Tag Archives: xps 15

Coding, WTF Twitter, Twitch FTW, Getting Shit Done, Twitch Hacks, Tips, Tricks, and One Excellent Jazz Influenced Tune

WTF Twitter

I’ve been doing a lot more coding, thanks largely to the discipline that Twitch has brought to my day. It seems almost surprising to me at this point because Twitch started similarly to the way Twitter did for me. You see, I thought at first Twitter was the dumbest thing that had happened in ages. Arguably, it’s come full circle and I kind of feel the same thing about Twitter now, but during the middle decade in between that (yes, Twitter is over 10 years old!) Twitter has brought me connection, opportunities, and so much more. I couldn’t have imagined a lot of what I’ve been able to pull together because of Twitter. It’s still useful in many ways for this, albeit I like all of us are at risk of suffering the idiocy of today’s politics and political cronies, and the dog piling trash pile that follows them onto Twitter.

I’m not leaving Twitter any time soon but I’ve definitely put in on a very short leash, and limited what impact it does or doesn’t have in my day to day flow.

Twitch FTW

Amazingly however a new social and productive tool, not that it intended both, has come into being. Coding on Twitch. Don’t get me wrong I game, I just don’t game socially or on Twitch, what I do is code on Twitch. With a fair dose of hacking, breaking things, and then figuring out how to make them work. All at the same time I along with others have created a pretty excellent developers community there on Twitch. It seems to be growing all the time too. Twitch, at this point has become a focal point that has the benefits without all the annoying garbage that Twitter does these days, while adding the vast and hugely important fact that I can do things, be productive, chit chat, and generally get shit done all while I’m Twitch streaming.

VidStreamHacking

@ https://github.com/Adron/VidStreamHacking

With that, let’s talk about some of the recent notes and information I’ve been working on putting together to make Twitch even more useful. My first motive with this was to keep track of all the things I was doing, hardware I was putting together, and related things, but then another purpose grew out of all this note taking. It became obvious that this repository of information could be useful for other people. Here’s a survey of the things that I’ve added so far, hope they’re helpful to those of you digging into streaming out there!

I added some badges to identify various elements of information about the repo in the README.md.

badges

Is it maintained, yup, contributors, so far just me, zero issues filed but please feel free to add an issue or two, markdown yup, and there is indeed a Trello Board! The Trello Board is a key to insight, inspection, and what I’ve got going on in a number of my repositories. It’s where I’m keeping track of all the projects, what’s next, and what’s up in queue for the blog (this one right here). At least, in the context of the big code heavy or video reviews of sessions with code, extra commentary, and related content. If you want to get involved in any of the repos just let me know and I’m happy to walk through whatever and even get you added to the Trello board so we can work together on code.

Streaming Gear

https://github.com/Adron/VidStreamHacking/blob/master/hardware.md

My main machine is now a Dell XPS 15, which I fought through to get Linux running on it, and now that I have it’s been an absolutely stellar machine. I’ve also added additional monitor & port replicator/docking station gear to get it even more usable. The actual page I’ve got the details listed on are in the repo on the Dell XPS 15 item on the hardware page.

Along with the XPS 15 I wrote up coverage of the unboxing via video and blog entry. After a few weeks I also wrote up the conflict I had getting Linux running and removing Windows 10. In addition to the XPS 15 though I do use a MacBook from 2015 as my primary Mac machine, with an iMac from 2013 available as backup. Both machines are still resoundingly solid and performant enough to get the job done. Rounding out my fleet of machines is a Dell XPS 13 (covered here and here with the re-review).

For screens I have one at my office and one at home. They’re almost the same thing, ultra-widescreen monitors, curved displays, running 3880-1440 resolution from LG. These make keeping an eye on chat, OBS, and all sorts of other monitoring while coding, gaming, or whatever a breeze!

shotone.png

Ex 1: Just viewing a giant OBS view to get everything sorted out before starting a stream.

shottwo

Ex 2: OBS w/ VM running w/ Twitch chat, dashboard etc to the right. This way I can work, see the stream, and see chat and such all at the same time.

The docking stations and/or port replicators, whatever one calls these things these days also bring all of this tech together for me. There’s a couple I have tried and retired already (unfortunately, cuz dammit that cost some money!) and others that I use in some scenarios and others I use in others.

My main docking station contraption, shout out to James & others suggestion the Caldigit TS3. I got to this docking station through the Dell TB16 which for Linux, and kind of for Windows, is an unstable mess. Awesome potential if it worked, but it doesn’t so I tried out this USB-C pluggable option (in the tweet) which had HDMI that was unfortunately limited in resolution. Having a wide screen made this – albeit it being super compatible with Linux – unusable too. So I finally upgraded to the Caldigit TS3 and WOW, the Caldigit is super seriously wickedly bad ass. Extra USB-C ports, USB 2/3 ports, power, and more all rolled into one. It even supplies some power to the laptop, however I keep it plugged in since it’s kind of a power hog when the processor start chomping!

After trying out this USB-C pluggable (the tweet) I got the CalDigit into play. It’s really really good, here’s a shot of that from various angles with the extensive cables that I don’t have to plug into my laptop anymore. Out of this also runs a 28 port USB powered hub too, no picture, but just know I’ve got a crazy number of devices I routinely like to use!

That’s my main configuration when using the ultra widescreens and all. Good setup there, very usable, and the 32GB of memory in the laptop really get put to use in this regard. As for storage, that’s another thing. I’ve got 1 TB in my laptop but another 1 TB in a USB-C Thunderbolt Samsung Drive which is practically as fast for most things. So much so I attach it via the TS3 via USB-C and it’s screaming fast and adds that extra storage. So far, primarily I’ve been using it to store all of my virtual machines or use it as video storage while I do edits.

There’s other gear too, check out the list, like the Rode Podcoster and other things. But that gear I’ll elaborate on some other time.

Meetup Streaming Gear

https://github.com/Adron/VidStreamHacking/blob/master/meetup-streaming-kit-gear.md

Another effort I’ve undertaken is recording meetups. To do this one needs to be able to stream things with several screens combined – i.e. picture in picture and all. To do this, one needs a camera that can focus on the speaker, ideally at least 1080p with at least some ability to work in less than ideal light. Then next to that, a splitter and capture card to get the slides! Once all those pieces come together, with a little OBS finesse one can get a pretty solid single pass recording of a meetup. An example of one of my better attempts was the last meetup “Does the Cloud Kill Open Source” with Richard Seroter. If you take a look at past talks in the Meetups Playlist you can see my iterative progress from one meetup to another!

Here’s the specific gear I’m using to get this done. At least, so far, and if and when it becomes financially reasonable I might upgrade some of the gear. It largely depends on what I can get more use out of beyond just streaming meetups.

Cords and Splitter – I picked up a selection of lengths and types so that I’d have wiring options for the particular environments the meetups would be located in. Generally speaking 25ft seems to be a safe maximum for HDMI. I’ve been meaning to check out the actual specifications on it but for now it’s more than enough regardless.81fhh-w-DeL._SX679_

The splitter wasn’t expensive at all ($16.99), and kind of surprised me considering the costs of the cables. Picture to the right, or above, or somewhere depending on mobile layout.

I needed capture cards for this, one for the line out of the splitter that would capture the slides. The first I had picked up based on suggestions focusing around quality and that was the Avermedia Extreme Cap HDMI to USB 3 Capture Card. It’s really solid for higher resolution and related capabilities. For the USB 3.0 HDMI HD Game Video Capture Card I picked it up based on price (it’s almost a 1/3rd of the price) but not particular focused on quality. However, now that I’ve used both they are capable and seem fine, so I might have been able to just buy two of the cheaper options.

The camera, ideally, I’d have a much higher quality one but the Canon VIXIA HF R800 Camcorder has actually worked excellently. A little less feature rich for audio out and related things, but it zooms in good and can record at the same time I’m getting the cam feed into the stream. So it’s always a nice way to have a backup of the talk.

The last, and one of the most important aspects is getting good audio.

Streaming Meetups

https://github.com/Adron/VidStreamHacking/blob/master/meetup.md

At first thought, I made the mistake that just the gear would be enough but holy smokes there were about a million other things I needed to write. I created meetup.md to get the list going.

Jazz Influence Amidst the Heaviness!

As promised. Some music, not actually jazz, but heavily influenced by some jazz, progressive instrumentation, and esoteric, expansive, exquisite playing skills by the band. As always, be prepared. My music referrals aren’t always gentle! Happy code streaming!

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!