When I knew we were selling our house and downsizing to a level not felt since those early of my youth, I knew this meant changing how I use computers. Obviously I’d still use Linux, however this lifestyle change meant that I might not have the kind of dedicated office space I had been accustomed to.
This translated into me shopping for a laptop. Not any laptop mind you, but a laptop that had stupid long battery life, yet was also small enough that it didn’t weigh a ton. See, I owned a decent enough laptop already. It was an older Dell laptop I picked up on Ebay years ago, adding an SSD and extended life battery. But the thing was a beast in terms of size. Too heavy and really didn’t have the features I wanted going forward.
This is going to be the big question of the day, so let’s address this now. I chose a Dell XPS for the simple reason it allowed me to use something specifically designed for Linux enthusiasts. I looked at Linux ready laptops from companies I’ve had experience with and landed on Dell because I wanted to really see if the XPS lived up to the hype.
I should also point out that I had done my research to such a degree that I was aware of the current complaints on heat and fan noise. I ordered when I noticed the announcement that a firmware update was released that address both of these issues. Why? Not because the issues were resolved (which was nice), rather because it told me the XPS team was consistently working to improve the experience with the laptop.
What I love about the XPS 13
The weight, the battery life, the back-lit keyboard, the touchpad and the overall feel of the laptop. One of the biggest things that kept me from buying new in the field of made for Linux laptops was the fact that they all had “meh” battery life. Even my second hand Dell PC (the old one) had to use an extended life battery just to get the 8+ hours of life I expect.
The XPS with non-video work has all day battery life. I mean, all day. It’s pretty great and I wouldn’t be able to go back to anything less after getting used to this kind of flexibility, Now, I should point out if I’m watching videos my battery life will shrink to 7 to 6 hours pretty quickly. The battery life provided comes from a multitude of considerations.
First, there is the hardware configuration. It’s designed to give me as much as possible by design. Then we have the firmware. Next, a dash of TLP installed with Ubuntu which also helps ensure my power save functionality is being used appropriately.
Another thing that really surprised me about the XPS is even with integrated graphics, it can handle fairly intensive gaming. Obviously nothing ultra-modern, but more than I would expect without a dedicated graphics card!
What needs work on the XPS 13
While power saving and suspend work just fine on the Dell XPS 13, sleep is a big nope. It’s a known bug and one I knew about going into the purchase of this machine. But if you do try to put your XPS to sleep, you will drain your battery fast. Best bet is to use suspend instead.
Another thing that isn’t bad per se, rather not something I’m thrilled with is the fact I have been using Ubuntu. I’m a PCLinuxOS guy and my reason for using Ubuntu is the custom ISO that comes with the Dell supported recovery features and firmware. So while I’m confident I could leave my recovery partition intact and simply install a random distro, I am concerned about losing potential functionality. It’s something I’ll test at a later date.
For now I simply stuck with the Dell provided version of Ubuntu (as it is specifically tweaked by Dell), then added the MATE desktop to get out of the GNOME 3 space I dislike so much. My other laptop will remain a PCLinuxOS laptop for as long as the distro exists.