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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.

Is there a need for a machine aimed specifically at Linux developers? We're not so sure. Most developers are more than capable of stripping any machine of its original OS and installing what they want themselves.

That said, however, this is a decent start. With its i7 processor and 8GB of RAM, it's equipped to handle most of what developers will throw at it. In fact, the BIOS supports Intel-VT "bare-metal" hypervisor virtualization, lending itself to setting up virtual machine instances that run at near hardware spec performance levels, such as using Linux's 64-bit kernel built-in KVM Type 1 hypervisor.

Typically programmers will set up their own "test beds" as virtual machines. Using Btrfs, for example, programmers can "snapshot" the virtual machine, make testing programmatic changes to the configuration, and if need be "roll-back" to the snapshot taken beforehand.

Wishing for a bigger display

It was smart to go with a laptop here rather than a desktop, as developers tend to appreciate that extra flexibility. Some developers might not like the screen size, and the trade-off in weight of 2.99 lbs would probably not be the deciding factor in wanting one of these units. For anyone whose criteria included a larger display, this unit would drop off of the "short list."

Meanwhile, Dell clearly knows that developers have their own unique preferences. The tool selection provided should be considered a starting point but not complete for any specific purpose. No two programmers have the same set of use cases and needs. Instead, what they look for are reliability and performance metrics. After all, many programmers write with operating-system-agnostic tools that can be used on any hardware platform.

Dev focus is convenient, but not essential

The XPS 13 Developer Edition has competition: Lenovo's ThinkPad, Apple's MacBook Retina or Air, or Google's Chromebook Pixel. These machines aren't customized for Linux work, but they're technically superior in construction and software certification, and it's nothing for developers to strip what's there and install any operating system they want. It will be interesting, however, to revisit this device once it's fully loaded with all the developer tools Dell has planned.


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