeable with the GDM grey login screen. Other then that the display is gorgeous and super bright so no issues with outdoor visibility. When using the laptop display I do use the experimental fractional scaling support in Wayland to set it at 125% which works well for me. As I get older my eyes are not so hot for small text.
If you check online there have been some complaints about the keyboard and it being inconsistent with regards to keyboard presses. I haven’t had any issues myself but honestly I’m a two finger (ok maybe three) typist that is very heavy on the keyboard. I haven’t had any issues with missed keystrokes and it’s a perfectly reasonabe typing experience. The touch pad is a glass precision touchpad and works really well, no issues with it at all.
My one complaint with the laptop is that the mid-level laptop (16 GB, touchscreen) which I purchased only comes with a 256 GB SSD which is way too small nowadays. Fortunately it’s very straightforward to open the case and I ended up replacing it with a Western Digital SN750 1 TB SSD. Unfortunately I didn’t realize that Tiger Lake supported PCI-E 4.0 now so an SN850 might have been a better choice albeit more expensive. I’m not doing anything disk intensive so the SN750 is fine for me.
In terms of a Linux installation I went with my usual choice of Arch Linux and set it up in a dual boot configuration with Windows. I wanted to have Windows available in order to perform firmware updates since Razer doesn’t participate in LVFS like Dell does. I first installed Windows in the first 128 GB partition and then went ahead and installed Arch Linux. Another mistake I made here was not overriding the default size Windows uses for the EFI partition, it’s a 100 MB which is too small once you get KMS and including things like Plymouth. For now I’ve disabled the fallback image but on my next installation I’ll make sure to correct that.
In terms of an Arch installation I typically use LVM and Ext4 with LUKS, however in the spirit of changing things up decided to go with BTRFS this time. It’s the default now on Fedora and if it’s good enough for Fedora it’s good enough for me! There was an excellent write-up on performing the installation that I used which can be found here, since all details are there I will not go into depth here. Having said that, BTRFS subvolumes are super cool and well worth checking out.
Once Arch was installed I then proceeded to install Gnome and test everything out, to my delight all of the hardware works fine. The wifi, bluetooth, trackpad, brightness controls (display and keyboard) all work great. The chroma keyboard works in it’s default lighting mode, Spectrum,
but there’s no way to configure a different light mode or per-key lighting. I expected that and the default lighting doesn’t bother me at all. I had hoped that I could set the lighting in Windows and it would carry over when you boot into Linux but no luck. Someone has provided the necessary info to the openrazer project so hopefully it will come sooner then later. Update: Chroma keyboard can now be configured via openrazer with this PR, hopefully it gets merged soon.
I ended up replacing my Dell TB16 dock as it would not charge the Razer, apparently it only puts out 60 watts of power for non-dell laptops. I went with a Pluggable Thunderbolt 3 dock as a rplacement that does everything I need. The dock works well with both Windows and Linux and I haven’t had any issues with it so far.
So all in all I am very happy with my purchase and hopefully I will have many years of enjoyment with this laptop. If you have any questions or something you want me to check feel free to ping me in the comments below or in the Razer Book 13 Linux thread I started on reddit.