Monday, February 22, 2021

Linux Mint v20.1 on my new Dell Precision 7810 and Core i7 PC

I decided to look at something modern today - the latest Linux versions.

I read about the release of Linux Mint 20.1 Cinnamon in January, and decided to install it as an upgrade to Linux Mint 19.3 (Tricia) on my 2012 Core i7 PC.

This PC has been my Linux PC since I replaced it in 2016 with my Alienware 15 R3 that I am still using today with Windows 10 for gaming and demos :-)

I have upgraded the Linux PC from 12.04LTS through to now the latest Linux Mint 20. This machine has 12GB of memory, 3.2Ghz Core i7 CPU (4 Cores), Nvidia Geforce 680GTX and 2x1TB SATA3 hard disks.

I have enjoyed learning a lot about Linux on this machine over the years, and these days it is getting a bit slow and showing it's age. It is one of the reasons why I run Linux Mint rather than Ubuntu on it.

I enjoy my Amiga and PC mod collection under Linux, which I play through Open Cubic Player, Schismtracker and Milkytracker. I have collected this music from my Amiga and DOS 6.22 PC eras in the 1980's and 1990's to the present day.

I used to compose mods myself using Protracker on the Amiga in the 1990's then moved to Impulse Tracker on the PC, and a few years ago I purchased the very excellent Renoise Tracker, and use it under Linux and also MacOS and Windows 10 too. 

Renoise is an excellent product and recommended!

I converted my Impulse Tracker (IT format) modules I wrote to MP3 a number of years ago. Some of these can be listened to on my Soundcloud channel - the link for it is here.

The upgrade broke Steam (Linux), PlayOnLinux, AmiKit XE, and a bunch of games I had installed via Steam (Windows) - frustrating. I should have done a clean install but I spent a lot of time on the setup and didn't want to redo it. Heh, looks like I will have to anyway..

It is now 2021 and my Core i7 PC is 10 years old and showing it's age. I decided rather than rebuild on a fresh image, it was time to move Linux to a new PC and repurpose the Core i7 PC for something else (maybe).

An important consideration for the new PC is that I didn't want to spend too much money on it, but I wanted it to be able to play more modern Linux games and demos using a decent gaming graphics card, which rules out most inexpensive laptops in the market straight away. 

I did a bit of research on this, and decided to buy a Dell Precision 7810 workstation. The reason is because they high end workstations, are less than 5 years old, fully support Ubuntu and Red Hat Linux with Dell supplied Linux images, and are relative inexpensive second hand - around 25% of the original cost of the machines. Also, I have never owned a Workstation style PC before, so why not? :-)

I tracked one down on Ebay and paid $740 including shipping to a local Australian seller for a Dell Precision 7810 with the following specs:

  • 2x 6-core Intel Xeon E5-2620 v3 CPUs, for a total of 12 physical cores and 24 logical cores (hyper threaded)
  • 32GB memory, 
  • SATA controller with RAID 0/1/5/10 support, 1TB SATA Hard drive running Windows 10 Pro for Workstations 64bit.
  • Nvidia Quadro K620 2GB graphics card.

This new system has 3 times the number of cores, and almost 3 times the amount of memory of my old Core i7 PC!

The weak link in this new PC setup as supplied is the hard disk (not SSD) and the low end Quadro K620 graphics card. I plan to work on fixing that! Traditionally these systems are used as AutoCAD workstations with the Nvidia Quadro cards the supported cards of choice, and are specced to maximise multi-CPU performance for applications like AutoCAD that support multi-cores optimally.

Switching the Quadro graphics card to a gaming graphics card will make it work better for me, as I am less interested in running professional products like AutoCAD and more interested in Linux applications, demos, and games.

Here is the Dell Precision 7810 workstation after I unboxed it.

This is the rear view. It is interesting to me that this workstation still has a serial port, PS/2 keyboard and PS/2 mouse ports on them. Other modern PC's no longer include these:

Opening up the case it is easy, with a simple quick release mechanism on the side of the system:

Like a server, workstations include lots of instructions inside the case cover on how to upgrade and location of components in the system itself.

Close up shot you can see the PCI-e ports and single PCI port:

You can also see a onboard USB port. This would be for any require Dongles for software, or indeed to use for running VMWare ESXi or other hypervisor from USB without the need for a hard disk.

I had a spare 256GB SSD from an old non-working laptop which I plan to use to load the Linux system onto. The 1TB non-SSD disk included with the system has Windows 10 installed on it.

The intention is the dual boot the system, with Linux as the default. It was at this point I released the system didn't include an additional hard disk drive sled to mount the SSD on, but given it is an sealed SSD unit and not a fixed disk, connecting it directly without the drive sled is not a big deal until I can order an additional drive sled. They are easily obtainable on Ebay or elsewhere.

There are three SATA ports free and available to add additional drives, but the cables for the second hard disk are already there, just not hooked to anything, so I connected them up.

Here is a close up of the Nvidia Quadro K620 video card. This is definitely NOT a gaming card, but it is well supported by Linux. 

The intention is to upgrade it to use my Nvidia Geforce 1080 GTX card I currently use in the Advanced Graphics Amplifier module on my 5 year old Alienware 15 gaming rig when I replace it later this year. This workstation has been upgraded with the higher rated PSU and can run the higher graphics card - the additional power supply plugs needed are there and ready to connect to the new card.

Moving on, I booted the system and took a peek at the boot mode menu - my SSD is picked up, and I see the BIOS is set to Legacy mode boot rather than UEFI boot.

I booted into the Windows 10 setup to begin with, as delivered on the PC. I could see the machine had been imaged and generalised.

I set to work updating the BIOS and other firmware on the PC, and the Windows drivers too of course. I do this first under Windows 10 as the Dell updater software works much easier with Windows than dealing with the Linux way...

Here is the BIOS being upgraded to the latest version, released in late 2020.

With that done, I burned off the Linux Mint 20.1 Cinnamon ISO to DVD and booted off the DVD into the Live Linux Mint environment. Yes, I know I could have written it to USB, but I wanted to test the DVD drive worked, and pleased to say it worked fine:

Having established that is working, I set to work installing Linux Mint 20.1 onto my 250GB SSD:

For those curious, the Dell wireless keyboard and mouse I am using on the new Linux PC actually came from an older Dell PC my father owned and played his favourite games on for years. He gave it to me in late 2020 after Xmas to use/strip for parts, and it included this keyboard and mouse.

My father tragically passed away from Motor Neuron Disease in late January this year, only six months after being diagnosed with it. It has been a rough few months watching him getting sicker and sicker, and the last few weeks very hard for me and my family. It is nice to focus on something else at the moment.

This Dell keyboard and mouse therefore has some meaning for me as the last thing he gave me, so I will be keeping them. I think of him every time I use it.

Let's get back to the build.

With the install done, I found that the system still booted straight into Windows 10, even though I installed Linux as a dual boot with Windows 10!

I realised I needed to change the boot drive to the 250GB SSD, since it appears Linux installed the GRUB boot loader onto that drive. So, I went into the Precision 7810 BIOS to alter the boot settings:

Now it is changed to use the 250GB SSD first, then the Windows 10 fixed HDD, then DVD and USB boot drives.

Now my new Dell Precision 7810 system boots into Linux 20.1 Cinnamon directly, and I could get to work installing software and customising it, which is the fun part :-)

Here is a close up of the Start menu in Linux Mint. I love the classic layout, unlike the clunky single icon width scrolling menu thingy in Ubuntu 20. I prefer this simple to navigate layout in Linux Mint 20.1.
You can install a lot of software via Software Manager, which provides a nice uncluttered interface to navigate the many thousands of titles available. 
In addition you can download many other titles across the internet of course. I installed CrossOver, which allows you to run Windows applications under Linux, using Wine, PlayOnLinux, etc ,without needing to do all that pesky configuration for each program you want to install. 
CrossOver is a subscription based product, but saving the time needed to research all that stuff just to run MS Office on Linux is worth it in my opinion.

I installed Putty and the Windows version of Steam under Linux as a tester. Works well.

Having a 4K monitor on this Linux PC gives me a lot of real estate to play with on the screen, that's for sure. My old PC ran 1080p, so having so much space takes some getting used to.

Since I buy my music normally, I don't have much need for streaming services like Spotify, but I decided to set it up on this Linux PC, just "because I can"...

As a huge fan of music modules, of course these needed to be on this machine too, and I quickly loaded Schismtracker, Cubic Player and Milkytracker to play them:

I was pleasantly surprised how fast the Quadro K620 card is - my expectations were quite low.

I tried a few games like Freedroid RPG and Neverball, and soon had them running simultaneously at 1080p alongside a video at the same time on this enormous 4K screen! Still have room to spare!

LibreOffice is installed by default on Linux Mint 20.1, and as MS Office replacements go, it is quite nice.

I can't really play the more demanding games and demos yet, as I need the 1080GTX gfx card in this machine, which will come later this year (hopefully).

In the meantime, I plan to muck around with Retro system emulators like Amiga, C64, DOSBox, MAME and also VirtualBox on this Linux machine, so stay tuned for that!


  1. Most PCs still come with a single PS/2 port. Mostly for people with old keyboards they are used to using.

  2. Nice setup. I too am a fan of Linux Mint desktop. Never tried a Dell Workstation PC but looks like you get great bang for your buck.
    What is the noise level like?
    Will have to check out those Mod players you showed. I have used MilkyTracker but not the other 2. Thanks :-)