Dell XPS 13 DE Running Linux Mint 17.3

xps-running-linuxmint

I bought it from the business sales web site, the general PC sales staff knew nothing about the XPS 13 Developer Edition, a compact ultrabook that runs Ubuntu out of the box-in theory, and I allegedly saved $300 because it was for my business, todgermanica dot com.

It cost over $1100USD and I bought it thinking it would be easy to install Linux Mint 17.3 for the operating system since all the drivers would be the same as Dell’s ugly and unusable Ubuntu Linux 14.04. Should have been easy, but it wasn’t.

ubuntucrash

A Frequent Occurrence With Ubuntu 14.04

I like the design of the XPS overall with some exceptions. The super sharp touch screen, fast Intel Core i5 2.70 GHz CPU, 8GB memory, 500GB disk, SD card slot, 128GB SSD drive and small tough (CNC aluminum chassis with carbon fiber palm pad) form factor are great. A 13.3″ screen with the size of an 11″ PC, it’s fast, light and, after software upgrades, very stable.

wificonnectusb

WiFi Works Perfectly Running From USB Drive

However, the supplied OS, Ubuntu Linux 14.04, OTOH stinks on ice. It had random freezes and hard crashes daily for me, would not let me choose “do the same action for all files of this type” and would NEVER update.

It also lacks: a 3rd USB port, an RJ45 jack and an easy automatic way to enlarge and control the tiny fonts. The Broadcom wireless card has a bad reputation but mine seems to work OK now that I have the correct software driver. The battery is not replaceable and the memory chips are soldered on; like an Apple, not much is upgradable.

xps-top.JPG

Light And Thin But Not So Narrow When Complete With Needed Multi-USB Dongle

Unlike many, my experience with Dell support was  good. They sent me a link to a recovery site since I foolishly installed Linux Mint 17.3 from USB stick using the entire disk-and then it wouldn’t boot!

I was pretty sure it was the MS Secure Boot crap preventing bootup since Mint ran perfectly from the USB stick as a live instance before I installed it. I thought I’d turned off Secure Boot on the BIOS configuration (f12) but must not have done it right.

broadcombroken

When Installing, That Wireless Driver Mysteriously Vanishes (Along With the Servants)

Then the Broadcom wireless card device driver was corrupt and Dell support had no way to get me the correct driver because no RJ45 jack for the internet. Yet I know the card was functional and the driver was on the ISO somewhere because it worked as a live instance.

rj45-usb-dongle

Of course I had to go to Fry’s and buy the damned USB-to-RJ45 dongle for $43. Luckily after I used it to download the right driver I heard solder rattling around inside and took it back for a refund. Score!

With that settled I got Mint working and configured it the way I like, downloading or choosing Gparted, Rhythmbox Music Player, VLC Player, Soundjuicer, Shotwell Image Viewer (for cropping and image enhancement-not for image viewing or management) and Opera browser.

dsktp-lm17pt3.png

It’s wonderful, after the pain of Ubuntu, to have an OS that allows multiple open windows, that has a system tray showing all the running programs so I can choose and to have no annoying ’tiles’ cluttering up my desktop. I am finally enjoying the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition thanks to Linux Mint 17.3, even though I’m not a developer.

If you buy one insist on the superior Intel wireless card. The touchscreen feature I have yet to use since it leads to ‘gorilla arms’, but maybe I’ll use it someday.

Reviews:

www.adventuresinoss.com

ftbeowulf.wordpress.com

arstechnica.com (early-2013)

 

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10 thoughts on “Dell XPS 13 DE Running Linux Mint 17.3

  1. Good review. Thanks. I’m running Linux Mint 17.3 (flawlessly) on a Lenovo X200 and Windows 7 Pro on an X220, 8 and 4 years old respectively. I’ve shortlisted the XPS 13 Developer edition as a replacement, planning to run Windows 7 in a VM (will never use Windows 10). Also considering an X1 Carbon. (Others have also come to the same conclusion: http://www.slant.co/topics/3138/compare/~dell-xps-13-developer-edition_vs_lenovo-thinkpad-x1-carbon-3rd-generation)

    A few things make me hesitate. I do not like high gloss screens (the X1 has a matt screen; it’s not touch but I don’t need that). I like a good keyboard (the X1’s is better). The fan exhaust us underneath (X1’s is at the side, which I prefer). The possible need for a USB network adapter escaped my attention; that’s a bit of a showstopper!

    The X1 Carbon is overpriced (or underspec) by comparison. It has a lower resolution screen which has some issues with font scaling in some apps and you have to have Windows 10 (bleugh). But… I have had good experiences with my Lenovos and bad ones with Dell in the past.

    Maybe I’ll wait a bit longer… until Dell ups the Ubuntu version to 16.04, or Mint 18 ships, or Lenovo offers a better spec (storage and RAM in particular). Will be interested in an update once you’ve used this for a while.

    My current Lenovos are too heavy to carry around the way I use my Samsung Chromebook (in bed, during adverts while watching TV etc.). I’m looking to retire that, however one feature common to both the XPS 13 and the X1 that I’d like not to have is a fan. They wear out and they make noise. I had to replace the one in my X200 and it’s not really something I want to do again if I can avoid it. Do you notice the fan? Think it’s user replaceable?

    • Paul, thanks for the comment. The screen is very high gloss which bothered some but not me-it’s super sharp. Like all tiny netbook/ultrabook form factor laptops the keyboard forces hunt-&-peck typing; I plug in a full size keyboard for serious writing-though the keyboard backlight is nice. The fan turns on seldom and is pretty quiet-my antique Acer Aspire ran loudly ALL THE TIME so this a nice change. The lack of a 3rd or 4th USB port and rj45 port is annoying; the small, light format is compromised by multi-USB dongle and USB RJ45 jacks hanging off the sides.

      I’ll never run Win 10 either though I dual booted Win 7 on the old Aspire for a year until I realized I had NEVER opened Windows. I feel pretty much the same about Ubuntu which I used for years on different PCs-until Unity. I need more than one window open at once sometimes and I hate those stupid launchers or tiles cluttering up my screen. I’m not on a cell phone and already have Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointers to launch programs, don’t need tiles at all thank you very much. I realize I could download Ubuntu Tweak to fix these UI errors but why bother when Linux Mint 17.3 runs just the way I like from 1st install. I’ll write a long-term post in a few months. Again, thanks for commenting.

  2. did u change anyting else ? then secure boot ? im installing mint 17.3 but cant install grub to the disk.

    • Anders, if I remember right I chose Legacy Boot and turned off Secure Boot. But I ended up having to do it twice to make it boot up. I don’t know from grub, I chose Linux Mint’s USB Boot Disk option in Accessories to put the ISO on a USB flash drive. I hit f12 to tell the BIOS to boot from the USB drive and the rest was a standard Mint install except for the wonky Broadcom driver which I had to replace with a wired rj45-USB dongle. Good luck in your 17.3 Rosa install, it’s working brilliantly for me.

  3. Pingback: Dell XPS 13 on Mint 17.3: Support After Sale | todgermanica.com

  4. I botched the OEM Ubuntu install within 2 days of getting the laptop. Once I figured out I had to enable Secure Boot (which includes disabling legacy option roms and switching to UEFI boot) after installing Ubuntu, I was finally able to get out of my install loop and get Ubuntu 15.04 running.

    I just upgraded to Ubuntu 16.04 LTS. With help from TLP, I get amazing battery runtime, and my fan only runs when I have my Win10 VM running or the laptop is charging (sensor must pick up heat from the charging circuit). The fan draws air from underneath the laptop, but exhausts it at the screen hinge. The battery can be replaced fairly easily. The worst thing about it are the carbon fiber clips holding the bottom plate on that tend to break. To extend the life of the battery, I went into the BIOS and set a custom charge profile to start charge at 60% and stop at 75%. This dramatically slowed battery degradation.

    I swapped out the Broadcom card for an Intel 7260NGW, and that eliminated kernel panics (system freezes with flashing caps lock light) and driver issues. I’ve thought of using Mint or Purism’s PureOS (heavy on security) instead of Ubuntu, but I’ve grown to like Unity for the most part. Having the dock on the side gives me more vertical screen space, but it can be moved from the side to the bottom in 16.04 as well as auto-hiding in either position. Down the road, I may dual boot.

    • Tim, thanks for the great info. I’ve had no further Broadcom sound drops lately, maybe they fixed that glitch. Mint 17 sure does it for me. The only hard freezes I get seem associated with deleting images from the file manager. Thanks again for the data.

  5. linux mint 18 works fine and installed without any issues.. i also have a dell displaylink 4k, the drivers for evdi is buggy from display link but works 🙂

    • I’ll get 18 soon but 17.3 works so well for me right now. I’m losing my Dell Expert Support soon so maybe I’ll upgrade then. They helped me ditch the awful Ubuntu and with card/Driver issues so thanks. But Dell’s IT people are geared mainly to serve Windows issues not Linux specific problems; if you truly need 24/7 support then run Win 10 spyware. I’m still loving Mint on the xps 13DE but I’m not developing on it. Thanks for your comment.

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