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The Dell Precision 5520 lets you get to work in Ubuntu 16.04

Dell’s Precision 5520 is one of the very few laptops to offer a Linux distribution as a pre-installed operating system. Another is Dell’s XPS 13 Developer Edition, which offers great performance in a compact size. For people wanting something a little more powerful, the Precision 5520 (which starts at $1,399 but is $2,765.50 as configured) packs workstation levels of power while remaining just shy of four pounds (3.93, to be exact). 

Harmonious hardware

This is actually the second Precision 5520 PCWorld has received. A first unit suffered two indignities. First, Dell installed the wrong Linux kernel that didn’t have all the updated drivers it needed. Second, we failed to follow up with Dell when we had problems with the Wi-Fi, keyboard shortcuts, and display brightness.

If nothing else, the mixup with the Precision 5520 showed just how bad an experience can be on really good hardware if the appropriate drivers aren’t supplied. It also showed why simply installing a Linux distro on a machine meant for Windows (along with Secure Boot and all the nonsense that entails), really doesn’t offer the same experience as a machine that’s shipped with Linux in mind. Fighting with hardware is one of the reasons people avoid Linux, after all.

PCWorld regrets the errors, and we’re happy to report the second unit is a complete departure from the experience we had before. The Ubuntu animation for the new installation played the familiar boopy-beepy music. I was able to connect to my home network the way I expect NetworkManager to, without a hitch. The screen brightness was controllable from the hardware keys, though Ubuntu still didn’t seem to like the Windows key or the Search key to open up the universal search pane.

Performance starts with the body

The Precision 5520 is a different class of laptop than the XPS 13, and it shows. The device is physically bigger, looking more like an XPS 15, with Dell’s aluminum and smooth matte-black touches all around.

Alex Campbell

Of course, most of your time with the PC will be spent looking at the screen, and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s a bright 3840×2160 (4K) touchscreen that keeps things sharp in its 15 diagonal inches of real estate.The screen’s bezel is slim, meaning that more of that expanse is taken up with actual pixels. To that end, Dell has placed the webcam near the hinge, allowing the screen to extend further up top. Just be warned, this means the camera will be looking up at you, ready to cast awkward shadows and highlight any flaws in your neck and chin. 

The palm-rest area features something many users won’t be accustomed to: an Intel Xeon logo (in place of the more common Core i5 or Core i7 branding), which indicates right away that this machine is all about the cores—of which there are eight—and not necessarily the clocks (although the 2.9GHz clock speed isn’t shabby). In fact, the Precision’s Xeon demolished the Core-grade CPU in the 2015 XPS 13 Developer Edition I used for comparison. The extra cores and higher clocks really paid off in CPU-intensive tasks like kernel compilation and file compression.

The PC also comes with a hefty helping of RAM, to the tune of 32GB. That’s a lot more than the average user will need, but it’s a big advantage for workstation loads, saving the system from having to hit the swap space (virtual memory) on the storage drive.

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