XPS 13 – nice hardware shame about the vendor

IMG_20150626_154054Its nice to see a machine supplied with Linux, especially one that’s both light weight and a good spec.  However its a shame in my opinion that in this case the experience with the particular vendor and the software implementation was decidedly lacking.

There are plenty of nice touches mind, from the feel and look of the carbon fibre surrounding the keyboard, and the aluminium case its definitely obvious that some thought has gone into the physical design of the machine.

Lets get the vendors poor performance out of the way, imagine that your relationship with a vendor begins with you being deliberately deceived.

Their on-line shop makes a big deal of dispatched within 1-3 or 3-5 days (depending on the product) but when they know full well the product won’t reach you for two weeks (yes at least TWO weeks) that really is an obvious deception.  Its not even made clear where the machine is coming from – is it unreasonable to expect final assembly to happen in the same country as the shops domain ?…

But wait even if its from some sweatshop in China it doesn’t take two weeks to get something halfway across the world (seriously you’d be surprised how fast stuff travels now-a-days!!) … My guess is that your property (and by now that’s what it is) is basically sat waiting for enough machines to pile up, to make it economically viable for them to feel it’s worth giving you your property.

I dread to think the work condition of the people who built my machine on a Sunday afternoon…

IMG_20150626_154228I won’t even go into the unprofessional comedy of errors that is customer “support” (being “handled” really makes you feel valued) Enough already!

Just as the keyboard surround and display are well done, on the outside the metal case is of equally good quality, the metal has a nice finish and is easily rigid enough to supply good support to the internals of the machine.

Sadly we must return to the less than satisfactory, that being the software on the machine.  I used to be a fan of Ubuntu, it used to be fast and reliable and you could configure your machine just how you wanted it with ease.  Fast forward some six or so years… oh dear… Now I have a halfway decent OS on the machine I can barely believe the difference…

I strongly objected to the EULA that was sprung on me without warning – so verbose I have no idea what it means and I really should have been obviously and clearly warned, and been able to view the EULA BEFORE purchase.  Fortunately for me as I left the machine unattended for a while, the wife randomly mashed the keyboard… oh well at least I didn’t have to agree to that nonsense…. (Incidently the F12/F2 BIOS menu will allow you to boot install media without having to enter some unexpected legal agreement just so you can use YOUR property)

IMG_20150626_154302Before detailing some of the short comings with the supplied software, I’ve got to mention how portable the machine is – so much more convenient than any other laptop I’ve had – even more so that my wife’s original Eeepc! much thinner a little larger but a whole heap lighter…

Out of the box there are a number of software issues.  A track pad that randomly pauses, a keyboard that randomly repeats characters and random lengthy pauses on boot even hanging on shutdown sometimes !

While I was fairly quickly able to fix these issues by installing and correctly configuring Gentoo, one minor irritation was their choice of wifi card, why oh why would you use a card that isn’t included in the kernel tree? especially when its the machines only networking device… I’d be tempted to drop in a spare Intel card but from the looks of the tear downs they haven’t included standard mounting pillars for the wifi card – very disappointing…

Much less of an issue but still disappointing is that there are only two USB sockets, not a drama but to be honest I think I’d have preferred another USB versus an SD slot…

A good well implemented feature is the BIOS, UEFI seems well implemented and there are some nice features, I’ve seen a few fun posts about making FreeDos boot media to update the BIOS, but that’s not even required.  I was able to simply put the update exe onto the EFI partition and after pressing F12 direct the BIOS update to it… job done… as simple as it should be…

….but yeah why did I have to upgrade to the current BIOS version on a new machine… sadly I think this is symptomatic of the sub par performance of the so called “skunk works”, poor choice of network card aside the lack of up to date BIOS on some machines can only have hampered their less than stellar solutions…

So, will I be using my legal 14 day right to cancel ? well.. actually no, once you spend some time on it you can tame this machine into a really nice bit of kit.

It plays Kerbal Space Program better than than my two and a half year old i5-3210M, the i5-5200 does seem to make a noticeable difference – who’d a thought – progress !

So would I recommend it? well yes and no! If you have some level of skill and can buy it from a bricks and mortar store and take it away there and then and you can get a decent discount – then go for it… eventually its a really nice machine…

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