I bought the XPS for programming, and to use as an audio and graphics workstation. I want to video conference with a Mac, so I wanted the built-in webcam. I also opted for the Intel video driver and a 7200 rpm disk. I'm ambivalent towards Dell, but wanted to support its move to preinstall Ubuntu (even though it's ignoring the world outside America) and also to avoid the poor configurations that shops in Christchurch, New Zealand have on their shelves.
I'm wary of the Novell-Microsoft alliance and its Mono moves in GNOME, but chose Ubuntu over Xubuntu for the extras it includes in its vanilla install, like wireless utilities and Ekiga. Kubuntu is a good enough option, but I find that my old friend KDE is a wee bit over the top these days.
What works out of the box
Nearly everything worked for me straight out of the box.
- Wireless networking (with the Intel 3945 driver).
- Wired networking.
- Trackpad, tapping and scrolling.
- Webcam (which surprised me), tested with Ekiga. Choose the built-in USB mic.
- Audio, except the mic jack (more on that below).
- Bluetooth (though I have also installed gnome-bluetooth).
- Most Fn keys and multimedia buttons.
What needs some tweaking
- Video at 1280x800 needs the 915resolution package installed but didn´t require further configuration.
- Microphone input jack.
- There is a lot out there about the problem of the mic input giving no life and there is definitely an issue to be resolved. Alsa gets some flak, but it seems that MS Windows Vista users (poor souls) get a similar problem on occasion. Apparently, Windows prompts the user when a mic is plugged in and asks what the new hardware is, since the modem shares some hardware in the sound system and confuses the OS.
- Here's my workaround for using an external sound source--a mixing desk.
- Disable the internal modem in the BIOS (F2 when the machine boots). This seems to remove the complication of sharing hardware resources with the modem, making the input more reliable, but I stand to be corrected.
- Open Volume Control (double-click on the icon in the top panel), make sure you're using the HDA Intel device from the File menu. Edit Preferences to make sure you're seeing all the device tracks.
- On the Recording tab, mute Mux. I don't know what's being multiplexed, but I presume it's Line and Mic, with the Mux volume essentially adding a boost to when you need it for mics. Un-mute Capture and wind the Capture levels down to whatever works best.
- Shutdown the machine, plug the external sound source into the mic input, then restart.
- In Audacity, for example, choose 'ALSA: front' as the input source and give it a lash. Works for me, but the sound quality is dreadful.
- UPDATE: ALSA and Intel seem to be a poor combination, but by using jackd and the low latency kernel from Ubuntu Studio I now get more joy. When Telecom NZ gives me my next supply of ADSL next month, I'll migrate to Ubuntu Studio completely. In Audacity, choose the jackd input and output options. jackd needs to be started first (I'm using qjackctl). Restarting with the mic input already connected doesn't seem to be necessary now either.
- UPDATE: I've now moved to Ubuntu Studio proper, which is very nice albeit with a load of tools I'll probably not use. Playing around with qjackctl settings has reduced the xruns in jackd (which cause some break-up in the sound) to almost none and all now seems to be good. I can also now use the jackd realtime option.
What I haven't tested
- Ricoh card reader
- I haven't tweaked any power settings yet. Hibernate seems to work fine, so I've set that to happen when the lid closes.
- Battery life seems to be about three hours of constant use (typing and web browsing).
Just because I can--they made me buy a Windows license--I installed a Windows XP virtual machine with kvm.
- Allow virtualisation in the BIOS.
- Stick the Windows XP disk in the DVD drive.
- apt-get install kvm
- modprobe kvm-intel
- qemu-img create windows.img -f qcow 6G to create the new, empty image with a 6GB harddisk.
- kvm -no-acpi -m 512 -cdrom /dev/cdrom -boot d windows.img to boot the image from the cdrom to install Windows XP.
- kvm -no-acpi -m 512 -cdrom /dev/cdrom windows.img to boot the image from the image´s harddisk.