Monday, December 30, 2013

Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition review (Haswell, late 2013 model)

Please note: I've updated this review in several spots and have highlighted these updates like this. Please also check out the comments-section below, there are some very good remarks and suggestions.

The XPS 13 Developer Edition, aka "Project Sputnik", is a laptop with a FullHD 13-inch screen, backlit keyboard, SSD, 4th gen intel CPU and comes pre-installed with Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. What makes this machine so interesting is not so much that Ubuntu comes pre-installed on it (it would be easy for anybody to install it him/herself, after all), but rather that Dell put some extra-work in making sure everything works right out of the box and supports running Ubuntu on it. WiFi, keyboard backlight, screen brightness control, sleepmode, etc. are guaranteed to work. Additionally, you save a few bucks on the Windows license.
I had been interested in this machine before and since it was updated with the new Intel Haswell processors in November (official announcement by the project lead), I jumped on it (The alternative I thought about was the System76 Galago Ultrapro).


I placed my order on December 6th. Dell had a special promotion that day (and maybe also a pricing error? Not sure). The laptop was $ 1469 (instead of the usual $ 1549) and there was a $ 50 coupon on their website, bringing the whole thing down to $ 1419 before tax, including 3-day shipping. The estimated delivery date was January 16th at the time I placed my order (It seems they were having some supply issues).
However, on December 19th, I received a shipping notification and I had the package in my hands 2 days later.



The hardware specs:

CPU: Intel i7-4500U (dual core, 1.8 GHz, up to 3 GHz with TurboBoost, 4 MB cache)
Screen: 13.3 inch, 1920x1080
RAM: 8GB Dual Channel DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz
SSD: 256 GB mSATA
GFX: Intel HD 4400

It has two USB 3.0 ports (one on each side), a headphone/headset port and a mini Displayport. That's it (other than the power-port, of course). The lack of an SD card reader is a bit disappointing, but something I can live with.

One thing worth mentioning:
There is a different version of this laptop which comes with an i7-4650U CPU and HD 5000 graphics. Unfortunately, Dell USA only offers this version to corporate customers (through corporate channels). In other countries (like in the UK and France, for instance), you can see this higher-end version on Dell's website and you can order it from there. It's a pity that Dell keeps this version from consumers in the US. I don't understand why they're doing that, but it is what it is.

The laptop comes in a sleek black box, very stylish. The contents are as minimalistic as the box: Laptop, power supply and quick-start manual (for the Windows-version of the machine). The power-supply was a positive surprise: it's very small. Here it is next to the power-supply from a 13inch MacBook Pro:



In the picture above, you can see that the top-portion of the black powersupply can be taken off and replaced with cable (which is included in the box) in case you're further away from the wall-plug.

The plug which connects to the laptop has white LEDs on it. They light up when the power supply is plugged in to an outlet (regardless of whether or it's plugged in to the laptop). If the laptop is turned off (or sleeping) and the battery is charging, there's no way for you to tell whether the batter is full or not based on the color of the LED. (Update: Turns out there is a way to tell, see below) It stays white. But on the right side of the laptop there is a little button which activates some battery-level-indicator LEDs on the laptop. That will show you the charge-level (see photo below).

Update! "While the color of the charger LED doesn't change, the LED at the middle of the bottom/front edge (below the trackpad) goes from orange to white when charged." (quote from davb in the comments of this post. Thanks for pointing this out.)



First boot: Ubuntu animation, Dell User Agreement, then the standard Ubuntu installer. The WiFi connection worked right away without issues (I'm mentioning this because the WiFi connectivity of the Ivy Bridge XPS 13 DE had some significant issues with WiFi). I've had no lag, no disconnects, no hiccups so far (if this changes, I'll update this post). The only thing I noticed is that the WiFi-signal indicator at the top right of the screen shows 3 out of 4 bars. The router is only 3 or 4 meters away from the laptop, so this is weird. All other devices in my household show full bars when they're in the same room as the router. My experience has been fine, though. A speedtest showed normal results, I ran some FTP-transfers, downloads, SSH connections, all worked just fine.

The keyboard's backlight is on by default and can be switched on and off via Fn + F6. There doesn't seem to be a regulator for the brightness of the backlight, but that's not a problem for me. (Update: There are, in fact, 3 brightness settings and I initially didn't notice it: Fn + F6 switches between 3 modes: Full brightness, lower brightness and off) The keyboard itself is very nice to type on. Compared to a 13inch MacBook Pro, which I have here next to me, I'd say the keys of the XPS 13 feel a bit "stiffer", meaning it requires a little more force to push a key down than on the MBP. It is by no means hard to press a key, though, don't get me wrong. I like this "stiffness" and it makes for a comfortable typing-experience. For those familiar with the different Cherry MX-switches in mechanical keyboards, I'd say that the MBP keyboard compares to a MX-red and the XPS 13 keyboard compares to a MX-black (when I say "compares", I mean "veeeery loosely compares". It's just the best description I could come up with to give you an idea). After having used the XPS 13 for a few days and then going back to the MBP, I like the XPS's keyboard better.



Screen brightness control: Worked right away witout a hitch (via Fn + F4 / F5). I'm fine with one of the lower screen brightness levels most of the time. The lowest brightness setting on the MacBook Pro (which is too dark for me to use) is definitely darker than on the XPS 13. The lowest setting on the Dell works just fine for me and it will probably save me some battery as well. One thing I noticed was that the screen brightness sometimes resets itself to the default brightness after rebooting or waking up from suspend. (In that case, I simply have to set it back down. No biggie, but I wanted to mention it.)

Screen: I was a little worried that 1920x1080 would be a bit of a problem for me on a 13inch screen. But it isn't too small at all for me, I like it. The display quality looks fantastic, very crisp and the viewing angles are awesome.
As I'm writing this I'm realizing I should probably say something about the touch-functionality of the screen. I'm not really interested in this feature and I will most likely not use it at all. But it's there. I touch-clicked around a little bit just now and it seems to work.

Battery life: I find this one a bit hard to judge and give a number that will hold true for everybody, since everybody's usage patterns are different. But after having used the XPS for a full week now, here's how it's been for me: Great.
I get about 6 hours of usage from a full charge (or more if I leave my desk for breaks and the screen shuts off after 5 minutes, which saves battery). As I mentioned earlier, that's usually on the lowest (or second to lowest) screen brightness setting (and keep in mind that the lowest brightness on the XPS is brighter than the lowest on the rMBP, so it's not EXTREMELY dark), with the keyboard backlight enabled for about 50-75% of the time, and having Firefox open with 5-10 tabs, sometimes YouTube running in the background for some music, some Terminal windows open, Steam open in the background, Skype running in the background and a few text editor windows open.
Running games will of course reduce the battery-time. For example, if I start up "Starbound" when the battery is full, the indicator tells me I have about 3 to 3:30 h left. It's about the same when I start a Skype-video-call with a full battery.

Update: After installing TLP (advanced power management for Linux), my battery life got a bit better: it went up to about six-and-a-half to seven hours (that's in the scenario where I previously got 6 hours)

Touchpad: It has a nice soft-feel to it and I've been able to use it without issues so far. I like to tap-click as opposed to actually clicking down the physical button. This works fine, as well as two-finger-tapping for a right-click. Two-finger-scrolling works fine as well. (If one prefers to click down the physical button: this works perfectly fine as well, for both left and right clicks)
I noticed one thing which doesn't matter at all to me, but maybe it matters to some: Getting a right-click by one-finger-tapping (not clicking) on the pad requires you to tap at the very very very lower right corner of the pad, which I find impossible to get right on the first try. So much so that I'm actually wondering whether this is done on purpose to avoid accidental right-click-taps.
Update: An issue came up down in the comments section below this post and so did a potential solution: If you like to rest one finger (your thumb, for instance) on the bottom of the trackpad while moving the pointer with another finger (your index finger, for instance), then you're going to have a problem on this machine: The pointer will not move and/or your window will start to scroll up/down. But someone posted way to make things better. Here's a link to the thread in the comments. (Thank you, anonymous poster :)

Default partitioning:

(At the point I took this screenshot all I had done were the system updates and the installation of Chrome)

Update: Someone pointed out in the comments that this only shows the mounted partitions and that I should run fdisk -l instead. So here goes:

$ sudo fdisk -l /dev/sda

Disk /dev/sda: 256.1 GB, 256060514304 bytes
255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 31130 cylinders, total 500118192 sectors
Units = sectors of 1 * 512 = 512 bytes
Sector size (logical/physical): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
I/O size (minimum/optimal): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
Disk identifier: 0x0cba9796

   Device Boot      Start         End      Blocks   Id  System
/dev/sda1            2048      718847      358400   de  Dell Utility
/dev/sda2          718848     7010303     3145728    c  W95 FAT32 (LBA)
/dev/sda3   *     7010304   468539391   230764544   83  Linux
/dev/sda4       468541438   500117503    15788033    5  Extended
/dev/sda5       468541440   500117503    15788032   82  Linux swap / Solaris
What did I configure / install so far?
- Set up automatic TRIM for the SSD via daily cron-job (used this tutorial for "Scheduled TRIM")
- Ran all system updates for Ubuntu 12.04 LTS
- Chrome
- Firefox
- Steam and several games (through Steam)
- Dropbox
- SpiderOak
- Copy
- Some indicators (for CPU/network activity and CPU temperature)
- Skype
- KeePassX
- TrueCrypt

I'll install OpenShot and Blender in the next few days and play around with those.

Here's the output of lspci:

00:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation Haswell-ULT DRAM Controller (rev 09)
00:02.0 VGA compatible controller: Intel Corporation Haswell-ULT Integrated Graphics Controller (rev 09)
00:03.0 Audio device: Intel Corporation Device 0a0c (rev 09)
00:14.0 USB controller: Intel Corporation Lynx Point-LP USB xHCI HC (rev 04)
00:16.0 Communication controller: Intel Corporation Lynx Point-LP HECI #0 (rev 04)
00:1b.0 Audio device: Intel Corporation Lynx Point-LP HD Audio Controller (rev 04)
00:1c.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation Lynx Point-LP PCI Express Root Port 1 (rev e4)
00:1c.2 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation Lynx Point-LP PCI Express Root Port 3 (rev e4)
00:1d.0 USB controller: Intel Corporation Lynx Point-LP USB EHCI #1 (rev 04)
00:1f.0 ISA bridge: Intel Corporation Lynx Point-LP LPC Controller (rev 04)
00:1f.2 SATA controller: Intel Corporation Lynx Point-LP SATA Controller 1 [AHCI mode] (rev 04)
00:1f.3 SMBus: Intel Corporation Lynx Point-LP SMBus Controller (rev 04)
02:00.0 Network controller: Intel Corporation Wireless 7260 (rev 6b)
Below are a few shots of the XPS next to a late 2013 retina MacBook Pro 13inch.





Temperature and noise: While surfing / writing / YouTube-ing / terminal-ing I felt the laptop getting warm towards the center/top of the keyboard. The fan kicked in very rarely. When it did, it didn't stay on for long and the noise was okay. When the fan is off, the machine is absolutely silent. I installed a temperature indicator and while idle, the CPU temp is about 50 degrees Celsius. (I originally wrote that it's 53 degrees, but that's wrong. I just checked it again and I must have had it wrong in my notes. It's definitely 49-50.)

A few scenarios:

- YouTube running on a background tab in Firefox while typing this review in another tab, Skype running, Terminal running, Text Editor running
CPU load is between 10 and 20 % and the temperature is 60 degrees Celsius. Fan is off (or at least inaudible)

- Same scenario as before, without YouTube, but with Starbound running through Steam
CPU load is about 36% and the temperature is about 72 degrees Celsius. Fan is on and audible, but rather low. Having the game's sound on (normal level) is louder than the fan-noise.

- To bring the CPU load up, I installed "pi" (sudo apt-get install pi) and ran instances of it in terminals by entering "pi 200000000". Each time, I let it run for about 2 minutes before writing down the result.

2 instances of pi: approx. 54% CPU, 65 degrees C, fan kicked in audibly at first, but then went to a lower level (it's still on, but I have to bring my ear very close to the laptop to actually hear it.

3 instances of pi: approx. 78% CPU, 68-69 degrees C, same fan behaviour as the previous test

4 instances of pi: approx. 100% CPU, 68-69 degrees C, same fan behviour as the previous test

Build-quality / finish: I find it great. The top of the lid is aluminium and the bottom is carbon fiber, as pictured below. Nothing is wiggling, rattling or bending.



I had noticed beforehand that the headphone port was listed as "headset port". So I was wondering if that meant headphones with an integrated microphone (such as wired headsets for cellphones) would work. Answer: Yes, they do. I plugged in an iPhone wired headset and the mic works, plug and play, no fiddling required.

Overall, this little laptop has a high quality feel to it and everything I tried worked. I'd say my experience was similar to that of a MacBook Pro. I really like the overall concept of the XPS 13 DE. It's minimalistic, yet powerful, but kind of off the mainstream. And this concept shines through from A to Z: From the packaging, the hardware (please read the update at the bottom of the review), the software and the overall experience.
Update from March 28th 2014: Unfortunately some issues arised and those can be quite annoying. Please read on for the details.

Getting things done in Ubuntu has been painless. Before this, I was using Windows 7 and OSX. I wasn't unhappy with those, but I really liked the concept behind "Project Sputnik". I'm willing to put a little effort into making things work, but I already have a day-job and so I'm not looking for a laptop that will require a few hours every day just to get things to work the way I expect. I want to *use* it, I don't want to have to put work into *making it useful*. And that's what this device does: It works.



Initial conclusion: For now (after a week of usage), I'm very happy with my purchase and would absolutely recommend this laptop to anybody looking for a solid, painless Ubuntu experience on a very nice laptop where things just work out of the box.
Update from March 28th 2014: HOWEVER, some issues came up and I no longer feel I can fully recommend this machine. There is the coil-whine issue (more details below), which is very annoying, and then the laptop sometimes (randomly) wakes up from sleep while the lid is closed and stays on. I'm not going to return the laptop, but these little (or not-so-little) problems get on my nerves and I *almost* regret (I'm not quite there yet) not having bought a 13" MBP. Quite a few people also complained about the touchpad. For me this hasn't been an issue, but it sounds like this is definitely something one should be aware of before buying.

I've updated this post regarding issues (and I'll continue to do so) and have highlighted updates like this. Please also check out the comments-section below, there are some very good remarks and suggestions.

Someone who commented below has put together a really great collection of tools and tips every owner of this machine should check out.
Furthermore, Justin from the comments (thank you!) has written a small script which fixes the issue of the machine waking up from sleepmode by itself when the lid is closed. It seems like several people (including myself) are having this issue and Justin's script definitely helps. Here's the script and you can save it as "/usr/bin/lidfix", for example. Then edit your /etc/rc.local and add this line: "/usr/bin/lidfix &".

Update (February 10th 2014): I noticed an issue and it seems quite a few owners of this new XPS 13 are in the same boat. There is a whizzing / whirring noise (some people also call it "coil whine") that is sometimes emitted by the laptop. While some users say that for them, the noise only occurs when the keyboard's backlight is on, it seems to be random for me. I've had the noise with and without the kb backlight. I only notice the noise if the room I'm in is absolutely quiet. So I'm not sure if the issue has just started happening or if I just didn't notice this before (I often have music on, or people around me talking). This sucks, especially on a new device. Here's the link to the Dell support forums about this problem. Dell is investigating.
I don't think I'll send mine back to Dell. The problem is pretty annoying but it doesn't bother me enough to warrant not having the laptop for a few weeks. I'll certainly keep an eye on the issue and if there's a fix for it, I'll look into it.
Knowing about these issues, do I still recommend this laptop? Honestly, no. One shouldn't buy something that has such an annoying problem and hope for a fix.

Update (June 17th 2014): It seems like Dell was able to reproduce the coil-whine issue and they've announced a hardware-fix which will involve replacing the mainboard. Click here and here to see the corresponding posts in the Dell support forums.

If this review was helpful to you and you want to check out Copy.com (cloud-storage provider), then feel free to use this referral-link which will give you 5 extra GBs of space (for free, total of 20 GB).

149 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review. I have been following the "Intel Haswell Availability" thread for a while now, but in case you didn't see my comments -- it sounds like your experience with this is considerably better than my experience with the Galago UltraPro. I wound up sending mine back to System76 for good. I think you would have been disappointed in it. Initial impressions were great but after using it for a while:

    1. it had TWO hardware problems (ok those would have been fixed under warranty)
    2. it would overheat the second I tried to game, emitting a deafeningly loud alert (so possibly a third hardware issue?)
    3. the touchpad was downright awful (and the entire thing shifted a few millimeters like it wasn't seated correctly)
    4. the entire lid enclosure and the keyboard both felt very flexible/weak, like they would easily break.
    5. even though I had the mSATA SSD, it took a long time to boot (23 seconds) and I noticed some lag from the time I pressed the super key until the dash opened. My i5 Haswell desktop system fulls boots in like 12 seconds and doesn't lag at all...why did the i7 Haswell?


    The only spec I think is better about the Galago is the ability to have both SSD (mSATA) and a large HDD. In any case, from my experience I would say you made the right choice.

    Great review...thanks again for posting!

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    1. I've had an eye on the Galago UltraPro and the XPS 13 DE for several months and I read a lot of reviews and reports. During that time I saw a lot of complaints about the UltraPro, usually involving the keyboard and the touchpad (seems like that was most almost unanimous among users) and every now and then I'd read about issues like the ones you mentioned (overheating, complaints about build-quality and WiFi issues). Even though it seems like they finally got a handle on the keyboard issues (they sent out replacement-kits to customers), it still put a dent in my confidence in their products.
      As far as the advantages of the UltraPro go: Yes, you can have both a mSATA drive and a regular 2.5" SATA drive. But also, it has a better integrated graphics chip (HD 5200), a stronger CPU, SD card reader, ethernet port, you can upgrade the RAM up to 16 GB and the screen is matte. On the other hand, it's heavier and the keyboard is not backlit.
      As usual, there's no perfect solution for everybody and it comes down to weighing the pros and cons. :) After all is said and done I think the XPS 13 DE offers the better overall package (at least for me)

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    2. The HD5200 is completely useless if the thing overheats the second you try to actually push it. ;) Besides, I have my i5 Haswell gaming rig at home with a GTX 650 Ti in it. No laptop is going to touch that thing anyway.

      I don't particularly care about an SD card reader (I have an SD to USB converter if I really need to read one), but the CPU and ethernet port are nice. The ability to upgrade components is definitely huge though. The weight was great. I don't consider 4 pounds to be too heavy.

      Another thing I really liked was that it had both HDMI and miniDisplay ports...so it could push TWO external monitors. I'm curious, is the XPS DE capable of powering two external monitors or only one? I switched jobs a few months back and only have a single external monitor, but at my previous job I had two and it was *EXTREMELY* useful. Right now I use my Macbook display (running Ubuntu 13.10 of course) as one monitor and external display as my second. I miss my dual 24" monitor setup sometimes...

      All in all, I just wasn't confident in the build quality so I sent it back. If the thing didn't feel so flimsy and everything worked it would have been my dream machine (even without a backlit keyboard). Maybe I'll give them some time to iron out the wrinkles and then give them another go.

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    3. I am another Galago UltraPro owner that will be sending my System 76 order back (got it this week) and buying a Dell Sputnik 3. While System 76 appears to have fixed the keyboard issue, the trackpad is jumpy and so erratic that it is a deal breaker.

      I own a Sputnik 1 and had looked at the Galago UltraPro first because of my disappointment that Dell did not include USB3 or the HD5000 in the consumer version of its Sputnik 3.

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    4. @Colin: The HD4400 version of the Sputnik 3 (reviewed here) has 2x USB 3.0.

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    5. That is great to hear! Dell's site was ambiguous and the one announcement I found that mentioned it said USB 2. Thanks for the clarification.

      Delete
  2. Thanks for the awesome review. :-)

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  3. Thanks for this write up. I have been waiting for a review of this haswell ultrabook for a while and all I've seen are 'hands on' and previews online. Admittedly I will be using it with Windows 8.1 and you have the Ubuntu one but still, the in hand hardware and usage experience is useful for me to make a choice. Given that you had no probs with mult tasking and light gaming etc would you recommend the machine with the i7-4650U over the i7-4500U given the price diff? I have a choice of both and was thinking the 4500U would be ok and I could spend the rest on a docking solution (to run a couple of external monitors) for my home office. Thanks again.

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    1. Personally, if the i7-4650U version had been available where I live, I would have bought it. From what I saw on Dell's French and UK websites, the price difference is not that big (about 80 Euros), so it seems 100% worth it to me. You get a slightly faster CPU and a slightly better graphics chip (it comes with the HD 5000).
      But if you don't really need the additional power and prefer to spend the money on miniDP cables/splitter and a USB hub, then that's a good thing to do as well, of course.

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    2. Thanks for the great review. Do you know if there's a battery life difference between the 4500U and 4650U configurations?

      For any UK shoppers here, Dell only list the 4650U in the business section of their site, not the home section.

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    3. I can't tell you about the difference in battery life between the two models. But I think there shouldn't be a difference (or, if there is one, it should be so small you probably won't notice). Both CPUs have the same power consumption, from what I saw, and the battery in both models is the same.

      Delete
  4. Just re read the temp readings from the review - 50 degrees celsius is a bit high, no? does it get uncomfortable if in hands/lap? that's almost 122 F :s

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    1. I always have the machine on a desk. But yes, it gets hot underneath, where the fan-grill is located.

      Delete
  5. This machine would be perfect (size, screen, weight, i7, ssd) if it allowed you to have 16GB.

    Maybe the 256GB is also a restriction, but you can probably fix that with a external HD. But 8GB limit is really a deal-breaker in some situations.

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  6. Thanks for the review! Btw, I've just checked the UK and France websites (the last one enterprise) and the card was still HD 4400 - maybe I missed something....

    I'm happy with both croutonized chromebooks running debian sid / jessie on Acer C7100 and HP Chromebook 14 (Pavillion) - $180 and $380 prices respectively, but they are not as powerful as the dell.

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    1. Dell did a bad job updating the websites for this model when the new Haswell-version came out. On some pages, the specs are not correct and still show the Ivy-Bridge-specs. However, if you click on the "Tech Specs"-tab, the correct information is displayed. That's where you'll see the HD5000 version.

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  7. 6 hours on battery is a pretty low stats for Haswell CPUs. I remember seeing reports for ChromeOS lasted 10 - 12 hours and even Windows 8 lasted around 8 - 10 hours. Linux is still far behind in power management I guess.

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    1. There are certainly machines with longer battery life out there, as mentioned in the post.
      But when you look at this, always make sure you get real-world-numbers (from someone who can actually validate the battery-life with a reasonable usage-pattern) and not just manufacturer specs. Sometimes there's a little discrepancy there. :)
      Power management of the OS plays a role as well, no doubt about that (I'd say that OSX, for instance, is doing a very good job).
      It's all a matter of priorities (which are different for every single person): choosing between power, battery-life, specs, size, price, etc.

      Delete
  8. I had Dell give me some push back on not being a company when I tried to buy one of their "Corporate" Laptops a few years ago. They insisted on a Tax ID or Business License. I told them that I was an IT Consultant and can use my SSN as a Tax ID since I was a one man show. After a few minutes of insisting that I was not a Company, I was able to convince them other wise. I was a Small Business and qualified as a Company, they let me purchase their "Corporate" Laptop. You just have to figure out where to push.

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    1. All I can say is that the ordering-process (through the web) for this one was very easy. The only difference was that I had to fill in a field labeled "Company name", in which I simply entered my full name. That's it.

      Delete
  9. Thanks for the review. The default partitions shown is only showing mounted partitions (including virtual), instead you should do "sudo fdisk -l /dev/sda" to show the partitions on the whole drive.

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    1. Thanks for pointing that out. I've updated the post with the corresponding output.

      Delete
  10. Can you comment on the touchscreen as well please

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    1. Sure, what would you like me to try other than what I wrote in the review? :)

      Delete
  11. Does the touchpad support three finger touch? (you might need to install an app or change settings to get it to work?)

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    1. I did a quick search and found these two:

      http://linux.die.net/man/1/synclient
      http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/opensource/library/os-touchpad/

      I haven't tried anything in that direction, since I don't really need it. But I read several times that the touchpad on the XPS 13 is a Synaptics touchpad, which, according to the URLs above, is the only requirement for this to work.
      So I'm pretty sure the answer is: Yes, it can be configured to work. :)

      Delete
  12. How's the touchpad precision? I tried the previous XPSes and that was a deal breaker for me for moving from MBP ... :/

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    1. Personally, I like the touchpad and I'm able to work with it just as fine as with the MBP touchpad. But with things like that it's usually best if you can check it out in person somewhere.

      Delete
  13. From this description, it sounds worse than the Macbook Pro. The mid-level 13" Macbook Pro has almost exactly the same price, the same size SSD and RAM, and a similar processor.

    - The Mac's SSD is PCIe rather than SATA, so I would expect it to be a little bit faster.

    - The Mac's battery is 71.8 W-hr compared to the Dell's 55 W-hr. 6 hours sounds really low for a modern PC that doesn't have to spin a hard disk or an optical drive.

    I'm rather puzzled to hear you say the Macbook Pro's screen felt "very cramped". Can you elaborate? It has a 2560x1600 13" screen, compared to the Dell's 1920x1080 13" screen, and it's easy to adjust the size of interface elements to suit. (My first thought was that you're comparing the current Dell against the 2-year-old Macbook Pro, which had a 1280x800 13" screen, but the photograph is clearly labeled as a late 2013 13" Retina Macbook Pro.)

    If I had $1500 to spend on a new laptop today, I'm not sure why I'd spend it on a Dell with a 165ppi display, when the same coin could get me the Mac with a 230ppi display and 40% better battery life. You sound upbeat throughout, but it's not exactly a glowing review that introduces a laptop by saying that the most interesting thing about it is how the engineers put in some "extra-work" to make sure the Wifi is functional. :-)

    That's not to say the Dell is bad. I *could* see the logic in buying this laptop if you needed one of the things that were unique to it. For example, the touch screen -- but you say you'll probably never use that. Or if you tested and found that the Dell's Core i7 was faster than the Mac's Core i5 (older generation, but higher frequency) for your workloads -- but you never benchmark it against that.

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    1. In regards to my mentioning of things feeling cramped on the MBP: You're right, I should have phrased that differently. You can definitely lower the scaling, which will allow you to use more of the real-estate on the high-dpi-screen. I was describing the "default" setting. My statement doesn't make much sense and I'll remove it from the post.

      I think it all depends on whether you want to run Ubuntu or not. What the XPS 13 offers is a nice Ubuntu experience, out of the box. There's probably a way to get Ubuntu to work well on a MBP (or any machine, really) as well, but it will require some work. If one is willing to put that work in, then the MBP is absolutely a good choice as well. If one wants to run OSX, then the MBP is the perfect choice anyway.
      I think the target-audience for the XPS 13 DE are two types of users:
      1. Ubuntu users (or Linux users in general) who are tired of putting effort into getting things to work right and who want a nice machine. In other words: Linux users who are looking for a bit of the Mac-experience (which is: Things just work after you unbox the laptop and hit the power button. This has not necessarily always been the typical Linux-experience in the past).
      2. Current OSX users who don't like Apple so much any more and who can work just as well under Ubuntu/Linux.

      Overall, I think the XPS is a nice machine for the money, given the specs. The MBP is a little heavier, but really just a little (so little that it probably won't matter to most people, just thought I'd still mention it). Other than that, you're right, the MBP has a better battery, higher dpi screen and the SSD may be faster, like you said (though I'm not too sure about the CPU, as you wrote at the bottom, would have to benchmark it). But then again, it's a Mac and it runs OSX. If one wants to run OSX, then one should go for it.
      It's a matter of preference, in the end, as usual.

      Delete
    2. I definitely fall into the "I used to support Apple but no longer do" camp. Shortly after the iPhone came out I got really turned off with Apple's business decisions. I don't like how they limit you at every corner -- which is why I have an Android phone and will likely purchase an Android tablet as well. Yes, I'm a software developer and it's 2014 and we still don't have any tablets in my house. They are purely entertainment devices and I don't need/want my kids glued to them (yet).

      Apple makes some good stuff, I just don't care for their business practices and thus, I would prefer to never give them another dime of my money. I was actually given a Macbook at my new job (I'm on it right now) and the first thing I did was partition the drive and install Ubuntu on it. I basically only use OS X for video streaming on the weekends (Watch ESPN and NFL Sunday ticket), as this is unsupported on Linux (but works fine on Android which is of course running a Linux kernel...go figure).

      In any case, I'm definitely someone that would be willing to take slightly lesser specs just so that my money isn't going to Apple. Then again I have been running various versions of Linux for over a decade now, and using it as my main OS for all of my machines for the past 7 years or so. Thus, I am extremely comfortable with Linux. Unfortunately, I still don't think the XPS13 is quite what I want. I really wish they would do an Ubuntu version of the XPS15. I would buy that in a heartbeat, and have relayed this information to Barton. Hopefully he can make some magic happen at Dell. :)

      Delete
  14. The older models had a bleeding backlight issues (especially bothering while in the black terminal window). How is this late 2013 one doing in that regard?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It looks fine to me. To test it, I've turned all the lights in the room off, turned the backlight on the laptop to maximum and switched (via Ctrl + Alt + F1) to the full-screen terminal window (tty1). I didn't have any issues using the terminal like that.

      Delete
  15. Hello,great review, thank you!!! I'd like to know just another information, could tell me how many Wh is the battery designed for?!? Because I can't find an unique information about this: on the windows model page the battery has 55Wh, in the Italian (I'm italian) page of the xps developer edition the battery has 47Wh...so, could you tell me this specs that you could know with the Ubuntu battery utility?? Thanks a lot...
    Mathias

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I checked and the Ubuntu battery utility says 55 Wh.

      Delete
  16. Thanks for a great review. I have a question: Can you push down the whole touchpad to click, like the Macbooks? Can you do right-click by pushing down with two fingers?

    ReplyDelete
  17. Thanks for this elaborate review! Are there any updates concerning the battery life? Did anybody else measure/estimate it yet? I'm considering to buy that model but 6 hrs seems to be low for a Haswell ultrabook. For me, this would be the biggest argument against it. Although I didn't really find alternatives yet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No updates in regards to battery life, but at least I can confirm that the 6 hours are pretty much consistent for me (while actually working on it, as described in the review).

      Delete
    2. I just came across this:
      http://linrunner.de/en/tlp/docs/tlp-linux-advanced-power-management.html
      I'd like to install this and see if it improves anything. I'll post back here once I know.

      Delete
    3. How did TLP go? I just got my XPS13 DE! very Excited!!!

      Delete
    4. I installed TLP a few hours ago, so I can't really say if it improves things yet. For now it looks to be the same, but I'll wait a day or two, then I'll be able to tell.

      Delete
    5. Okay, so after a couple of days with TLP installed I think it has improved battery life a little bit. I get between six-and-a-half and seven hours now.

      Delete
  18. Hi J and thank you very much for your great review! I've a question for you: do you have the noise issue described here? http://en.community.dell.com/support-forums/laptop/f/3518/t/19538215.aspx?pi239031352=1#20495874

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, I don't have that issue.

      Delete
    2. Correction: I have it. Not sure if it wasn't there before or if I just started noticing it. (See update at the bottom of my review)

      Delete
  19. Thanks for the review, I am wondering if you have tried using the display port? I am getting one of these for work and trying to figure out how I can connect two monitors to it. Or if its even possible.

    Thanks,

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I haven't had the chance yet to try this laptop with an external monitor. I'll see if I can try it at work.
      In regards to connecting 2 (or more) monitors while having only one miniDP port on the XPS13: I read that one can connect the laptop to a screen and then daisy-chain a second screen to the first screen. However, this seems to only work if all components support the newest version of DisplayPort. I don't know if I'll be able to test this at work, because I probably don't have all the necessary cables (and the monitors may not support the newest DP functionality, since they're a bit older).
      Maybe someone else can try this as well?

      Delete
  20. This is one of the most in-depth reviews of the new XPS 13 DE I've found. I'm considering buying one and this review makes it sound really promising.

    I've read that previous versions of this laptop had wi-fi reception issues. Your post said that you hadn't had any issues so far. Now that it's about a month later, does that still hold true?

    One other question: I haven't had a Linux machine with Intel graphics before. Is the Intel HD 4000 enough to run Compiz smoothly and/or play 1080p video well?

    Thanks again for the great review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, what I wrote about the WiFi still holds true. I haven't had any issues with it. The only thing I noticed (as I wrote in the review) is that at home, I WiFi-reception-bars always show 3 out of 4, even though I'm pretty close to my router. I will have the opportunity to bring the laptop to a couple of friends' place in the next few days and test the WiFi there. I'll report back once I'll have tried it there.
      But the WiFi performance in itself seems fine to me, no issues, no disconnects, good speeds, no lag, nothing. (so the EXPERIENCE is 4 out of 4, even though the bars only show 3 out of 4 :)

      An HD 4000 is perfectly fine for compiz and 1080p video. However, this laptop has the HD 4400, which is better than the 4000, and therefore it handles these tasks without any problems as well.

      Delete
    2. Sounds great. I agree, experience is more important than reception. The number of "bars" or whatever isn't important.

      One other small ask: Would you mind running lspci and posting the output? That might let me/others google specific hardware before buying.

      Thanks again!

      Delete
    3. Good point about lspci, thanks. I've added the output to the review.

      Delete
  21. Can the SSD and RAM can be upgraded without voiding the warranty?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I haven't looked into that. In principle, the laptop is sold with the assumption that you can't upgrade the RAM or the SSD. Now it may still be possible, but until someone cracks this machine open and actually tries it, I can't tell.
      I know that one could exchange the SSD on the previous model (see hereand here). The RAM seemed to be soldered onto the board.

      Delete
  22. Thanks this review and the time you have put into this. I'm currently thinking about:

    http://shop.lenovo.com/us/en/laptops/thinkpad/x-series/x240/

    Or the Sputnik. I was scared off from S76 by the negative comments and reviews.

    From your pictures it looks like they did not replace the "Windows" key with an Ubuntu logo? The whole lower half is CF, including the keyboard? From your pictures it looks as though there is an aluminum ring round the keyboard. I'm wondering about whole construction of the Sputnik.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Correct, that key has a Windows 8 logo.
      The BOTTOM of the laptop is carbon fiber. I don't think the keyboard and the surface around it are made out of CF, though. It's some kind of soft-touch plastic.
      You're right, there is aluminium around the keyboard, it seems to be the same material the top is made out of. It's matte, not shiny (so it's not some kind of chrome).
      All in all, I'd say the construction and materials on this machine feel very sturdy and solid, yet light and leave a very good impression. Nothing squeaks/rattles/bends.

      I haven't used the X240, so I can't say much about it. I clicked on your link, added the laptop to the cart and added options to it in order to bring it to the same level as the XPS 13. It came out more expensive than the Dell. It all depends on whether you like the Lenovo better and if you're able (and willing, if necessary) to put in the time and effort to make it run well under Ubuntu. It may run well out of the box, or it may not, I have no idea. For me, the point of going with the Dell was that I can just trust that everything will work right away.

      Delete
  23. Hi,

    This review of the previous XPS 13 (DE) talks about wifi issues - have you experienced any such issues on this later model?

    http://www.wired.com/reviews/2013/07/dell-xps-linux/

    Thanks, Greg

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As I wrote in the review, I'm getting 3 out of 4 bars at home (where all my other devices show 4 out of 4). I brought the XPS 13 to friends' houses to test it there. And I think it looks like the laptop may indeed have the same issue as the one described in the Wired article you linked to.
      I'm getting a bar less than what other devices have, it seems (not always, but most of the time).
      I didn't to thorough speed-tests or WiFi-signal-checks, so I can't say more than the amount of bars I saw. I'd assume this has an impact on the quality of the signal and on the data-throughput.

      Delete
  24. Hi there. Thank you for your review. I wanted to ask you if the specific model, (i am not sure if it is 9333) produces a strange noise while is on. I saw it on some forums, but I would like your opinion. have you noticed something like that?
    Thanks
    Bill

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I have. See update at the bottom of the review.

      Delete
  25. Yes I received mine just after Christmas and can confirm that. I have contacted dell and it seems to be a general problem with the model :(
    Here is the link to the forum http://en.community.dell.com/support-forums/laptop/f/3518/t/19538215.aspx?pi239031352=7

    Jonas

    ReplyDelete
  26. How comparable is the trackpad to the MBP? So far my experiences with trackpads on most products seems to not be as responsive or intuitive as the MBP.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. For me, the trackpad is just as good as the one on the MBP. But honestly, trackpad-quality is really a question of taste and habit. If you can test it somewhere and find out how you like it, that would be best. The material of the trackpad on the XPS 13 is different than on the MBP, it's made out of soft-touch plastic. I like it, it feels great and the responsiveness is very good. I can move the cursor precisely and I can do things like highlighting text precisely without issues.

      Delete
  27. You're still running ubuntu 12.10 LTS on the xps? Have you considered upgrading to something more recent, and what does that mean for the Dell driver support, will that still work?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm still running 12.04 LTS. I plan to upgrade to the next LTS version when it comes out.
      In regards to Dell driver support, things should be looking good: All the work Dell put into the drivers should be going upstream so that newer Linux-versions will automatically include these improvements. Dell had to manually add some drivers for the "regular" Ubuntu 12.04 to work. In the future, this shouldn't be necessary any more and a standard Linux installation should suffice.

      Delete
  28. Hi, I bought the one with Windows and installed Debian sid on it. Everything seems to work out of the box, but there are few things that doesn't work perfectly and I'd like to know if they work correctly with Dell's Ubuntu images.

    Can you hear a constant white/pink noise coming from the headphones when plugged? The noise goes away only when muting the audio (lowering the volume to zero doesn't have the same effect) or when the power saving mode kicks in, which disables the audio card. If you are in a completely silent enviroment, however, you can still hear some other noises when the the audio card is disabled (like electrical noises, really hard to hear) and more importantly, there's a loud "click" noise as soon as the audio card is disabled (I have the same issue with another Intel HDA Audio). Things are perfectly silent on mute. Is it the same on your machine? I'm sure it's a Linux problem, because everything works perfectly on Windows.

    Did you try to enable the right click emulation of the touchscreen (I guess the version of evdev used in Ubuntu supports it), because I could make it work. Unfortunately the support for touchscreen is really bad (for those of you wondering what it means: touching the screen = left button click. Finger swipe = moving the mouse while clicking the left button, so no scroll if not through the scrollbar), so that would have made the experience slightly better. Not that I need the touchscreen, I have simply because I couldn't get rid of it.

    Which driver is used for the trackpad? I tried mtrack, but I like synaptics more. However, I find really annoying that I can't rest my finger on the bottom of the trackpad (first time using a trackpad, I'm used to keep my left thumb there to click). Adjusting AreaBottomEdge helped, but I also had to patch the driver (see https://bugs.freedesktop.org/show_bug.cgi?id=66532#c5) and things do not work perfectly in my opinion.

    Is the ambient light sensor doing anything?

    Also, is Intel Rapid Start working? I had to build a kernel to have it, but unfortunately a manual hibernation is way faster than it, I wonder why (same with Windows). Maybe something weird happened when I installed Debian (I had to resize the partitions to keep using UEFI).

    Thanks for the review by the way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi!

      About the headphone-noise: Yes, I have the same thing. And like you, I think it's an issue with the Linux-sound-drivers.

      I have not enabled the right click emulation on the touchscreen. I really don't use the touch-functionality at all.

      For the trackpad: Synaptics

      Ambient light sensor: Wasn't even aware there is one. :) As far as I can tell, it doesn't do anything.

      Intel Rapid Start: Haven't tried it. Does it make the laptop wake up from sleep faster? Personally, I don't see how it could be any faster, because it's pretty much instantly for me already when I open the lid. :)

      Delete
    2. That noise is really annoying and I was hoping that Dell had fixed it, too bad. Thanks for confirming it's the same with Ubuntu.

      Anyway, Intel Rapid Start automatically hibernates the computer after a defined amount of time spent in stand by. This is useful to save battery, it will maybe takes more time to resume, but not so much (at least that's what should happen). What I noticed, however, is that hibernating the computer and then resuming it is way faster (around 15 seconds if I remeber correctly) than when this is done by Intel Rapid Start (30 seconds maybe). As I said, the same happens on Windows, but I tried it only after I did some changes to the partitions and probably did something wrong. Now it actually doesn't work at all for me, I messed up the needed partition and I couldn't fix it (the instruction here doesn't work)
      I don't know if Dell backported this feature, it's available since 3.11 (see this).

      Delete
    3. I found that the light sensor is doing something: it adjusts the backlight brightness, but as soon as you change the brightness manually with the FN keys, it stops doing it.

      Delete
  29. If you install Ubuntu using the default Ubuntu ISO, do you have to install other things to get all the hardware to work as well as the pre-installed version?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It depends. If you install Ubuntu 12.04, then you will have to set up a bunch of Dell-specific PPAs in order to get all the drivers.
      However, if you install anything newer than 12.04, then ideally you shouldn't have to do anything additional after installing a standard Ubuntu ISO. That's because Dell is being a "good open source citizen" (quoting from another review) by passing on their customizations upstream. I've already read here and there that people were having a good out-of-the-box-experience when installing Ubuntu 13.10 on the XPS 13 and when Ubuntu 14.04 comes out it should be the same thing: Just install the standard ISO and you're good to go.

      I'd like to point out that Dell has made an ISO for 12.04 available which contains the standard Ubuntu version with Dell's additions (so this is what comes pre-installed on the XPS 13 DE). I don't have the link here right now, but I can find it, if anybody needs it.

      Delete
  30. What is ssd performance? Did you do read and write speed test?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, haven't tested that. Can you point me to some test-scripts? I'll look into the topic later, but if you know some good test-appllications, please post them here.

      Delete
    2. If you are using Ubuntu, i think if you go to System -> Administration -> Disk Utility you can Benchmark the ssd

      Delete
  31. I just got my XPS 13. For me the trackpad/clickpad is totally unuasable. I'm used to rest my thumb on the pad while moving the cursor with my forefinger and do the clicks with my thumb. If I do this on the XPS 13 it starts to scroll (two finger scrolling).
    How do you use the trackpad? Moving around with the forefinger and also do the clicks with that finger?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. See my comment here. The patch I linked allows you to rest your finger, however the bottom area can't be used if not for clicking. Also, resting your finger there will break two finger scrolling etc.

      There's mtrack which should provide a better support for trackpads, but I find synaptics (which is what is used) better, maybe I should configure mtrack properly.

      Anyway, I agree with you, it's really annoying.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for your reply. Regarding the patch (https://bugs.freedesktop.org/show_bug.cgi?id=66532#c5), I'm quite a Linux noob, would you be kind and write short how to apply the patch please.

      Delete
    3. Well, I don't know which distro you are using. This is what more or less I do with Debian, it should be the same for Ubuntu. (add the deb-src repos, Google for more info.I can't guarantee the commands will work without any problem)

      Restart X (or reboot) and everything should work. Edit /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/10-synaptics.conf to tweak your trackpad, that's my config (I'm using the thing to scroll with the side of my thumb, I love it).

      The only problem with that patch is that multitouch gestures don't work properly while the finger is resting and the bottom area of the trackpad can't be used for anything but clicking. Better than default behaviour in my opinion.

      Delete
    4. Thank you very much! The touchpad works much better now.
      Now I just hope that Dell can fix the "coil whine" noise, then this is the perfect laptop.

      Delete
  32. Yeah I have found the touchpads to be pretty bad as well. They don't work nearly as well as the Apple touchpads. I really wish they went back to a physical button on the bottom (like my old 2006 Macbook Pro) rather than having the entire thing be one, giant clickpad. :(

    In any case, my work bought me a 2013 Macbook Pro and I'm running Ubuntu 13.10 on it. I was able to make the touchpad work *MUCH* better after installing the gpointing-device-settings package (sudo apt-get install gpointing-device-settings). I think the major changes I made in there were:

    1. General > Enable palm detection
    2. Tapping > Disable tapping

    Trying installing that and playing with settings to see it gets any better. It's still doesn't behave nearly as well as the native OS X partition, but it is fairly close. Good luck.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Great review, thanks! I bought the previous Dell XPS 13 DE for home last May and have been extremely pleased with it ever since. I've been thinking of asking for the new model at work. It's great to hear that they haven't messed with what works.

    One thing I find odd is that you only get 6:30 on battery. My previous-generation nine-month old model gets about that now. (Well, consistently 6hrs+ with no real optimizations.) I'd have expected more from the new Haswell CPU.

    I'm quite certain that you'll be just as pleased with your purchase a year from now. These are stellar machines.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Thank you very much for the review. I'm probably going to buy this very laptop and I am worried about the coil whine problem. Is this noticeable in a calm environment (I often code at night) or you have to stick your ear to the keyboard to notice that? I recently had a very bad experience with Dell (XPS12 with image retention) so I'm that this might be another bad buy.

    Thank you in advance...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It really depends on how sensitive you are. But if you ask me, then I say: Yes, it is noticeable in a quiet environment and it may actually drive you nuts. Once you notice it, you'll keep hearing it and it can be pretty annoying.
      I prefer to err on the side of caution when making recommendations and so I'd say you should probably wait before buying it and see if Dell can fix the issue.
      If, on the other hand, you are okay with simply putting some music on, then you can go for it since that will render the coil whine inaudible (at least it does that for me).

      Delete
  35. Hello J,

    thanks for the great review! I got a XPS 13-9333 as well now. Unfortunately, I messed some things up a bit (long story...) and am in dire need of the Dell Recovery utility residing on the first partition (/dev/sda1) to perform a factory reset of my machine.
    Unfortunately, I repartitioned my drive and therefore deleted this recovery partition.
    Can you please please do me a big favour and upload (either public or private, whatever suits you) an image of this recovery partition?

    The partition I'm referring to is this one:
    Device Boot Start End Blocks Id System
    /dev/sda1 2048 718847 358400 de Dell Utility

    The command to get the image should be:
    dd if=/dev/sda1 of=DellRecovery.img BS=1M

    It would be really wonderful if you could spare the time to help me out. Of course I checked, but this image is not up on the Dell site.
    Thank you for anything you might accomplish,

    JC

    PS: sorry to post as Anonymous, but I do not have any of the other account types listed...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi everybody,

      got it done at last with the initially created usb stick recovery medium (which did not work at first); further info over here:

      http://gigasquidsoftware.com/blog/2013/12/26/guide-to-leaving-your-mac-laptop/#comment-1178932268

      Bye,

      JC

      Delete
    2. Sorry for the late reply, I was pretty busy for a couple of weeks.
      Glad you were able to fix the issue. But the image of the recovery partition could probably be helpful for many people. I'll pull the image, put it on a share and post the link here in the next few days.

      Delete
  36. great review man, I will definitely get one at the end of this year, I hope they upgrade the model soon

    ReplyDelete
  37. Thanks for this review. I've been thinking about getting one of these. A couple of questions: The trackpad doesn't have any buttons. Has that been an issue in Linux where a 3-button mouse is often best. Any problems selecting text, for example?

    Also, It comes with Ubuntu 12.10, I believe, which is kind of dated now. I looked on the forums and it seems that some folks had problems installing newer Ubuntu versions, have you given this a try?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. About the trackpad: It depends on how you're using the trackpad. The trackpad has two physical buttons which you can click down, it's just that they're integrated into the trackpad-surface (meaning that the surface on the buttons is part of the area which will move the cursor if you put your finger there). So, for instance, if you like to rest one finger on the button-area and move the pointer with another finger, then you're gonna have a problem: The pointer will not move and/or your window will start to scroll. However, if you scroll up a bit in the comments (here's a direct link), you'll find some useful recommendations which seem to make this behaviour better.

      Regarding Ubuntu: It comes with 12.04, not 12.10. I wouldn't say it's dated, but then again this is one of those things that depend on one's perspective. It's an LTS release (LTS = Long Term Support). The whole point of LTS releases is to *not* have a new version every couple of months and to still have support for a long period. I like this concept for now and I plan to stick with LTS releases. The next one (14.04) is scheduled for March. Once it comes out, I'll wait for the dust to settle and I'll probably update.
      Like you, I've also read a few reports of people having problems with newer Ubuntu versions like 13.10. But then, I've also read many reports from people who say everything works fine out of the box. So I can't give a solid answer on that.

      Delete
  38. I wonder if Dell is addressing the "coil whine" in new machines. I notice that if you order an XPS 13 Dev Edition today, it won't be available until April. So I wonder if they're making some design changes. (or is it just that Haswell's are difficult to come by?)

    ReplyDelete
  39. Hey,

    got the 2013 version of the developer edition. On last day of my guarantee it died. Technician was coming to me, and replaced the mainboard. Now i only can start the book with power cable. Next monday the technician will come back. This is not acceptable for 1500$. If the book is working again, i will sell it, and buy a macbook -_-

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sucks. But you can always have bad luck with any manufacturer. A friend of mine had the exact same thing happen to him with a MacBook Air. He decided to never buy an Apple laptop again.

      Delete
  40. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  41. I got this laptop (the Haswell version) a few weeks ago, and it's been essentially unusable so far due to keyboard / touchpad issues. To the point where basically the only reason I haven't returned it is pure stubbornness.

    Granted, I installed Linux Mint 16 on it (has the same issues as Ubuntu 13.10 according to forum posts), so this isn't a purely supported Dell OS. But the stock Ubuntu 12.04 image is only a little better -- primarily, the keyboard lag issue isn't as bad.

    Cons:
    - Extremely annoying "coil whine" at all times.
    - Palm detection feature on the touchpad is completely nonfunctional.
    - Keyboard lags terribly on newer kernels (even on the console!), which makes typing essentially impossible and breaks the touchpad auto-disable feature (the touchpad is disabled on keypress, but keypresses lag up to about half a second...)
    - The screen has annoying color imperfections around the edges.
    - The screen is annoyingly glossy. It's also a touch screen, which is useless but annoying. At least you can turn that off.
    - The left USB3 port doesn't work. USB3 devices (e.g. ethernet adapters) will lose power and crash. Only low power devices like keyboards work. This is a general hardware fault in this model.
    - The wifi cuts out randomly.

    Basically, Dell built a pretty computer, but I wouldn't recommend anyone buy it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have to say, the coil-whine is really getting on my nerves as well. For me it's there when the keyboard's backlight is not on, so I keep it on. But when I read something for a few seconds and don't touch the kb or the touchpad, the backlight goes off, which triggers the coil-whine. So I have to toch the touchpad to turn on the light and stop the noise. Very annoying.

      For the palm detection: Have you tried what a commenter somewhere above you suggested?

      I'm still on 12.04, but I have no keyboard-lag whatsoever. Did you have some on 12.04? (you wrote that it wasn't *as bad*, meaning you did have some, right?)

      I can't see color imperfections at the edge of my screen, both of my USB ports work (with 3.0 devices) and my WiFi doesn't cut out. Is it possible you got a lemon?

      I plugged in two USB 3 hard drives and copied from one to the other for a few hours without issues. And I use a USB 3 Ethernet adapter without issues as well (on the left port, but with a powered USB 3 hub. Haven't tried it without the hub, since I need more ports, usually). Are you sure this is a general problem with this model? (It may very well be, sounds like you did some research)

      Delete
    2. There were a number of complaints about the left USB port online, essentially that it is unable to supply full power to devices. It works fine for low power devices like keyboards, but fails completely with an ethernet adapter. I imagine your powered hub solved that problem. It's always possible that some units are better than others though!

      The coil whine on mine happens constantly, but is higher pitched when the keyboard light is on. So it's really only a choice between maddening high pitched and low pitched noise.

      The problem with the touchpad is that I'm used to using tap-to-click and gestures. Pressing the buttons on the bottom constantly hurts my hand, but single and double tapping is fine. But for that to work, the system needs to reliably disable the touchpad while I'm typing, and palm detection is part of that. It works fine in the series 1 and 2 XPS 13 models.

      The touchpad in this unit also drops taps constantly -- probably about 25% of the time for single taps and 50% of the time for double. So it's essentially unusable: it constantly clicks at random when I don't want it to, but is incapable of clicking reliably when I do.

      I think the keyboard lag is OK in 12.04 since I've tested it a bit more.

      Another problem with this model is that it will randomly wake up out of sleep and then run the battery down completely (or heat itself up running for days). Dell seems to have no idea how to fix it, judging by the bug report. I have a script that polls the lid closed switch and re-suspends whenever it's closed.

      It's pretty sad.

      Delete
    3. I have the same random-wake-up-from-sleep problem. At first I thought I missed something but it's definitely that: It wakes up from sleep randomly while the lid is closed.

      Do you mind sharing your script? You can put it on pastebin or something like that.

      I must say, I'm starting to almost regret my purchase a little bit and wish I'd have gone for a 13" MBP. But who knows, if I did that maybe I'd be pulling my hair out now because I wouldn't have been able to get Ubuntu running properly on it and would be regretting not having bought a XPS 13 with Ubuntu. :)

      Delete
    4. Sure! I've sent the machine back to Dell already, but I pulled the script to re-suspend from my archive: http://pastebin.com/Zn071CiN

      You can launch it easily on startup by putting it in /etc/rc.local, like: /path/to/lidfix &

      (It checks the lid twice as a primitive debounce method)

      I'm rather unhappy at this point, since it doesn't seem like any good laptops exist. Maybe a thinkpad, but they've really gone downhill it seems.

      Delete
    5. Thanks for the script!

      Personally, if I had to do it again, I'd probably go for a MBP.

      Delete
    6. The MBP does seem like possibly the best choice. It's about the same or cheaper than lower-spec Thinkpads like the T440s or the x240, and I don't have to buy a worthless OEM copy of Windows (literally worthless -- it has no resale value) with it.

      Unfortunately Apple has pretty terrible keyboards, too... That, and the big advantage to the thinkpads is that they're somewhat serviceable.

      Delete
    7. Yeah I still think that "Developer Edition" is a bit of a misnomer. The small SSD and the limitation of 8GB of RAM are big issues. My current job basically doesn't require as much horsepower as my last job (we utilize just about every Amazon Web Service out there so only a small dev environment runs on my box), but at my last job I had to upgrade my laptop from 8GB to 16GB because 8GB was insufficient for some of the large data processing that we performed (solving linear programming problems). I wish Dell would offer a 15" XPS DE and be more flexible with the customization allowed.

      I do find it odd that you think Apple keyboards a terrible -- I have always loved the keyboards on the MBP. When I'm at my desk at work I use a Logitech K750 keyboard and Performance MX mouse, but I think the keyboard on the laptop itself is great.

      As much as I dislike giving Apple my money these days, I do believe that the MBP is the best laptop available right now. I have a 15" MBP (compliments of my employer) that I use on a daily basis. It's running Linux of course, but that is because I'm a die-hard Linux nerd. I refuse to use OS X (other than for streaming services such as WatchESPN which don't work when booted into the Linux partition). If you're considering using the MBP with Linux there are a few things you should be aware of however:

      1. Suspend/hibernate simply does not work...at all. Sure, it seems to perform the suspend/hibernate, but when you power the computer back on after sleep, the screen is black and unresponsive. You must press/hold the power button and restart. I imagine it has something to do with bad support for the graphics driver. See next bullet point!

      2. The graphics driver has issues. It's almost impossible to even get the nvidia card to work (forget about bumblebee or anything of that nature). There is some experimental stuff to get it to work with the vga switcheroo script, but it's a giant pain. Also, ever since I updated to Ubuntu 13.10, I get the same blank screen when I disconnect my external monitor. It's fine to *CONNECT* an external monitor while the computer is running, but when I disconnect (to go to a meeting for example), I have to power down my whole machine. If I don't, I'll just get a blank screen within a minute or so and have to press/hold the power button anyway. So I shutdown gracefully before disconnecting.

      3. Battery life is severely limited. Expect about 3-3.5 hours (maybe 4 if you are only surfing). Nothing like the 7-8 hours that OS X can do.

      4. If/when you do boot into OS X and apply updates, expect Apple to constantly overwrite the bootloader. I use rEFInd and constantly have to reinstall it after Apple updates, or else I cannot boot into Ubuntu. To make matters worse, the Mavericks update injected a new partition *BEFORE* several other existing partitions so it bumped everything up by one. I had to boot Ubuntu off of a USB key in live mode just to edit the refind.conf file and change /dev/sda5 to /dev/sda6. APPLE!!!! (shakes fist)



      Despite all of these limitations, I still run Ubuntu on my MBP. I'm just too accustomed to the workflow at this point to do otherwise. That and it's fun to annoy all of the Apple fanboys when they find out that I run Linux on my Mac. ;)

      Delete
    8. @J
      I think that the BIOS update (A04) changed the keyboard backlight behaviour. Now it doesn't turn off by itself, but I might be wrong.

      If you don't want to flash the update, you can install smbios-utils and create a simple script which every X seconds turn the keyboard backlight (I wrote something about it here), something like:

      #!/bin/sh
      while true; do
          smbios-token-ctl -i 0x01e1 --activate
          sleep 10
      done

      Delete
    9. Thanks a lot, that will come in really handy!

      Delete
  42. The coil whine problem is really easy for Dell to solve: they can just apply a dab of silicone sealer to the coil in question. That will dampen the vibration. I'd guess, though, that the powersupply module comes from another supplier fully built so they'd need to get their supplier to do this. It's not that hard and it doesn't really cost anything. Just requires a bit of attention to detail. If you want to compete with Apple you need to have that kind of attention to detail.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Hey, I've been using this laptop for a while now and decided to write few lines on how to fix some of the issues user con face when installing a distro different from the one provided by Dell and maybe not only them.

    I hope you don't consider this spam. Anyway, here it is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great, thanks for sharing that! :)

      Delete
    2. I've just updated the site with a solution for the palm detection. For some reason the touchpad is not reporting the width of the touches, even though the log says the touchpad is capable of doing that.

      Delete
  44. Thanks for sharing this. 12 years ago I had to quite using one of their what was otherwise wonderful laptops due to exactly the same issue of coil noise.

    ReplyDelete
  45. Ok, finally got my XPS 13. There is some coil whine, but not very noticable. Mainly only when the keyboard backlight is on.

    Also, one strange thing I notice... I closed it up and put it in my backpack for about 3 days without using it. When I went to start it up the battery was dead (?!) it should last in the suspended state for well more than 3 days I would think. I checked the power settings and it's supposed ot suspend when the lid is shut.

    Then I put it in my backpack plugged in and when I pulled it out of the backpack the next day it was warm. This is very odd. Is it really not suspending?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To clarify: I closed it and put it in my backpack. So it should have been suspended.

      Delete
    2. That sounds like the same issue I'm having (and some others confirmed it too). It doesn't happen all the time, but sometimes the laptop seems to wake up while lid is closed. And then, of course, it runs out of battery at some point.

      Delete
    3. Note the script shared by Justin a few comments up. That should solve this annoying issue (that I also run into)

      Delete
  46. Thank you for updating this post with your recent experiences with this computer, I have been holding my desire to purchase this laptop given the issues people have had.

    thanks again.

    ReplyDelete
  47. hi, have you applied this update? It was released about 6 days ago:

    http://www.dell.com/support/drivers/us/en/19/DriverDetails/Product/xps-13-l321x?driverId=C0VG5&fileid=2902722114

    I would love to hear your testing results with the BIOS update

    here's a post related to the fix as well:

    http://thenextweb.com/gadgets/2012/03/21/xps-13-fan-noise-fix/

    thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That BIOS update you linked to was released 6 days and 2 years ago. :) (and it's for an older model of the XPS 13).

      However, there was a brand new BIOS update released today for the current model of the XPS 13 (Haswell):
      http://www.dell.com/support/drivers/us/en/19/DriverDetails/Product/xps-13-9333?driverId=YWHWG&osCode=WB64A&fileId=3362636337&languageCode=en&categoryId=BI

      But no, so far I haven't applied any BIOS updates yet because none of them address the coil-whine issue, including the one published today. (some people on the Dell forums have applied the newest BIOS update and found that it doesn't change anything).

      In the article you linked they talk about fixing the fan noise. I don't find the fan noise annoying. I have a temperature monitor in the task bar and whenever the fans kick in the temperature is at a level where it warrants it (at least in my opinion). So I'm okay with that.

      Delete
    2. I don't believe it's possible for Dell to fix the coil whine problem with a BIOS update.

      Delete
  48. Does disabling keyboard backlight have any impact on coil whine?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, the situation is like this:

      From what I tested (and a few people reported the same thing), if NO devices (like mouse or keyboard) are plugged in to the USB port(s), then the coil-whine will occur when the backlight is turned ON.

      If there ARE devices plugged in to the USB port(s), then the coil-whine will occur when the backlight is turned OFF.

      Delete
  49. Has anyone tried upgrading their XPS 13 to Ubuntu 14.04 LTS? Just wondering if there were any issues.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I upgraded to 14.04 today (from 13.10). Things are working smoothly so far.

      Delete
  50. Hi

    I'm from Sri Lanka, as I read quiet a few reviews about this special edtion laptop. I was very keen to buy one for me since I'm a java programmer runs on ubuntu. Any way in my region (Sri Lanka) can't find xps 13 DE from retailers. But I can find dell xps 13 which comes with windows 8.1. Obiviously i have to pay extra cash for OS i'm not going to use.

    But still I would like to know,

    1. Whether hardware are identicle in two models
    2. Can I find the custom ubuntu running on xps 13 DE online so I can download it and install in xps 13 normal edition can get the identicle experiece of dell xps 13 DE
    Any way I found the custom ubuntu running on xps 13 DE iso on following
    http://odm.ubuntu.com/uds-q/dellxps//
    4. Are there any drawback of this attempt (with drivers etc...)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 1. The hardware is 100% identical.

      2. Sounds like you found it already. I had also found it somewhere on Dell's website. Let me know if you need the link. But now that Ubuntu 14.04 is out, you could also install that right away. 14.04 is supposed to have all the things necessary for the XPS 13 to work.

      3. You skipped number 3 =)

      4. There are no drawbacks to your plan, you'll end up with 100% the same thing as if you had bought the DE.

      Delete
    2. Awesome, looking forward to buy one for my self soon ...

      Delete
  51. What do you think, is it possible to eliminate the coil whine issue with software (driver, firmware, ..) or is it only an hardware issue?
    I'm consider to buy this ultrabook. But I have no idea when the convenient time is. Should I wait until Dell has solving the issue? Should I wait until Dell is official delivering this ultrabook with Ubuntu 14.04?
    Is there any other nice looking ultrabook which is supporting Ubuntu as well as the XPS13 is do it?
    It is too bad that the MBP is not working with linux correctly :/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I seriously doubt the coil whine issue can be fixed in software (driver, firmware or BIOS). It could be fixed with a dab of silicone sealer to the offending coil. That said, I'm not planning to take mine apart and try this - the whine isn't that big of an issue for me. I generally don't tend to notice it unless I really focus on it. Then again, I've got tinnitus anyway so I've always got a bit of a baseline ringing in the ears going on.

      I wonder how long it will be before Dell offers 14.04 LTS on these laptops? I'm going to guess that might take a few months at least. Could be they'll even wait for next year's model to do that.

      Delete
    2. As already said, it's very very unlikely that this is software. Reading from the comments it appears that it is related to how much electricity flows through certain parts (keyboard backlit, or plugged usb devices). Judging from the comments around, even from Dell part, I doubt it will be fixed altogether, in the current version of Sputnik.

      Might be, in a few months, a new bigger sputnik (the main dev announced he wants to make a bigger brother to the current model), with 14.04. This gives them time to fix both Hardware issues (coil whine ) and compatibility with Trusty.

      Delete
  52. Can you backup and share two system partition(sda1(DELLUTILITY) and sda2(OS)?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sure, I'll see when I get the time to do it and will post it here.

      Delete
  53. Is the coil whine present on all units? I want to get an XPS 13 DE machine but I'm sensitive to extra noise when I'm trying to concentrate. Noise is why I had to give up my Macbook Air, the fan was just too loud and would kick in spuriously.
    What is the Dell return policy for the coil whine issue? If I buy a unit and I notice a whine can I get send it back for a refund?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. From my experience, Apple laptops are very quiet. So if your MBA was too loud for you, then don't buy the Dell. I'm not sure if the coil-whine is present on all units. (sometimes it may be there, but the owner may not hear or realize it)
      Not sure about the return policy, but I'd assume you can return it.

      Delete
  54. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  55. Great review! One question, do you think if I install backtrack 5 I would get all the drivers working or did dell make them specific to Ubuntu?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dell didn't build anything specifically into Ubuntu. Whatever Dell provided was made available "upstream" so that every distribution can let these customisations flow into their releases. So, depending on when the release date of Backtrack 5 was, these things may or may not be built in. Ultimately, there's only one way to find out. :)

      Delete
  56. In case anyone isn't following it over there, note the post from Dell re: the coil whine here: http://en.community.dell.com/techcenter/os-applications/f/4613/p/19541816/20628024.aspx#20628024

    ReplyDelete
  57. After having my XPS 13 for a couple of months, I think the biggest problem with it is not the coil whine (rarely notice it) but the fact that the laptop seems to "wake up" from suspend when the lid is closed. This is a safety issue, I think. The other day I took it out of my backpack and it was quite hot.

    Any idea why these things are waking up when the lid is closed?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think if you google for it, you can find this - its something in the BIOS and perhaps leftover from a windows install. Ah..I found it:
      Intel Smart Connect is a technology intended to permit devices to
      update state by resuming for a short period of time at regular
      intervals. If a user enables this functionality under Windows and
      then reboots into Linux, the system may remain configured to resume
      on suspend. In the absence of any userspace to support it, the system
      will then remain awake until something triggers another suspend.

      So go into BIOS and see if you can turn it off ... I think that's how I got rid of it.

      Delete
    2. This is the most informative site I've found to date:

      http://xps13-9333.appspot.com

      Delete
  58. It seems the coil-whine issue is being investigated by the Dell Sputnik Team and are going to release remodeled system boards addressing that problem with an unspecified ETA sometime in July. I'll post the links to the forum referencing that HERE. Just FYI.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for pointing that out!

      Delete
  59. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  60. Hello,

    Nice review.
    I am thinking of buying one of this xps DE 13 inch.
    i am a developer. i would like to ask what kind of work do you guys do on this machine.
    i will need like 8-10 hours of continous eclipse or sublime or both with browser and maybe some console scripts running. How will this machine perform on this? wil it get hot after one hour and i have to let it cool down? or it will work like a charm? or what will happen. My current laptop is an 2013 Alienware M17X wich doesn't have heating issues for programming and VM's opened at the same time.

    Thank you.
    Keep up the good work.
    Nice review

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi

      I've been using the XPS 13 mainly for every-day stuff like web-browsing and for some gaming (using Steam).
      Do you mean you'll need 8-10 hours of battery-time? If you did, then the answer is: You won't get that much. You'll get around 5-6 hours before needing the power-supply.

      In regards to heat: Depending on the CPU load you'll put on, there will be a certain amount of heat, of course. However, even under higher loads, you won't have to stop working and let it cool down.
      When the CPU-temperature goes up, the fan will kick in. You may hear the fan if it has to spin faster, but it does its job well. You won't have to be afraid of the machine overheating. That's been my experience, at least, while gaming for about 1-3 hours.
      You produce load, it gets warm, then the fan kicks in and keeps the temperature under critical limits. When the load is gone, the temperature goes down and the fan goes down too.

      To be proactive, you could always put a cooling pad under the laptop. That will probably help a bit. But I wouldn't say this is necessary.

      However, make sure the XPS 13 satisfies your demands regarding performance. the M17x is a powerhouse. The XPS 13 is a slim device with more focus on portability. Yes, you can get it with an i7, but it's a different one than in the M17x.

      Delete
  61. Hey,
    Thanks for reply.
    I need 8-10 hours of work. i don't really care about the battery. and from what you are saying the battery will be more than enough for me. Regarding loading the laptop i don't have any experience with ultrabooks and this low voltage processors. that's why i am asking. told you before i will have an editor and a browser mainly. so no hardcore loading i guess. i don;t intend playing on this. i have the big brother M17x for that and for some hardcore programming that involves compiling and more complex ide's. this is just my php/html/javascript/css website's or scripts and for some programming late night in bed(on a cooling pad and not on the pillow offcourse.). but it has to work at least 8 continuous hours(plugged in or not, i don;t care)

    Thanks anyway for reply. i will probably buy one and i will see how it goes. if i don;t like it i will sell it.
    I just like the looks of it. i hope it will perform just as good as it looks.
    Best Regards

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, I understand now, ok. Sorry, I didn't get it the first time. :)
      In this case, my answer is: Yes, this laptop should be ideal for you. Heat won't be a problem.
      The only gripe is that coil-whine issue I wrote about. But the workaround of turning the backlight on all the time works pretty well for me, so it's ok.

      Delete
  62. I was trying to do a google hangout with my XPS 13 and keep getting messages about there not being a webcam. I've had the laptop for about 4 months now and had never tried out the webcam... I installed cheese to see if I could see ti there, but I also get a message there about there not being a webcam attached... what gives? Any ideas?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To add more info: lsusb doesn't show any video device attached:

      $ lsusb
      Bus 001 Device 002: ID 8087:8000 Intel Corp.
      Bus 001 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub
      Bus 002 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub
      Bus 003 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0003 Linux Foundation 3.0 root hub
      $ lsusb
      Bus 001 Device 002: ID 8087:8000 Intel Corp.
      Bus 001 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub
      Bus 002 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub
      Bus 003 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0003 Linux Foundation 3.0 root hub

      Delete