Category Archives: Reviews

Re-installation of Linux, The Fuckery of Windows 10 & Microsoft Licensing

Notice: TLDR is at the very bottom.

Notice: This post may damage sensitive ears. At points it may be vulgar.

Notice: If you want to get to just the Linux parts, scroll down to the “Patience and Linux Saves The Day” headline.

The Beginning of Horror

First a few positives for Windows 10. It runs a Bash system thingy on it now, that’s pretty cool. It loads much faster than Windows 7 (and Vista, LULz). It still plays and supports basically all the games first. It has active tiles, but I guess that’s an arguable positive.

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Got a New Laptop, Here’s The Review

A few past reviews just for context of my general working fleet of computers and why and what led me to this review and this new laptop purchase.

Important! Do take note, I’m not paid by Dell, or System76, or anybody to write up reviews of laptops or hardware for that matter. These are my observations with these systems. I’m also not paid to use these systems for software development, but am only paid for the software development I produce with these machines. In other words, I very much roll Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) style and develop routinely without an assigned machine. I do what I can to stick to BYOD and such as it is, write up reviews of what I choose to use.

The Setting & Context for Purchase

system76-leopard-16Over the last year I’ve been pondering getting a Linux based laptop. At least a laptop that can run Linux native on the metal as the sole OS or at least a clean dual boot option. I wanted this for several specific reasons. The final decision to move forward occurred at this very tweet moment.

Here’s the short list of why I wanted a new laptop, that has good Linux support.

  1. Most of my gaming is in Linux these days. Thanks Steam OS!
  2. Most of my server workloads, server coding, internet coding, back-end work, and related coding is all for Linux. I haven’t deployed something to another OS in production for at least a decade now. As for front end apps, that’s also basically stuff that runs on Linux or MacOS. Web interfaces or usually just some simple CLI’s. I did write a Windows 8 “Metro UI” App, but it’s long gone and dead already along with the database (Riak) that it was an interface for.
  3. Most of my automation work and related site reliability coding, ops hacking, my metasoftware engineering (great words for a title from Katie Keel @akatiekeel, see tweet below), and all that good fun is often done on MacOS but always ends up being deployed to run on a Linux machine in the end.
  4. I’ve already got two Linux machines that I do a huge percentage of work on. The Dell XPS 13 and System 76 Leopard Workstation. However, the Leopard is in a bit of disrepair after a disturbingly wicked power surge here in Ballard (Seattle). The XPS 13 is just a bit weak, old, and the keyboard is still the crappy keyboard I detailed in the past review.
  5. One of the big demands for this new laptop was that I wanted to be able to – at least with a somewhat efficient hardware performance level – edit video, stream video, run the virtual machines, the pertinent container ecosystems (i.e. distributed database stuff), of course lots of code, and play the few games I do play. This meant at basic some decent video – albeit I knew it wasn’t going to be what I had/have in my System76 machine – at least a terabyte of storage on my main drive, and 32 GB of RAM.

Buy Time

huawei-matebook-x-pro-nvidia-geforce-mx-150Alright, that was the setting, so I went about searching through a lot of different laptop options. One of the most promising was this Huawai Matebook that Jeff & Adam pointed me at. It looked so good from the website that I decided I wanted to go check out the physical Matebook Pro somewhere, if possible, and found that option here in Seattle at the Microsoft store in University Park (It’s an outdoor mall, yuck, but whatevers).

huawei-matebook-x-pro-multiple-portsI rolled over via bus and a short walk, walked into the Microsoft store and made a beeline right to where one of the Matebooks sat. It was gorgeous, absolutely beautiful, flawless, and outright better bang for the hardware buck than one of the Apple products from across the street! I was instantly sold.

huawei-matebook-x-pro-with-intel-cpuBut there was an issue. Hardware specs for this thing sit at 2GB Video, 8 GB RAM, and a 512 GB SSD. That’s a problem. I checked the site again to make sure there weren’t other options. Nope, it didn’t get much more built up than that. It just wouldn’t do.

huawei-matebook-x-pro-thin-bodyI felt pained, annoyed, and frustrated. Does anybody actually want some decent power in a slim, elegant, and easy to carry laptop? Am I the only one wanting something like this? I started strolling around the floor of the Microsoft store. Looking at hard drives and Xbox stuff. Which just to point out, these Microsoft stores really are Xbox stores as much or more than they are anything else!

NOTE: All Huawai images copyright of Huawai. I’m hoping they’re cool since I’m pointing out their awesome laptop.

The reason I bring up the Matebook, is because I really was impressed by the build quality. It exceeded my expectation and based on this research, trying it out, I would happily suggest this laptop as a prime choice if the specs meet what you need. For me, sadly, I wanted and needed a bit more RAM and some more oomf in other categories.

The Final Decision

I walked around the Microsoft store checking out the Lenovo and a number of other laptops. I played some racing game thing on Xbox for a second. I wasn’t in so much of a hurry that I just had to buy something right then. I had after all waited almost a year to get to this point. Maybe I’d just save the cash and wait a little longer? Surely something would come along.

Then I walked up to another table. I first looked at the spec list, which I had been doing at every table except when I had walked up to the Matebook. I see 1 TB option on this machine. That’s cool. Then I see 32 GB of RAM. Holy shit when did the selection on the floor leap out of the piddly 8 GB range?! Then I see 4 GB Video! Specifically a NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1050Ti with 4GB GDDR5! Hell yeah. Alright, I’d looked and here’s the laptop that after months seemed to be the only ongoing choice to get this kind of specs in something that I sort of trusted the support for. So I started to play around with the keyboard and oh, looky there, it’s a touch screen too. Not that I cared, but it’s not a bad thing to have really, albeit a waste as I’ll likely never touch the screen.

So there it was, the decision was made, bagged, paid for, and out I walked with a brand new Dell XPS 15. Maybe I should have bought it from Dell, but meh, this will work. Support plan is nice, if anything fails I bring it into the store and they get me a new laptop too. Overall price $2499 for 3 years of coverage plus laptop. Also, yes, considering my unfortunate luck with hardware over the years – unless it’s a machine I’ve built myself – I get the coverage because I’ve got all of zero time to mess around with being my own technician.

The Dell XPS 15

Alright, so I set out to put this thing through some tasks as soon as I got home. Well, ok, not immediately cuz I had to shoot and put together this unboxing video. Here ya go, it’s a little long, but I also cover a lot of related topics of interest related to this machine.

First Test – Application Load

My first test was simply installing and setup of some standard software I use. That included Creative Cloud from Adobe, Jetbrains IDE’s and tooling, OBS for video streaming, Steam so I could pull down Cities: Skylines and Transport Fever, and some other miscellaneous software I would need. All this I would install while I get my Dropbox downloads going. With that I set out to install all of this stuff.

First I got Dropbox installed and began syncing. This would easily be about 380-400 Gig of files and video files. With that started I set out to install things I knew – or hoped – wouldn’t incur one of the required Windows reboots. First was Jetbrains IDE’s, which involves downloading their Toolbox and then clicking through every tool I’d want and letting it queue them all up. Then the same thing with Creative Cloud. Altogether that includes:

  • IntelliJ
  • WebStorm
  • Goland
  • Pycharm
  • ReSharper Ultimate w/ the pertinent tools it downloads.
  • Photoshop
  • Illustrator
  • Indesign
  • Premier Pro
  • Premier Rush (eh? Never used it, but I’ll download it)
  • After Effects
  • Character Animator
  • Audition
  • Media Encoder
  • InCopy
  • Prelude
  • Fuse CC (Another tool I don’t know but hey, it’s there now!)

All of that downloaded and installed quickly. Having a gigabit connect really, REALLY, REALLY helps out massively to get this done! Between the solid connection, the SDD being pretty lightning fast, and the proc and memory not being a bottleneck, I lost track of timing this. Suffice it to say the hardware combination is pretty quick.

Second Test – Premiere Pro Rendering

With Premiere Pro installed I set about recollecting how to edit with this software. I’ve been using Screenflow for Mac and Kdenlive on Linux for so long I don’t remember a thing about how Premiere Pro works. However as I worked through transitions (building the above unboxing video) I started to recall how much power is in this software, and I also really got a feel for another thing, the trackpad, which I’ll add more about in a moment.

The rendering for MPG4 was a little faster than the Mac Book Pro I’ve got from almost ~5 years ago and above equivalent to performance with the next to latest generation Mac Book Pro laptops (i.e. It’s about ~2 years old that I’m comparing performance on). Overall, the performance of video rendering wasn’t super impressive. At least not like the leap from a MBP to my System76 Leopard Workstation, which screams through rendering at a reasonably large percentage (~25-40%) faster than my laptop machines. So the XPS 15 really is close or better – but just a little. I’d be curious to get hold of the latest MBP and compare the performance. Considering this has dedicated video, it has dedicated video, and both have similar processors and pretty hefty RAM.

Third Test – Trackpad

Ok, this is the closest I’ve ever used in usefulness, capability, and multi-finger touch as compared to an Apple product. The tactile feel in my opinion is better too with this fiber type material that Dell has used on the trackpad and the surrounding area around the trackpad and keyboard.

The first real test was the maneuvering one has to do when video editing with Premiere Pro. Lot’s of right clicking (double finger tap or the traditional bottom right of the trackpad!) swiping up and down but also side to side, and this Dell trackpad performed exceptionally well. Still not as transparently smooth as an Apple’s trackpad is, but it gets the job done and once I’m used to it, I’ll easily be just as fast as I was with an Apple trackpad. I give myself a day or two and I’ll be up to speed with it.

Fourth Test – Weight and Sizing

Here’s a few images of the XPS 15 compared to an older model (circa 2015) Mac Book Pro.

The build quality of the XPS 15, just like the XPS 13 I have from circa ~2015 is really good. There’s elements of it that don’t seem like they’re aligned correctly compared to the smooth feel and look of some of the other laptops, but overall it feels, and appears to be more egalitarian and functional focused versus many of the other laptop options. The edges are very smooth and the cover of the laptop is a single plate of aluminum, which gives it that feel when carrying it around similar to most of the modern laptops. The edges however aren’t there to look seemless or attractive, they’re there simply to provide side plates for USB, USB-C, Audio, HDMI, and related ports. No complaints but if you’re 100% focused on looks, this might not be an ideal option. Me… well I’m a funny looking fella and it’s probably noticeably I’m not staunchly focused on the appearance of anything. I’m all about function over form.

Further Tests – I’ll have more tests in the future, for now, that’s a wrap.

Summary

Other comments, observations, and notes on this laptop will be forthcoming. In a few months I’ll plan to write a follow up. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a relatively light (1.81 kg / 4 lbs), relatively powerful laptop (32 GB RAM, 4GB Video, 8th Gen i7 or i9 option) this is about as good as you’ll get for the price. If power isn’t your ultimate intent with a laptop purchase I highly suggest checking out the Matebook.

As for Windows 10. My verdict is still out on it, leaning toward “ugh, fuggidabout it I’m going back to MacOS/Linux land” but I’m going to give it a good go before I declare that. There’s definitely a few elements of the latest OS that I like and I also want to get a good feel for it’s Linux system before I write it off. Maybe I’ll stick with it after all? Until then, happy holiday hardware hacking!

Got a New Keyboard That Has a Horrifying Sleep Key! @#$%^&@!

I picked up a Logitech keyboard recently, the MK850 with mouse combo. It was on sale for 80% off, which ran me a mighty $20 bucks. I needed a new keyboard as my Apple keyboard I’ve been using just really doesn’t cut it for a Linux machine. I wanted the function keys and placement of the extra alt, ctrl, and related keys to be in a more traditional placement. This keyboard is a win. However…Image from iOS (2)

Image from iOS (1)

Observations

My first observation as I plugged it in to try out, was my attempt to turn up the music, turned into a going to sleep phase for the computer. A few seconds and it was entirely off. This is a full on computer, not a laptop, so I don’t need it to be going to sleep ever. It either needs to be on, completely, or off completely. Let me show you, this key, right here is a damned curse!

thatkey

The F11 key, right beside the sound up and down function keys, is the sleep and lock key. Completely unacceptable location. I went into emergency mode on this matter.

EMERGENCY

A little research and I went full off mode on sleep, hibernate, and suspend! The commands are as follows.

gsettings set org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.power button-hibernate "nothing"
gsettings set org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.power button-sleep "nothing"
gsettings set org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.power button-suspend "nothing"

Now, if you want those back on however, the commands are specific to the function, as shown below.

gsettings set org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.power button-hibernate "hibernate"
gsettings set org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.power button-sleep "hibernate"
gsettings set org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.power button-suspend "suspend"

Ok, whew. Errr well, maybe not.

I rebooted and that didn’t actually take effect. I did a little more research and found dconf-tools. So I installed that.

sudo apt-get install dconf-tools

Opened up dconf and navigated toorg gnome settings-daemon plugins and then power.

dangerous

This editor then showed me what I had technically just set. So that was confirmed, but got me no where. Onward to troubleshooting.

Next research led me to this option. But then I couldn’t actually get the command to pair to it as it seems the fn or function key plus the F11 key doesn’t actually show up when setting the shortcut keys. Thoughts? If you’ve got any ideas I’m out of ideas for now, do comment or tweet @Adron.

On with the observations.

Alright, with that fixed I could refocus on the plusses of the keyboard. It’s paired very nicely with the silent mouse, similar to the mouse I reviewed a while back, the M331 Silent Mouse. The keyboard is also extremely silent, with barely any utterance of noise coming from the keyboard. If you like the loud mechanical style, this is not your keyboard. If you want to focus on music or something else while typing then, this is your keyboard.

With that, my quick review and emergency is done. This might be helpful so typed it up but now it’s time to get back to work on some Go prototyping and some solid tunes from Eastern High. For reference, here’s one of their good ones.

Logitech M331 Silent Mouse

Recently I was playing Transport Fever. If you’re unaware of this epic, nerd, god game and you like those types of games, you should definitely check it out. If you’re not into those, just suffice it to say that there is a lot of mouse clicking in the game. During the last few weeks when I startup the game and navigate about building my railroad empire a certain someone else noticed that the mouse clicking increases exponentially.I thought to myself, “we need a solution to this!” I began searching for a silent mouse, first using a little Google-fu, but also a quick query on Twitter among the Twitterverse. Quickly a result came back that looked like it would work out in Logitech’s M331 Silent Mouse product.
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Buying a Leopard!

system76-smallJanuary 24th, 2017 UPDATE: After I wrote this, I spoke with the System 76 team and I’m getting the chance to go out and tour their Denver Headquarters. This happened well after I made my purchase, which all of the following was written after. But just for full transparency, I’ve added this note. Also, I’m aiming to get a full write up of my System76 trip put together with Denver tidbits and more! Until then, here’s the review…

In the trailing days of 2016, after having moved to Redmond, Washington I sat working at my desktop workstation. This workstation, which still exists, is a iMac with an i7, 16GB RAM, 256 GB SSD, and a 1GB Video Card with a 1TB secondary drive. The machine is a 27” all in one style design, and the screen is rather beautiful. But as I did a build and tried to run Transport Tycoon at the same time in the background the machine sputtered a bit. It was definitely maxed out doing this Go code build, putting together a Docker image build, and spinning it up for go live at the same time my game ran in the background. I thought, this machine has served me extremely well, at over 5 years old it had surpassed the standard 5 year lifespan of peak Apple oomf. At the moment, I thought, maybe it’s time to dig into a serious machine with some premium hardware again.

In that moment I thought about the last dedicated, custom built, super powerful workstation machine I had. It was a powerful machine, nice form factor, and easily drove two giant 27” screens. However this machine had lived and finished it’s useful life over 6 years before 2016 had even started. But it was a sweet machine, that offered a lot of productive gaming and code writing efficiencies. It was thus, time to get in gear and get a machine again.

Immediately I thought through a few of the key features I wanted and other prerequisites of purchase.

  1. Enough RAM and processor power to drive my aforementioned gaming, docker, and code building scenario with ease.
  2. SSD drive of at least 1TB with at least a beefy 8GB Video Card.
  3. It needed to run, with full support, not-Windows. Ubuntu would be fine, but if any Linux was installed from factory or at least fully supported on the hardware I put together, that would suffice.
  4. If I were to buy it from a company, it had to be a company that wasn’t some myopic afterthought of 50s era suburbia (i.e. I didn’t really want to deal with Dell or Alienware again after the XPS 13 situation). This definitely narrowed down the options.

I started digging into hardware specifications and looking into form factors, cases, and all the various parts I’d need for a solid machine. In parallel I started checking out several companies.

  • System76 – Located in Denver, I was curious about this company and had been following them for some time. I had seen a few of the laptops over the years but had never seen or used any of their desktops.
  • Los Alamos Computers which is now LAC Portland! – Holy smokes, I had not realized this company moved. They definitely meet the 4th criteria above.
  • Puget Systems is a company located somewhere in the Puget Sound area and used to be called Puget Sound Systems. After digging I found they are located in a suburb of Seattle, in a town called Auburn. I didn’t want to rule them out so I kept them on the list and started researching.
  • Penguin Computing is another one of the companies, and kidn of a mainstay of Linux machines. They were a must have in the run up.
  • Think Penguin is another I dove into.
  • Emperor Linux is another company I found specializing in Linux machines.
  • Zareason was another, that specialized in Linux machines.

First Decision > Build or Buy?

I wrangled hardware specifications and the idea of building my own machine for some time. I came to the conclusion that the time versus money investment for me was on the side of buying a built machine. This first decision was pretty easy, but educating myself on the latest hardware was eye opening and a lot of fun. In the end however, better to let a builder get it done right instead of me creating a catastrophe for myself and nuking a whole weekend!

Decision Buy!

Second Decision > Who should I buy from?

I dug through each of the computer builders previously mentioned. I scouted out where they were located, what the general process was they used to build the machines, what testing, what involvement in the community they have, and finally a cost and parts review.

Each of the builders has a lot of positives in regards to Linux, the only one that I was hesitant about at first in regards to Linux was Puget Computing. Because by default the machines come with Windows 10. However after asking around and reviewing other reviews online, I came to find they do have Linux and a solid skill set around Linux. Puget remained a leader in the selection process.

pugetsystems

I went through Los Alamos Computers, which I realized are now LAC Portland (Win for Portland!), then Penguin, Think Penguin, and Emperor Linux. All had great skills and ethos around Linux. LAC definitely had the preeminently preferable choice in physical location (I mean, I do love Portland!), but each were short in either their customer facing desktop options. Albeit for a company or other reason, I’d likely buy a Thinkpad or other computing platform running Linux from them. But for this scenario each were disqualified for my personal workstation.

The last two I started checking out were Zareason and System76. I had been following what System76 for a while and a few things had caught my eye on their site. It led me to realize that they’re located out of Denver. Being a transit nerd, one of their website video photo coffee shop scenes had the RTD Light Rail passing in the background. But all things aside I started checking out cases and hardware that each builder puts in a box.

  • Berkely BARTZareason had several cases as shown below. With each of these I checked out the hardware options.

  • SounderNext up I checked out a number of Puget Systems.

  • RTD Light RailNext I started looking at System76 machines.

 

Challenge: Extra nerd credit if you guess why I used each of those pictures for each of those companies!

After working through and reviewing prices, features, hardware, and options things were close. I started reviewing location and what I could derive about each company’s community involvement in Linux, how they’re involved locally, and what the word is about those companies in their respective communities. Out of the three, I ended up not finding any customers to talk to about Zareason. For Puget, I found one friend that had a box purchased from a few years ago, and for System76 I actually found 2 different feedback bits from users within an hour or so of diffing around.

Kenny Spence @tekjava – Kenny and I have known each other for more years than I’m going to count. We got to meetup here in Seattle recently and he showed me his System76 laptop. The build quality was good and the overall review he gave me was a +1. Before this he’d mentioned in Twitter DM convo that this was the case, and I’d taken his word for it back then.

Dev Shop X – A group of individuals I reached out to I had met 3 years ago at the Portland @OSBridge Conference. I spoke to them again and found they were still using the System76 machines with no real complaints. They’d also bought the XPS 13 laptops well before the model I did and had a few complaints. With a short conversation we ended with them offering a +1for System76.

With the reviews from trusted sources, seeing the involvement and related culture of System76 I decided that they would be the builder of choice.

Decision System76 Leopard WS!

Leopard Workstation

With the decision made, I pulled the trigger on the purchase. In spite of the holiday season, I still received the machine in short order. It arrived at my door via UPS in a box, ya know, like a computer does when its shipped somewhere. 😉

system76-leopard-01

I cleared off the desk next, and dug into the box.

system76-leopard-02

system76-leopard-03

The computer was packaged cleanly and neatly with minimal waste compared to some I’ve seen. So far so good. I pulled pieces gently from the box. The first thing I extracted was the static bag which had all of the extra cords and respective attachments that had come with various parts of the computer hardware that were unnecessary. Another plus in my opinion, as many would likely not notice this having not built computers themselves, nor even cared, but I’m glad to have the extra pieces for this or other things I might need them for.

system76-leopard-04

The next thing I pulled out of the box was a thank you letter envelope with cool sticker and related swag.

system76-leopard-05

Stickers!

system76-leopard-07

That was it for peripheral things just floating around in the box. Next, out came the computer itself.

system76-leopard-06

It was wrapped in a static free bag itself. As it should be. I did notice a strange ink like bit of dusted debris in and around the box. I’m not really sure, and still am not sure today what exactly it was. I cleaned it up immediately. It wasn’t excessive, but was leaving slight marks on the white table which required a little scrubbing to remove.

After all things were removed from the box I removed them from envelopes and static free bags and placed them on the desk for a simple shot of all the parts in the box.

system76-leopard-08

Next I went through the steps of desk cleanup again and then connected my 28 port USB Hub, Razor Mouse, and a keyboard to the machine. It was finally time to boot this machine up!

system76-leopard-09

As for the screen which you see, it’s an LG 34” Extra Wide Screen monitor with slight curved view to it. Yes, it’s awesome, and yes it actually makes it relatively easy to not need dual monitors.

BOOTING!

system76-leopard-10

Ubuntu started, monitor fussing.

system76-leopard-11

I toyed around and had for whatever reason plugged in the HDMI, when I should have used the other monitor connection. It immediately provided more resolution options when I changed the connection and the monitor and related elements detected appropriately!

On the side of the machine is a clear window cut through the case to view the internals. The cords were managed well and overall build was very clean. Upon boot up the graphics card immediately lit up too. The nice blue tone provided a nice light within the room.

system76-leopard-12

Ubuntu booted up cleanly, and I might crazy bloody fast.

system76-leopard-13

Here’s a non-flash shot of the machine and monitor side by side.

system76-leopard-14

I then changed the respective positioning and the lighting, as you can see actually changed dramatically just by repositioning the hardware and the rear light I was shooting with.

system76-leopard-15

Lights off shot. The widow is beautiful!

system76-leopard-16

A slightly closer shot of the GTX 1080 humming away inside.

system76-leopard-17

The Ubuntu on Leopard WS Review

So far I’ve done a ton of coding & game playing on the machine. Here’s a break down of some specifics and some respective comments with a full read on the specifications of the machine.

  • Ubuntu 16.10 (64-bit)
  • 4.0 GHz i7-6850K (3.6 up to 4.0 GHz – 15 MB Cache – 6 Cores – 12 threads)
  • High Performance Self-Contained Liquid Cooler
  • 32 GB Quad Channel DDR4 at 2400MHz (2× 16 GB)
  • GB GTX 1080 with 2560 CUDA Cores
  • Chipset Intel® X99
  • Front: 2× USB 3.0 Type-A, 1× USB 2.0 Type-A, 1× eSATA
  • Rear: 3× USB 3.0 Type-A, 1× USB 3.1 Type-A, 1× USB 3.1 Type-C, 4× USB 2.0, Type-A, 1× PS/2
  • Gigabit Ethernet, optional Intel® Wireless-AC (a/b/g/n/ac)
  • GTX 1080: DVI-D, HDMI, 3× Display Port
  • Audio Front: Headphone Jack, Mic Jack
  • Audio Rear: 8 channel (HDMI, S/PDIF), Mic Jack, Line In, Line Out
  • Power Supply 750 W 80+ Certified (80% or greater power efficiency)
  • Dimensions 15.8″ × 8.3″ × 19.5″ (40.13 × 21.08 × 49.53cm)

Gaming

Using Steam I downloaded several games including my latest addiction Transport Tycoon. The others included Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War, Stronghold 3, Stellaris, Sid Meier’s Civ V, Master of Orion, and Cities: Skylines. Each of these games I loaded up and played for at least 20-30 minutes, with every graphics detail maxed out and full audio feature enabled. Where the option existed to run it at full resolution of 3440×1440 I ran the game at that resolution.

Not a blip, stir, or flake out of any sort. The color was solid (which obviously is also largely the monitor) and being able to move around these games in their respective 3d worlds was exception. All the while the speed of elapsed time in games like Transport Tycoon and Cities: Skylines barely slowed at all no matter how massive the city or layout was.

At this point I’ve also added about 16 hours of Transport Tycoon play to this, and I’ve built absurdly extensive layouts (100s of trains plus massively grown cities) and this processor and video card handles it. The aforementioned previous desktop easily choked to 1/10th the speed of this beast while running the game.

More on the gaming elements of this machine in the coming days.

Coding

I used Jetbrains Toolbox to download IntelliJWebstormCLionDataGripProject Rider, and RubyMine. I dug around for some sample projects and slung together some basic “hello world!” apps to build with each of the IDEs. All built at absurd rates, but nothing real specific as I didn’t load any large projects just yet.

One of the things I did do was load Go so that I could continue work on the Data Diluvium Project that I’ve started (Repo on Github). To hack around with Go I also installed Atom and Visual Studio Code. Both editors on this particular machine were screaming fast and with the 34” display, I could easily have both to test out features side by side. Albeit, that makes shortcut combos a nightmare! DON’T DO THIS AT HOME!

Build time for the C, Go, and C# Projects I tried out were all crazy fast, but I’m holding off posting any results as I want to get some more apples to apples comparisons put together before posting. I’m also aiming to post versus some other hardware just so there are some baselines in which to compare the build times against.

More on the coding and related projects in the coming days too.

Important Software

You may think, if you’re not an Ubuntu or Linux user, what about all the other stuff like office software and … big long list goes here. Well, most of the software that we use is either available or a comparable product is available on Linux these days. There’s really not many things that keep me – or would keep anybody tied to – OS-X/MacOS or Windows. Here are a few that I’ve tried out and am using regularly that are 1 to 1 across Windows, OS-X, and Linux.

  • Jetbrains – as mentioned before these work across all the platforms. They’re excellent developer tools.
  • Spotify – even though it states that there hasn’t been support or what not for the app for many months, it still works seemlessly on Linux. That’s what you get when you build an app for a solid platform – one doesn’t have to fix shit every week like on OS-X or Windows.
  • Slack – Slack is available on Linux too. After all the native app (or pseudo native) is built on Electron, which at its core runs on Node.js. So thus, feature parity is pretty much 100%. If you’re going to use slack, it’s not an excuse to be stuck on Windows or OS-X. The choice of platform is yours.

Summary

me-horns-up

NOTE: Nobody paid me a damned penny to write any of this btw, I reviewed all of these things because I love writing about my nerd adventures. No shill shit here. With that stated…

I have more things to review across all of these platforms and much more to write about this mean machine from System76. However, this review has gotten long enough. The TLDR; of this is, if you’re looking for a machine then System76 definitely gets the horns from me! Highly recommended!

The Latest 5th Generation Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition

Just about 4 weeks ago now I purchased a Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition directly from Dell. The reason I purchased this laptop is because of two needs I have while traveling and writing code.

  1. I wanted something smallcompact, that had reasonable power, and…
  2. It needed to run Linux (likely Ubuntu, but I’d have taken whatever) from the factory and have active support.

Here’s my experience with this machine so far. There are lots of good things, and some really lousy things about this laptop. This is the lowdown on all the plusses and minuses. But before I dive into the plusses and minuses, it is important to understand more of the context in which I’m doing this review.

  • Dell didn’t send me a free laptop. I paid $1869 for the laptop. Nobody has paid me to review this laptop. I purchased it and am reviewing it purely out of my own interest.
  • The XPS 13 Developer Edition that I have has 8GB RAM512 GB SSD, and the stunningly beautiful 13.3-inch UltraSharp™ QHD+ (3200 x 1800) InfinityEdge Touch Display.
  • Exterior Chassis Materials -> CNC machined aluminum w/ Edge-to-edge Corning® Gorilla® Glass NBT™ on QHD+ w/ Carbon fiber composite palm rest with soft touch paint.
  • Keyboard -> Full size, backlit chiclet keyboard; 1.3mm travel
  • Touchpad -> Precision touchpad, seamless glass integrated button

Negatives

The Freakin’ Keyboard and Trackpad

Let’s talk about the negatives first. This way, if you’re looking into purchasing, this will be a faster way to go through the decision tree. The first and the LARGEST negative is the keyboard. Let’s just talk about the keyboard for a moment. When I first tweeted about this laptop, one of the first responses I got in relation to this machine was a complaint – and a legitimate one at that – is the blasted keyboard.

There are plenty of complaints and issues listed herehere, and here via the Dell Support site. Twitter is flowing with such too about the keyboard. To summarise, the keyboard sticks. The trackpad, by association, also has some sticky behavior.

Now I’m going to say something that I’m sure some might fuss and hem and haw about. I don’t find the keyboard all that bad, considering it’s not an Apple chiclet keyboard and Apple trackpad, which basically make everything else on the market seem unresponsive and unable to deal with tactile response in a precise way. In that sense, the Dell keyboard is fine. I just have to be precise and understand how it behaves. So far, that seems to resolve the issue for me, same for the trackpad related issues. But if you’re someone who doesn’t type with distinct precision – just forget this laptop right now. It’s not even worth the effort. However, if you are precise, read on.

The Sleeping Issue

When I first received the laptop several weeks ago it had a sleeping issue. Approximately 1 out of every 3-5 times I’d put the computer to sleep it wouldn’t resume from sleep appropriately. It would either hang or not resume. This problem however, has a pretty clean fix available here.

Not Performant

Ok, so it has 8GB RAM, and SSD, and an i7 Proc. However it does not perform better than my 2 year old Mac Book Air (i7, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD). It’s horribly slow compared to my 15” Retina w/ 16GB RAM and i7 Proc. Matter of fact, it doesn’t measure up well against any of these Apple machines. Linux however has a dramatically smaller footprint and generally performs a lot of tasks as well or better than OS-X.

When I loaded Steam and tried a few games out, the machine wasn’t even as performant as my Dell 17” from 2006. That’s right, I didn’t mistype that, my Dell from 2006. So WTF you might ask – I can only guess that it’s the embedded video card and shared video card memory or something. I’m still trying to figure out what the deal is with some of these performance issues.

However… on to the positives. Because there is also positives about the performance it does have.

Positives

The Packaging

Well the first thing you’ll notice, that I found to be a positive, albeit an insignificant one but it did make for a nice first experience is the packaging. Dell has really upped their game in this regard, instead of being the low-end game, Dell seems to have gotten some style and design put together for the packaging.

01

The box was smooth, and seamless in most ways. Giving a very elegant feel. When I opened up the box the entire laptop was in the cut plastic wrap to protect all the surfaces.

02

03

Removing the cut plastic is easy enough. It is held together with just some simple stickiness (some type of clean glue).

04

Once off the glimmer of the machine starts to really show. The aluminum surface material is really really nice.

05

The beauty of an untainted machine running Ubuntu Linux. Check out that slick carbon fiber mesh too.

06

Here it is opened and unwrapped, not turned on yet and the glimmer of that glossy screen can be seen already.

07

Here’s a side by side comparison of the screens for the glossy hi res screen against the flat standard res screen. Both are absolutely gorgeous screens, regardless of which you get.

08

Booting up you can see the glimmer on my XPS 13.

09

The Screen

The screen, even during simple bootup and first configuration of Ubuntu like this it is evident that the screen is stunning. The retina quality screen on such a small form factor is worth the laptop alone. The working resolution is 1920×1080, but of course the real resolution is 3200×1800. Now, if you want, you could run things at this resolution at your own risk to blindness and eye strain, but it is possible.

The crispness of this screen is easily one of the best on the market today and rivals that of the retina screens on any of the 13” or 15” Apple machines. The other aspect of the screen, which isn’t super relevant when suing Ubuntu is that it is touch enabled. So you can poke things and certain things will happen, albeit Ubuntu isn’t exactly configured for touch display. In the end, it’s basically irrelevant that it is a touch screen too, except in the impressive idea that they got a touch screen of this depth on such a small machine!

10

Here’s a little more of the glimmer, as I download the necessary things to do some F# builds.

Setting up F#

Performance and Boot Time

Boot time is decent. I’m not going to go into the seconds it takes but it’s quick. Also when you get the update for sleep, that’s really quick too. So no issue there at all.

On the performance front, as I mentioned in the negatives there are some issues with performance. However, for many – if not most – everyday developer tasks like building C#, F#, C++, C, Java, and a host of other languages the machine is actually fairly performant.

In doing other tasks around Ruby, PHP (yes, I wrote a little bit of PHP just to check it out, but I did it safely and deleted it afterwards), JavaScript, Node.js, and related web tasks were also very smooth, quick, and performant. I installed Atom, Sublime 3, WebStorm, and Visual Studio Code and tried these out for most of the above web development. Everything loads really fast on the machine and after a few loads they even get more responsive, especially WebStorm since it seems to load Java plus the universe.

Overall, if you do web development or some pretty standard compilable code work then you’ll be all set with this machine. I’ve been very happy with it’s performance in these areas, just don’t expect to play any cool games with the machine.

Weight and Size

I’ll kick this positive feature off with some addition photos of the laptop compared to a Mac Book Pro 15” Retina and a Apple Air 13”.

First the 13” Air.

12

13

No the Mac Book Pro 15” Retina

14

…and then on top of the Mac Air 13”.

15

16

Of course there are smaller Mac Book Pros and Mac Book Air Laptops, but these are the two I had on hand (and still use regularly) to do a quick comparison with. The 13” Dell is considerably smaller in overall footprint and is as light or lighter than both of these laptops. The XPS makes for a great laptop for carrying around all the time, and really not even noticing its presence.

Battery Life

The new XPS 13 battery life, with Ubuntu, is a solid 6-12 hours depending on activity. I mention Ubuntu, because as anybody knows the Linux options on conserving battery life are a bit awkward. Namely, they don’t always do so well. But with managing the screen lighting, back light, and resource intensive applications it would be possible to even exceed the 12 hour lifespan of the batter with Ubuntu. I expect with Windows the lifespan is probably 10-15% better than under Ubuntu. That is, without any tweaks or manual management of Ubuntu.

So if you’re looking for a long batter life, and Apple options aren’t on the table, this is definitely a great option for working long hours without needing to be plugged in.

Summary

beer

Overall, a spectacular laptop in MOST ways. However that keyboard is a serious problem for most people. I can imagine most people will NOT want to deal with the keyboard. I’m ok with it, but I don’t mind typing with hands up and off the resting points on the laptop. If Dell can fix this I’d give it a 100% buy suggestion, but with the keyboard as buggy and flaky as it is, I give the laptop at 60% buy suggestion. If you’re looking for a machine with Ubuntu out of the box, I’d probably aim for a Lenovo until Dell fixes the keyboard situation. Then I’d even suggest this machine over the Lenovo options.

…and among all things, I’d still suggest running Linux on a MBA or MBP over any of these – the machines are just more solid in manufacturing quality, durability, and the tech (i.e. battery, screen, etc) are still tops in many ways. But if you don’t want to feed the Apple Nation’s Piggy Bank, dump them and go with this Dell or maybe a Lenovo option.

Happy hacking and cheers!

Breaking Up Again, OneNote and I Must Go Separate Ways

Ok, psychologically one is supposed to tell the good news last and the bad news first. Well, I’m doing that backwards with this article. First things first, all the awesome about Microsoft’s OneNote App.

Microsoft OneNote

The cool thing is, after more than a few years, OneNote runs on most mobile and desktop systems. When I say most, what that equates to is: Windows, iOS and OS-X. Now, I wouldn’t doubt if it works on some other things that I’ve missed, but those are the places I know it works because that is where I’ve used the application the most.

OneNote does a number of things that are pretty cool. The first is simply look pleasant and make it easy to add notes, images, sound or other objects into any notebook in the app. This makes note taking extremely easy. There are also a lot of features around note history to move back and forward, play things back and more. This interaction with the notes across all of the devices is pretty seem-less, when the features are similar across all of the devices.

I actually really like the interfaces built specifically for the device that OneNote is running on. If I’m running the iOS iPhone App it is oriented to small screen touch and interactions of that sort. The iOS version is focused on creating notes, not on managing or organizing the actual notebooks and related structures.

On the iPad iOS App it’s oriented toward a larger workspace and more navigation between each notebook and and a little to the management of these notebooks and the respective notes. The iPad version is a happy middle ground between the note creating focus of the iPhone App and the full blown OS-X and Windows Desktop versions.

Speaking of that, it’s been about 3+ years since I’ve used OneNote on Windows and about 2 years since I actually used Windows for anything relevant. So when One Note was released on OS-X I was all over that. I’d always been a fan of the product, but it was limited since it only ran on Windows for the longest time. So when I switched off of Windows as my core operating system years ago, it went away. I had a list of top apps I lost when leaving Windows.

  1. LiveWriter for blogging because it hooked up to all the blogs I wrote to at the time; WordPress, DotNetBlogEngine and Blogger. So it was hugely useful.
  2. ReSharper for Visual Studio. Note I did NOT say Visual Studio, but just ReSharper. I’ve got a lot of this power back via WebStorm and IntelliJ, but I still miss the robustness of refactoring options with ReSharper.
  3. OneNote with Office. Note, again the specifics of just missing OneNote and not Office. The Office Suite, especially when I moved to non-MS Operating Systems was already useless to me. It was stuck in the 90s world of files and file systems. I’d already moved on to web options where the files were always where I needed them and versioned appropriately.

When I got down to this list, I assumed I could go ahead and switch. I did, haven’t regretted it for a moment and will still tell anybody that’s good at adopting to tools and finding the best for the job, the grass is indeed greener being not on Windows.

But I sure was happy to get OneNote back, but as I used it I realized…

…and now OneNote dies to me again.

…that I’d moved on form the paradigm that OneNote has to offer. I use more than just merely the iOS or OS-X or Windows Version. I need an option to see and retrieve my information beyond that medium. I needed to be able to use these tools sometimes disconnected and this also created a huge problem, as they’re all tightly coupled to the skydrive style service. In addition to this, if one uses any of the other iOS Office Suite Apps from Microsoft those are also tied to skydrive, but one has to get a monthly account to use those.

Overall the OneNote app was elegant, nice and worked well, but the connectivity issues and the tightly coupled service to skydrive left it removed from the other tools that I use to get work done. I suppose, if one is a full on fanbois and using all the Microsoft tooling running on Windows it likely has some integration to those tools. However I use a wide variety of tools across more than one operating system. In the end it seemed like Microsoft was endeavoring to lock me into their online presence with their offer of free OneNote as a gateway to their Office Product.

Albeit I’ve used it now for 2 weeks, I’ve made tons of notes in it, I’m just going to go back to Evernote. The access is better, the apps are clunkier and not as pretty (I realize that’s subjective), and overall I’d rather use OneNote as an interface to files I put in Dropbox or Google Drive or Evernote or something, but alas, it hasn’t worked out. So if you’re looking for a note taking app, OneNote might still be fore you, but otherwise if you want full across the board support across many platforms, Evernote is still a more capable option.

Sorry OneNote, but even though it was nice to have a second fling, we have to go our separate ways again. I guess it’s time to fire Evernote back up.