Hello guys, I just wanted to share my experiences with my new Dell XPS 15 9550. I got it on the 19 (4 days ago, so I’ve had 3 days to play with it- or just get it to work as it were). Just a warning this article is 2450 words long, there is a summery at the end. My 9550 is the most top of the line model they have, I have a:
-1TB PCIe SSD
-16 gigs of RAM
You know the deal…
So anyways, I’m going to list a few problems I’ve had with it so far. These problems span across both Windows and Linux, and just hardware. If you know of a solution to these problems, I’ll be glad to hear it, if you have these problems too, I would love to hear that as well. But honestly most of these problems have to do with how new and uncommon this product is at the moment, so they should go away with time (hence the title of waiting, rather than not getting.)
The first major problem with this computer is that it is not backwards compatible with any OS, what so ever. You are going to be using Windows 10 on it (or maybe Ubuntu if you can get it working, more on that later on). While Dell’s website offers a section for Windows 8.1 it lacks some major drivers, such as, for example, WiFi drivers. The Wifi card on this laptop (at least the Dell Wireless 1830 that I have on my model) does not work with any of the generic Windows drivers, so you either use the one dell gave you which will only work on Windows 10 or you better get used to not having built in Wifi and Bluetooth. My next problem is also with Windows, or rather the Installer. It’s not so much an issue with this computer itself but more with EUFI and OS Installer integration so you can skip this one if you don’t want to hear me complain, but you might find this useful if you plan on reinstalling windows at any point. Many of you by now know that new PCs that you purchase from OEMs no longer have a Windows product key label on them, but instead just a little windows logo sticker, or nothing at all. Well that is due to the fact that your OEM key is integrated into the computer’s UEFI. This makes OEM installations easier because the Windows installer can just grab the key and skip the whole activation step for the user. The issue with Windows installation media though, is that each DVD/USB you use to install Windows actually contains every version of Windows in the product line, but is artificially locked to install only the one it is labeled for. However, if you have an OEM key in your system the check for that is done before the check for a manual product key entrée and if Windows finds a key it automatically installs the version that fits that key. I discovered this when trying to Install Windows 8.1 Pro on a computer that came with Windows 8.1 Core. Even though I used a Windows 8.1 Pro media that I got from Microsoft it installed Core anyways. To bypass this, you need to actually ‘hack’ your Windows installation media and force it to let you choose which OS you want to install, or ignore OEM keys, or both. Well, this computer came with Windows 10 Core but I want some of the features of Windows 10 Pro. I wasn’t going to pay extra for Windows when I could just take a few minutes and install my copy of Windows 8.1 Pro then force it to upgrade for free. I grabbed a fresh Windows 8.1 Pro ISO from Microsoft, put it on my USB, and booted to install Windows on my computer. My thought process was, since there was never Windows 8 on this computer, everything will install fine. Installation went through alright with one exception, it did not ask for a key. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I upgraded to Windows 10, and went to use bitlocker when I noticed it wasn’t available. I checked on my version of Windows and lo and behold! Windows 10 Core. I was shocked, it appears to be that Windows 10 keys are backwards compatible with Windows 8.1? Is this possible? Maybe this is wrong, but it’s the only explanation I could come up with at the moment. So basically I just wasted over 6 hours of my life to get the exact same version of Windows I already had. And obviously I will have to spend even more time properly going through and install Windows 8.1 Pro.
The Installation problems don’t stop there though. This one is related to this computer, or at least whatever EUFI Dell is using on it. I originally made my Windows Installer USB on an NTFS partition. This is a problem apparently, because if you don’t have a full Windows OS on an NTFS partition the Dell firmware apparently does not see it as a valid bootable drive. It took me a while to figure out that I had to format my stick to FAT32. This is a problem in my opinion as FAT is becoming older and older and more obsolete. The funny thing is though, if you enabled legacy mode it actually saw the NTFS drive then, but only in legacy mode. So the older BIOS technology supports bootable media better than the new and revolutionary EUFI. Obviously you do not want to use legacy mode on this laptop, ever. If you do you won’t be able to use GPT and some of Windows 10’s features will not work.
There is another problem that you face after you finally manage to boot into the Windows installer, and that is your 4k screen and lack of support for it. This problem existed in the Windows 8.1 installer and was actually worse on the newer Windows 10 installer. The issue is that fixed sized windows (like the main window in the installer) which cannot be resized, are well, fixed size. This means that they do not scale to fit your screen but rather look like a tiny box in the center. They are literally the same pixel size as they are on any other screen regardless of resolution, this means that with the higher pixel density they look really small. The funny thing is that the EULA and the Partition selection section both scale properly, so you have massive text and HDD icons inside a tiny box that you have to scroll around in. In Windows 8 it at least showed all the button though, in the Windows 10 installer it cuts off some of the navigation buttons and you have to use your keyboard with tabbing around and guessing what you are on to get anywhere. Also very important to note, you will need the SATA drivers from Dell in order to have the M.2 PCIe SSD show up on the list of available storage drives on the installer. I don’t know what the SATA drivers have to do with a PCIe drive, but that is how it works.
Speaking of poor support for your 4K screen, the Intel drivers for their HD Graphics 530 do not support 4K very well. These drivers are very unusable, at one point I had them crash and restart 4 times within a 5-minute span. They also do not support advanced configurations of your screen. They are so unusable in fact that they actually got corrupted and stopped working. Last night I changed my power settings from sleep on screen closing to do nothing, because I wanted to go to bed but let Steam continue downloading games. This morning I was about to leave and closed the screen when I realized it doesn’t put it to sleep anymore. I opened it up again immediately to change the settings back, but the screen remained black. I pressed the power button gently once, and the light and keyboard backlight turned off. I pressed it again and my computer started up form hibernation. Log back in, sleep mode is no longer available. Check device manager, has a yellow exclamation point next to my Intel integrated graphics. I am reinstalling the drivers as we speak. I expect this to happen again at least for a few more weeks until Intel works through all the kinks in its new hardware and the software support that comes with it.
On the subject of problems I am having with things I am doing right now, the right USB port is not right. As you know this computer comes with three USB ports, two standard USB 3.1 ports one on the left and one on the right, and one USB3.1 Rev 2 type C / Thunderbolt 3 port on the left. Well the ports on the left work just as you expect them too, and so does the port on the right, until you plug in an external hard drive into it. Mind you, it has no problems with USB Flash drives, only my SATA III, USB 3 external. When I plug that drive into the right port, the computer doesn’t see it. I take the same drive and plug it into the other USB port on the left and it shows up instantly. Now maybe this is a problem with my computer specifically and I need Dell to send me a new motherboard, it’s possible. But that’s kind of shameful considering I’ve been having this problem since I turned the computer on and they only started shipping them on the 13th.
Speaking of shipping on the 13th, the day these computers were finally shipped off Dell released a patch for the EUFI firmware, talk about Day 0 patches, eh? I’m sure there are a few more coming our way and that they will make this computer way better. Back to the problems with the 4K display. Some of you probably know that Windows has a DPI feature which lets you select the scaling of the DPI to make items look larger on the screen. This is certainly something you need for this computer, because at native resolution text on this 15” 4K screen is too small to read. Well if you have the intel drivers installed (even the generic ones) the default DPI is set to 250% which makes things approximately the size they would be if you were using an equivalently sized 1080p monitor. If you don’t have the intel drivers install, because ahem
they crashed and got corrupted, then the default would be 300% which is more keen to 720p on a 15” monitor. I have mine set to 175% which I feels gives me a lot more screen real-estate but is still large enough for me to be able to read type 11 font and use the touch screen to press buttons. Though this is reset every time the graphics drivers crash, which happens more often than I would like, which is annoying. What makes it more annoying is that to change the DPI you have to log off and log back on, otherwise the scaling of the items on the screen will not be accurate or consistent. My final reason to say wait if you are using Windows, is one I’ve touched upon before, it is the lack of good support for 4K monitors even within the operating system. The 4K scaling problems are not limited to the limited Windows installer, even with a fully patched Windows with the latest drivers many applications do not work properly with 4K. As mentioned before, most fixed sized windows are broken, particularly on older apps. Many programs also have some visual bugs sometimes (like tab highlighting on mouse over on Firefox went to shit a few times, uTorrent 2.2.1 had everything condensed, and a few other problems.) For the record those these are mostly issues with the drivers and will probably be fixed in the upcoming months, hence, wait a bit if you want the 4K screen (or suffer with the rest of us).
Well at least Windows is usable on this computer, Linux on the other hand- not so much. I wanted to install Ubuntu Mate on my laptop alongside Windows. For those of you who don’t know Ubuntu Mate is just a fork of Ubuntu which runs the core OS precompiled with the Mate desktop environment. This is pretty much identical to Installing Ubuntu (15.10 in my case). In fact, you will probably have these problems on all ‘versions’ of Ubuntu, including Lubuntu, Xubuntu, and Kubuntu. Don’t even try installing anything but 15.10 too, because it will most certainly not work. All the proprietary drivers for Ubuntu, both from Nvidia and from Intel, are out dated, I’m not even sure either of them released the drivers for these particular hardware sets, it is probably using older generic drivers. This means there is virtually no support for 4K screens. While you can select the 4K resolution nothing is useable, why you ask? Because the screen won’t stop flashing black. But it’s not just flashing blank and back, its black lines flickering all over the place, dense, spread out, horizontal, vertical, you name it, it’s got it. And the more something changes on the screen (clock changes minute, mouse moves, video plays) the more it flashes and flickers. Also good luck actually installing Ubuntu (I was using the live USB option) because it does not recognize the PCIe drive. I went to gparted and got nothing. I even went to the bios and changed my SATA mode to AHCI from Raid On, it made no difference. I’ve read of other people having success, so maybe it’s just the 1TB drive that has these problems, but that is my experience. I got out before I had enough time to test everything else. I don’t know if WiFi works on Ubuntu, I don’t know how good the touch screen support is, but there was definitely no multi touch on the track pad. The point is if you are looking to use primarily Linux, you should look elsewhere for your new computer, or at least at a more standard model of the new XPS 15, because this one will not work for you, for now.
Well that was long, here is a quick overview of what I said:
- No backwards compatibility
- Poor driver support (particularly for 4K)
- Some hardware problems (could just be me though)
- Linux does not work
Edited to try and improve spacing for better readability. Failed miserably.
Since yesterday, I've been experiencing the following issue with utorrent. Every 30 seconds or so, it makes a loud sound that is played through my speakers and lasts less than one second. It is similar to what you would expect by accidentally hovering quickly over a mouse activated ad or rapidly pressing mute while watching a video or listening to music. The sound goes away when I turn off utorrent, so there is no other app that could be causing this. I am using Windows 10 and this issue only appeared yesterday. I haven't installed or uninstalled any new applications on this computer in weeks.