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Dell's Linux laptop has good hardware, decent toolkit

Katherine Noyes and Dietrich Schmitz | May 3, 2013
Plenty of specialized companies out there sell PCs with Linux, but Dell is one of the very few mainstream contenders to have done so over the years. After some spotty initial offerings, it's taken a different approach with its latest Linux PC. Rather than try to sell Linux hardware to the masses, which the company has said typically requires support, it's focusing instead on developers, a savvy group that tends to need less help.

Plenty of specialized companies out there sell PCs with Linux, but Dell is one of the very few mainstream contenders to have done so over the years. After some spotty initial offerings, it's taken a different approach with its latest Linux PC. Rather than try to sell Linux hardware to the masses, which the company has said typically requires support, it's focusing instead on developers, a savvy group that tends to need less help.

That's the plan behind the $1,549 Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition, an ultrabook that was born via the company's "Project Sputnik" skunkworks initiative last year combining Ubuntu Linux 12.04 Long Term Support Precise Pangolin and the company's existing XPS 13 laptop.

What started out as a pilot project turned into a real commercial product last fall, and earlier this year it got a nice upgrade. We got our hands on one recently and put this latest model through its paces.

A thing of beauty

Visually, the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition is a thing of beauty. It's thin, sleek, and lightweight, weighing in at just under 3 pounds. With a top cover precision-cut from a single block of aluminum, the silver-toned machine features a carbon-fiber composite base surrounded with a ring of matching anodized aluminum. A comfortable magnesium palm rest features soft-touch paint.

Powering the Linux ultrabook is a third-generation Intel Core i7 processor with Intel HD Graphics 4000, 8GB dual channel DDR3L RAM, and a 256GB SSD drive. That's a nice setup for the kinds of compute-intensive tasks developers spend much of their time on, including repeated cycles of coding, compiling, testing, and debugging.

Developers will also often have many windows open, so the fact that this machine sports a full 8GB of RAM rather than the standard XPS 13's starting point of 4GB eases the burden by minimizing swapping to disk, thereby improving overall responsiveness.

The 13.3-inch edge-to-edge glossy display, meanwhile, is constructed from hardened Gorilla Glass and offers full High Definition WLED, 1080p resolution, and a full 178° viewing angle. So compact is the PC's design, however, that it actually feels a lot more like an 11-inch laptop in overall size.

Glaring Windows relic on the keyboard

The backlit, full-sized keyboard is another visually appealing element, though we found it a bit too light to the touch. That's personal preference, of course. Much more striking, though, was the fact that it featured a Windows superkey rather than an Ubuntu one.

 

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