Review: Dell XPS 13 9370 Developer Edition

As the owner of Burke Software and Consulting I get to play with a few more Linux laptops than I would as an individual. I recently picked up Dell’s latest XPS 13 (9370) Developer Edition. Here’s my review as a developer.

Comparing Laptops

I compared the current 9370 model with the 2016 9350 model. I also compared a couple benchmarks with the Galago Pro 2 from System76, which is another laptop with Linux preloaded.

Both XPS computers are top of the line with Intel i7 branded CPUs. The 9370 is an 8th generation Intel i7-8550U CPU while the 9350 is a 6th generation i7-6560U. The Galago Pro was configured with a i5 processor – so while it’s interesting to throw in it’s not a totally fair comparison.

Hardware and Appearance

The 9370 model is noticeably slimmer as seen in these photos. The other dimensions are the same. It’s noticeably a little lighter too. I tested it with a friend, having them close their eyes and pick the lighter laptop to make sure it wasn’t a placebo effect. The Dell USB-C charger is also a little bit smaller which is nice.

The camera is still unusable due to its placement. Dell moved it to the center in the 9370 model which is maybe a slight improvement, but all you will see is your fingers on the keyboard and up your nose with this camera. I can’t think of any circumstance in which I would use this horribly placed camera.

Benchmarks

I benchmarked some typical developer tasks. I tested by building the open source password manager Passit. This has been my passion project for the past couple of years and if you aren’t using a password manager yet and like open source I encourage you to try it out (and give me feedback).

I tested a Webpack bundle from the passit-frontend Gitlab repo. This runs angular-cli’s serve command.

yarn start (webpack)
9370: 11173ms
9350: 12322ms
Galago: 13945ms

It appears the 9370 is only slightly faster, saving about 1 full second. That is not impressive for a upgrade of two CPU generations.

Ubuntu Disk Utility Benchmark
Average Read Rate
9370: 2.7 GB/s
9350: 1.6 GB/s
Average Access Time (lower is better)
9370: 0.04 msec
9350: 0.22 msec

Looks like the 9370 has a faster SSD. That’s always a good thing. We can see how benchmarks look impressive but real world results don’t reflect it.

time tns run android
9370: 1m 49s
9350: 2 m9s

This test uses the passit-mobile repo. There’s a lot going on. It needs to compile the typescript into JavaScript, build the apk file, start an android emulator, and load the apk file on the device. I did my test using the Unix “time” command. I manually stopped it when I saw the Passit app fully loaded in the emulator. I like this test because it does SO much. Some of the Android compilers take advantage of multiple cores while the node based tools can use only one core. A big change on the  i7-8550U CPU is having 4 cores and 8 threads (previous comparable U series CPUs had 2 cores). We can see a decent speed boost on the new XPS here. Nothing ground shattering. If your workload is more multi core utilizing you might see bigger jumps in performance.

All tests were done on battery.

Battery

I was pleased to see a good boost in battery life on the new XPS 9370 despite it having smaller battery and a higher resolution display of 3840 x 2160 (9350 topped out at 3200 x 1800). Battery testing is hard and your results will vary. In the type of work I do (web development, vim, browsing) I got about 4-5 hours on the 9350. I seem to get around 7-8 on the 9370. I’ve only been using it a couple days, so I’ll update this post if I find it varies. On both set ups I do not have powertop or TLP installed – I find they can make Linux too unstable for me.

If you opt for the lower screen resolution on any XPS model, you will get vastly better battery life. Unfortunately, Dell does not offer the lower resolution with 16GB of RAM, which made it not an option for me.

Gaming

The XPS 13 line is not for gaming so I’ll keep this short. The 9350 had an Intel Iris integrated GPU option while the 9370 offers only the less powerful UHD 620 integrated GPU. At first I was worried this would mean no more Cities Skylines for me – but that is not the case. Cities Skylines runs just fine on very low settings on the 9370. Dell says the heat dissipation is improved on their new laptop so it may be one reason for decent performance even without the better Iris GPU. If you want some light gaming, the XPS 13 dev edition is a solid choice.

Conclusion

The new Dell XPS developer edition is a modest improvement. I think the better battery life even on the higher end model is the biggest improvement. It’s probably not worth upgrading from the 9350 model but it might be from anything earlier. Performance gains are minimal, possibly due to Intel CPU’s having only minor performance upgrades the past couple years.

9 thoughts on “Review: Dell XPS 13 9370 Developer Edition”

  1. Hi,
    I liked your review very much. I’m also thinking of getting the 9370. Also a Developer, but will also be a media and everyday laptop (some movie watching on planes and web browsing).

    Do you still feel the same about battery? Do you use it as a everyday laptop or just for dev? Are there any significant changes in battery performance if not in dev?

    I’m between this one and HP X360 spectre

    Thanks

    Like

    1. I’m still happy about the battery. If you get the non 4k display model the battery will be even better.

      I use it for light gaming, general web browsing, every day stuff. I’m on the go with it a lot. You could probably squeeze a couple more hours out of it by keeping the brightness very low, running powertop or TLP (as mentioned I don’t like doing this), and not doing anything CPU intensive. For me, knowing that Linux works out of the box makes the XPS a better choice. I know I’ll get BIOS updates and things like that without searching the internet or installing Windows.

      Like

  2. Hello there! Great review!

    A quick question: do you have any experience running other distributions on the Dell XPS 13? I like Debian and was thinking of running that instead of Ubuntu. I believe at the core they are very similar so hopefully it should install and run without a problem. I was also wondering if there is any additional software or drivers that come with Dell’s Ubuntu install that I might have a hard time getting for another distribution.

    Thank you!

    Like

    1. I’m running Ubuntu 17.10 and it works great out of box. You do not need the dell drivers as long as you have a recent kernel – I believe Dell contributes them upstream.

      Like

  3. Thanks for the review. One important thing I feel you left out, though, is your impression of the keyboard. What are your thoughts on typing/writing code on they keyboard?

    I currently have an XPS 9333 DE which I think has an awesome keyboard for a laptop; the keys have a decent travel distance, a distinct “click” when pressed, and they are slightly concave so as to ensure that it’s easier to hit the center of the key.

    Like

    1. They no longer have the slightly concave shape but are still generally good. It’s not going to be like a Cherry MX of course. I have fond memories of the old IBM (before lenovo) thinkpads but I’m not sure how much those were actually better vs nostalgia.The XPS keyboard certainly doesn’t feel flimsy or anything like that.

      Like

  4. Hi! Thanks for your review. I have left Linux in 2002 for OS X and feel forced to come back to Linux due to the loss of the ESC key. Actually I am eager to see what happened in 15 years.

    I do have a question though: in your experience, how easy are any of the following tasks with this particular Laptop:

    1. Hook up 2 external screens
    2. Connect a Bluetooth headset
    3. Connect my beloved Apple Magic Trackpad (I am not ready to leave all behind, even with that ridiculous name)

    Like

    1. 1. I only have one external screen but it’s a 4k and works fine with the built in 4k. I imagine you’ll be fine but check the specs of the Intel iGPU first.
      2. Bluetooth works fine for me but I don’t have a bluetooth headset to test it
      3. Can’t test this. I would assume Ubuntu/Gnome’s gestures are behind OSX. Gnome documents what they support here https://wiki.gnome.org/Design/OS/Gestures

      It’s come a long way since 2002! There are still problems of course.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for a great review David.

    @caillou – I got the XPS 9370 in Feb having left linux for OSX in 2008. It’s definitely a nice laptop, but you can’t really compare it to a mac. After 10 years the only things I feel that have really improved with desktop linux is the display hotplugging which now generally just works, and the GUI tools for connecting to wifi and bluetooth. Most other parts have simply changed and are equally buggy. For example, the upgrade to Ubuntu 18.04 has left suspend not working reliably, though it did work well with 17.10, so hopefully this will be resolved soon.

    The XPS 9370 is a good laptop, but it’s not perfect. The CPU is fast, but I often have kernel messages about “CPU3: Package temperature above threshold, cpu clock throttled”. The trackpad doesn’t have great resolution so can be frustrating, and very often registers clicks and moves when typing. You get used to it.

    The Apple Magic Trackpad can connect to the laptop but the only functionality I was able to get out of it was the bare minimum left click. No middle or right click or any other gestures. I also built the magictrackpad kernel module and tried to get that working without much further improvement, though that was while on 17.10 and using XWayland, which may have some bearing on the lack of real success. I switched back to the Magic Mouse which has better integration, but then had to hack the kernel module params to get the scrolling to be consistent with the onboard trackpad. Plus I had to spend hours tweaking the Firefox params to get scrolling to not drive me nuts.

    The other gripe I have is the screen quality on the 9370. At 100% brightness, which on a laptop can often be needed, the contrast is distractingly washed out. It is not too bad around 80%, but then as you scroll through pages with varying content you’ll notice the colours on the rest of the screen change depending on what is displayed currently – i.e. darker patches vs areas more consistent with the rest of the screen. This can be rather annoying too. I got a ColorHug2 to calibrate the screen and discovered that it has around a 72% sRGB colour gamut – which isn’t too unexpected on a laptop screen, but it’s worth noting.

    Another behaviour I’m seeing with the device is the wifi and bluetooth modules occasionally fail to initialize after suspend. I find that about 2-3 times a week I need to fully power off when connecting to my work peripherals to get things working again.

    The amount of time I’ve had to spend making things work on linux is something I was hoping was no longer necessary after 10 years away. Even just little things that take 5-15 minutes.

    I do still love the device. It’s small, light and very fast. The disk easily reaches 500MB/sec writes. LibreOffice gererally launches within 2-3 seconds. The battery life is acceptable for what it is, and I’m happy with that compromise for having a lighter device. I’m still optimistic, probably because there’s a lot of things about using linux on the desktop that I do also love and have missed.

    Like

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