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.

4 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

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