A few months ago I got the chance to ditch my MacBook Pro 2012 in favor of something newer. Since I'm (heavily) using my Dell XPS 15 9570 i9 2018 for more than three months now here's my personal review about it.
Why I switched from a MacBook to a Windows notebook
First of all let's talk about something where a lot of web devs probably would have a minor stroke: why the heck did I ditch a MacBook Pro? Back in 2012 when I purchased my MacBook Pro I really loved it. I loved its build quality, the OS, the eco system and pretty much everything about it. The only sad part: I had no real use for it; I've got a pretty good computer at home and in at my job. The only occasion where I got it out of its bag was for commuting. But honestly, it was just one of these famous "two thousands dollar Facebook machine" (to be honest it was more an Amazon machine for me, but who cares). Since I'm no fan of wasting resources like this I decided to sell it and get a new one - which would also substitute my office computer and give me more mobility when it comes to meetings, presentations and stuff like that.
Gladly the company I work for supported this decision and offered me to buy a new notebook. After watching pretty much every notebook review from 2018 I suggested a Dell XPS 15 9570, since it looked quite promising and offered me pretty much everything I looked for.
You may wonder at this point why I didn't go for a MacBook again. Well, to be honest, I've stopped being an Apple fan some time ago. I don't like their new MacBooks for multiple reasons:
- the new keyboard is really weird (I don't like to write on them at all - and if you're a developer you kinda should like your keyboard). Additionally I've never got used to the "⌘" key. Switching from Mac to Windows pretty regularly causes some serious brain confusion when it comes to key binds.
- the touch bar is probably the most useless feature I've ever seen (the only cool thing this feature has ever done was showing Doom at a ridiculous resolution).
- prices have become even more horrendous for even less hardware. Quick comparison: a flagship MacBook (i7, Radeon Pro 560X, 16 GB memory and 512 GB SSD) is priced at around 3.300 €, while on the other hand the Dell flagship (i9, nVidia GTX 1050 Ti, 32 GB memory and 1 TB SSD) is at around 2.900 € (or 3.200 € with 4K UHD Touch display).
- most things Apple has done through the last years is sometimes pretty ridiculous bullshit, like the Apple Root bug and its re-introduction, ditching the audio jack in favor of the AirPods (I already like my in-ear noise cancelling headphones, thank you), weird notches in their displays (like, seriously, what the fuck), their key notes have become really disappointing, etc..
Rounding up these criticism I knew it was time for a non-Apple product.
Since I stay at my girlfriends place during the week I wanted to have something more powerful when it comes to graphics. We're both gamers and our computers are at my place; having the possibility to play games (things like Overwatch or Fortnite), play around with Blender or Unity3D during the week sounded pretty cool.
Additionally of being able to do graphic intensive stuff it, of course, must be able to do a great job when it comes to work. Being able to run games and doing work simultaneously meant a dualboot system for me, while using Linux (Ubuntu, for work) and Windows 10 (for gaming).
An additional requirement was the placement of the control key. This may sounds weird, but many notebooks I've looked at have the control key to the right of to fn key (which is the most left key on the keyboard). I'm used to having my control key the most left key on my keyboard - and I'd like to share keyboard layouts through all the computers I'm using.
In terms of usage I'm using my XPS for more than 10 hours a day during the week, while being on Linux in office and switching between Windows for gaming and Linux for work at home.
The biggest surprise was when I got to see the invoice of the ordered notebook; instead of the i7-version I've suggested my boss ordered me the flagship version with insane specs:
- Intel i9-8950HK processor
- 32 GB memory
- 1 TB SSD
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti
- no 4K UHD Touch display (I'd have no use for a touch display or 4K on Linux, hence this would have been a waste of money at this point)
As you can imagine I was really suprised and happy to see that. This beast should be able to do pretty much everything I dreamed of. (And, spoiler ahead, it is!)
If you're used to the build quality of a MacBook the XPS won't let you down. It's build quality is really good, with only two minor drawbacks;
Due to its dark nature the carbon fibre material on the surface gets smudgy pretty fast. Nothing a good piece of microfiber cloth can't fix, but it definitely requires more love when it comes to cleaning than the light alimunium unibody of the MacBook.
The only other negative thing I've found is something pretty trivial but being used to the MacBook it caught my eye pretty fast: you're not able to open it with one hand, since the body moves along with the monitor when not holding it back.
Other than that I'm very satisfied with the overall build quality.
Some days after the notebook arrived I've noticed some weird rattling noise coming from the CPU and/or GPU fan. It was only hearable at a certain RPM and was really annoying. Since I was really disappointed at this point I ranted on Twitter, which caused some pretty interesting things to happen:
Official Dell support contacted me on Twitter and tried to help me. After running some tests and things like that they ordered a tech support on site for me which arrived just a few days after that. This guy replaced my fans with new ones and the rattling sound was gone - Wohoo!.
It's still a bit of disappointed that a machine in such a high price class has such problems; since I've read some reviews it seems like I'm not the only one with a rattling fan problem. But as long as these problems get treated like in this case I'm okay with it. No manufacturer is perfect, but they treated the situation very professional (even if I'm still surprised that the support was done via Twitter, but who cares) and everything works fine since then.
Windows 10 Support / Gaming
The notebook ships with a pre-installed Windows 10 which I use for gaming. I can't say much about battery life or anything here, since gaming without being plugged in would be a pretty wild ride I can imagine.
For games it worked out very good; Overwatch and Fortnite (even at "high" game settings) run at a constant 60 FPS rate with nearly no FPS drops at all. I was even able to play Spellbreak on a constant 60 FPS rate, even if this game is pre alpha right now and built with the Unreal engine.
I'm still no fan of "gaming notebooks", but for the what I looked for it does a great job.
Linux Ubuntu 18.04 Support
Well, Linux is not officially supported by Dell (kinda, since they are shipping a Dell XPS 13 with pre-installed Ubuntu).
I guess the reason for not shipping the 15 inch model with pre-installed Ubuntu has to do with the GPU. The first thing I had to do was to disable the nVidia GPU on Ubuntu. Otherwise the fans would randomly kick in and make a shitload of noise - even in idle. That would have been no problem since I'm not doing anything that requires a decent GPU on Ubuntu, but the problem was when shutting down the notebook it took like 3 - 5 minutes to power off (while it takes a few seconds with an enabled GPU). I got used to it for a few months - but gladly they fixed this behaviour in an update a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, it was very annoying.
Battery life on Ubuntu was not even close to the one I was used to from my MacBook. During a two-hour meeting I lost approximately 50 - 60% of my battery life, while running nothing else than a note taking app and Chrome. That wasn't too great. But this has been improved a lot during the last months via updates (same scenario as described above would now drain about 30 - 40%). It's still not anywhere close to my MacBooks battery performance. It's important to note that there's no notebook (at least none I'd know) which performs equally to a MacBook or Windows notebook with Linux - I guess Linux is just not the most battery friendly OS out there (even though there are a lot of things out there you can do to get a better battery Life).
Nevertheless, performance while working on it is insanely good (I'd expect nothing less from an i9 CPU with 32 GB memory to be honest). By working I speak of:
- running multiple IDE instances (PHPStorm) simultaneously
- tmux'ed terminal with lots of sessions and windows
- many (20+) chrome tabs (let's be honest here: it's 20+ tabs with stackoverflow...)
- an apache web server
- multiple node processes (with file watching)
- VSCode if needed
- additional bluetooth connected headphones
Everything split across three monitors using a Dell Docking Station. Fans are not even kicking in, everything runs extremely fast, starting applications takes no time at all, no lags at all (just a few after booting) while my CPU and memory are not even close of being challenged.
So, to come to an conclussion: Linux experience was kinda bad at the beginning - but working on it is a really great experience. The "not-so-good"-things like battery life have improved a lot over time (and I hope there's even more to come) - and while working this machine is doing an insane job.
So, is buying a Dell XPS 15 9570 a good idea? Let's summarize:
- Pro: If you're interested in stuff like gaming, video/image editing, making games with Unity3D, 3D stuff with Blender (or similar) it does a decent job.
- Pro: Working on it is a real joy. Really fast and responsive, very little problems.
- Pro: Great build quality (still, get your microfiber cloth ready).
- Pro: Great support.
- Contra: Linux is not officially supported which may result in some weird problems.
- Contra: Battery life is definitely better on Windows or Apple notebooks.
So, when it comes to Linux don't expect the best battery life and some time-to-time hiccups, but if you want a notebook which does a decent job at gaming, a great job for programming and has a great build quality the XPS is definitely a very good choice.
What about Thermal throttling?
Any problems with when charging with a Dell WD15 130W?
I was lucky enough to get a used Dell WD15 docking station with 130W for a good price. When plugging in just the WD15 the system shows a warning on start up like
You have attached an undersized 95W power adapter to your system, which is less than the recommended 130W power adapter ...
While I can't say anything about this warning while playing games I can for sure say that it didn't affect Ubuntu at all; I'm fully able to charge it up while working every day.
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I make stuff. Mostly functional, occasionally shiny, stuff.