I really wanted to like this thing. I’ve been waiting to have a slim and snappy Linux laptop with a hi-res screen for years. But before then, I, like many others in the Linux community, was a ThinkPad diehard—first, I was the proud owner of an ancient IBM T60 from 2006 that I had heavily modded (motherboard swap, custom bios, the whole shebang). Then I turned 19 and I realized that I needed a real computer for college, so I bought a Lenovo T430.
Pretty much the first thing I did to it was install Ubuntu GNOME 14.04. And I can’t sing enough praises about how well 14.04 and the T430 went together. Bluetooth ran perfectly—better than it did on windows (both 7 and 10). All devices paired painlessly and stayed connected. WiFi? Also perfect. Absolutely no issues with the docking stations I bought either. Even sleep and hibernate worked perfectly, which is a luxury many Linux users do no get to enjoy.
But, all good things must come to a close. By the time college ended I found myself wishing for a lighter, more modern machine.
Thus began my relationship with the new XPS 13 9380 Developer Edition. For those who don’t know, this machine comes preloaded with a Dell-customized version of Ubuntu 18.04. My particular device came configured with the upgraded i7–8565u and the battery-friendly 1080p screen — the 4k touchscreen is both a stupid gimmick and a gigantic power drain (4 hours shorter in most tests I’ve seen). I won’t deny it — this is a beautiful computer, and a fast one to boot.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing else good I can say about it. To put it simply, this computer, which is allegedly designed to be Linux compatible, performs far, far worse on Linux than my T430 ever did. To name a few of the issues:
- WiFi constantly drops out, especially with 5GHz networks. Sometimes a reboot makes the issue go away for a little, but it always comes back. This is a documented driver issue with the Killer 1435 on Linux — and Dell shipped this machine with it!
- USB-C docks don’t reliably work. Sometimes they just don’t connect at all, but most of the time they just don’t connect properly — Ethernet, in particular, barely works one time out of ten. I experienced this with Dell’s own WD15 dock and with a 3rd party dock on every single port on my machine. Both docks function perfectly with a friend’s MacBook Pro, so there’s nothing wrong with them. Once again software based.
- The machine doesn’t sleep properly and can’t hibernate at all. Approximately one out of every five times I close the lid I’ll find that the machine stays on and runs the fan while in my bag. I get the pleasure of pulling it out later to find the chassis blazing hot and my battery halfway gone. Business grade performance!
- The Bluetooth driver crashes and renders all peripherals unusable without a hard reboot. Sorry — your
sudo service bluetooth restarthas no power here! I love having to reboot my machine in the middle of a working session.
In conclusion: the Dell XPS 13 9380 doesn’t only run Linux poorly — it runs Linux far, far worse than the T430 — a machine that wasn’t even designed to run Linux in the first place.
But you know what? I was more than willing to forgive Dell for shipping out a half-baked product if they would have worked with me to make things better.
They didn’t do that, or else I wouldn’t be here writing this. No, since I was outside Dell’s 30 day return period (from date of invoice, not date of arrival) when I called on the 5th of July to ask if I could send it back to them, I was told that Dell does not make any exceptions to their return policy for faulty products unless you have been in contact with them within the first 30 days of purchase:
Customers are supposed to use the system and inspect and let us know if there is anything that is wrong with that particular system. That is the timeframe that we give the customer is [sic] 30 days from the date of invoice. You need to give us a call within 30 days and then if you’re speaking with technical support within the 30 days window and still they’re not able to resolve it now for some reason while the case has been worked on by the technical support the order has passed the 30 days window that’s the only case where we make an exception.
— Dell Support Returns Supervisor
Translation: so if you commit the grave sin of not letting Dell know what a steaming pile of garbage their device is until after 30 days from the date of invoice, they simply don’t care about your problem. They’ll happily send over a technician to swap out the machine with an identical one that’ll have the same exact software issues — but they won’t even consider a return.
OK, that’s fine, I thought. Phone support is always garbage — so I turned to Twitter, where I started a conversation on the same day with @DellCares (which was ultimately switched over to the equally misleadingly named @DellCaresPRO) that was transferred to DMs. They requested an itemized list of all the issues I was having, which I gave them. The person I was speaking with then let me know that a request for an exception to allow for a return had been placed, but that I wouldn’t get a response until the following week.
Enter this morning, five days later, when I got a new DM from Dell. Surprise, surprise — the answer was a flat no, with zero justification.
At this point, I was getting desperate. Even though I hadn’t used Windows since the days of Windows 7, I was willing to use Windows 10 just so that I could have something stable. So I asked for an OEM Windows image and I was…denied. Again. Their justification for doing so? Nothing: since I didn’t buy it with Windows, I was not permitted access to the Windows image. The only option I now have aside from sticking it out with my 18.04 install is buying a vanilla Windows 10 license and configuring it myself (which should be fun, since I haven’t used Windows in almost 10 years).
Admittedly, I should shoulder some of the blame here: I made the mistake of trusting Dell. I should have trusted my sister instead when she scoffed “Dell?! Ha!” when I first showed her my shiny new XPS. Because no matter how well made the physical machine is, it’s still backed by one of the least consumer-friendly companies in the market (I’m not exaggerating — spend 15 minutes on Reddit’s /r/Dell and you’ll see very quickly what I mean). That’s a real shame, because this could have been a fantastic computer.
So what do I hope that you’ve gained from reading this? I don’t really know. Buy a Lenovo. Buy an HP. Maybe give one of those new System76 machines a try. Or, if it works with your workflow, take a chance with a Chromebook. Hell, buy a MacBook. Just don’t do one thing.
Clarification (11 July, 1:32 pm): When I received the machine I was using my 2.4GHz router at home and had not purchased any docks (and so had no use for bluetooth peripherals yet). I was also not working, so I didn’t sleep and wake the computer frequently enough to notice the sleep issue. It was only when I returned to work that I noticed the issues, as I had to use a (corporate) 5GHz network and my docks (and so Bluetooth). At this point I was well outside the 30 day period (I received the machine in early May).