A few months ago when I reviewed the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition (2016), I wrote: This is the best Linux hardware I have ever seen. The polish, the feel, the look, the components ... everything about it is great.
I just discovered: I was not alone.
Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, has also chosen the Dell XPS 13 Developers Edition as his next laptop. A few weeks ago, Torvalds wrote on his Google+ page that he was looking at the replacement for his old laptop. When I met Torvalds during LinuxCon North America (for a long exclusive interview) I asked if he had selected a worthy one.
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At that point he had not finalized the laptop but it was abundantly clear that his needs, as a programmer, were different from my needs as writer/filmmaker; it was different from the needs of many others who want a consumer laptop. Which meant that the laptop he would choose may not be the right one for me.
It seems there is an exception. It’s Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition. This laptop has something for everyone. Almost everyone.
A laptop is not a desktop replacement
If you are doing resource intense work like building software, editing 4K videos with dozens of audio and video tracks, processing huge amount of data for analytics, or merging and compiling Linux kernel, you need a real desktop processor and a lot of RAM at your disposal.
As a kernel developer, Torvalds’ needs are no different. He wrote on his Google+ page, “I don't use my laptop as a desktop replacement, and I only travel for a small handful of events each year. So for me, the laptop is a fairly specialized thing that doesn't get daily (or even weekly) use, so the main criteria are not some kind of ‘average daily use’, but very much ‘travel use’.”
So what are the things that he really looks for when picking up a laptop? You might be surprised that his needs may not be that different from your needs. “I end up caring a lot about it being fairly small and light, because I may end up carrying it around all day at a conference. I also want it to have a good screen, because by now I'm just used to it at my main desktop, and I want my text to be legible but small,” wrote Torvalds.
With great laptops come great CPUs
Dell XPS 13 comes with an extremely powerful CPU. It’s powered by Intel’s 6th generation CPU i7-6560U and comes with Intel Iris 540 graphics. It has 16GB of RAM and comes with a 500GB PCI Solid State Drive. It has more than enough power to run a couple of virtual machines for testing. It’s a dream machine, even for Torvalds. “I do want a reasonably powerful CPU, because when I'm traveling I still build the kernel a lot. I don't do my normal full ‘make allmodconfig; build between each pull request like I do at home, but I'd like to do it more often than I did with my previous laptop, which is actually (along with the screen) the main reason I wanted to upgrade,” wrote Torvalds.
Dell XPS 13 has one of the best displays I have ever used. It’s HiDPI touchscreen offers you the same visual experience that you get in the real world; you don’t see pixels. Its touchscreen also helps me recover from carpal tunnel. Instead of straining my muscles with a touchpad and mouse, I can just reach out and touch things.
But unlike me, Torvalds is not excited about touch. “What I don't tend to care about is touchscreens, because my fingers are big and clumsy compared to the text I'm looking at (I also can't handle the smudges: maybe I just have particularly oily fingers, but I really don't want to touch that screen),” said Torvalds.
While the Dell XPS 13 offers a great touchscreen, Linux desktop doesn’t do justice with it. The way Linux desktop environments handle HiDPI screens is where both Torvalds and I feel frustrated. It’s quite a challenge to get a consistent scaling on KDE’s Plasma desktop. Gnome auto scales everything, while giving you the option to fine tune things a bit. I like Gnome for making things easier on HiDPI machines.
Despite being a Gnome user for a very long time, Torvalds is not very happy with the way it handles HiDPI monitors. “The new laptop has the same resolution as my desktop, but apparently because the laptop screen is smaller, Gnome seems to decide on its own that I need an automatic scaling factor of 2, which blows up all the stupid things (window decorations, icons etc) to a ridiculous degree,” wrote Torvalds.
Full day battery life?
As much as I care about the HiDPI screen (I can’t live with 1920x1400 resolution anymore), I also care about the battery life. I spend most of my travel time at conferences - either attending keynotes or conducting interviews. Often there are no power outlets in sight and I don’t want to be too worried about my laptop running out of juice.
Torvalds doesn’t care about all day battery life. “I can't recall the last time I didn't have access to power,” Torvalds wrote. “I might not want to bother to plug it in for some quick check, but it's just not a big overwhelming issue. By the time battery life is in ‘more than a couple of hours’, I just don't care very much anymore.”
It turned out that Dell XPS 13 has found the perfect balance: it has a great display and great battery life. I get over 5-6 hours of battery life with Fedora 24 running Gnome.
Dell XPS 13 wins the day
I recall my early days with Linux when buying a laptop needed a lot of research. We had few choices because things like wireless, Bluetooth or even graphics would not work on Linux. Things have changed. Now almost everything works out of the box, thanks to the incredible work done by the Linux kernel community, most notably Greg Kroah-Hartman who maintains device drivers for Linux.
It's no surprise that when Torvalds was looking for his next laptop he found that “there really were a lot of fairly reasonable machines out there now, and the XPS 13 was by no means the only possible choice. My thin-and-light kind of requirements used to mean that I had to compromise a lot just a few years ago, but that's no longer the case.”
However, Dell XPS 13 was not the only contender. Torvalds was full of praise for Lenovo X1 Carbon, HP Spectre 13 and Lenovo Yoga 900. But the reason he picked Dell XPS was almost the same reason I like it, “...the XPS 13 stands out due to the thin bezel, which really does maximize the screen size for the size of machine,” wrote Torvalds, “It just ends up hitting my two primary goals very well: small and portable, but with the biggest screen you can cram into that size.”
I said it before and I will say it again: Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition is the best laptop for a Linux user. If you are looking for a new laptop, look no further than Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition.
You won’t regret it. Trust me. Or, trust Torvalds!
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