XPS 13 9350 – 16.10 and Broadcom (DW 1820A) woes (with Intel 8260NGW fix!)

After upgrading to 16.10, when I would resume from sleep my xps 13 would reconnect to my network but not have any DNS (it had a connection, but couldn’t navigate to sites by name, IP addresses worked). I was able to issue a

sudo systemctl restart network-manager

And this generally brought the network back online properly .. but I was noticing my speed was TERRIBLE.

I generally had great luck with my xps13 9350 with the broadcom wireless card (DW 1820A), although had read even the great Linus himself said his luck was terrible and he replaced it with an intel card. With 16.10 coming about and causing issues I decided to take the (small – approx $25) plunge and replace the card.

I bought this intel 8260NGW 3rd generation wifi card and hoped everything would work out, it sure has!!

First, taking the screws out of the laptop was a complete PITA. There are VERY small torx screws on the bottom of the laptop, luckily a small flathead jewelers screwdriver did the job … although I’d recommend something to help you grip since you need to torque the screwdriver quite a bit to get the screws to turn.

PLEASE NOTE! Be very careful with your very expensive laptop. There’s nothing COMPLICATED about removing the back of the laptop, but be gentle. When you get the screws out, you’ll want to get something in between the frame and the metal panel, use something plastic (not metal, which will scrape), and once you have some leverage the entire back will pop off with a little pressure. There’s no connections on the back panel that will be pulled.

With my handy rubber grip and screwdriver I removed the back of the laptop and could then remove the broadcom wifi adapter.

I carefully pried the 2 antenna connections off the old card, put in the new card, and carefully applied pressure to the antenna connections to reset them. BE CAREFUL HERE!! You don’t want to ‘pop’ something with such small electronics.

Once I plugged in the new card and snapped the back of the laptop back on … I fired up 16.10 and was greeted with mega fast speed (866 Mb/s)!

Yay intel. ūüôā

How to flash your bios for Dell XPS 9350

Dell’s firmware flash process isn’t built for linux. They do have instructions posted¬†here¬†but this requires making a thumb drive bootable with FreeDOS. I tried these steps and didn’t have any luck.

Instead, I wanted to summarize a simpler solution and one that’s BUILT INTO THE LAPTOP (why they recommend a process that involves more complicated steps, I have no idea…).

To update the firmware, perform the following steps. You may need to be in UEFI boot mode in order for this to work given the file is copied into the /boot/UEFI folder.

  1. First, ensure your laptop is plugged in. The update won’t run without being plugged into the wall.
  2. Next, download the newest firmware from Dell’s site¬†(at the time of this post on 8/13/2016 it was v1.4.4.
  3. Copy firmware to your /boot/EFI folder by using a terminal and running ‘sudo cp ~/Downloads/XPS*.exe /boot/efi’
  4. Reboot your laptop and hit F12 from the Dell splash screen
  5. Select BIOS Flash Update
  6. Click the ‘…’ button and select the¬†XPS*.exe file
  7. Select Begin Flash Update
  8. Enjoy.

The 1.4.4 firmware lists USB-C fixes, among other issues addressed. Once I installed the firmware I was able to plug my external monitor in and it instantly came up (this did happen many times before, but sometimes I would have to plug the power into the laptop in order for this to work. YMMV but hopefully the newest firmware makes the USB-C rock solid. Dell’s release notes follow:

Fixes & Enhancements

1.Improve touchscreen disable feature functionality
2.Added Support for Pre-OS MAC Address pass-through support for Dell Docks and specific Dell LAN Dongles. Display of MAC Address pass-through value in BIOS Setup.
3.Improved Type-C device performance and stability

Ubuntu 16.04 Release + Dell XPS 13 9350

UPDATE 5/11/2016 – The flicker is apparently Chrome only and has a report to Google.¬†If you use firefox you won’t see this screen flickering. You can also run Chrome via¬†“google-chrome¬†–disable-gpu-driver-bug-workarounds –enable-native-gpu-memory-buffers” and the flickering will stop. You can also edit the desktop file which will allow you to launch the app as you would normally through the launchers – it lives at “/usr/share/applications/google-chrome.desktop”.


I’ve blogged before about my experiences with the new skylake XPS 13. I’ve been VERY happy with the laptop and wanted to give a status now that 16.04 is released.

Fn Key Behavior

All Fn keys work as expected. Notable (?) exceptions seem to be FFWD/RWND and the ‘search’ button (F9). The most important ones for me are display brightness and volume … those work perfectly as well as mute/keyboard brightness and wifi on/off. Interesting wifi on/off (which shares space with the PrtScr (print screen) key seems to favor printing the screen FIRST even though I have the Fn keys turned on. I’m actually not upset about this since I rarely need to disconnect wifi and would maybe use the PrtScr function now and again (normally I just use the Screenshot app so I don’t see myself doing either one honestly).

Suspend/Resume

Everything is working perfectly here. Plugged in or not it does what I have specified which is when the lid is closed it suspends.

Battery Life

I haven’t run any specific battery test with details, based on my experience this things is a champ. I get plenty of battery life on it no matter what I’m doing. On my System76 Galago UltraPro when I have it unplugged I can watch the percent indicator tick down on regular intervals. On this thing each tick is given up begrudgingly. I’d estimate easily 7hrs and maybe as high as 9-10. The ‘pro’ reviews peg the battery life in that range I’m definitely inclined to agree.

My usage is web browsing and programming with web editors/languages such as Visual Studio Code/Sublime/Angular2/gulp builds/etc. Not super battery hungry applications but the web includes youtube things now and again – which doesn’t seem to make much of a difference.

External Monitor

Saving the best for last… I’ve blogged before about the external monitor via USB-C. I bought a USB-C to Display Port adapter¬†from amazon and when I last tried on a 16.04 Beta1 it didn’t work at all. This time as soon as I plugged it in it worked like a champ! Wanted to see how reliable it was so unplugged and plugged in … didn’t work. Again, didn’t work. Unplugged the power from the laptop and tried again .. WORKED!

So summary here is that it seems to give you an external connection just fine ONCE per power setting. ūüôā This is a completely weird issue … but if plug in your USBC plug and it didn’t work, unplug the laptop (or plug it in depending) and then try again and it should work. This makes me hopeful that it will be resolved in future updates but at least for now there’s a workaround – as goofy as it is.

Monitor ‘Flicker’

It was noted in a previous blog by Luis:

NOTE 4/7/2016: Read the comments for good feedback from others trying. Luis noted: “..before attempting to install one needs to boot and in the BIOS configure SATA-controller to AHCI (or Off).”. He also noted there’s a bug for the screen flicker issue.

The screen flicker issue still seems to be here occasionally. For now it doesn’t really bother me. It’s not constant and during the entirety of typing this blog in I haven’t seen any flicker – I even went to CNN and scrolled around and played a video and didn’t see it. I think it tends to happen when browsing the web and there’s lots of ads on a page or video going on or when scrolling quickly through the browser. I can’t really establish a pattern because it doesn’t happen frequently enough – just putting it in here so that it’s a known issue albeit an infrequent one.

Summary

It’s a shame the laptop isn’t 100% given the external monitor issues but I’m still absolutely thrilled with it. If I’m not sitting at my desk using my System76 Galago UltraPro, I’m using this thing because I don’t have to sweat battery life and the form factor and performance are killer. The trackpad works perfectly (remember to install libinput!), keyboard is great to type on … it’s a dream to have honestly.

Enjoy!

Dell XPS 9350 + Ubuntu 16.04 (beta1, Feb 27th)

Summary

I have been DYING to try Mir every since it was announced. Moving X forward, new libinput integrated for a solid touchpad experience .. the entire thing is very exciting. Since I’m lucky enough to have a System76 Galago Ultrapro AND Dell XPS 13 9350 I figured I’d try to install 16.04beta1 (ubuntu/unity) on my XPS. I figured if it blew the laptop up I have another daily driver I can use.’

EDIT 2/28/2016 – I have the XPS 9350 1080p i5 no touchscreen model with broadcom wifi.

NOTE 4/7/2016: Read the comments for good feedback from others trying. Luis noted: “..before attempting to install one needs to boot and in the BIOS configure SATA-controller to AHCI (or Off).”. He also noted there’s a bug for the screen flicker issue.

Installation

I downloaded the nightly iso from here¬†and burned it to a thumb drive with the ‘Startup Disk Creator’ app in Ubuntu. Plugged it into the XPS and rebooted, selected the USB drive and off I went.

Wifi

Wifi was detected immediately during the installation, that was a huge sign for me since I have the Broadcom chip in my XPS, which historically has not been supported on linux at all until the 4.3/4.4 kernels. Good news is it’s working like a champ.

Display

The display looks as good as ever, no issues at all during the installation.

Special Keys/Touchpad/Keyboard

Everything “just worked” during installation.

Installation Wrapup

Everything worked flawlessly. I even installed using UEFI (when I was running 15.10 I had turned this off in the BIOS and was using ‘legacy’ mode). Now onto the details of how it’s running after installation.

Post-Installation

Mir

After installation the first thing I wanted to do was install Mir and test it out. I installed it using the following

sudo apt-get -y update && sudo apt-get -y dist-upgrade && sudo apt-get -y unity8-desktop-session-mir

On reboot I clicked the little ubuntu icon above and to the right of my username and changed it to the mir ‘8’ (looks like an 8-ball to me). I logged in and … nothing. Dunno what happened, I rebooted the laptop and logged in again and this time it logged in! (…..and looked terrible).

The resolution was screwed up, I couldn’t launch anything … to me it looked like it thought it was in some sort of phone or tablet mode. I have no idea and I couldn’t adjust anything so I quickly gave up. Oh well, I’ll keep trying as they get closer to release.

Other Software

The other things I normally do on a new installation are install chrome, dropbox, libinput.

Chrome

You can quickly install chrome using the following

cd ~/Downloads
wget https://dl.google.com/linux/direct/google-chrome-stable_current_amd64.deb && sudo dpkg -i google-chrome-stable_current_amd64.deb && sudo apt-get -f -y install

I ended up needing the ‘apt-get -f install’ to correct dependencies … seemed to work fine and chrome was immediately available from the launcher.

Dropbox

You can quickly install dropbox using the following

cd ~/Downloads
wget -O - "https://www.dropbox.com/download?plat=lnx.x86_64" | tar xzf -
sudo dpkg -i dropbox_2015.10.28_amd64.deb && sudo apt-get -y install python-gtk2 && sudo apt-get -f -y install

Libinput

You can use my steps from my StackOverflow post here. Vote my answer up if you used it. ūüôā

External Monitor

I was hoping the external monitor worked, and does … sorta.

I bought this cable before and it worked… and still does. But I could only get the monitor to turn on when the laptop was unplugged from the power supply. And I had to unplug the external monitor cable from the laptop a couple times THEN it would come up. Then I could plug in the laptop to the power supply and everything worked fine (I’m using it now to type in this blog post).

So I certainly still recommend the cable, just make sure you unplug the power connector from the laptop, then plug the external monitor cable into the USB-C, then once the monitor is on you can plug the power connector back in.

It’s weird .. but it worked and I’m not complaining too much honestly.

UPDATE: 4/7/2016 – External monitor no longer works. Hoping by release things are back to working.

Wrapup

I’d call this a roaring success honestly. With the very notable exception of Mir, everything else on the laptop works 100% out of the box (including Unity 7). Mir will stabilize … but not having to mess around with wifi drivers or skylake processor issues by installing kernels by hand is a WONDERFUL success for 16.04 for me.

Let me know in the comments if you have good experiences installing 16.04.

EDIT: Well, after I rebooted I can’t get to a login screen. ūüôā I unplugged external monitor … unplugged power cable .. rebooted a couple times. No dice. THAT’S NOT GOOD!! ūüôā Nice thing is I can get to a terminal windows and it has wifi so I can keep updating with ‘apt-get’ and see how things evolve. So for now don’t upgrade if you want a working laptop … YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!

LAST EDIT! Everything is good. It was the libinput settings file. I adjusted my stackoverflow post to include a couple more lines and things are booting fine.

Dell XPS 9350 (4.4.0 kernel)

The laptop has been running well on 4.4-rc7 but the new 4.4.0 kernel came out and I’d rather be on the newest officially released kernel (until Dell releases the official XPS 13 with an official kernel that is).

So I grabbed the newest kernel and installed it by running

cd /tmp
wget http://kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/v4.4-wily/linux-headers-4.4.0-040400_4.4.0-040400.201601101930_all.deb http://kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/v4.4-wily/linux-headers-4.4.0-040400-generic_4.4.0-040400.201601101930_amd64.deb http://kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/v4.4-wily/linux-image-4.4.0-040400-generic_4.4.0-040400.201601101930_amd64.deb
sudo dpkg -i linux-headers-4.4*.deb linux-image-4.4*.deb

Rebooted (remember to hit a key while grub is booting to select the kernel you want). Things are running like a champ so far. Will keep you posted and for anyone that installs please respond in the comments with your experiences.

Also, I wanted to clean up kernels I had installed (not the 4.2.x one that came with ubuntu though) and ran the following (help from this link)

 

(list kernels)
[jim@xps~]$  dpkg -l | grep linux-image
ri  linux-image-4.2.0-16-generic                  4.2.0-16.19                                amd64        Linux kernel image for version 4.2.0 on 64 bit x86 SMP
rc  linux-image-4.3.0-wifitest-custom             4.3.0-wifitest-custom-10.00.Custom         amd64        Linux kernel binary image for version 4.3.0-wifitest-custom
ii  linux-image-4.4.0-040400-generic              4.4.0-040400.201601101930                  amd64        Linux kernel image for version 4.4.0 on 64 bit x86 SMP
ii  linux-image-4.4.0-040400rc7-generic           4.4.0-040400rc7.201512272230               amd64        Linux kernel image for version 4.4.0 on 64 bit x86 SMP
ii  linux-image-extra-4.2.0-16-generic            4.2.0-16.19                                amd64        Linux kernel extra modules for version 4.2.0 on 64 bit x86 SMP
ii  linux-image-generic                           4.2.0.16.18                                amd64        Generic Linux kernel image
 
(remove version i want)
[jim@xps~]$ sudo dpkg --remove linux-image-4.3.0-wifitest-custom
 
(rinse and repeat, i do not recommend deleting the 4.2.x kernel)
(when you are finished uninstalling kernels run the following)
 
[jim@xps~]$ sudo update-grub

Now that you are done installing the 4.4.0 kernel, make sure you enable libinput ūüôā¬†and if you need to connect to a monitor grab a cable.

Thanks!

Dell XPS 13 9350 – External Display

UPDATE: 2/24/2016 – Haven’t tried for awhile with external monitor, but did recently and no luck in 16.10. Updated to 17.04, still no dice (everything else works fine though, so that’s nice). Hopefully this will get fixed. ūüôĀ

UPDATE: 6/1/2016 – To stop the flickering in chrome run chrome non-maximized. Fixes it. ‘Fix’ is in the google chrome bug report on this issue. Hopefully they fix for maximized too, but good enough for now.

UPDATE: 4/30/2016 – With 16.04 released my results have been solid. I’ve had issues where if plugging in the USBC cable didn’t work I could unplug POWER from the laptop and then retry and it would work … but I haven’t had much of that anymore either. It seems this ‘use case’ is stabilizing and mostly reliable. I do see screen flickering at times especially when flash/html5 video is playing through chrome, but I noticed that on my System76 Galago UltraPro as well so I’m guessing this has to do with an X driver issue and nothing specific to the XPS 13. Looks like this laptop is only getting better with age.


If you’ve followed my Dell XPS 13 9350 installation guide and have the 4.4-rc7 kernel running, you know that most things are running pretty well for me.

One thing that the new XPS 13 has (which is very cool) is USB-C. The downside is that there’s no displayport, and no other ways to get video out.

I took a chance and bought this USB-C to DisplayPort adapter from amazon and hoped for the best. Lo and behold, opened it up, plugged it in (side note: make sure you push it in until it ‘clicks’) and bam … my Dell UltraSharp U2715H¬†poppped up like a champ and worked right away – note this is at¬†2560×1440 resolution.

I love ubuntu and this laptop!

Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Ergonomic Desktop

Summary

I recently purchased the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop (link goes to keyboard only, I purchased with the mouse as well) and wanted to post my thoughts about it.

Background

Previously I had the wired keyboard from work and I really liked the keyboard a lot. It took some getting used to initially to break myself of a few muscle memory finger miscues but once I was over that (fairly quickly) I really appreciated the comfort of the keyboard on my wrists. I had heard good things about the wireless variant and asked Santa for this setup for Christmas in 2015.

microsoft ergonomic desktop

Keyboard

The keyboard has a feeling similar to a chiclet keyboard on any modern laptop, The key travel is very comfortable for each of the keys. Compared to say, my Dell XPS 13, the travel is probably double the distance which makes for a very comfortable typing experience. I LOVE that there is a switch to toggle between the function keys and multimedia keys, this makes it VERY convenient to switch between being able to do actions such as turn volume up/down and switch back to the Fn keys for debugging in IDEs (a very important detail if you are a programmer). For some, I’ve heard complaints about the Fn keys because they are half-size (as shown by the calculator key below), but for me this isn’t a big deal.

fn_key switch

The keyboard design is very modern looking and attractive (in my opinion) with the hollowed out area under the keyboard, much more so than the old wired variant I had which was a solid chunk of plastic. The plastic used for the wireless variant is a very premium feeling plastic, nothing about any of it feels cheap.

Mouse

The mouse is another story. I find the design very odd. It feels like I’m holding a baseball and it actually seems non-ergonomic to me. It doesn’t BOTHER me per-se because I’m not usually on the mouse nearly as much as the keyboard and I’ve never had issues with that hand/wrist, but the feel of the mouse is just a bit odd. I wouldn’t bother getting a different mouse and filling another USB slot for the connector (or using bluetooth to attach/detach to it), but it’s just a very weird feel to me. I’m pretty good as just dealing with things though, so for me this isn’t a deal breaker at all and I’m content to just live with it but it is something that did strike me as much less impressive versus the keyboard itself.

Bottom Line

For a programmer or anyone looking for a quality ergonomic keyboard I think Microsoft has nailed it yet again. They consistently deliver quality hardware and this is no exception. The desk space required for the keyboard is minimal (I rarely ever use a number pad which is a separate piece) and the look is all class.

If you are in the market for this keyboard, don’t hesitate – it’s a great piece.

Back to the future – Dell XPS 9350 (4.4-rc7 kernel)

My previous post on this topic talked about a mechanism for installing a custom 4.3 kernel that has the broadcom wireless drivers built in. I found a cleaner way to run a 4.4rc7 kernel from ubuntu that supports wifi, has no audio sizzle/static, and seems to run everything wonderfully.

It’s as simple as the following steps (as detailed on this blog)

cd /tmp
wget kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/v4.4-rc7-wily/linux-headers-4.4.0-040400rc7_4.4.0-040400rc7.201512272230_all.deb kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/v4.4-rc7-wily/linux-headers-4.4.0-040400rc7-generic_4.4.0-040400rc7.201512272230_amd64.deb kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/v4.4-rc7-wily/linux-image-4.4.0-040400rc7-generic_4.4.0-040400rc7.201512272230_amd64.deb
sudo dpkg -i linux-headers-4.4*.deb linux-image-4.4*.deb

Once you are done the above, reboot and select the 4.4 kernel (it may go to this by default). For me, everything “just worked”.

Also, whatever you do, don’t forget to install libinput’s X touchpad driver – it’s superior to the synaptic driver in every way.

Can’t wait until an official release from Dell and/or ubuntu 16.04 – until this I’m happy as a clam on this laptop. It’s a dream form factor, battery life, and power combination (assuming you aren’t intending on running games).

Back to the future – Dell XPS 9350 (4.3 kernel – old)

The Present

So my first post on this blog was about the Dell XPS 9333 compared to the System76 Galago UltraPro – I bought the System76 and don’t regret it at all. It’s a beast. The GPU is VERY strong (not as good as a discrete GPU but much better than the normal laptop level embedded GPU), the CPU is a MONSTER quad-core beast. The downside is battery life – it stinks. 3 hrs max .. if you are working it hard much less.

The Future

So with Dell’s new XPS 13 Skylake 9350 AND with a $100 rebate from MS I had to buy-in again. It’s just too nice of a footprint/screen/battery life to pass up. I love my Galago, but I love battery life when I don’t need the horsepower.

The Problem

Only problem is I didn’t want to run windows on it. MS was kind enough to give me $100 discount through a Christmas 2015 promotion, but I’m a linux guy and windows just isn’t as good for me. Problem is Dell’s Sputnik program doesn’t have everything worked out yet since Skylake is still fairly new and the drivers are only now in the 4.4 kernels which, as of this writing, are still in release candidate phase.

But never fear, here’s what I did to get it running!
NOTE: You’ll need a machine that DOES have internet access to do the below steps to copy the file to a thumb drive or other medium to transfer

  1. Put Ubuntu 15.10 on a thumb drive (get it here)
  2. Follow these steps on this wiki to download a custom 4.3 kernel
      1. If you don’t want to go to that link, download the custom 4.3 kernel by clicking this
      2. Go to terminal and change to directory you downloaded the file
      3. Enter the following
    tar jxf xps13_9350_kernel.tar.bz2
    sudo chown root:root brcmfmac4350-pcie.bin BCM-0a5c-6412.hcd
    sudo mv -t /lib/firmware/brcm/ BCM-0a5c-6412.hcd brcmfmac4350-pcie.bin
    sudo dpkg -i linux-headers-4.3.0-wifitest-custom_4.3.0-wifitest-custom-10.00.Custom_amd64.deb linux-image-4.3.0-wifitest-custom_4.3.0-wifitest-custom-10.00.Custom_amd64.deb
    
  3. Reboot and enjoy (NOTE: there is an issue with this 4.3 kernel where there is some static that comes from the speaker, this is more noticeable with headphones plugged in.)

I have had great luck with the above. I’m quite positive that I’ll have better luck with an official kernel and especially 4.4, but until then I’m not taking any kernel updates but do take all the other updates that ubuntu pushes.

Alternative

An alternative is to just buy an intel wifi device (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00GUNZUG0) and be done with it. ūüôā

Also…

No matter what you do above (custom kernel or new wifi device) make sure you update from the X synaptic driver to the libinput X driver – it’s MUCH better.

Use these steps on a previous post.

Dell XPS 13 – Developer Edition vs System76 Galago UltraPro

Summary

I had been using an Asus Timeline M5 for a couple years but the laptop’s resolution (1366×768) and smallish battery life (~3hrs) was something I was not happy with anymore. ¬†I wanted a laptop that ran linux ‘out of the box’ (if at all possible) since I didn’t want to muck with installation and making everything work 100% (i.e. media keys, sleep/resume, etc). ¬†My requirements were solid battery life (ideally > 4hrs), good resolution (ideally 1080p), and linux support with minimal (aka zero) fuss.

(Update 12/2014 – This post is sort of confusing because of how the timeline went down. The short story is I returned the XPS 13 because of the coil whine and Dell has a serious problem on their hands with how they’ve handled this. I bought the Galago UltraPro and I’m as happy as I could possibly be, it’s an amazing machine in all aspects. Please keep reading for the timeline of events and sorry for the confusion, it was a very confusing time for me too :).

My Background

To give some background on me and my computing/hardware history, I’ve been running Linux since my college days around ’95. There was a brief time when I didn’t have linux on SOMETHING, but it’s been my daily driver for a LONG time. I used to be a pretty hard core KDE person, went onto Ubuntu/Unity for quite a few years, then recently I tried Gnome 3.x and LOVED it. ¬† I went back to Ubuntu/Unity when I got the dell XPS 13 [*spoiler*! :)].

The Requirements

I wanted a laptop for hacking around for programming, general web browsing, and I MAY play a game or two on it in Steam but I have a Windows Steam machine for that with a beefy GPU so this was not a deciding factor really.  I wanted a nice footprint (ultrabook-like) and I really wanted long battery life, I was sick of the 3hrs (at best) that I would get with my Acer.

The Contenders

The list of laptops that run linux, have good battery life, have good screen sizes, and have a nice footprint is pretty …. thin (to say the least). ¬†LUCKILY the list has 2 REALLY nice laptops on the list.

It came down to the Dell XPS13 and System76’s Galago UltraPro.

System76

I had been following System76 for quite some time and really love their company involvement. ¬†They have a good social media presence, they support their products very well, and they are an up and comer. ¬†Their Galago UltraPro is a POWER machine. ¬†It’s got a SUPER CPU/GPU in it, but it comes at the cost of battery life. ¬†The screen is a matte screen which appealed to me a lot, I really didn’t need the screen to be a touch screen and didn’t want to pay for this feature since I’d rarely (if ever) use it. ¬†My wife has a Yoga2 with a touchscreen and she NEVER uses the touchscreen (she loves that laptop BTW, hates win8).

Dell

Dell has also committed lots of resources to drivers and making sure linux ‘just works’ on their XPS 13 as well. ¬†They have stuck with their Sputnik¬†program for years, which is tasked to fully support a developer¬†edition of the XPS 13.

The Decision

Price wasn’t cheap for either laptop, they were both pretty similar once you configured the options. ¬†The dell couldn’t go higher than 8GB ram, but with an SSD swap partition, things aren’t too terrible there. ¬†The CPU on the dell isn’t as powerful (I got the i5), but I’m not compiling millions of lines of code , mostly just hacking around. ¬†So the deciding factors ¬†came down to the footprint of the laptop and the battery life. ¬†The XPS13 is a true ultrabook and the battery life is OUTSTANDING. The Galago UltraPro runs at less than half the battery life of the XPS and the XPS form factor is absolutely outstanding – it’s a PREMIUM feeling machine through and through.

I decided on the XPS13 because of the footprint and the battery life. ¬†I didn’t need the extra horsepower the System76 machine provided and I DID want the extra battery life. ¬†The footprint was an added bonus (a really nice looking bonus).

THE FLAW

I was REALLY excited to get the laptop, it took a few weeks from when I ordered it to arrive. ¬†I unpacked it and turned it on and there’s an AWESOME boot animation they’ve done .. really nice opening presentation. ¬†I connected to my wifi and things were a little less awesome, I was getting connection disconnects. ¬†I also noticed a high pitched electrical sound coming from the laptop, seemingly from just under the usb port on the top right of the keyboard. ¬†If I played with the backlit keyboard settings I could get it to go away. I also found that if I plugged in a USB stick on that port it would quiet down. ¬†But depending on system load, what the fan was doing, maybe the chance of rain that day, the ‘coil whine’ would start up again. ¬†I have ALWAYS been able to silence it 100% by toggling the backlit keyboard to 1 of the 3 settings (it’s always a different one that silences it depending on the other factors going on with the power draw at the time).

I contacted dell support the next day and had a VERY positive experience.  They were on the problem right away and within literally 5 minutes I had an appointment with a tech specialist to come to my house in the next 2 days to swap the motherboard to try to fix the coil whine and the wifi dropouts.  I was really impressed.

Before the technician arrived I decided to try 14.04LTS on it (it came with 12.04LTS) to see if that helped the WiFi, it had a drastic effect and after the upgrade I had no WiFi issues at all. ¬†I also upgraded my router at home (a week or so later) to an¬†Asus RT-AC66U, the XPS connected flawlessly to this and now has amazing throughput and signal coverage (btw: can’t say enough positive things about this router. ¬†the signal coverage is amazing [way better than my juiced dd-wrt buffalo router before it] and the features are the best I’ve ever seen).

I started doing some more research into the coil whine and came across¬†this thread¬†on the dell support site. ¬†After reading through the forum, the coil whine¬†appears to me to be a design defect. ¬†If you read through the thread, you’ll find tech support seemingly admitting to the defect and most recently stating the motherboard is being redesigned to eliminate the noise (as of end of May 2014). I’m hoping that means they’ll send out free replacements to their current customers – honestly if they fixed this problem this is about the perfect machine for me.

UPDATE 12/2014 – Dell has an updated motherboard with the same problem. They are not going to fix this anymore and have stated this. The thread I linked above has massive amounts of complaints and I would STRONGLY advise against buying the XPS. Dell has just lost all credibility on this laptop and strung people along with the promise of a fix for too long.

The EXPERIENCE

So with that out of the way, my feelings on the product are that it’s OUTSTANDING. ¬†I’ve had it now for a little over a month and I love it. The drivers dell worked on for 12.04LTS have been pushed upstream and the upgrade to 14.04LTS went without a hitch. Every aspect of the machine ‘just works’¬†(except the coil whine obviously). ¬†Ubuntu looks GORGEOUS on it. ¬†Unity absolutely SHINES. ¬†I also have a¬†Dell UltraSharp U2711 27″ monitor (resolution¬†2560 x 1440, omg i love this monitor) which can only be driven PROPERLY by a Display Port connector and it connected flawlessly (you can use HDMI but it’s a rotten experience, I went through it with my Acer).¬†The multi-monitor support in Ubuntu’s Unity is bar-none the best I have experienced. ¬†At work I use a windows 7 machine in a docking station and every now and again it’ll go wonky or windows will go off screen, not often but it happens, but Unity has been flawless.

The speed of the laptop is pretty much instantaneous. ¬†I don’t wait for anything, everything ‘just works’, I was able to set the function keys to be ‘media’ keys in the BIOS (i.e. hit the Fn button to use them as function keys) which is how I prefer to have it .. the ONLY thing I needed to do (again, in the BIOS) was disable Intel’s “Smart Connect” so the laptop STAYED asleep when I shut the lid, otherwise it would wakeup sometimes even with the lid shut. This behavior happens to me on my Windows Steam machine too, so I blame the stupid Intel SmartConnect feature and not the laptop. Shutting this off in the BIOS prevented the laptop from accidental wakeups 100% of the time.

The Bottom Line

So after all of the above I have to say I’m tickled beyond belief with this laptop. ¬†Ubuntu/Unity has been a wonderful experience, Unity is such a mature environment and it does what I need it to do and gets out of my way. ¬†The workflow is outstanding. ¬†The laptop hardware OOZES premium feel, the touchpad behavior is the best I’ve ever felt on linux (far beyond windows, not quite up the the level of mac but close enough and still an excellent experience). ¬†The battery life is also outstanding at 7-8hrs. I also REALLY appreciate that the bottom of the laptop is carbon fiber instead of metal. ¬†Metal under a laptop gets either hot OR VERY COLD, I am not a fan of metal laptops UNDERNEATH (on top I think it looks sharp).

Dell has designed damn near a perfect laptop here for Linux users/developers. ¬†They have GOT to solve the coil whine though. ¬†It’s damaging to their reputation, it’s frustrating on such a premium product, and it’s just something they need to get beyond. ¬†They should look to how System76 handled their keyboard debacle, and to be fair to Dell it took System76 quite some time to ‘admit’ to this issue but at this point they’ve taken the high road and are much better off for it due to customer loyalty and satisfaction.

Checklist of things to do

In summary the things to do with this laptop if you do get one:

  1. Update to 14.04 LTS. ¬†It’s painless and a much better experience.
  2. Disable Intel SmartConnect in the BIOS. ¬†It’s dumb and it wakes the laptop up when it’s sleeping.
  3. Realize the laptop WILL make the coil whine sound, it’s not terribly loud but you can hear it in a silent room. ¬†Also realize you can make it stop by flipping through your 3 settings on the keyboard backlight, 1 of the settings will make it stop.
  4. Adjust the ‘media keys’ or ‘function keys’ behavior in the BIOS as well. ¬†I love media keys personally since I use them MUCH more than Fn keys and Fn keys aren’t hard to use with the Fn button.
  5. ENJOY IT!! ¬†It’s such a nice machine and Unity is such a nice desktop environment. ¬†I’m so happy to be able to buy linux on premium hardware and not have to fiddle with it – hopefully there’s more of this to come. ūüôā

If you are in the market for a laptop with great battery life, great form factor, and premium feel – consider the xps 13. ¬†I’m glad I did. (UPDATE: As stated above, I returned the XPS 13 – just to be clear)

For my next post I’m going to focus on Spring Boot and their profile support. ¬†I’d like to start a series on Spring Boot based on lessons I’ve learned for little things that highlight sections of their documentation.

Thanks for reading!

Jim

(UPDATE: I had to disable the tap click for the touchpad. ¬†Somewhere around mid-May I started getting clicks on the touchpad when I lifted up my finger on the touchpad. ¬†I don’t know why, and I fiddled with xinput and synaptic settings and couldn’t get it to go away. ¬†As of right now I have to physically ‘click’ the touchpad … it’s not terrible but it’s not what I wanted).

(UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: I finally bit the bullet and returned the XPS 13. ¬†It took hours on the phone with Dell and quite a few support people but Dell was a good enough company to finally take the return for their flaw in the laptop. ¬†I ordered a Galago UltraPro and I’m very happy. ¬†The battery life is around 4 hrs or so, but the Iris Pro is REALLY killing it. ¬†I bought with a HDD to save a couple bucks and while bootup is certainly slower, once it’s running the i7 really shows its power. ¬†I’m happy to have the ability to play Steam games and the laptop itself is quiet, NO pop on the headphones, very very solid).

12/2014 update – I’m still in love with the system76 laptop. It’s a beast in CPU/GPU and with the SSD I feel like this laptop is capable of anything I could reasonably want to do with it. I couldn’t be happier. Maybe I’ll make a dedicated blog post to just the system76 since this blog post evolved so much with my experience on the Dell and may be confusing.