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Curious what Crustaceans think of the Dell XPS 13 and other laptops with solid Linux support. Personally I don’t love the XPS 13 hardware design — the carbon fiber feels a bit plastic-y and I prefer a 4:3 aspect ratio screen on laptops — but I know some people love it. A friend of mine recently got the Huawei Matebook X Pro and after some fiddling to get the speakers working under Ubuntu says it’s solid; any other ultrabook-style laptops out there with fairly good Linux support?


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    I’m on a Thinkpad T450 (swapped out the screen for an IPS display) and have only good things to say. The keyboard is probably the best I’ve ever worked on, and I love that this laptop has plenty of ports.

    The one thing I’m concerned about on Linux laptops though is the touchpad. This review doesn’t mention anything about the XPS touchpad either. I don’t know if it’s a software thing or a hardware thing, but I haven’t seen a touchpad that works even half as nice as the one on a Mac.

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      I don’t know if it’s a software thing or a hardware thing

      I don’t know what hardware is in the newest Apple touchpads, but historically it was the same Synaptics stuff that’s everywhere.

      It is software. Use Wayland and GTK applications. I have a ThinkPad X240 and a 1st gen Apple Magic Trackpad on the desktop — scrolling and pinch zooming PDFs in Evince / images in EoG feels great with both.

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        In my experience all touchpads are abominable except for Mac and Surface.

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          And Pixelbook, and Pixel Slate.

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        I’ve got a 9360 model with the QHD screen, after years of hating on laptops because of the sub-par characteristics. Very satisfied with it.

        My criteria is pretty much just:

        • A screen resolution that isn’t 1377x768 (It’s 2018! Why are these still shipping?)
        • Screen must not have adaptive brightness, or at least have the ability to completely disable this
        • WiFi/Bluetooth must not be Broadcom. Linux support is a crapshoot when it comes to these chips.
        • User upgradeable components (Thankfully, Dell provides an user manual describing how to replace the M2 hard drive and wireless chip)
        • Standard UEFI implementation (i.e. ability to disable Secure Boot)
        • Standard keyboard layout (funky layouts are a pain)

        Unfortunately, laptop vendors are only in the game to make a buck, and their offerings aren’t acceptable. At least Apple does this right.

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          Screen must not have adaptive brightness

          Isn’t that a completely software thing? Are there implementations of adaptive brightness directly in firmware now?

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              As bwasti has commented, it was enabled implemented in firmware. However, you were unable to enable/disable the functionality until a recent firmware update made it available. I find that crazy!

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              Standard UEFI implementation (i.e. ability to disable Secure Boot)

              Any laptop that ships with Windows (or can ship with Windows) and is using x86 architecture must have “disable Secure Boot” option:

              (…) Intel-based systems certified for Windows 8 must allow secure boot to enter custom mode or be disabled

              Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unified_Extensible_Firmware_Interface#Secure_boot_criticism

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                Or even better, add your own key to the chain of trust, remove the ones that aren’t yours, and sign your own kernel.

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                  Exactly. That’s what I do (with sbupdate), additionally booting directly kernel as an EFI application (so kernel acts as a bootloader, no GRUB necessary!).

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                A screen resolution that isn’t 1377x768 (It’s 2018! Why are these still shipping?)

                I bought one of these recently for development. Since my environment is command line based, extra pixels don’t really help much; they can make everything smaller, but there are practical limits on what’s comfortable/what my eyes can do. Probably my “ideal” resolution would be a little higher, but 1080p on a 13” laptop really requires software scaling to be usable, which introduces its own share of bugs and quirks, so it’s not as simple as “more is better.”

                The unexpected/unplanned bonus is that it can run VMs at 1024x768 which allows it to run legacy systems without scaling, making them much nicer. I don’t spend that much time emulating legacy systems, but I do use them to test my software on older environments, and it’s kind of a feature to have them work so well. It also needs less GPU/uses less power/has better battery life.

                Not saying it’s the right thing for everyone, but maybe the answer to “why?” is because some of us actually want them.

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                  Maybe they (1377x768) are shipping because people still like them? I’d prefer my x230 for work on the go over both of the T4x0p I’ve used any day. So yeah, it’s a bit apples to oranges, but afaik the XPS 13 has a similar resolution compared to what the T4x0p has on 14” - I find it cramped and small.

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                    The X200s isn’t really any bigger than the X230 but has a much better 1440x900 display.

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                      Not saying stuff can’t be improved, but this was re: QHD ( 2560 × 1440 ) - and I’m absolutely not a fan of huge resolutions. At least until the support in Linux (with external screens) is on the level of OSX. Not that I’m a huge fan of OSX, but I’ve never seen any problems with Retina MBP + Normal screen vs Linux on HiDPI + normal screen.

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                      Sorry for being nitpick here, but it’s actually 1366×768. It still exists because it’s much cheaper than a FHD (1920x1080) screen. In a extremely low margin laptop business, leveling the parts cost is major revenue optimization strategy (even for Apple). Same reason why low-powered crappy netbooks still exist.

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                    Not an XPS 13, but I own last year’s XPS 15 (9560) and I pretty much love this machine. The Linux support is good for Antergos (arch-based distro) and it is super easy to configure everything (networks, energy management, installing the NVIDIA drivers, the programs to activate/deactivate the integrated GPU, etc). However, my work laptop is this year’s XPS 15 9570 and I can feel that some changes make it marginally harder to configure properly certain things. For anyone trying to find a good laptop for Linux, I recommend doing thorough research in Arch Linux Wiki of the different models and trying to find a compromise between the specs you want and the achieved Linux support.

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                      On the upside, some of the earlier models of the XPS 13 I tested had a tendency to produce a high-pitched whine in some situations. If you read users’ complaints around the Web, you’ll get a mix of theories, the most likely being coil whine. Whatever it was, I have not noticed it with this model.

                      As someone who has owned a few of these from the Haswell version up through the Kaby Lake version, and experienced the coil whine on every one[0], I really hope they solved that issue.

                      1. Sometimes it took a few weeks before it showed up, but once it does it’s almost impossible for me to not hear.
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                        I have the Kaby Lake version as well. For me, the coil whine got significantly better with later firmware versions.

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                          Coil whine, or power supply whine seems to be a problem with modern laptops. Apple has had similar problems too - a colleague had to send their new top-of-the-line Macbook straight back because the whine was so loud.

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                            Coil whine is not an easily fixable problem (tl;dw the whiny kind of inductors is the one that’s electrically superior)

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                              I’ve got the Skylake version and indeed this is a problem. Besides, this laptop had so many issues over the years I’m actually wondering if I’m still using due to Stockholm Syndrome or did it get better over the years…

                              Personally the biggest annoyance is extremely slow boot, can take up to 7 seconds until UEFI app (OS bootloader) kicks in (if using TB16 dock +3s as it cannot start until the dock “starts”). I don’t remember this kind of slowness in my 2 year older than Skylake XPS 12.

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                                Does it whine always or on AC power? I have a chrome book that occasionally gets loud enough to annoy me, but only plugged in. So I just unplug it (and hope I remember to plug back in when I’m done).

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                                I have a Lenovo T480S running Ubuntu and love it. It’s a beast and it’s pretty light, too!

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                                  I don’t think I could see myself moving to a laptop without three physical buttons. A trackpoint isn’t an absolute must, but it’s a big plus. Non-glossy high resolution screens are also a big deal to me.

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                                    Lenovo X1 Carbon (x1c) 4th-gen has similar specs and runs Linux perfectly. The 4th-gen has no USB-C ports, but does support a USB-C like docking system that works perfectly with Linux for power, display, USB hub, and gigabit Ethernet, all through one hot-plug cable. The ports on the laptop itself include USB 3 Type A (several), aux, HDMI, and mini-DisplayPort. Bright, outdoor-friendly matte display at 1080p, and loads of battery life, with convenient fast-charging.

                                    Described in depth here: https://amontalenti.com/2017/09/01/lenovo-linux

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                                      I’m on a T460s. It’s reasonably thin and mobile but otherwise nothing to write home about. Overpriced. Bad screen. Battery not replaceable or extensible. Underpowered. Not enough RAM. Keyboard was broken on arrival and has shoddy design. Trackpad is buggy (skips around if you try to move the cursor only a little), and I can’t ever seem to get the nub to work well. It’s either too sensitive (difficult to aim with and prone to drift when left untouched), or too insensitive and slow to work with. Linux support is OK.

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                                        For people wanting this sleek-look kind of system I’ve been recommending the Purism systems. My Mom just got one as is pretty happy so far. It’s a nice machine and nice to know my money is going to further good projects and not just going to Dell.

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                                          I have a Dell XPS 9360 - it’s a solid machine with great Linux support. Chose the 1920x1280 screen, since 4k seemed overkill for the screen size - the 1920 screen is still 200dpi so it’s much better than the laptops of yore.

                                          The RAM is soldered, so there’s no way I’ll ever be able to upgrade it to 16 Gb. You can switch out the NVMe SSD & Wifi if you want to though.

                                          My only complaint is that it tends to throttle a little under load - but it probably wasn’t designed with ‘40 minute compile jobs’ as part of the design brief! Oh, and the 9360 only has one Thunderbolt port, so using an external monitor & charging from a standard thunderbolt charger is not really possible without some kind of dock. Later XPSen have 2 Thunderbolt ports thankfully.

                                          8/10 Would buy again.

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                                            I’m on a System76 Kudu circa 2015

                                            • 16GB ram
                                            • 1080p matte screen
                                            • 2.80 GHz i7-4810M

                                            Build quality is pretty good. I love the keyboard generally, but it’s off-center which is strange. But only way to fit a full keyboard. The support from system76 has been excellent and they fixed every problem I have had, including sending me free parts. I bought a newer desktop from them because I liked them that much.

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                                              I have a Lenovo X1 Carbon (5th gen) running Xubuntu and I love it. It installed from USB flawlessly. Only issue I have is that I have to turn down my PPI when connected to some non HiDPI monitors and restart some apps.

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                                                I’ve owned this year’s XPS 13 9370 (i7/256GB/8GB/1080p) (non-Developer Edition, but as I understand it, they’re the same in terms of hardware) for two weeks so far and so far I haven’t experienced any issues with it. I’m a bit disappointed with the carbon fiber texture (feels a bit cheap IMO). Sound from the built-in speakers is pretty hollow, although it’s been a number of years since I’ve owned a laptop so I don’t really remember if that’s what they all sound like. Driver support was fine out of the box on Arch with kernel 4.19.8 although I haven’t tried to use the webcam.

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                                                  sees that the screen has a glossy finish -> instantly closes tab