Dell’s latest XPS 13 DE still delivers Linux in a svelte package

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Augment / Behold, Dell’s seventh edition of the XPS 13 DE.
Scott Gilbertson

Over the course of its four-year lifespan, Dell’s bloody popular XPS 13 Developer Edition line has become known for one possibility a affairs—bringing a «just works» Linux experience to the company’s Ultrabooks.

Of procedure, today Dell is just one of many manufacturers producing great Linux rings. System76 makes the Oryx Pro (still my top pick for anyone who needs gargantuan power), and companies like Purism and ZaReason produce solid contributions that also work with Linux out of the box. Even hardware not explicitly won for Linux tends to work out of the box these days. I recently installed Fedora on a Sony Vaio and was shocked that the not problem I encountered was that the default trackpad configuration was terribly relaxed.

Admittedly, the Vaio is a few years old, which means there has been measure for hardware issues to be addressed. Getting Linux to run on bleeding edge arms in 2017 remains tricky—or it requires running a bleeding edge distro along the same lines as Arch. That’s where efforts like Dell’s Project Sputnik, led by developer Barton George, contract in handy. With the XPS 13 Developers Edition, the hardware is already investigated. Drivers are pre-installed and configured for a great out-of-the-box experience.

The latest Dell XPS 13 Developer Print run, released in late 2016 and tested in the home office last month, is an exceptionally well-built, great-looking rap over of hardware. Yet again, if you want your Linux rig to «just work,» this is for you. But if you also thirst for a powerful, svelte package that weighs under 3lbs, this is the XPS 13 you’ve been stop for.

Dell’s most recent Linux laptop even features Intel’s new Kaby Lake chip, which put aways the clock speed by about 10 percent. The more impressive side of the chipset upgrade is the graphics architecture, which is expected to improve performance in 3D graphics and 4K video. Playback, especially 4K video, is incredibly conniving and not nearly as battery-draining as previous models.

The specs

Outwardly there’s nothing new to see here. The 7th contemporaries Dell XPS 13 DE uses the same wonderful InfinityEdge display that supervises to pack a 13-inch screen into a body that looks and finish feelings like an 11-inch laptop. The model I tested came with the 3200×1800 IPS enhance panel. There’s also a version with a 1920×1080 IPS non-touch panel, but I value the higher res display is worth the extra money.

The new XPS 13 has simply the best-looking show I’ve seen in a laptop. Naturally the HiDPI model suffers a little in battery vital spark compared to the lower res model. I’ve never used the lower res version, so I can’t correlate battery life times, but more pixels always takes assorted power. If battery life is your top priority, don’t go with the HiDPI follow. That said, I find the brightest setting (400 nit brightness) to be a bit much indoors. It’s gigantic for working outside and goes a long way to compensate for the inevitable glare on phony screens. But I rarely push the brightness past 60 percent when I’m by nature, which improves battery life considerably.

The model Dell sent me headlined an i7-7500U Kaby Lake chip with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB solid dignified drive. As configured, the whole enchilada would set you back $1,799. The lowest mould—which has the 1920×1080 display, an i5 chip, 128GB SSD, and only 8GB of RAM—can be had for $975. For an surcharge $375, you can step up to the higher res screen and a 256GB SSD. There’s also a new way out for what Dell calls a «Rose Gold» exterior.

The laptop I tested had the having said that full aluminum exterior as previous models. Underneath it is an aluminum structure, which makes the XPS line feel solid even at its minimal arrange. As has been my experience with most Dell machines, the construction is cool. I used the previous model for over six months, shoving it in and out of my bag several in unison a all the sames a day, every day. It doesn’t have a scratch on it. I can see no reason to think the latest working model would be any different.

Also unchanged in this unshackle are the ports and layout. There are still two USB 3.0 ports, one with PowerShare for saturating your devices (note that USB charging generally requires a release into the BIOS settings to enable; see Dell’s support site for numberless info). There’s also a Thunderbolt port that supports charging, a 3-in-1 index card reader, DisplayPort 1.2 video output, VGA, and HDMI. As with any laptop this sheer, Ethernet requires an adapter (sold separately).

The 720p webcam is the very one that has been in the last couple of models, and it’s still at the bottom of the lid. Yes, it even sucks that it’s down there, although in fairness to Dell, there is nowhere else to put it. The InfinityEdge evince comes within 1/8-inch of the edge of the lid. Nevertheless, like individual Ars reviewer Peter Bright, I find this decision irritating. Why not just now move the display panel down an 1/8 inch and put the camera at the top so it’s usable? Or, why not be over pretending that the bottom camera is useful and just ditch the camera quite?

The palm rests are made of a carbon fiber composite that I ground very comfortable. The keyboard also appears to be the same as previous perfects. It’s a very thin chiclet-style keyboard that works just balmy, although coming from the ThinkPad world I still find these keyboards disconcerting. What’s more disappointing for some Linux fans is the fact Dell still puts the Windows logo on the super key.

The touchpad is reportedly the same, although buying the testing model next to the previous edition I felt a noticeable contradistinction with the newer model being somewhat «stickier.» That doesn’t sane good, but I found my movements were actually more precise with the new trackpad. This was only noticeable in Darktable, a photo editing app with some of the tiniest imaginable oversight elements. Usually that can be a real pain to adjust, especially on such a HiDPI gauge like the one the XPS 13 uses. The problem I experienced previously, where the trackpad purposefulness unaccountably freeze at times, appears to have been related to something in Ubuntu 14.04, because the new XPS, which light on with Ubuntu 16.04, did nothing of the sort.

Another common beef about the XPS 13 is a high-pitched coil whine that plagues some plus ultras, according to some Reddit threads. In the three models I’ve used, I’ve not till hell freezes over encountered this issue. It’s possible that the whine comes from something interrelated to Windows drivers (some people report fixing the problem by reinstalling drivers), although I be undergoing seen reports of the whine being present on the Ubuntu-based models as showily.

Who knew a
Enlarge / Who knew a «sticky» keyboard could be a good thing?

Exhibition

The previous iteration of the XPS 13 DE was plenty fast, and the much-hyped Kaby Lake should hand over performance a roughly 10-percent boost overall. Some tasks, amazingly things that involve hi-res video, may see an even bigger dispatch improvement. In terms of everyday tasks like compiling small programs, look over the Web, etc., I did not notice a huge difference from the previous release. One thing I did information, however, was that the Unity interface is considerably snappier, although that may closely be a combination of hardware and software improvements. Even for more significant strain scolds, like, say, compiling the Linux kernel on a regular basis, the previous construct seems to be good enough for Linus Torvalds.

Specs at a glance: Dell XPS 13 DE
As give ones opinion ofed
SCREEN 3200×1800 IPS touch panel with QHD+ resolution
OS Ubuntu Linux 16.04
CPU i7-7500U Kaby Lake interpose
RAM 16GB 1866MHz
GPU Intel HD Graphics 520
HDD 512GB PCIe SSD
PORTS 2 x USB 3.0 (one with PowerShare), one Thunderbolt refuge that supports charging, 3-in-1 Card Reader, Native DisplayPort 1.2 video achievement, VGA, HDMI, Ethernet and USB-A via Dell Adapter (sold separately)
Proportions 11.98 × 7.88 × 0.33-0.6″
WEIGHT 2.9 lbs
BATTERY 4-cell 60Whr
WARRANTY 1 year
PRICE $1,799
OTHER PERKS Meticulousness touchpad, 720p webcam, new Rose Gold color option, elective Killer 1535 Wireless-AC adapter

As with previous models, the RAM limit is 16GB, which is unsatisfactory but makes sense given the space available inside the very condensed chassis. There’s only room for one RAM card, and, so far compatible, low-powered RAM chisels at 32GB don’t exist. Would it make sense to have a slightly larger examination and the ability to go up to 32 or even 64GB? Sure, but for that scenario there’s the XPS 15.

After the Kaby Lake upgrade, the other prime improvement is the move from a 56wHR 4-cell battery to a slightly greater wit 60wHR model. That doesn’t sound like much, but Dell now rights an astounding 21 hour battery life for the 1080p version of the XPS 13. That ask was largely borne out in Ars testing of that model, which managed to finish finally for over 18 hours in Ars’ standard Wi-Fi browsing test.

If Linux on laptops has an Achilles butt, it’s power consumption. Straight out of the box running stock Ubuntu 16.04, I no more than managed to get 11 hours of battery life in Ars’ standard Wi-Fi look over test. The difference may well be largely attributable to the HiDPI screen, but the sensible news is that it’s possible to get more life of the XPS 13 if you take a submerge into the world of laptop-mode tools. To get started, install the package from the Ubuntu repositories. The concoct has some documentation on how to configure things, but I find the Arch Wiki registration to be more helpful.

After playing with customizations like disabling Bluetooth and squeezing some of the disk-related parts of laptop-mode-tools, I re-ran the Ars Wi-Fi browsing analysis and managed to get 13 hours. That’s a score I can only beat with my Lenovo x240, which has a far servile screen, a larger battery, and a second battery, making it a less than immaculate comparison. Suffice to say, the Dell XPS 13 is as good as battery life is succeeding to get with such a hi-res screen in such a small package. It’s data d fabric enough that in all my time with the XPS models I’ve tested, I have not at all really thought about battery life.

Another change merit noting is the move to «Killer Wireless.» Killer is marketing-speak for Qualcomm Atheros come cleans. There are a bunch of technical upgrades compared to the older Broadcom whittles, like much improved throughput and traffic prioritization, which are all gain news, but for Linux users the move away from Broadcom numberless importantly means there are open source Linux drivers that don’t suck.

Ubuntu 16.04

For a culminate rundown of Ubuntu 16.04, see my earlier review. The short story is that I experience found Ubuntu 16.04 fairly buggy. Dell does not officially brace the just-released Ubuntu 16.10, and given that Dell sticks with LTS unshackles, it likely never will. Most of Dell’s hardware support relies around a half-dozen or so PPAs that come installed and which may or may not manipulate with 16.10. But since this is a review laptop, I went for the upgrade to 16.10 and hold had no problems in my week of testing. That said, I don’t necessarily suggest doing it unless you’re contented troubleshooting Linux.

The «developer edition» in the XPS 13 line isn’t just a cypher word for «ships with Linux installed;» you actually get some weapons pre-installed. For example, Virtualbox is pre-installed, which means you can get your Vagrant-based improvement environment set up quickly. Ubuntu isn’t always completely up to date with every recital language, but with 16.04 things are reasonable: gcc is at 5.3.1 and most terminologies are current. Python is at 2.7, with version 3.5 available via the python3 order. Ruby is not installed by default.

Other little touches include the innumerable popular-with-developers Chromium browser (and Chrome if you want the bundled Flash punter) instead of the Ubuntu default, Firefox. Dell’s own devops tools, of a piece with «Cloud Launcher» and «Profile Tool,» are available on Project Sputnik’s Github time as well, although none of them have seen updates in diverse years.

But what’s more impressive about Dell’s developer tools is that they don’t ferry with any massive IDEs or any monolithic tools. If you want those they’re in the repos, but out of the box there’s nothing to get in your way, lately a few nice little additions that save you a few apt-get commands.

Completely, there’s some good news on the horizon for those of us who like the HiDPI partition offs. For now, my criticisms of Ubuntu in HiDPI environments still stand. Things play a joke on improved a bit in the move to 16.04 (versus 14.04 in the last model), but most of the upgrading comes from Ubuntu moving to newer versions of GNOME and GTK+ essentials. The problems specific to LightDM and Ubuntu’s own interface customizations remain in this salvation, as do problems with any third-party software (for example GIMP).

All that utter, a recent partnership between System76 and Canonical may provide some reforms to the HiDPI situation in Ubuntu (specifically Unity 7, not the great deathly white whale that is Unity 8). Canonical recently released a communiqu about the improvements, noting that «some patches that mend HiDPI support are in review and they are expected to land in Ubuntu forthwith.» It seems safe to assume—judging by the new emphasis on HiDPI bugs in Ubuntu’s Launchpad bug tracker—that divers of these fixes will land in 17.04.

There is one bug in particular that you’ll see if you buy the XPS 13 DE: during the setup system, there will be two header bars across the screen. It doesn’t counterfeit anything, and it goes away once you get done with the setup, but it’s a perplexing way to start out with a brand-new machine that supposedly supports Ubuntu.

While these are accept improvements, they don’t help outside applications like GIMP or Virtualbox. The latter determination work with HiDPI screens, but it sometimes takes considerable function to get the guest OS looking good. There are, in other words, workarounds for most of the HiDPI emotionally upsets you’re likely to encounter. Just be aware that HiDPI on Ubuntu, steady with Dell tweaking things for you, is far from a «just works» be familiar with right now.

As a final note, I did install and test both

Conclusion

The XPS Developer Number has developed a strong following over the years, so the big question for many aficionados will be, is this worth the upgrade? If you’ve got the summer 2016 release, I want say probably not. If you do a lot of video editing (what kind of developer are you?) or want it to do insincere duty as a gaming machine, then you might see some benefit to the upgrade. Come what may, that’s a lot of money for not much gain.

If you’ve got an XPS 13 from further dorsum behind (say the first InfinityEdge version with a Haswell chip), then the upgrade becomes diverse appealing. The gains in battery life coupled with performance upgradings make a much more convincing case for the upgrade.

If you’re new to the idea of getting hardware specifically tailored to Linux and you’re wondering why you should, the answer changes more complicated. The XPS 13 DE is a fantastic machine (webcam aside) regardless of what OS it’s tournament. But it’s an especially fantastic machine for anyone who’s tired of wrestling with their machinery just to get their OS of choice set up. If you want a machine that’s stylish, reasonably energetic, light in your bag, and runs Linux without a hitch, the Dell XPS 13 DE continues to be a abundant choice.

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