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Dax Murray

Software Engineer and Speculative Fiction Author.

Dell XPS 13 Developers Edition 2015 and Ubuntu Machines

You may have read my post on not needing expensive Mac’s to do development on (if not, please do!). Since that post I have done some digging on finding good Ubuntu machine’s. I wanted to get a bit of an upgrade, and I didn’t want to mess around with drivers for hours converting a window’s machine. I hear there’s ways to put Ubuntu on Mac’s, too. But, really, I hate Yosemite. It’s awful to develop on and it’s just not fun to have in general in my opinion.

If you don’t mind larger laptops, System 76 might have a machine for you. They specialize in creating laptops to run Linux on them. The most affordable is currently around $600. However, if you are looking for something Macbook Air sized, you aren’t going to find it there right now. You could try ZaReason, too.  They let you pick the Linux distro that it ships with. However, even their thinnest and lightest is not in the same range as MacBook Air’s. If you have an incredible amount of money to put toward a Linux laptop, you could go with Librem (which is built to have the least amount of proprietary software on it as possible, a goal I totally support but cannot afford).

The laptop I ended up purchasing is the newest of Dell’s XPS line. It is part of their “Project Sputnik” initiative to ship working laptops with Ubuntu on them. I’d read a review about the previous Developers Edition, and was really intrigued by the reviewer saying “it just works.” That’s a pretty big phrase for anyone trying to make a Linux life. I first purchased a system with Linux on it from Dell in 2009. It was a small netbook with 10.04 LTS on it. I didn’t know anything about Ubuntu except that I could get it on my netbook for free, whereas I needed to pay $100 more to have Window’s on it. I learned my way around apt and the dangers of sudo the hard way: trial and error. At the end of that, I had a healthy respect for Dell’s ability to produce an Ubuntu certified machine. I wouldn’t have said “it just works,” though.

After my experience hacking a Chromebook to run Ubuntu, I wanted to give Dell another shot at it. The newest XPS had just been released, so I eagerly bought it. Due to some parts shortages, it took about three weeks from ordering to arrive. I must say, there was very little communication from Dell about what was going on and why the shipping was taking awhile. There was a lot of miscommunication among the customer service team, and a lot of incorrect information given to me during this time.

The XPS arrived at last, and I’ve been using it quiet a bit. It is thin, thinner by far than any other laptop I looked at, and thinner than my Chromebook. It’s lightweight, and it’s about the same size as an 11″ Macbook Air, not as light though. The positives so far: it runs Ubuntu well. I can fit (so far) my preferred text editors and IDE’s on it (RubyMine and Sublime Text). It’s keyboard is backlit. The screen is matte. I like the lightweight and I like the thinness a lot. The battery life is not amazing, but it’s not awful. I would say around 9 hours of moderate to heavy use. The neutrals: The camera is in the bottom left corner, making video calls awkward. I suppose this was done to keep the bevel as small as possible, but it is really distracting to the other person I am talking to, not to mention they can see me typing. I don’t use this for work video calls. The negatives: The trackpad. The trackpad issue is predictable since it’s Linux and trackpads. But it’s really annoying and I worked a way to fix it, but it caused my wireless to cease working.

Overall, I am happy with my purchase. I hope Dell learns to not put a camera in the corner ever again, but it wasn’t a deal breaker for me. I am going to keep fiddling with the trackpad and hope to find a solution soon.

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