I’m typing this post on my brand new Dell Studio XPS 16, which arrived Wednesday morning. That in itself was a pleasant surprise, since the original delivery estimate was May 13. My previous notebook, a Dell Inspiron E1505 finally stopped booting back on April 2, so between putting off ordering a new one and waiting on delivery, I was growing impatient. I hadn’t initially planned on buying another Dell notebook, but of the brands for which I have an employee discount, it’s the only one that offered a 1080 vertical resolution in a notebook under 17 inches. The most common vertical resolution in this size was 900. Even my old Inspiron had a 1050 vertical resolution.
While unboxing my brand new computer, I remarked to my wife that Dell is one of the few brands trying to emulate Apple’s success with simple, elegant designs. Then I pulled out the power brick. The thing is a behemoth. If only Dell had followed Apple’s lead there. Unfortunately, at that point I had to put my new toy aside without booting it, because I still had an entire day of work to get through.
Perhaps the best part of this experience was never even booting into the default Windows 7 install. The very first thing I did was to insert my USB stick with a Fedora 12 Live USB Image and boot off that. It worked like a charm. I even successfully fired up Cheese, the web cam application. Sound didn’t work, but I ignored that. I clicked the install icon on the desktop and a few minutes later I had Fedora 12 installed.
This is Linux on a notebook, so there were a few hurdles to overcome. Sound started working sometime during the installation of the 351 MB of package updates. Unfortunately, the system started freezing on me. I suspected the video driver, but nothing showed up in the logs. Compiz didn’t work either, complaining that my driver lacked 3D hardware support. The latter problem was easier to debug, so I went after it first. Digging through logs, I found that the Open Source ATi driver was attempting to load the /usr/lib64/dri/r600_dri.so library, but it wasn’t found. Installing the mesa-dri-drivers-experimental package solved this and, voila, Compiz was working. This also seems to have solved the random freezes, so bonus.
Wireless networking didn’t initially work, either. This simply required the installation of the iwl6000-firmware package. I attribute both this and the missing graphics driver to installing Fedora using the live USB image. I assume that, instead of going through the usual hardware detection and downloading the appropriate packages, it just copies the live image to the hard drive and does some basic setup. In any case, everything works now, which is pretty impressive for a relatively high end notebook.
Speaking of high end, just what are the specifications?
- Processor: Intel Core i7 720
- Memory: 8 GiB
- Hard Drive: 500 GiB 7200 RPM SATA
- Screen Size: 1920×1080 15.6″
I expect this notebook to last me for about four or five years. I’m currently restoring data from my off-site JungleDisk backup. That should be done in a couple of days (it’s time to find a good NAS).
The notebook is currently sitting on a desk behind me running the shred command in preparation for its journey back to Dell. As it turns out, the random freezing persisted. After several frustrating days experimenting with drivers, I finally discovered a sticky thread on Dell’s forums. Wow, I wish I’d taken the time to find that before I ordered this notebook.
There are posts dating back months and as recently as a few days ago. It doesn’t seem to matter what OS people have installed. I saw a glimmer of hope with a BIOS update, but it turns out the notebook was already running the most recent BIOS. So it was time to give up and return the notebook.
I called Dell on Saturday, only to be told that their systems were down. I called Dell on Sunday, only to discover that their customer support is closed over the weekend (that would have been a nice piece of information to have on the website). I called on Monday and, after being placed on hold for 30 minutes (important safety tip: don’t consume coffee before calling), I had a return shipping label in my e-mail inbox. I will say this for Dell, the return process was relatively painless. Well, aside from hearing “Lollipop” every time I called.
I’ll drop the notebook off at a UPS Store tomorrow. So now I need to decide what to get instead. The MacBook Pro is looking a lot more tempting. While I like ThinkPads, Lenovo apparently has a supply problem right now, so I can’t order a 15-inch with what I consider to be a good display resolution. Maybe I’ll just pick up a 10-inch notebook and a Synology NAS while I shop around.