Goodbye MacBook Air, hello Dell XPS 13

Many people I know use a laptop for almost anything, anywhere. When they arrive at the office, they hook it up to an external monitor, and use an external keyboard and mouse or trackpad. I prefer to have a proper workstation, with powerful CPU and GPU, lots of RAM and multiple large monitors. As it's rather difficult to take this setup with me to meetings, or when travelling, I still require a secondary device that I can take with me everywhere I go. Some people seem to be OK with a tablet for that purpose, but that just doesn't work for me. I need something with a keyboard, the obvious choice being a laptop.

As I want to have this device with me at all times, I prefer it to be lightweight and to have a decent battery life. 4 years ago, when I bought my first MacBook Air, there wasn't really any viable alternative in my opinion. So I have been using a MacBook Air since then.

Being a long time Linux-on-the-desktop user however, I never really got used to OSX. Initially that wasn't a big problem, since I am only using it as a secondary device, but after some time I got really annoyed with OSX. And it got worse with every new OSX release. So I tried Linux on the MacBook, but that didn't really work for me either, mostly due to it having a Broadcom wireless chip. The open source b43 driver doesn't support the newer models yet, and Broadcom's proprietary driver is a joke. It's unstable, outdated, lacks features, etc. For a device that only has WiFi, crappy WiFi just isn't an option. So I was still stuck with OSX, but even in OSX I had issues with WiFi. And Google confirmed I certainly wasn't the only one.

So during the 4 years I have been using the MacBook, I have been looking into alternatives every now and then. At some point, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon drew my attention, but I didn't like what they did to the function keys in the first models. It's also quite expensive when you go configure it with an i7 and the largest SSD. So I decided to stick with the MacBook a little longer.

Until I stumbled on the 2015 model of the Dell XPS 13. I immediately liked what I saw, and after some Googling for "XPS 13 Linux", I decided to go for it, and ordered one. It's similar to the X1, but quite a bit cheaper.

Unfortunately the problems already started before I actually ordered it. At some point Dell decided they wouldn't sell directly to companies anymore. The business section on the Dell website told me to order through a preferred partner. So I did. The company where I ordered it, gave the order to the distributor on Friday, but it was only processed on Monday. By that time, Dell had done a price increase, and the order got stuck at the distributor. And the sales guy of the company where I ordered it, had left on holiday for 3 weeks. Sigh. Oh well, these things happen.

When he got back, it didn't take him very long to convince the distributor to ship the laptop. So after waiting for a month, I finally received the laptop. And quickly ran into the next problem: it came with a fscking Broadcom WiFi chip, the main reason for replacing the MacBook. FML. Fortunately I can replace the WiFi card without voiding the warranty, so one of these days I am going to order an Intel Wireless-AC 7265, and throw the Broadcom card where it belongs - in the garbage bin. I am using the proprietary Broadcom driver for now, it's partially usable due to some patches that fix the kernel panics on recent kernels, but I am unable to connect to 5GHz networks.

I ran into one other problem that I couldn't find a fix for initially, the touchpad losing sync, but I will write about it in another post, with a fix.

Aside from these problems, I am really happy with the XPS 13. I just wish Dell would at least give the option to choose between the Broadcom and Intel wireless chips.