Apr 12, 2014

Getting started with the XPS13 Developer Edition - Sputnik

I recently decided to give up my trusty Macbook Air and head back down the road of free-ish software. After considering the Asus Zenbook Infinity and Lenovo X1 Carbon, I opted to get myself a Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition notebook.

There's no single reason why, but the price had dropped significantly (right around $1000 as of this writing) and it came with 8GB of RAM and a touch screen. If it had had an option for a 512 GB SSD I would have probably gotten it long ago.

It appeared on the doorstep a few days ago, in spectacular timing with a price drop of an excellent 512 GB mSATA SSD from Samsung. After carefully swapping the hard disk out, using these handy instructions, I thought a bit more about what I was going to run on this laptop.

Before the hard disk swap I'd gotten a chance to play with the stock Ubuntu 12.04 that came with the laptop. For the most part things just worked though the touch pad configuration is terrible out of the box. I upgraded to 14.04 beta and played around a bit there as well.

14.04 beta is a lot less stable which surprised me given how soon this release is supposed to ship. In the past, I'd heard a lot of complaints about Unity so it was nice to use it for myself. It's not bad. I think my biggest issue is Dash which is just not as efficient as say Quicksilver or Spotlight. There's a much better app for ElementaryOS called indicator-synapse but I sadly couldn't figure out how to bind activation to my preferred Space keystroke.

So it was good to know that 14.04 was there and usable. But I have this brand new hard disk.. so I played around a bit. Here are the cliff notes:

1. Debian 7.4 with non-free drivers. (Required due to the firmware for my wireless card which is non-free). Booted but did not get WiFi

2. Debian Jessie alpha installer with non-free drivers. Booted but did not get WiFi

3. Linux Mint LMDE (Debian Edition). Booted, had wifi and most things seem to work. If you like Cinnamon, this is a pretty good choice for running a debian based distribution on your XPS 13.

4. The above but converted to Debian. There are some instructions for converting it to raw Debian. For grins I gave it a shot. It was mostly successful except some nagging issues like dual wifi indicators in my panels. I finally gave up on this as the hardware buttons for adjusting volume and brightness stopped working after the conversion.

5. Xubuntu 14.04 beta. This is where I finally ended up. XFCE4 is just a tad heavier than LXDE but I honestly can't notice it. Plus, the xfce4-terminal makes a great replacement for Guake if you add the --drop-down option. (For some reason guake keybindings won't let me set Control anything).

I'll try to post a few articles on how I set my machine up but keep in mind that this isn't a forum so you're best finding a user group or forum you like for technical questions if what I've documented here becomes outdated.

TL;DR: Tried a bunch of debian based distros on my XPS13 and ended up on Xubuntu. Other than an iffy trackpad, all else seems to work just fine!

Keep on keeping on.

PS: If you're looking to get the additional drivers that Dell shipped you can grab them here. Full warning, these might not be necessary and may even ruin your setup.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this. I bought one a few weeks ago and haven't run anything besides 12.04 because right now I need it to just work, but I'm looking forward to trying some other things soon. Please continue to update on your findings.

    I'm pretty impressed with the computer overall. The hardware is basically perfect, but the touchpad is even a little funky in Windows (I have to have it dual boot for work).

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