Ten months ago (March 2009) I got a new work notebook to replace a broken and out of warranty Thinkpad T41.  After going back and forth between the Lenovo Thinkpad x61s and the Dell XPS M1330 I decided on the M1330.  I picked the XPS because I could get double the cpu speed and drive size with a wide screen display plus an extra nine cell battery for less money.  This was just around the time the Thinkpad X400 was coming out and it was too new to find any good reviews.  I started this post around the time I got the XPS and now seems like a good time to finish it.

Here is what I like:

  • The display is excellent–very crisp and bright with and I like the wide screen aspect
  • Very light with standard battery
  • It’s great to have a fast, KVM capable notebook that runs multiple guests effortlessly.
  • Suspend and hibernate work 90% of the time.

Here is what I wish was different:

  • The ‘Home’ ‘Page Up’ and other navigation keys are all in a vertical line down the right side of the keyboard–It’s bizarre, but I’ve mostly gotten used to it.
  • Battery life has seriously faded–running under Vista (on very rare occasions) I’m lucky to get one hour of use out of the regular battery.  Running Fedora I can stretch the same battery to two hours by cranking all the settings in powertop.  When I first got the battery I could get three hours out of it.  The same rapid decline has happened with the nine cell battery. I don’t travel that much with this notebook and I exercise the batteries occasionally.  This is disappointing.
  • The DVD drive failed after one month–the repair tech thought maybe the drive cable wasn’t completely seated at the factory, but he replaced it anyway since he had to take the whole machine a part to get to the drive.  Seeing one of these machines taken completely apart is a marvel!
  • The keyboard feels cheap.  Since the DVD drive was replaced the bottom right part of the keyboard rattles and feels a little loose.

Overall I’ve been pleased though a good part of me is looking forward to three years from now when the warranty is up on I can go back to a Lenovo. There is something about the XPS that just feels cheap and fragile compared to sturdy construction of the Thinkpads I’ve owned.  This impression comes mostly from the feel and sound of the keyboard and plastic part of the case.  To its credit, this is the most well constructed Dell notebook I’ve owned.

My original objective was to keep Vista installed and dual boot.  It is nice to have Windows around for the occasional required use and for watching movies.  I ran into some problems shrinking the hard disk.  The 320G drive came pre-formatted with all four partitions in use.  This meant I couldn’t add an extended partition. There are probably faster ways to do this, but here is how I reclaimed space on the drive:

1. From Vista, selected, Start → Computer → Manage → Shrink.  This reduced the size of the Vista partition by 50%, to 160G free, but it would not allow me to make it any smaller.  My goal for the Vista partition was 40G.

2. I booted and ran Parted Magic to see if it could help.  gparted couldn’t read the partition because it said there are errors. It couldn’t fix them.

3. Rebooted into Vista and ran a full Windows file system scan.  This fixed the errors.

4. Booted Parted Magic again and after about 30 minutes successfully resized the partition to the desired size.  It appears that Vista and the installed software that came from Dell take up 20G of space which seems extreme compared to the footprint of a Linux install.

5. Rebooted into Vista to see what kind of damage I did. It churned for 1.5 hours (no joke) to “repair itself”… rebooting several times, rechecking the file system, etc.  At the end everything worked fine.

6. Booted into the Fedora installer from a USB key.  From the installer I removed the “Windows direct media” partition so that I could combine it with the other free space and  designate it as an extended partition for Fedora.

7. Modified grub to boot Vista from the correct partition (one greater than what the installer guessed at).

Thanks to the post at http://equivocation.org/node/96 that helped me get through some of this.

I’m running Fedora 11 now and it runs pretty good on the XPS for the most part.