New Laptop

Dell XPS 15 L501X

After over four years my Dell XPS 15 laptop (L501X) had gotten a little long in the tooth. The video card – an nVidia GT350M – is only slightly faster, by the narrowest of margins, than the Intel® HD Graphics 4400 in my son’s Dell Inspiron 15 5000. The Intel
I7-740QM compared to the i5-4210U is, outside of the number of threads  (4 v. 2), is about the same horsepower and a uses a heck of a lot more power. And the XPS is heavy.

What I was looking for is:

  • Intel i7 quad core (I run VMware Workstation regularly with multiple VMs running)
  • 8 GB or more of RAM
  • 500 GB hard drive, 7200 RPM
  • nVidia GTX800-series graphics card (occasionally I like to play a game of Diablo III)

XPS 15 Touch Screen

I first looked at the current Dell XPS 15 however as nice as it is it is very expensive (about CDN$2,000). And it has a touch screen which, outside of a true tablet, I find slightly pointless. At least until my arms grow another 20 or so centimetres.



Alienware 14

The Alienware 14 had the right specifications but is a little heavy. It is a gaming machine but I was willing to live with that – it would not be much heavier than the old XPS 15 with the 9-cell battery.

And then Dell dropped the Alienware 14 and replaced it with the Alienware 13. The screen reduction did not impress me too much – I would be going from a 15 inch to a 14 inch screen as it was but I could likely live with it. I do okay with my 10 inch Asus TF300T tablet. But the dropping of a quad-core processor killed it for me. I need the multiple cores for running multiple VMs.

So, my search as on, again.

Lenovo Y50

After another six months of searching I found the Lenovo Y50-70. The reviews on the display are somewhat true. It is not a great display. It is better than the screen on my XPS 15 though so I can live with it.

It did not come with a DVD player but that seems to be standard course now. I picked one up for $60.00. I don’t know what it is for having the numeric keypad. It takes up room that could be better used for the arrow keys or other function keys. I don’t even use the numeric keyboard on my desktop machines – at home or at work. I do find that the USB3 ports work faster than those on my  XPS 15. But, then again, USB was it its early stages back then. And it comes with Windows 8.1. 8.1 is a nice try but Microsoft needs to get Windows 10 right. Anyway, with $500 off, the Y50-70 was mine. It is a nice set up for only $1,000: i7-4710HQ (quad-core) 2.5GHz; 16GB RAM, nVidia GTX860m with 4GB VRAM (not sure why anyone needs 4GB unless you are driving external monitors) and a 1TB/8GB SSD WD drive. I’m not sold on that hard drive yet. My old 500GB 7,200 RPM drive seems to have more, err… zip. Maybe I will get a 500GB SSD drive.

Oh, and the machine is light relative to the old XPS 15.

Anyone who has read my blog knows that I love Linux and run Linux as my day-to-day OS at home. My current favourite distribution is Linux Mint Cinnamon-edition.

This would be my first experience installing Linux on a UEFI system. Again, I am glad that I am a little late to the game with UEFI. My past reads have shown that this was a horror story.

Here’s what I have learned:

  1. All that you need to do in the BIOS is to turn off secure boot. Otherwise you cannot, it seems, to seem to install GRUB in the EFI partition Of course you need a current distribution, with GRUB 2.00 or higher. You do not need to turn on legacy mode. In fact, don’t do it. It can make you make more mistakes than I could ever imagine.
  2. The nVidia drivers with Intel Optimus SUCK. When I bought the XPS 15 one thing that I looked for was the lack of Optimus – e.g. no Intel HD graphics and only the nVidia card. You can install it by manually putting in the Edgers repository. I think I actually have the HD graphics turned off now.
  3. The bloody touchpad cannot be turned off – or at least I cannot figure it out right now.
  4. I do not know if this is a VMware Workstation (I’m still at v.10) or a Linux Mint 17.1 or an nVidia issue but when I try to make a VM go full screen it disappears. I had this happen before but I can’t remember how it was fixed.

Anyway, that is enough typing for now. I will update the blog on what I find in the future.

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