Review: Dell’s new Kaby Lake XPS 13 Developer Edition laptop amazes

With a 10% price drop, powerful performance and the ability to run any Linux distribution, you can’t help but love Dell’s new XPS 13 laptop

Review: Dell’s new Kaby Lake XPS 13 Developer Edition laptop amazes
Credit: Dell

Back in May of 2016, I reviewed the (then current) Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition laptop. At just a bit over $2,000 it wasn’t the world’s cheapest machine, but for a Linux user looking for a high-end (but very portable) notebook, that XPS proved to be a remarkable rig. 

Well, Dell has a new model of the XPS Developer Edition. And I pestered them until they sent me one to test. 

Getting this out of the way first: There’s a bit of a price drop. The high-end rig was around $2,000 last year. The new high-end option now runs about $1,800. It’s still not a “cheap” laptop by any stretch, but a 10 percent price drop in less than a year isn’t a bad thing. 

The look and feel of the laptop is very similar to last year’s model, which isn’t a bad thing. The keyboard looks and feels good to type on. The laptop itself feels sturdy and doesn’t suffer from that “bendy-ness” that many other laptops suffer from—you know, when you have the screen open and pick up the laptop by the base on one side and it bends a just little in the middle. I hate that. The XPS doesn’t do that. It feels solid. 

As for the screen, it’s essentially the same as the previous model: 13 inches and 3200x1800 resolution. Beautiful, just beautiful—one of the best displays I’ve seen on any laptop. I love the screen so much I could marry it. 

On the inside, the guts are plenty beefy. The model I tested sports an Intel i7-7500U processor (one of the new Kaby Lake ones), 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD drive. It’s fast and memory rich. And because this is the “Developer Edition,” everything works great with modern Linux distributions. 

Ships with Ubuntu 16.04, but all Linux distros run well 

It ships with Ubuntu 16.04 installed by default—an upgrade over the 14.04 release the previous model was loaded with. 

I spent one day with Ubuntu on the XPS. I experienced no problems related to the hardware, but I’m not a fan of stock Ubuntu. It just isn’t to my liking. 

So, I spent the next two weeks installing a bunch of different Linux distributions: Fedora, openSUSE, elementary and Debian. All ran fantastically well. That’s the beauty of the Developer Edition line. You know that most distros, even those not officially supported by Dell, will work well.

The ports remain essentially the same as the previous model: USB Type C, two USB 3, headphone jack and an SD card slot. The Type C slot can be used to charge the laptop as well (or you can use the regular charging port). 

Battery life has been great. I haven’t done any “let the laptop run while playing a game/video and see how long until it dies” tests, but I get at least six hours when running both openSUSE (with GNOME as the desktop environment) and Debian (with MATE). And that’s under heavy use (many browser tabs open while editing audio, encoding video, and running a few virtual machines and emulators). 

I’d like to take this moment to take a step back. 

I have, right in front of me, a truly amazing machine. Half a terabyte hard drive, 16 gigs of RAM (16!), and enough screen resolution to run a large number of applications tiled side by side. Just amazing. 

I know. I know. This Dell isn’t the only laptop in the world that has those sorts of specs. Still, it’s amazing to think how far computer hardware has come. Just plain awesome.

The downsides of the Dell XPS 

Now. Let’s talk about the downsides. 

I really don’t have any. The Dell XPS Develper Edition runs every Linux distribution I want without any extra work on my part. It plays games wonderfully well. It encodes video like a champ. The battery life is great. It doesn’t get super loud. It feels good to hold and touch. 

Hmm. The one negative I can give it—and it’s not much of one—is that it ships with only Ubuntu by default. I don’t really fault Dell for that, though. Ubuntu is popular. And Dell can afford to support only so many operating systems on their end. And most users of other distributions aren’t going to have a hard time tossing their favorite on it. 

Still, it would be extremely cool to have other options in there. Just because. 

All in all, I can comfortably recommend this laptop. Especially if you can persuade your employer to buy it for you.

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