Saturday, August 9, 2014

Australian Dell XPS 13 Touch (9333) 2014 with Ubuntu/Linux Experiences

After many hours trying of trying to get my old laptop battery life above 3 hrs, I finally bit the bullet and bought a new laptop.

I eventually went for the Dell XPS 13 Touch (i7, 256 GB SSD, 8 GB RAM) and I'd thought I should put down a few words about my experiences for anyone looking for a good portable developer laptop.

My findings in summary: a damn fine developer laptop! Great backlit keyboard, Ubuntu works (details below), fantastic battery life, quiet and portable to the max.

Basically, weights as much as a 10" tablet, about the same size despite having a 13" Full HD touch screen. First day I took it to work and on battery compiled ITK within 10 minutes (as well as some custom libraries), installed a ton of stuff from the repositories, browsed the web, did some development and remote login work and still only consumed only two thirds the battery at the end of the day. My colleagues also loved the styling and were impressed overall.

Why not a Mac Book Pro?

I have to say the Mac was tempting. It was a little cheaper (lower spec though), probably more robust (by a little) and more battery life (only just) and Unix style OS with native MS Office. In the end, and after having used a Mac for a few weeks now for deploying some software, it became a matter of personal belief of what software should be about: FLOSS.

For example: It seems to customise and to get 'non-standard' elements working requires buying stuff. Want to write to NTFS filesystems? Buy software. Want to customise dock? Buy app. Even the open-source and free SciTE is available for purchase on the app store. Sigh. This together with no middle mouse click, no uninstall for installers and deployment issues for 10.6 and 10.9 push me over the edge and I don't regret one bit (so far... hehehe).

Installing Ubuntu

Installing Ubuntu was almost seamless. As per usual, follow all the backup routines etc. before installing. A few minor hurdles were encountered:
  • Kernel 3.14 is required to get the best battery life for i7's, thus I used search page to work out the distros that had the latest linux kernel. This was OpenSUSE factory and Ubuntu Snapshot
  • I used the Ubuntu snapshot (06/08/2014) and the iso to usb installer that comes with Linux Mint (which was installed on my desktop) to put it on a USB stick since the XPS 13 has no DVD-drive.
  • Make sure to shrink the Windows partition in Windows as during the partitioning stage, it kept trying to install Ubuntu to the USB stick since it was a large (16 GB) stick and only disk with space, making it difficult to resize in the installer itself. With all the EFI stuff, it better to let the installer set it up for you. OpenSUSE installer did the same thing too.
  • After the installer finished and I rebooted, everything worked! Even the touch screen. I was shocked lol. Not usually my experience in the last 10 years with Linux of any flavour. Linux has come a long way in the last few years! Even Ubuntu looked fabulous and it was good to hear the drum sound again after being away from it for so long. ;D
  • When I say everything, I kind of exaggerated a little. the Wifi didn't because of propriety firmware that just needs linux-firmware-nonfree package installed.
  • The touch device still has a bug and is not recognised properly, though it works fine. I got middle mouse click working with three finger tap (disabled on Ubuntu by default.... wtf).
Hope this helps someone.

Cheers Shakes - L3mming

1 comment:

  1. I also got mine recently and it is a beauty right? With a clean install of Ubuntu 14.04, everything (including wifi) worked out the box. Well, some touchscreen functionality seems to be missing but I don't plan on ever using the touchscreen anyway ;)

    Since I am also a bionformatician of sorts, it seems like these are going to ubiquitous in meetings for years to come.