Dell OptiPlex FX160 and GNU/Linux

I needed some SFF (Small Form Factor) computers for a project, and Dell recently released the FX160 which looked exactly like what I was after. But let me give you some quick advice before you read any further : If you want to run GNU/Linux, you’re in for some ugly surprises.

It’s really a shame since the specifications aren’t that bad. The first one I got has 2GB RAM, 2GB NVRAM, 80GB 2.5″ SATA hard drive, a 64bit Atom processor and a Gigabit network interface. But here’s the catch : Where most Dell computers have well supported Intel chipsets, this one is SiS and Broadcom equipped. And when it comes to open specifications in general and GNU/Linux support in particular, SiS is hopeless.

I didn’t order it with the Novel SuSE Linux Dell offers as an option, since I needed to make some multi-boot tests with Windows. And I thought that if one GNU/Linux distribution the hardware, any recent distribution would. I couldn’t have been more wrong! I tried it with all recent Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux releases. Here’s a quick status :

  • Fedora 9 : Network not working
  • Fedora 10 : Video not working by default, x86_64 not working at all (only i386 installs)
  • RHEL 5.1 : Network not working, video working with vesa at 800×600 max by default
  • RHEL 5.2 & 5.3 : SATA not working

The network chip is a recent Broadcom one, which seems supported only by recent kernels. The SiS video chip isn’t supported by any free driver, but hacking Xorg’s monitor section made it possible for me to get 1280×768 and 1280×1024 working with the vesa driver. Don’t expect any kind of decent performance, though. There seem to be some closed 2D and 3D drivers floating around, which are worth trying if you’re stuck with that hardware. You will find more information here :

Right now, I’ve got the device in a mostly working state : Fedora 10 i386 with a binary driver and an xorg.conf manual entry to display the flat panel native resolution of 1360×768. The PXE booting and BIOS locking down options are really nice and working fine. I haven’t tried the sound card, nor will I have to for this project.

Overall, keep away from the FX160 if you’re thinking of running GNU/Linux on it. Blame SiS for it… and let’s hope Dell comes up with an updated model soon, packed only with free software friendly hardware.

12 Replies to “Dell OptiPlex FX160 and GNU/Linux”

  1. Thanks very much for the advice. I was about to order a couple of these from a refurbished supplier, looks like I’ve avoided a bad mistake! Unless Ubuntu 10.10 can come to the rescue?

    1. Well, I haven’t tried anything since that 32bit Fedora 10, but as I do still have one lying around, I might give it another go with updated distributions (RHEL6, Fedora & Ubuntu). I’m quite sure SATA and LAN must be working okay by now, but I wouldn’t bet on the SiS chip being any better supported. So if you’re looking to build some display-less appliance/server, maybe it would do, but if you’re after a desktop thin client, move along!

  2. Just came across this conversation. I am using the XFCE release of Linux Mint 13 on a FX160 relatively successfully. The sound works, but doesn’t seem perfect. No problems with the video. I upped the RAM to 4GB.

    1. Did you get it to recognize the full 4GB of RAM (Memory)?
      I dropped the amount of RAM used for video to 32MB but it still only recognizes/shows 2.6 GB.

      I’ve tried it on Ubuntu 12 and 13 64-bit and Windows Server 2008 R2 64-bit.



  3. Give PCLINUXOS 2012.6 a try. It works right out of the box. Sound, networking, and SATA all worked on my install. I picked the lxde version to speed everything up a bit. As far as I know, the only 2 distros that work well with FX160 are Mandriva and PCLINUXOS. I spent about 3 months looking for a solution and finally tumbled upon PCLINUXOS.

  4. I put a lot of quality time in attempting to get an Dell FX160 to use the native resolution of a 1920×1080 panel (ACER S231HL) and finally got it. It almost beat me, but about 5 hours in, I was able to piece together the missing part that allows 1920×1080. Not one site had a working solution, so I’m posting this here as this is the closest one that might help others attempting to figure this out.

    Using Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. 64bit. Get the driver files from here:

    The xorg drivers you can install in ubuntu software center won’t give you anything higher than 1024×768 as it fails to recognize the SIS671 chipset and falls back to the stock framebuffer.
    Put the two binary files in the tarball from the site above, and where the page above describes. Be sure to get the correct package for 32bit vs 64bit to match the version of ubunty you are running. Thus, I used the files in sis-64-bit-1204.tar.gz

    Don’t use the xorg.conf contained in the tarball, or if you do, it may not work. It didn’t for me, and just hung. If it does don’t forget you can open a console with Ctrl+Alt+F1 and login and copy / remove the xorg.conf and get back to where you were before.

    Once you get back into the gui, go to the display settings and you should see you can change the resolution up to 1920×1080.

    Here is my working xorg.conf that works and has a proper modeline for 1920×1080.

    Section “Device”
    Identifier “Configured Video Device”
    Driver “sis671”

    Section “Monitor”
    Identifier “Configured Monitor”
    Modeline “1920x1080_60.00” 173.00 1920 2048 2248 2576 1080 1083 1088 1120 -hsync +vsync

    Section “Screen”
    Identifier “Default Screen”
    Monitor “Configured Monitor”
    Device “Configured Video Device”
    DefaultDepth 24

  5. I’m wondering if anyone has test this with CentOS 6.4, 6.5 or 7.0. I’m curious as I’d like to use this as an ftp server.


  6. I have noticed that, for me, these instructions didn’t work when my monitor was hooked up with the dvi-cable, but they worked just fine when I used the vga-cable.

  7. I just put two of these into service, one as a low-volume static-page webserver and ssh gateway, and the other as a caching DNS and DHCP server. Both are running Debian headless with no issues whatsoever.

  8. I recently bought an FX160 just to run my domotics server. My requirements for the system are low: no need for sound, high resolution or even a graphical interface.
    My experience so far:
    – PuppyLinux: Networking does not work
    – Ubuntu from Alternate CD: Does not boot
    – Arch: Boot ends with kernel panic
    – PCLinuxOS: Boots fine, networking works, but problem with screen resolution: after logon it switches to a video mode that my monitor does not support. Working on a solution by booting through the USB version, then changing grub or xorg.conf.

  9. Finally installed Puppy Linux Precise LTS version: video works, networking works, all fine.

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