Hands-on with the Linux-ready Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition

Hands-on with the Linux-ready Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition

Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition
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About 15 months ago, I reviewed Fedora 21 on the ASUS Zenbook UX305. As happy as I have been with that machine, a new year came along and I had the opportunity to pick up a new personal laptop. I found myself deciding between three models: the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition, the ASUS Zenbook UX305UA, and the Lenovo Thinkpad T460s.

Without getting into too many details, I ended up choosing the Dell XPS Developer Edition (DE) for a couple main reasons:

  1. I already own a Lenovo Thinkpad T450s for work. It runs Fedora pretty well, but I haven't been very happy with the battery life lately. This year's ASUS looks solid, but last year's UX305 is still working well enough.
  2. I haven't bought a Dell system in over a decade, and since they went private I've been thinking about giving them a chance. (Especially given that they are selling a machine with Linux pre-installed.)

The hardware

The XPS 13 DE comes with 8GB RAM, a 250GB SSD, and an Intel Core i5 Skylake processor. It's relatively more expansive than the ASUS UX305UA and a bit cheaper than the Thinkpad T460s, but has comparable specs. It also has a USB-C port and SD card slot. The only "negative" feedback I have about the hardware is that Dell ended up putting the webcam on the lower left corner of the screen, so if you start typing your hands will block it.

Slimmer than the Thinkpad, but not as thin as the Asus Zenbook.

It's a well-built laptop, too. It has an aluminum casing with a rubbery material for the handrest/keyboard. It feels very sturdy.

Running Linux

Unlike my Asus UX305, I didn't have to dual boot or remove Windows with this laptop. It came with Ubuntu 14.04 pre-installed. I decided to play with Ubuntu for a few days before installing Fedora on it. Ubuntu 14.04 runs pretty smoothly on it, which shouldn't be much of a shocker since they are shipping it with it. When I wiped the hard drive and installed Ubuntu 16.04, I noticed the native Intel video drivers for Ubuntu 16.04 the XP 13 screen suffered from random flickers, which was really annoying. After some research, this thread gave me a couple of different ways to solve the problem.

After a week or so running Ubuntu, it was time for me to install Fedora. The latest and greatest version of Fedora 24 came out June 21, and I installed it the very same day. Fedora 24 shipped with kernel 4.5, so it also had screen flickering issues. I then decided to go back to Ubuntu 16.04 and wait for kernel 4.6 to make its way into Fedora 24. I didn't have to wait long. On July 1, the kernel 4.6 RPM was released for Fedora 24. I did the install again, and the computer has been running Fedora 24 without any major issues.

Upgrading to kernel 4.6 also resolved the screen flickering problem I was having.

The only problems I've encountered so far in both Ubuntu and Fedora are minor issues with the touchpad. Once a week it seems to forget I have "tap to click" turned on and only responds to actual clicking. The second isn't an issue so much as an annoyance: In both Fedora and Ubuntu, it sometimes takes 30-90 seconds to connect to Wi-Fi after coming back from sleep mode. It always comes up, but sometimes it takes too long.

The 1080p screen is beautiful and bright. With powertop enabled on systemd and all the power-saving tuneables turned on, I can get about eight hours of battery life. However, I haven't actually done a complete battery drain to confirm if the system is accurately tracking how much power is left. For what it's worth, I've used it for over five hours unplugged and it said it still had a few more hours.

It is also worth noting that it comes with an Intel wireless chip, and the non-DE XPS 13 comes with a Broadcom wireless chip instead. If you're running Linux, your odds are that you will have a much nicer time getting your wireless running with the Intel chip rather than the Broadcom.

Conclusion

The new Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition is a good looking and well-built machine. It doesn't come with Windows installed (if that's important to you), and it runs Ubuntu and Fedora virtually perfectly. It's a great machine for developers and system administrators.

This article is based on the original.

15 Comments

Sortova

I've owned two Dell XPS developer editions as my laptop of choice for the past five years. This latest one is the first laptop I've felt an emotional attachment to since I used to buy Macbooks.

The issue I have is that sometimes the touchpad/clickpad cursor jumps to the bottom left corner when clicking (I use two fingers). Still fighting with that but otherwise works fine. And yes, the 4.6 kernel is a must.

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Bradley Haggerty

Nice article. I am always happy to see more laptops shipping with GNU/Linux on them. I'm finding out more and more that the average Joe doesn't want to be tasked with installing an operating system, so I think this could really help with marketshare.

Also commenting to let you know that there are several series of ThinkPads, so you should really denote which one you were talking about. In this case it was the T series, so it would be T460s and T450s. At this time the X series are generally 12", the W series generally 15", and the T series 14" or 15" (the first number in the more recent models is the size, by the way), so we can guess that you meant it was a T series (and also see it is by the link), but I think you should add on the T to make this easier on the read.

I also noticed some sort of error here, " I noticed the native Intel video drivers for Ubuntu 16.04 the XP 13 screen suffered from random flickers..."

I can't quite tell what you were going for, but the sentence stops making sense after "16.04" if read as-is. Maybe you meant to say "I noticed with the native Intel video..." at the start, as that would fix it.

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ansilva

Thanks for the feedback, I asked the editor to update the article w/ your recommendations.

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bmaynard

Great review Anderson.If more manufactures decided to actually install some form of Linux on laptops and desktops, I feel that more people would understand how much easier it truly is.

One quick thing: Who uses touch pads anymore?(lol)

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ansilva

If you are coming from the Mac world, your life depends on the touchpad :-) Mac's touchpads are amazing.

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bmaynard

OK, I'll give you that one.

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Don Watkins

Great review. I've been looking at a replacement for my current Dell Latitude 5410 on which I run Ubuntu.

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Umataro Wanatashi

According to reddit, the coil whine that has plagued this laptop for the last few generations is still there. Does yours have it? I returned mine because of it (mine was the previous generation).

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ansilva

Hi Umataro,

I can honestly say I am not familiar with any coil whining on this device (so far).

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ansilva

A couple of issues to report on the XPS 13 Developer Edition running Fedora 24, as per: https://bugzilla.redhat.com/show_bug.cgi?id=1206936

Secure boot should be disabled for suspend/resume to work. And, currently, suspend/resume only works when the laptop is plugged in. If not plugged in, it will reboot instead of resume.

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dboth

Very nice review. It makes me salivate! ;-0 My old Thinkpad W500 works very nicely with Fedora and CentOS and I will keep it until it dies. But when it does, this looks like an outstanding solution.

Thanks for the information and a great review.

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Lloyd Watkin

It works nicely with 16.04 except if you get the d3100 dock (note not an actual dock) the display link drivers use massive amounts of CPU, something to do with unity.

The 4k screen is amazing but I actually find I need to zoom/increase font sizes.

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LittleMonkeyMojo

Interesting. My XPS13DE did come with a Broadcom Wireless card and it's the usual pain to get it working. Model P54G001.

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ansilva

Found out there is a BIOS update for the Dell XPS 13" (2016). Version 1.4.4. More details at https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Dell_XPS_13_(2016)

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tcpserv

This will definitely be my next purchase. Looks impressive together with the Ubuntu hardware compatibility.

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