Moving to the Dark Side

Leaving the Pipette for a Keyboard.

New shiny toy

Update of 11.08.2016 tldr: upgraded to 16.04 with a fresh install and everything is rosy - the system is better than ever.

Before reading bellow, keep in mind that the OS has changed. Originally I installed the Dell Ubuntu distro, 12.04, and then upgraded to 14.04 . I was curious about 16.04, and the promise that all my dual-external displays would be solved, but no wanting to install and customize everything from scratch, I managed to screw things a little with the direct upgrade. I tested 16.04 from a LiveUSB and it was working fine, so it must have been some installation conflict somewhere. I ended making a fresh install to 16.04 and the system is now stable and functional with no fuss. Specially display with two external monitors and the laptop screen is not working fine without itches or flickering in one of the screens.

Updated on 11.01.2015 to correct spelling mistakes, grammar, and add new information about the speakers.

My new laptop has arrived, and after testing it for a couple of days, I feel that I can post my own impressions of the Dell XPS13 (9333).

Dell XPS13

Those in the Linux world may have heard of it by the code name sputnik. Originally this model was developed by Dell, with an eye on developers, and thus it is one of the very few laptops to be offered with Linux Ubuntu pre-installed. As a bioinformatician, or genomics data analyst as I call myself (not very catchy), working on a *nix machine is a must. Even though I worked in OSX for a while, it never really impressed me, so when deciding on a laptop for my new job, I had three things on my wish-list:

  1. Linux compatibility, to run all the tools I need;
  2. light, to carry home and show results to colleagues;
  3. somewhat powerful, to test scripts and be “future-proof”;

Some specs

With the above in mind, I got the XP13 with the following specs:

Intel(r) Core(tm) i7-4510U (4M Cache, up to 3.1 GHz)
8 GB Dual-Channel DDR3 with 1.600 MHz
Solid-State-hardrive (SSD) with 512 GB
Intel HD Grafics 4400
1.37 kg

Unfortunately the model with pre-installed Ubuntu was not available in Germany, apparently they are out of stock, so mine came with Windows 8 pre-installed. Obviously the 1st thing I did to replace Windows with a fresh install of Ubuntu 14.04 from a liveUSB. Everything pretty much worked out of the box, which is the new unremarkable normal for modern Linux distros, specially those based on Ubuntu. Of note, the touchscreen (which I do not care about) works, at least selecting and scrolling. Connecting the wifi was also a doodle. It took me almost more time to disable the annoying Windows features to allow the Linux installation than it did to make the install itself. In less than 1 hour I had the computer ready to work.

Review

###Design
Oh boy does it look good! Nice aluminium touch, very elegant. I could compare it to a Macbook Air and it is noticeable smaller, both in width and depth, and prettier for my eyes.

###Screen

Excellent resolution, bright colours - amazing. The less fun part is that at 1920x1080 fonts and icons are rather small, but nothing that can’t be fixed.

coil whine

This refers to a wizz sound coming from the keyboard area. In my case it is barely noticeable, and turning of the keyboard back-lighting stops it. I don’t care about this light so it works for me. Most of the time the noise is barely audible though.

###Temperature

This is something of a problem with Linux laptops. I have installed laptop-mode-tools and, as we speak, it is running at 45-55ºc, with Firefox, Thunderbird, Sublime text, and terminal open. So not an issue for me.

Keyboard and mousepad
The keyboard is responsive, without being too edgy. The mouse pad is rather large, and does not have physically separated buttons, so it I am still adjusting and trying to the right-click. Both feel somewhat roughed, at least in comparison to my Toshiba T230, which is neither a good or bad thing, it just offers more resistance and feedback to the touch. It should be noted that the page-up and -down do not have dedicated buttons, nor does the end/start (so useful to navigate lines of code). However, the use of fn + arrows solves the problem.

###Sound
Good enough. This is a laptop, not a sound system. Scracth that, after some more testing, the sound is loud and clear. Very decent (for a laptop of course).

battery life
It looks like I can squeeze 5 hours out of it easily, but it is too early to tell.

###Dock
I also got a Dell dock with it, because let’s face it, 2 USB entries is just low, and I am connected to a server most of the time and prefer to do it over an ethernet connection for stability. From what I tested so far, the sound and display entries of the dock do not work. On the other hand, the USB and the ethernet work.

Conclusion

All in all I am very happy with my new shinny Ubuntu ultrabook. And I stress ultra because coming from a 4 year old laptop (still working well) with less than 2 kg, I cannot entertain the thought of not having a light laptop and the XPS13 is the perfect upgrade to my Toshiba T230.