Dell’s Ubuntu offering

Yesterday I received my new laptop, a Dell XPS m1330. I bought it to replace Clo’s aging laptop (the right hinge is broken, the battery is dead, and the DVD drive is so utterly broken I had to physically remove it because the stream of errors logged to syslogd made the laptop slow…) with my previous laptop, a Sony Vaio in good condition. I blogged about the Vaio Ubuntu install last year ; it basically worked fine, with only a few quirks.

This time, I decided to buy a Dell for a few reasons ; first, their customer support is constantly improving in my eyes (and I use it a lot : given that I maintain about hundred Dell servers and thirty Dell workstations, they have their share of hard drives, motherboard or power supply failures). Also, last year they started to offer Ubuntu on some of their computers, and I really wanted to vote with my wallet here, and avoid paying the Windows tax for the first time!

I found two little annoyances upon booting the new laptop: Dell installs the 32 bits version of Ubuntu although the platform is 64 bits; and they leave the default partition scheme, with a big root filesystem and nothing else (apart their diagnostics partition). I prefer having a separate /home, in case I have to reinstall the distribution. No showstoppers, though; it just shows me 3.5GB of memory instead of 4GB.

As expected, all the hardware bits work out of the box (this is the big advantage of buying Linux preinstalled, and not too surprising as most of the chips in there are Intel) : CPU scaling, video, wifi, bluetooth, webcam – and they all work with free software. Hibernate works out of the box, as well as suspend (to RAM). Even the little remote control they give, that one puts in the ExpressCard slot for storage, works like a breeze: it sends keycodes, and you don’t have to mess around with lirc to make it work with mplayer. Finally, no need to lift ass to hit pause on the movie :-)

Setting up the machine was pretty quick, just a matter of apt-getting the packages I use (starting with xubuntu-desktop) and migrating my 50GBs of /home data and dot-files. I now get the occasional command-not-found warning for packages I forgot to reinstall, and that’s solved in seconds.

I got the 9-cell battery to get more autonomy, and combined with good power management (it eats 15 watts when idling with the screen to the brightest and all subsystems and radios on), it gets 6 hours of battery life when idling, more than 4 with a standard workload (my standard workload being mostly typing and compiling).

Finally, the stuff seems pretty solid and doesn’t weigh too much – I have no precise number (too bad I brought back the baby scale last week ;-) but it’s easier on the shoulder than the previous 15.4″ laptops I had. Dell says the it starts at 1.8kgs, I guess mine’s 2.2kgs with the big battery.