Dell XPS 13 (9343) Making the Transition to a Smaller Laptop

When I first left desktops behind for a laptop (Lenovo T500) it was a tough step. I was used to building my own desktops from the components I selected. I was used to the power of a desktop. Converting to using a laptop was an exercise in compromises. The transition from a 15″ laptop to a smaller lighter laptop is similar, but this is the first time I have taken a step back in the area of memory. I am converting from a Lenovo T530 to a Dell XPS 13 (9343) Developer Edition. This article will cover accessories I own or am considering purchasing to replace some of the lost features of the larger laptop.

main_256Video Out
If you use your laptop to present or would like to have a larger monitor at your desk then you will want to have an adapter from mini-displayport to some other input (VGA, DVI or Displayport). In my case I went with the MDP-HDMI from Puggable which converts from mini-displayport to HDMI. Most of the presentations I do get displayed on large screen television with HDMI inputs which make this solution ideal. Linux does not have support for USB 3.0 Display Link device, but you could also choose to utilize a USB 2.0 docking station. As long as you do not have USB 3.0 drives or a need for 1000MB Ethernet connections that would be a possible solution.

main_256Network
Wireless works great when you are mobile and fairly well even when you are not. For most people there is no need for wired connections, but if you move large files then having a gigabit connection is a must have. For this I use a Pluggable Model USB3-E1000 device. Moving large files at 118 MB/s is much more enjoyable than 35 MB/s.

main_256USB 3.0 Hub
With only two USB ports a hub can make it easier to attach multiple devices. In my case since I decided to use the USB3-E1000 device I would only have one available USB port. I have the Plugable USB3-HUB7A which has seven ports. This USB hub has not been stable for me with either the the Lenovo T530 nor the Dell XPS 13 (9343). I am not sure if there is a firmware issue or something else. The current issues are that devices plugged in to the hub are not always recognized. That said this hub still allows me to use three devices directly attached and another two through a second USB 2.0 hub.

 

Dell XPS 13 (9343) Developer Edition – Bluetooth Firmware

I installed Ubuntu 15.04 on my Dell XPS 13 (9343) Developer Edition and found Bluetooth to be non-functional. I read several posts on the web that called for getting the firmware from Windows and using a tool to convert the hex to hcd. I knew that Bluetooth had been working on the unit prior to replacing the preloaded 14.04 so I plugged in my recovery USB stick and poked around to see if I could find the firmware. After little digging I found a package that contained the firmware and extracted it. (note: the install will put the firmware in /lib/firmware and it needs to be in /lib/firmware/brcm)

Dell Receovery XPS 13 9343 Developer Edition

Dell Receovery XPS 13 9343 Developer Edition

1. Go to the debs folder and find the bt-dw1560-firmware_1.0_all.deb.

Broadcom Debian Package

Broadcom Debian Package

2. Open this file with Archive Manager.

3. Navigate to /usr/share/bt-dw1560/firmware/

Archive Manager Extract Firmware

Archive Manager Extract Firmware

4. Extract the fw-0a5c_216f.hcd file

5. Move it to /lib/firmware/brcm with the name BCM20702A0-0a5c-216f.hcd (note: your path may vary – I put mine in my home directory)

sudo mv fw-0a5c_216f.hcd /lib/firmware/brcm/BCM20702A0-0a5c-216f.hcd

6. unload bluetooth using the command:

sudo modprobe -r btusb

7.  load bluetooth using the command:

sudo modprobe btusb

8. Bluetooth should now be working.

After following this process I was able to pair devices and send files from my phone to my computer.

Dell XPS 13 (9343) Developer Edition vs Lenovo X1 Carbon (2015)

XPS 13 (9343) Bright Display

XPS 13 (9343) Bright Display

I recently purchased a Dell XPS 13 (9343) Developer Edition for home and a Lenovo X1 Carbon (2015) at work. Both laptops are in the same ultra-thin and portable category, but the XPS has added Infinity Display this year and the X1 Carbon reversed course on the touchpad and keyboard design this year. I debated a long time about which laptop to get for home use, but in the end Dell won me over in a knock out.

Specifications:

XPS 13 (9343):
8GB DDR3L-RS 1600Mhz
DW 1560 Wireless (Broadcom)
SAMSUNG SSD PM851 M.2 2280 256GB
Intel Core i5-5200U CPU @ 2.20GHz
13.3-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) infinity display
52 WHr, 4-Cell Battery (integrated)
Price $944.10

X1 Carbon:
Work X1 Carbon – Comparison Specs:
8GB DDR3L-12800 1600 MHz
Intel 7265 Wireless
SAMSUNG MZNTE256HMHP-000L7 256GB
Intel Core i5-5300u @ 2.30Ghz
14″ WQHD+ (2560 x 1440)
50 WHr battery (integrated)
Price: $1,403.10

Temperatures (using lm-sensors):

XPS 13:
acpitz-virtual-0
Adapter: Virtual device
temp1:        +25.0°C  (crit = +107.0°C)
temp2:        +34.0°C  (crit = +105.0°C)
temp3:        +34.0°C  (crit = +105.0°C)

coretemp-isa-0000
Adapter: ISA adapter
Physical id 0:  +33.0°C  (high = +105.0°C, crit = +105.0°C)
Core 0:         +32.0°C  (high = +105.0°C, crit = +105.0°C)
Core 1:         +32.0°C  (high = +105.0°C, crit = +105.0°C)

X1 Carbon:
acpitz-virtual-0
Adapter: Virtual device
temp1:        +39.0°C  (crit = +128.0°C)

thinkpad-isa-0000
Adapter: ISA adapter
fan1:           0 RPM

coretemp-isa-0000
Adapter: ISA adapter
Physical id 0:  +33.0°C  (high = +105.0°C, crit = +105.0°C)
Core 0:         +33.0°C  (high = +105.0°C, crit = +105.0°C)
Core 1:         +33.0°C  (high = +105.0°C, crit = +105.0°C)

The boot times are close with the XPS 13 at 13.4 seconds and the X1 Carbon at 16.1 seconds.

Battery:

XPS 13:
Disharge Rate: 3.8W
Watt Hours: 52.9
Volts: 8
Vendor: SMP

X1 Carbon:
DIschater Rate: 4.5W
Watt Hours: 50.1
Volts 15.3
Vendor: SMP

The XPS 13 has bios settings for battery charing thresholds. The X1 Carbon allows those to be set using tlp and the optional components for Thinkpad models. The system on the X1 Carbon works well and the indicator shows the proper state (charging, discharging or none). With the XPS 13 bios settings the start charging threshold appears to be non-functional. I have it set at 50%, but the battery starts charing as soon as it is below the stop charging threshold. I applaud Dell for putting this feature in bios, but they need to work on the implementation so that it functions properly.

Subjective experiences:
LCD Panel:
With the X1 Carbon I had to change the scaling to 1.12 in order to make the display readable. With the XPS 13 this adjustment was not necessary. Both screen are very crisp, but color temperature on the X1 is a warmer. I can make no claims about the color accuracy of either monitor. For my use the XPS 13 has the superior panel. Both the panels are IPS panels, but the Dell is an IGZO. If Lenovo offered a 1920×1080 IPS panel with the X1 Carbon things might be a tie, but the resolution of 2560 x 1440 causes some difficulty with apps that do not using scaling. With a dark panel I notice light bleed on the X1 Carbon and none on the XPS 13.
(XPS: 9 | X1: 7)

Keyboard:
I like the keyboards on both laptops. The X1 Carbon has seperate page up, page down, home, end and print screen keys. The XPS 13 has these keys, but they are combined with other functions. The Lenovo also offers the ability to mute the microphone with a function key. The Dell offers play control functions keys for previous, pause-play and next. The XPS also has a caps lock indicator light while the Lenovo does not. Both keys boards offer three steps (off, low, high) of backlighting. The Lenovo keys are have a little indented contour to them that make for a pleasent feel to the keys when typing. Overall I prefer the keybaord on the X1 Carbon slightly.
(XPS: 9 | X1: 9.5)

Ports and connectivity:
The X1 Carbon comes out ahead on this metric for most business users. The laptop comes with a special docking port that both powers the laptop and provides dock functionality. This functions much better than using a USB 3.0 dock and having to plug in the power adapter too. It also has a full size HDMI out which in the right circumstances will avoid having to carry an adapter. The X1 also includess a special port for a gigabit ethernet adapter that is included with the unti. At work where I need to use my gigabit network connection frequently the dock is invaluable for its ease of use and fucntionality. This is an area Dell could improve on for business oriented customers. My use at home is much different and the included SD card reader on the Dell is much more useful than a dock. I take plenty of pictures of my children and being able to extract the pictures directly from the SD card is much more valuable.
(XPS: 9 | X1 9)

Other items of note:
The Dell XPS offers an easy way to update the bios at boot time which avoids having the make a bootable CD or USB stick. At a time when so many manufacturers only provide Windows execuatbles for bios updates this is a welcome feature. The fact that Dell is officially supporting the XPS and the unit gets 24/7 next day business support for a year makes the warranty superior to what Lenovo offers. I also know that Dell will not deny support based on the fact that I choose to use Ubuntu over Windows. Both laptops are cool and quiet, but I do prefer the X1 Carbon exhaust being on the side vs bottom of the unit. The build quality of the SPX 13 is superior to that of the X1 Carbon. I have no squeeks or creaking noises from the case of the XPS 13, but I do have that issue with the X1 Carbon.

XPS 13 (9343) vs X1 Carbon footprint.

XPS 13 (9343) vs X1 Carbon footprint.

XPS 13 (9343) vs X1 Carbon Thickness

XPS 13 (9343) vs X1 Carbon Thickness

Overall, the XPS 13 (9343) Developer Edition is an awesome laptop. While my T500 and T530 are fine laptops, this is the first laptop I have been truly excited to own. Considering this all comes in at a price roughly $460 less than the X1 Carbon I think it is obvious that Dell hit a home run with the XPS 13 (9343) Developer Edition.

Coming up: Accessories that help me get the most out of my XPS 13.

Dell XPS 13 (9343) Developer Edition Review

Background:
My last laptop was a Lenovo T530 that I purchased in October of 2012. When I ordered this laptop I was torn between the X1 Carbon, X230 and the T530. What tilted the scales for me was the 1920×1080 resolution on the T530 and the quality of the panel. The laptop weighed in at more than 5.6lbs and I decided I wanted a lighter weight laptop.  Earlier this year I replaced my work laptop, a Lenovo W520, with a Lenovo X1 Carbon. At that time the Dell XPS 13 Developer Editiion was not available, This time around the contenders were the Lenovo X1 Carbon, Lenovo X250 and the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition. The options were the X1 Carbon at $1,268.10 (14″ 1920×1080 non-IPS screen), the X250 at $1,259.10 (12.6″ 1920×1080 IPS Screen) and the Dell XPS 13 at $944 (on sale).

Ordering, Shipping and Packaging:
The first thing I have to mention is that Dell was extremely quick in delivering the laptop. I ordered the device on Friday June 12th and it was delivered Thursday June 18th. The ordering process was quick and easy. I made use of the pop-up chat offer and discussed the options with the Dell sales representative. In addition to the sale price and $100 off coupon I was offered free next day shipping. The device came in a rather plain brown exterior box, but inside was a smaller elegant black box. The specs of the XPS 13 I orders are:

8GB DDR3L-RS 1600Mhz
DW 1560 Wireless
SAMSUNG SSD PM851 M.2 2280 256GB
Intel Core i5-5200U CPU @ 2.20GHz
13.3-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) infinity display
52 WHr, 4-Cell Battery (integrated)
Price $944.10

Initial Experience:
The XPS 13 comes with Ubuntu 14.04 preinstalled and has several backports as well to ensure that the unit functions properly. The initial startup was quite impressive (see video below). The unit worked out of the box, but I wanted to install Ubuntu 15.04. The first step was to use the Dell recovery utility, but this did not work until after I did an apt-get update and apt-get upgrade. The Dell recovery utility makes and image of the computer and places it on a USB flash drive and after the quick upgrade worked flawlessly.

Screenshot from 2015-06-20 11:29:43

Upgrade to 15.04:
I decided to install a fresh copy of 15.04 instead of doing an in-place upgrade. The process was very smooth and I had no issues. I chose to use UEFI and secure boot. Everything I have tested is working properly. Function keys (including being able to toggel the function key lock), wireless, microphone, trackpad (including pinch to zoom), screen brightness, volume control, keyboard backlighting, wireless toggle and multimedia control.

Final Impressions:
Every day I go to use this laptop I am struck by how much smaller it is than the Lenovo T530 it replaced. It is absolutely stunning with the infinity display. It packs the same screen resolution as the T530, but an insanely small chassis. Where I used to dread taking my T530 to conferences and meetings this unit will be a pleasure to carry. It will likely weigh less than the other items I bring.

Coming Up: A comparison of my work Lenovo X1 Carbon (2015) from work and my personal Dell XPS 13 (9343) Developer Edition.

1990: Copyrights and Computer Operating Systems

Screenshot from 2015-05-31 13:47:48

Interesting to look back to the past and see where the world of computing was in the past. I lived through it, but it is hard for many to believe that operating systems used to have less than 1 MB (yes, Megabyte) of memory. Also, interesting to see that some folks thought Apple actually had a unique idea with a graphical user interface despite the fact that it started with Douglas Engelbart at SRI (Stanford Research Institute) and continued at Xerox Parc with release of the Alto computer [1]. The explanation about the command line interface is interesting as well. GUIs were exciting and many thought they would replace command line, but even Microsoft and Apple still use command line today.

As a user of Linux I am very happy that Apple was not permitted to copyright the GUI. Without it we would not have Ubuntu and Unity, Gnome Shell, KDE, LXDE, etc. It is a much better world that people be able to choose the best option for their work style.

Screenshot from 2015-05-31 13:48:08

Interesting video covering Linux where The Computer Chronicles poses the question how can anyone make a business selling it. Perhaps the wrong question now that we can look back knowing that businesses have been built around Linux and Open Source Software. Companies like Google and Facebook would not exist without the operating system. Companies like Canonical and Redhat exist by selling services supporting it. Amazing times we live in.

Ubuntu Trash Bug

Ubuntu has always had bugs. All software does. Ubuntu 15.04 is the first version of Ubuntu that I will not upgrade too because of a bug. The bug that annoys so much is a minor one, but it impacts me multiple times a day. When using the launcher trash icon and selecting ’empty trash’ a new file manager window opens. This was not the case with Ubuntu 14.10 or any previous version. I understand that there are multiple ways to empty the trash and not have this behavior, but I am used to using the launcher option. While this is a relatively minor bug it bothers me to the point that I will not upgrade to 15.04.

Dell XPS 13 2015 Developer Edition – Ubuntu 15.04

The Dell XPS 2013 2015 (9343) is a much anticipated computer for Ubuntu and Linux enthusiasts. Today I tested a Windows variant of the laptop and was pleasant surprised by how well it worked out of the box with Ubuntu 15.04 beta 2. I was unable to install Ubuntu to the hard drive because the unit is a demo unit that must be returned so I ran off a USB drive. The wireless driver was easily enabled by going to additional drivers. The function controls such as screen brightness, volume and keyboard back light, wireless toggle all worked out of the box with no tweaks. The one hang up is that the audio did not work. There are some ways to work around this problem on the web, but I would like to see the solution Dell decides to use. I did not experience any issues with the trackpad locking up or key repeats that earlier reviews of the Windows model discussed.

With my anticipation high I spoke with a Dell sales rep on-line and found the URL to purchasing the Dell Developer Edition and was told that the units would be shipping in 11 to 14 days. The representative also offered to provide overnight shipping for free.

Dell XPS 13 2015 Ubuntu Developer Edition

Dell XPS 13 2015 Ubuntu Developer Edition

My current computer is a Lenovo T530 with 1920×1080 screen. When I purchased the unit I was impressed by the screen, but after looking at it next to the Dell XPS 13 I am left with an impression that it is just not good enough anymore. The Dell XPS 13 2015 model had much sharper text and a better contrast ratio. The picture below does not do the difference justice. When I purchased the T530 I did so primarily because I wanted a minimum resolution of 1920×1080 and most ultrabooks were being shipped with 1366×768 screens. As you can see from the image below It is amazing how much screen Dell managed to fit in to this chassis.

IMG_20150407_163638

I just wish I had been able to get an actual Developer Edition to ensure that the one problem item was resolved, but for now I will wait to see if some reviews get posted and what the results are with regards to the audio issues.

UPDATE 4/8/2015: I tested a suggestion made in the comments to reboot Ubuntu twice to get audio working. That worked. Based on that it would appear that Ubuntu 15.04 will run out of the box on the Dell XPS 13 2015 model.

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