​Linus Torvalds reveals his favorite programming laptop

It's the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition. Here's why.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

I recently talked with some Linux developers about what the best laptop is for serious programmers. As a result I checked out several laptops from a programmer's viewpoint. The winner in my book? The 2016 Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition. I'm in good company. Linus Torvalds, Linux's creator, agrees. The Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition, for him, is the best laptop around.

2016 Dell XPS 13

Linus Torvald's new favorite laptop is the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition.


Torvald's requirements may not be yours though.

On Google+, Torvalds explained, "First off: I don't use my laptop as a desktop replacement, and I only travel for a small handful of events each year. So for me, the laptop is a fairly specialized thing that doesn't get daily (or even weekly) use, so the main criteria are not some kind of "average daily use", but very much "travel use".

Therefore, for Torvalds, "I end up caring a lot about it being fairly small and light, because I may end up carrying it around all day at a conference. I also want it to have a good screen, because by now I'm just used to it at my main desktop, and I want my text to be legible but small."

The Dell's display is powered by Intel's Iris 540 GPU. In my experience it works really well.

The Iris powers a 13.3 inch display with a 3,200×1,800 touchscreen. That's 280 pixels per inch, 40 more than my beloved 2015 Chromebook Pixel and 60 more than a MacBook Pro with Retina.

However, getting that hardware to work and play well with the Gnome desktop isn't easy. As Torvalds explained in another post, it "has the same resolution as my desktop, but apparently because the laptop screen is smaller, Gnome seems to decide on its own that I need an automatic scaling factor of 2, which blows up all the stupid things (window decorations, icons etc) to a ridiculous degree".

The solution? You can forget about looking to the user interface. You need to go to the shell and run: gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface scaling-factor 1.

Torvalds may use Gnome, but he's never liked the Gnome 3.x family much. I can't argue with him. That's why I use Cinnamon instead.

He also wants "a reasonably powerful CPU, because when I'm traveling I still build the kernel a lot. I don't do my normal full 'make allmodconfig' build between each pull request like I do at home, but I'd like to do it more often than I did with my previous laptop, which is actually (along with the screen) the main reason I wanted to upgrade."

Linus doesn't describe the features of his XPS 13, but my review unit was a high-end model. It came with dual-core, 2.2GHz 6th Generation Intel Core i7-6560U Skylake processor and 16GBs of DDR3 RAM with a half a terabyte, PCIe solid state drive (SSD). I'm sure Torvalds' system is at least that well-equipped.

Some features you may care about aren't on Torvalds' list.

"What I don't tend to care about is touch-screens, because my fingers are big and clumsy compared to the text I'm looking at (I also can't handle the smudges: maybe I just have particularly oily fingers, but I really don't want to touch that screen).

I also don't care deeply about some 'all day battery life', because quite frankly, I can't recall the last time I didn't have access to power. I might not want to bother to plug it in for some quick check, but it's just not a big overwhelming issue. By the time battery life is in 'more than a couple of hours', I just don't care very much any more."

Dell claims the XPS 13, with its 56wHR, 4-Cell Battery, has about a 12-hour battery life. It has well over 10 in my experience. I haven't tried to run it down to the dregs.

Torvalds also didn't have any trouble with the Intel Wi-Fi set. The non Developer Edition uses a Broadcom chip set and that has proven troublesome for both Windows and Linux users. Dell technical support was extremely helpful to me in getting this problem under control.

Some people have trouble with the XPS 13 touchpad. Neither I nor Torvalds have any worries. Torvalds wrote, the "XPS13 touchpad works very well for me. That may be a personal preference thing, but it seems to be both smooth and responsive."

Still, while Torvalds likes the XPS 13, he's also fond of the latest Lenovo X1 Carbon, HP Spectre 13 x360, and last year's Lenovo Yoga 900. Me? I like the XPS 13 Developer Editor. The price tag, which for the model I reviewed was $1949.99, may keep you from reaching for your credit card.

Still, if you want to develop like one of the world's top programmers, the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition is worth the money.

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