I love computers. Unlike many people, who stick to one brand and one operating system, I like to use many different systems. I own several game consoles, several types of tablets and so forth.
My primary laptop for many years has been an inexpensive and light MacBook Air. It is nearly perfect.
I also have a Thinkpad. My first Thinkpad did not even have wifi. I wrote my Ph.D. thesis on a Thinkpad. The one I have by my desk looks like it was made in the 1990s. And using it feels quite retro too! Anyhow, it is not a serious machine for me.
Here are my general requirements:
- I do not need powerful laptops. For compute intensive tasks, I use remote servers. I do play games, but not on laptops. However, a laptop should be fast enough to run a modern IDE and compile C++ code without falling apart. If I need to run serious computations, I will use a server.
- I expect my machines to be perfectly silent.
- I carry around my laptops all the time. If I need a stationary machine, I will use a desktop. So I want my laptops to be lightweight.
I recently acquired a somewhat expensive Dell XPS 13. These are Dell’s flagship laptops, the best of the best. It is a serious machine.
- Windows 10 is a good operating system. The usability is as good as macOS. This wasn’t always true.
- The Windows Subsystem for Linux really does work. You have “something” like a bash shell with the common Unix tools running within a hidden directory on your machine.
- The Dell XPS looks good. The screen is gorgeous and the fonts look good. I must admit that it is much better than my aging MacBook Air.
- I like that Microsoft is offering a decent and free version of Visual Studio. On weaker machines, Visual Studio 2015 works really poorly, but on the XPS 13, it is fast enough.
- I really like the work that the GitHub crew has been doing. GitHub Desktop for Windows is great. Throw in the Atom editor and you are good.
- Though it is not nearly as easy as it should, you can generate Visual-Studio “solution files” with CMake, make it possible to build your macOS/Linux C/C++ code on Windows without too much fuss.
Neither positive nor negative:
- Once booted up, the XPS 13 feels quite fast. It has a significantly better (and more recent) CPU than my MacBook Air… but I would have a hard time telling them apart.
- For what I use them for, Cortana and Siri appears to be on par. Both of them can give me the weather. It is rather amazing that we can take for granted speech recognition in 2017.
- Maybe I am crazy, or maybe my machine was hacked, but it feels like Microsoft is showing me ads?
- On a MacBook, you just lift the lid and the machine awakes, instantly. On my XPS, I have to enter a passcode, wait several seconds for the machine to “boot up” and I can resume my work. It is annoying when you are used to better.
- Windows 10 seems to suffer from random Wifi dropouts. I have had something like it on the new laptop: after rebooting, the Wifi might randomly fail to reconnect automatically. It is a mere nuisance, but I find it surprisingly amateurish. How hard can it be to connect to a Wifi network? Why do I have to manually do it?
- Windows definitively feels like it needs to clean the house. I have a “settings” application along with a “control panel” application. Both appear to have closely related functions, but the layout is drastically different. Windows 10 feels like it was added to Windows 7.
- I spend a lot of time copying and pasting. The ctrl-c and ctrl-v shortcuts are fine, but Dell put the left ctrl key to the extreme left of the keyboard, beyond the useless “Fn” key. I will probably have to remap the keys at some point, somehow.
- I find it unacceptably hard to grab a Window and move it or to scroll down a web page. Thankfully, I have a touch screen and I can just put my finger on the window and slide it. It often works fine.
- Though the Windows Subsystem for Linux works well, it is poorly integrated into Windows. You can’t (or shouldn’t) edit Linux files using your Windows text editor. The two systems run different file systems and there are (apparently) synchronization issues. This is probably fine.
- The webcam is located at the bottom of the screen so that it will point to the underside of your nose during a video conference. It feels like it was designed by monkeys.
- There is more plastic than I’d like on the Dell laptop, and I can already see some wear, but I suppose it is fine if you plan on replacing the machine regularly.
- Soon after getting the machine, I had a bad case of screen flickering and tearing. I found out on posting boards and YouTube that it has been common for years with Dell XPS machines. For a time, I thought that my hardware was broken, but a common recommendation (turning off “Hyper-V”) solved the problem. It was simple enough, but how can it escape quality testing considering that the Dell support forums are filled with people complaining about screen flickering?
- I can “hear” the machine read and write on disk. I did not know that SSDs could make noise!
- There is “coil whining” (the computer makes high-pitch sounds). Most of the time (99%), it is unaudible (you have to put your hear to the machine to hear something), but it can randomly become quite audible whether the machine is under load or not.
I like the XPS 13 well enough as a secondary laptop. If I had to use it as a primary laptop, I’d invest in noise-cancelling headphones.