Goodbye Dell XPS 13, hello Dell XPS 13

Last year, having tried out a Surface Pro 3 and disliking it, I bought a Dell XPS 13 ultrabook as my “travel” computer. This year? Well, Dell refreshed the range, added more memory and and a bigger SSD and suddenly I was looking at my 5-year-old Dell XPS 15z and thinking it was time to replace that. And what better way to replace it by having a single laptop that I used all the time?

The other consideration that factored into the calculation was that the new XPS 13 not only has more “space” but it also supported Thunderbolt 3 through a USB-C port. And Dell had a new Thunderbolt 3 dock available too.

Now the 15z I’ve been using in forever (one, two, three) has had a rough, if sheltered life. Yes, I’ve been upgrading it over the years, but it’s a bugger to get open so the trim is coming loose. It isn’t that great with Windows 10 (for example, I have it plugged into some speakers, but the audio driver doesn’t notice on a reboot, so I have to unplug them and re-plug them in every time), the battery only lasts an hour now, the second SSD (my data drive) is starting to lose blocks with age, and, to be brutal, it hasn’t been that great since I split some beer on the keyboard a couple of years ago (it was the cat jumping on my desk, honest!). I repaired it by replacing the internal speakers, etc, but the keyboard still misses keystrokes (or doubles them). So, all in all, I’ve been thinking that this year is the Year of Retirement for this laptop and have been considering what to do: a new 15-incher or – surprise – a Thunderbolt-equipped XPS 13.

I tried to buy new from Dell. Really I did. But for some reason my order got cancelled and no one at Dell in their Sales department could tell me why. So I went over to eBay and bought a refurbished Dell XPS (9530), maxed out with a Skylake i7-6500U, 16GB RAM, and a 1TB SDD, and saved $600 in doing so. I then bought a Thunderbolt 3 dock from Dell directly (the TB15 dock with a 240W power brick).

Dell XPS 13 (9350)

Dell XPS 13 (9350)

The laptop arrived just before last weekend, so I set I up and installed possibly half the apps I’d been using on the 15z. And then the dock arrived with a complete set of issues in its wake.

Let’s put it like this: setting up the dock is sheer hell at this stage of the game. Or, rather, plugging the dock into its mega-power-brick and then the USB-C cable into the XPS 13 is a doddle, but the problem is it’s flakey as hell. I’d use it for like 15 minutes and then my external screens would flicker, finally going black. My USB devices would no longer be seen. And so on. I’d have to reboot the laptop and cycle the power on the dock.

There’s a whole thread on Reddit about it here from about a month ago. And then there was this one.

However, by this time, I’d found this pinned forum post on the Dell forums that basically had one message “to use your dock, update your drivers, and here’s the ones you need”. For the XPS 13 (9350) model, there were seven updates to apply, including a BIOS update. Each of them required a reboot. (And of course, I shall be monitoring it form now on for the announcements of newer ones to install – ah, life on the edge.)

After a couple of hours working on the system with a couple of screen flickers, I also decided to go for a driver update through DeviceManager as mentioned by this comment.

Since then it seems very stable. I’ve had a couple of flickers, but not to the extent that I was having yesterday when I first plugged the dock into the laptop. I have two external 1080p screens attached, Ethernet, my speakers, a USB hub with all kinds of devices on it (external hard drive, this keyboard and mouse, DVD player, and so on).

What I really like though is that it’s just one thing to plug in. I can unplug the USB-C cable and take the laptop away to use on its own. When I get back I plug in that one cable again and I’m “working from home” once more. Very nice indeed, and worth the problem solving I had to do to get to this point.

(Oh, and the previous XPS 13 is being prepped for sale to recoup some of the outlay.)

Album cover for Sounds from the Thievery Hi-FiNow playing:
Thievery Corporation - The Foundation
(from Sounds from the Thievery Hi-Fi)

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