Techie Notes

Dell 13" XPS 9343 development edition

Tagged: linux osx tmux screen


In the past I wanted to have the most powerful laptop I could get as my development environment. Also I had been using MacBook Pro machines for about 15 years. With advances of Docker I wanted my next development machine to run Linux, so I can use Docker development environment natively. I had a MacBook Air lying around which I converted into Ubuntu 15.04 box and had been reasonably happy with its performance. And then I read about Dell XPS 13” developer edition (running Ubuntu 14.04) – and decided to give it a try.

I ordered the laptop, and a dock station and yesterday was the day when the lapop arrived. The form factor of it is just magnificent. The screen is as wide as the screen of 13” macbook air, but the size of the computer is much smaller. The screen is great and keyboard looks very nice too. So how did it fire as an Ubuntu machine?

When I opened laptop first time – it showed a flashy Ubuntu intro video and then opened a microscopic Ubuntu install (using max 3200x1800 pixel screen resolution) window where it asked to enter my name, password, timezone and other usual things. Then it continued with installation and crashed…

Ok not very good start. I restarted machine and found out that before it did crash it actually added me to users. Now I could see a microscopic login prompt. Logging in, going to System Settings -> Displays and scale UI 2.5x – now everyting becomes readable. Computer is sluggish, windows take a lot of time to open, even terminal is kind of sluggish. Trackpad works every other time, sometimes it does not respond to touches at all, sometimes it works ok. Keyboard has troubles and from time to time starts to insert many characters for no good reason. When I apt-get update – I get some errors. When I look – I see that there is a ‘cdrom’ package source from Dell that I need to delete. Also there are a bunch of Dell sourses in /etc/apt/sources.list.d. Anyway time to upgrade the system!

I am upgrading it to Ubuntu 15.04 and computer dies. I cannot even get to the login promt. I restore Dell’s 14.04 and try to upgrade to 14.04.2 and it also crashes. I give up, wipe out Dell’s install and make a clean install from a USB stick (I did have to format USB stick as FAT32, or it won’t boot). And it works almost perfectly! I was ready to send the machine back to Dell, and now I actually have a working and fast Ubuntu on it! Wireless, trackpad, voice, cam, mic, touch screen – all are working out of the box. The system is not sluggish anymore even with max screen resolution. I do change resolution to 1900x1080 though, as with my eyes I cannot see the difference.

Battery life - it seems that batery lasts for 5 hours of doing work, which is pretty decent. The additional battery that I got adds about 2 more hours. So with these two it is enough power for trips to Europe.

As I found out the Docking station does need drivers to work with the laptop, and drivers that come with it are for Windows only. Sooo – why did Dell put Docking station as available accessory to Ubuntu only machine? Go figure…

I would say the only thing that still nags me is a keyboard. From time to time it starts to type a character indefinitely and often types 2 characters when I typed one. I hope I will find a way to fix that in the future. But it happens rare enough and I can say I have a nice development laptop now!

Important shorcut that I learned through the process – is pressing F2 button while Dell logo appears on the screen gets to you UEFI window. Pressing Fn and Power starts self test

One more thing – it is obviously not a gaming laptop. GPU is not powerful at all. CPU on the other hand is quite powerful.

Geekbench 3 comparison

Computer Cores Single Core Multicore
MacBookAir 4,2 4 2151 3811
Dell XPS 13 9343 4 2989 6539
MacBookPro 15” early 2013 8 3070 11762
Desktop 64G Ram, SSD, i7-4930K CPU 12 3971 24314

So according to the geekbench it looks like this machine is about as powerful as the top of the line MacBook Pro 2013 with 2.7 GHz processor (obviously having less threads makes Multicore benchmark about 2 times less).

My current satisfaction from this laptop is about 3 stars out of 5

It is fast for its size, pretty much everything works out of the box with Ubuntu 15.04, very nice screen, small body, quite light.

Ubuntu 14.04 that comes preinstalled by Dell had been a huge pain and did cost me almost whole day, Docking station is almost useless with Linux as it does require drivers, keyboard bug makes typing a bit of a chore, I do miss magnetic power connector of Macs :)

What did I buy: