Dell XPS 13 9350 BIOS Not Installing Solution

You can download the BIOS update as an .exe file from Dell's support website. In my case, running it would just throw the computer into a black screen and not do anything.

First, to escape from the black screen error, hold down the power button to turn it off. Release, then hold it down again for 10 seconds to power it back on normally. The 10 second depress apparently resets something. 

You can install the BIOS update through the pre-OS BIOS interface.

Prepare for it by copying the file to the partition first. How? Run CMD as administrator, enter "mountvol X: /s".  This will mount the EFI partition on drive X. You can't access it via Explorer but you can still access it through CMD. Use the copy command to copy the bios update exe file to the EFI partition. 

Restart and hit F12 during the Dell logo start screen. Select BIOS update, find the update file you copied to your EFI partition and voila!

Microsoft Surface Book 2015 vs Thinkpad X1 Carbon 3rd Gen 2014 vs Dell XPS 13 9350 2015

A summary of my experiences with the Microsoft Surface Book 2015 vs Thinkpad X1 Carbon (3rd Gen) 2014 vs Dell XPS 13 9350 2016. 

 

I recently lost my Surface Book, left the damn thing in a cab like an idiot. I still owned my old X1 Carbon (3rd Gen) so I went back to it for a week but decided to try a Dell XPS 13, something that’s always been on my bucket list.  

 

My ideal laptop:

  1. 13-14” screen, QHD or higher, 90+% sRGB colour gamut, 300+ nits brightness
  2. 6 hours of battery
  3. SD card reader
  4. Discrete graphics
  5. i7 / 16GB RAM / 512GB SSD minimum
  6. Approx weight 3 lb
  7. Excellent keyboard and trackpad or trackpoint

 

Thinkpad X1 Carbon

  • At the time, there was no 16GB spec available, but there is now.
  • Great keyboard and pointing options
  • No discrete GPU
  • No card reader
  • Decent battery life
  • Good screen, 14” but could be brighter and with better contrast
  • Great form factor
  • Great build quality

I really liked the X1 Carbon. I’m still holding out hope that the X1 Yoga with an OLED display will be my ultimate machine. I’ve been looking at the 2016 options and it doesn’t seem like they’re using a significantly better panel from the 2014/2015 options. My main concern with the X1 series is the brightness of the panel. Having become accustomed to using 300+ and even 350+ nit screens, it’s hard to go back. In certain situations, it’s just nicer to have that extra brightness, especially with a matte panel. The upcoming OLED display option that will hopefully be released in June 2016 may be the ultimate option for me in this current generation of Ultrabooks.

 

Microsoft Surface Book

  • i7 / 16GB / 512 GB SSD spec available
  • Great battery life
  • One of the best screens I’ve ever used on a sub 15” laptop
  • SD card reader. It’s not full depth but you can use short SD cards that will sit flush with the body as a way to expand storage.
  • Discrete GPU helpful for games and for Lightroom and Photoshop processing
  • Good keyboard
  • Pretty good form factor. It’s reasonably small but the gap did bother me.
  • I never used it as a tablet.
  • Quirky form factor

I want to elaborate on this a little. There are some interesting quirks to the design that I understood the logic for and I feel has implications on traditional clamshell laptop design. There are also some issues with the design that are not well thought through.

Everyone fixates on the hinge design. It’s interesting, it works well and its solid. No issues with it.

The power button is on the top edge of the laptop. This bothered me a LOT. You want to pick up the laptop by its spine, hinge in palm. That means the power button is facing away from your hand. You want to put the laptop into a bag with the spine upwards, but that means the power button is facing down and is easily depressed. I constantly found myself turning the laptop on by accident by putting it into my bag.

Because it’s a tablet hybrid and the tablet portion needs speakers, the speakers are mounted to the left and right of the screen. This was weirdly refreshing. I never felt the audio was muffled because it was coming right at me.

Main guts are in the tablet portion but GPU and extra batteries are in the keyboard dock. I could see this working for traditional clamshell designs as a way to mitigate heat issues. I never felt the machine too warm when under heavy load because the load was mostly behind the screen with only a portion of the heat generated from the part touching my hands and lap. I’d love to see this concept explored further in a regular clamshell design.

Overall, it’s not a bad machine. I never used it as a tablet. I don’t see the appeal of using Windows 10 as a tablet but that’s just me. I would probably buy this machine again if they had it as just a vanilla, high spec laptop with no touch screen or detachable-feature feature.

When it was released, it had SO MANY PROBLEMS. It was pretty disgusting just how many issues it had. In its original form, the machine was simply not usable. I kept my X1 Carbon in service parallel to the Surface Book for nearly a month. They eventually solved most issues with software and firmware updates. Up until when I lost it, I was still having issues with the computer not going to sleep properly.

It’s bizarre that Microsoft can put out amazing hardware and the software cannot keep up. You’d think their flagship would have its shit together.

 

Dell XPS 13

  • i7 / 16GB / 512 GB SSD spec available
  • Iris 540 graphics available, but supposedly it will throttle itself from excessive heat production. There was a bit of writing about it on Notebookcheck.net. My version has the more basic 520 graphics.
  • Good panel, not as good as the Surface Book but definitely ahead of the X1 Carbon, amazingly thin bezel.
  • Great form factor. Flying in economy from time to time, it’s really helpful to have a shorter screen that won’t be hit by the seat in front of you. It really feels like a 12” laptop but with a 13” screen.
  • Keyboard is ok, I wish it was a bit firmer. Nothing beats the Thinkpad keyboard.
  • Trackpad is good.
  • Battery life is a little measly. I sprung for the QHD screen and while it’s sharp and beautiful, it does drain the battery significantly faster.
  • Webcam is bottom left, below the screen. It doesn’t bother me, but surprisingly many people comment on how awkward it is when we video chat. 
  • SD card reader. It’s not full depth but you can use short SD cards that will sit flush with the body as a way to expand storage.
  • It has USB-C! It’s USB-C + Thunderbolt, you should be able to hook up an external graphics card, such as the Razer Core, to it. You can charge it via USB C as well. I’m working on trying to buy a USB C laptop adapter (you need a 20v / 45w adapter minimum). The Macbook one is only 30W, which is insufficient, it has to be 45W minimum. Google’s Chromebook Pixel 2 uses a 60W which works, otherwise there’s a 3rd party 45W one.

I've spent about three weeks using the XPS 13, it's generally been pretty good with two caveats: 

I have noticed at extreme temperatures, like when I am using Skype for long periods of time or trying to record and encode video using PlayOn, the WiFi or the webcam will just stop working until the machine cools down again. In the case of the webcam, the image will go blank though the machine still recognizes the hardware as present. I can actually make the image reappear by applying pressure to the corner of the laptop near the power plug. I think it might be something funky with the wiring but it's not very reassuring! As for the WiFi, when under heavy load and hitting high temperatures, the adapter itself will stop working and become unavailable in Device Manager. I haven't tested this extensively yet but there are a few reports of this online, fixable by physically replacing the WiFi adapter. 

 

What’s Next?

Other machines I considered:

Another Surface Book since I quite liked it but the little quirks from it being a hybrid design made me think twice.

  1. ASUS laptops but there doesn’t seem to be anything too compelling this current generation.
  2. Thinkpads are great in all ways except the screen, hopefully the X1 Yoga with the OLED screen will be the ultimate form.
  3. Razer Blade and Stealth – pretty good but a little too big and heavy for the blade and the screen is a little too small for the Stealth.
  4. Macbook Pro 13 – I used to use Macbooks with Windows installed and I thought they worked quite well. Power management wasn’t as good as it could be with Mac’s Windows drivers but other than that, they had great screens and keyboards. I’d be curious to see what the next generation brings. 
  5. VAIO Flip – the screen is great but the keyboard is not. I tried one out last time I was in Tokyo.
  6. HP Envy and Spectre ranges – I didn’t see any 16GB RAM options plus the keyboard is not great.

 

For the time being, I’ll stick to the XPS 13 but I'm definitely going back to Thinkpads. The X1 Yoga with an OLED panel is now available for purchase so I've put one on order for myself. I write a lot, so it'll be great to go back to that quality keyboard. It would be amazing to one day see a Thinkpad X2xx series with Dell’s XPS 13 panel!

Gmelius

Have you ever noticed that white gap on the right side of the window in Gmail? I highlighted it red to make it clearer ... It's where the People widget is meant to go but if you disable the widget, it doesn't actually close that gap. I stumbled on an excellent extension that solves this and more ... Gmelius, check it out. 



Surface Book Review Update #4 - all good in the hood

I've made my peace with the machine. Seems stable, haven't had any glaring issues. Sometimes the keyboard/trackpad are unresponsive from sleep but I can fix that by closing the lid and opening it again.

I have noticed some people complaining about the laptop not sleeping properly. I have experienced that once or twice but I think the issue is complicated by the fact that the power button is on the top of the machine. If you slip it into your bag with that power button facing down, you will obviously wake it as a result. Might be best to store the machine hinge down and power button up. 

Long story short - buy? I think the machine has a ton of potential, but I'm not sure I could recommend it to noobs. It's seriously beautiful hardware, both in terms of spec and fit and finish. If the software cooperates, as it has for me, then I think it's worth buying. 

Surface Book Review Update #3

There's a review out there that described the machine as a "beautiful psychotic girlfriend". I can totally sympathize. The feeling of the SB's hardware remains impeccable. The fit and finish is great, I enjoy typing on the keyboard more and more and the trackpad is sound. The hinge and the detachable screen are solid, I have no concerns about durability. I have to commend the speaker design, too. As a result of the 2-in-1 design, the speakers have to follow the screen unit and so they face directly to the user, hidden to the left and right of the screen. Most laptops would hide speakers on the underside of the machine which often muffles the sound. 
However, the reliability of the machine leaves a lot to be desired. 

Detatching the screen seems to be ok but reattaching the screen has about a 50% chance of causing the computer to lock up. 

Waking from sleep, the keyboard and mouse are sometimes inoperable. I have to close the lid and reopen it before it will work again. Bear in mind, I am setup for the lid not to sleep if it is closed.

My screen will occassionally start wavering in brightness, despite me having Adaptive Brightness turned off. I have checked all my power settings to see if I missed something that might be causing it but to no avail. I know Intel has some further settings in this regard but on my install, there is no Intel control panel for me to access any other settings.

I will occassionally have the Auto-Rotate notification flash repeatedly and without stopping for no apparent reason. I have only managed to fix this by restarting the machine.

Finally, and perhaps most distressing of all: I continue to wonder if there is a problem with temperature control for the machine. In my previous Surface Book, which I exchanged for this current one, I was installing Adobe apps via Creative Cloud, syncing my Dropbox files and also playing videos off a portable external HD hooked up via USB. I couldn't complete this process because either the USB drive would stop responding and take the entire system with it, or the machine would just freeze. 

I noticed that the machine was getting extremely hot during this process. Adobe installs can be quite intensive on a machine. The installer packages are downloaded in compressed form and then decompressed and installed. At the same time, Dropbox's syncing puts a lot of load on a machine's IO. Playing video is further load on top of that. 

I exchanged my SB on the 18th and started with a new SB, which seemd to have an incomplete setup from the factory. It did not boot to the normal First Use screens, but prompted a username and password for "Other User" that meant I was totally locked out of the system. I had to reset and restore the machine myself. I previously mentioned my first SB would randomly freeze. This is a documented issue, acknowledged by Microsoft and apparently fixed in a patch that came out on the 18th. I did all the updates to the new machine including the latest Microsoft patches before my own personal setup. I wonder if the first machine was fine but just needed the patches. Searching for answers online, I found reports of people exchanging their machines and apparently being free of the freezing issue as a result, though I can't confirm it. 

I went through the same routine of Adobe installs, Dropbox syncing and playing video. Again, the system got very hot, but thanks to the patches the machine did not freeze. It However, my Adobe installs would fail, citing corrupt data, and my video would also stop playing after a while. Windows would show "Waiting for a response" from Explorer windows and from Media Player and eventually all I could do was turn the machine off and start all over again. I eventually got through it all by doing each task individually, thus reducing CPU and IO load. 
I haven't had a chance to run benchmark programs that might stress the machine in a more controlled way, I will try and get round to it next week. I wasted enough time trying to get this machine operational in the first place!

I will end this on a positive note - the power adapter is very nicely designed. It's very compact and has a built in USB port, so you can charge your phone without using up a valuable USB port on the computer. Hurray.

Surface Book Review Update #2

Just opened up my replacement ... doesn't go into normal startup ... instead there's a login prompt for "Other User". I don't think it's a used machine, maybe the factory image choked?

Also ... stylus doesn't work out the box. Great.

New Laptop Time - Dell XPS 15 vs Microsoft Surface Book

Time for me to scratch my hardware itch again ... 

Moving from a Thinkpad X1 Carbon, really fantastic machine, but just want a better screen and a little more horsepower. 

I've now bought:
XPS 15, i7, 16gb, 512gb
Surface Book, i7, 16gb, 512gb

The Microsoft store in NYC has units of both in stock, even for the high end configurations. I had an XPS 15 on order, scheduled for a December delivery but when I went to the MS store to check out the book in real life, they had the XPS 15 available so I pulled the trigger on one as well. I asked and it's a 30 days, no restocking fee return policy which is great!

Observations so far:

I still prefer the Thinkpad keyboard over the two machines. The SB has a slightly stiffer keyboard, feels like a Macbook Pro keyboard. The XPS is not bad, but a little bit mushy, especially in the space bar. 

The screens on both machines are really spectacular. One of the reasons I wanted the XPS 15 is because I've always dreamed of having a 15" screen in a lightweight machine. That been said, the SB's squarer format is quite refreshing. With the screens open, the SB actually has the same vertical height as the XPS because of the format, I wonder if this will cause issues with reclining seatbacks when using the laptop on a plane. 

The weight of both machines are a little surprising, but then again, I'm used to my X1 Carbon's 3lb weight. The SB feels a touch heavier and the XPS noticeably more at 4.5lb. It may be the deal breaker for me on the XPS but I'll give it a few more days. 

The hinge on the SB is super interesting and a lot sturdier than I expected. I heard some reports that the screen wobbles a bit if you're typing. I assumed it would be attributable to the top heavy nature of a 2-in-1 design. In reality, no such issues. 

I thought using the SB as a tablet would be a total gimmick and waste of time. However, I have actually used it a few times in that format when I just want to sit around and read or watch something. It is not that heavy, 1.6lb which is almost the same as the original iPad. Quite amazing given the screen is nearly 3" bigger!

FIt and finish on the XPS is good but on the Surface, it's really something else. Easily equivalent to a Macbook, which remains the standard by which construction should be judged, and a much more complex design as well. 

On the SB, still haven't tested the stylus properly yet. 

As for issues:

I did experience a freeze on the SB earlier today. Not a crash or a blue screen but a complete hardware lockup, which was a little worrying. Some searching online showed that some units may be defective which causes this issue. I'm intending to use the machine all day to see if the issue crops up again. 

The XPS 15's wireless card doesn't seem to wake from sleep properly. I did manage to fix it without a restart by disabling and enabling the device in system manager. There's probably a driver fix I can apply to make it all better. 

Update 2015-11-18 12PM

Trying to stress test the SB, been using it all morning. No more freezes, seems like that one from earlier was just an anomaly. However, a few disconcerting errors.

1. Hooked up an external HD to go through some files and play some videos. Video played for about 10 minutes before crapping out and almost taking the computer with it. It acts as if the IO requests to the hard drive are being delayed or not reaching at all. I have two theories:

  • 1. It's an insufficient power thing, maybe something is wrong with the USB ports? I tried both ports, problem persists with both.
  • 2. Is it a heat thing? I noticed as I was trying to play the video, the system was cranking hard, fans fully on and the back of the machine gets extremely hot.

2. Ejecting the screen and putting it back in crashes the machine fairly consistently. 

Update 2015-11-18 3PM

Ahhh ... so disappointing. Just had another freeze. Going to try and swap the machine out. Really loving my X1 Carbon now, haha!

Update 2015-11-18 6PM

Called up Microsoft, organized a return, return was super painless. Nice!

Dropbox is magic ...

I'm no pro but sometimes my photos get published. Recently, I needed to find an image for publication that I had showed to the editor. The image was first rejected and then later requested. Unfortunately, since it was rejected, I just deleted it. Luckily, my entire photos folder is synced with Dropbox so that I could recall the deleted file through Dropbox's online interface. A quick search later and there it was. 

Increasingly, I have been backing all of my personal files into the cloud. It helps maintain consistency across all my computers and it can be a real life saver in times like these!

Nexus 5X First Two Week Review

Overall - happy with it.

I thought the fingerprint reader was going to be useless but holy hell is it useful. I use it as the on-button, it saves me a swipe to get into the phone and it acts as authorization for Google Play purchases. 

I was worried the battery life would be terrible but actually it's been fine. Not great, but fine. can get through a day of use. The standby seems to go forever which is impressive. 

USB-C is a little annoying. There is a lot of variation in the quality of the cables and although the Google one is great, the 3rd party one I got was a bit lousy. I guess time will catch up but what the hell do I do with all of these other micro USB cables I have ... 

I feel like the audio output is a little weak. It doesn't drive my headphones as well and the sound feels a little off compared to my Sony's and Samsung's. 

Prepaid SIM Cards in Japan

For those travelling to Japan and thinking of using a prepaid SIM card, a few things worth noting:

1. I've tried B-Mobile, it's pretty slow. Softbank's one is decent as is UMobile, available from 7-Eleven.

2. It might be worth getting a Voice/Data SIM rather than a data only SIM. Why? Let's say you're using Line or WhatsApp or anything that might require sending you an SMS for authentication purposes. You will not be able to receive those SMSes with a data SIM ... whereas a voice SIM will work even if you're out of credit. 

3. Watch out for the bands your phone is enabled for. Make sure they match up with at least a few of the bands used by whoever you're planning on getting a SIM from. 

Grey Market Phones

I want to call out grey market sellers in HK out on this, because it's really irritating me. My housekeeper was sold a Lenovo S90-U, which is hardware-wise a decent, affordable phone but its "-U" moniker means it's designed for domestic China use. The Android operating system software has been purposely crippled to satisfy local requirements. No Google apps are installed and other features have been clumsily hacked off, such as changing APN settings disabled, system software updates crashing the settings panel, etc. I found all this out trying to help configure her phone for use in Japan using a prepaid SIM. The phone would probably be fine for use in China but to sell this phone outside of China is basically ripping people off.

Warning to everyone ... if you're buying a phone, please pay attention to what locale it was originally designed for, especially if that locale is China. Other than software pitfalls, there are also other hidden downsides like not getting the right antenna bands for use in your locale.

As for the grey market sellers, you guys suck for trying to rip off my housekeeper.

Windows 10 Day 1

Install was painless, everything seems to work on my X1 Carbon so far ... 

Somehow feels more responsive than Windows 8.1 and I have uninstalled Start8 and ModerMix (software that replaced the old Start menu and improved functionality for Metro apps)

Switched from Samsung Galaxy S6 to S6 Active, huge improvement!

S6 ... great phone, a little bit fragile (broke the screen once already) and utterly rubbish battery life. Just switched to the S6 Active. It's marginally larger than the S6, but has all the same specs PLUS waterproofing, a generally more resilient build, an extra shortcut button and a 3,500 mAh battery compared with the insufficient 2,600 mAh in the standard S6.

When I say resilient build, I refer to reinforced bumper corners, a raised lip along the edge of the screen, making a face down drop much less dangerous (that's how I broke my S6), and the back is rubberized plastic for extra grippiness.

You can buy the AT&T version unlocked at full price and then unlock it via the AT&T website. I'm using it on my provider in Hong Kong (Smartone) with no issues. The unlock page is here:

https://www.att.com/deviceunlock/

Fill the fields out, wait 2 business days, and you're set.

BATTERY, BATTERY, BATTERY, BATTERY

Samsung Galaxy S6 Active Unlocked

Sony Z3 Compact vs Samsung Galaxy S6 - 13/05/2015 Update

1/5/2015 First notes

Samsung did a great job but the battery life is garbage. Way to ruin a good phone!
I'm in Tokyo on business and I don't have access to chargers that much, down to 10% from just using it 11AM to 7PM. What the hell! I'm even locked onto 3G signals only to save some battery life.
So tempted to go back to my, Z3C but ugh, this camera and screen are so nice...

13/5/2015 Update

The battery life continues to be an issue. With relatively light use, I am getting about a work day but dangerously low in the evenings. GPS is a surprisingly huge draw. I was using a lot of Google Maps while I was in Japan a few weeks ago and it was very annoying having to top up all the time.

That been said, I don't think I can go back to the Z3C. The G6 is undoubtedly better in the camera department and I use it all the time for work and play. The screen, form factor and fit and finish are also awesome. It doesn't feel fragile so I haven't felt the need to put it in a case yet. The glass back, which I hate because of potential durability issues, has held up fine and the colour of it is beautiful, a deep shade of blue/black depending on how you hold it. Bizarre that I like it so much but there you go.

The phone will launch the camera if you double press the home button ... such a great feature, I don't know why no-one else thought of this!

What I learned: Samsung reverses the App Switch button and the Back button from what I'm used to. There's an app called All in One Gestures that allows you to switch them as well as any hardware button. 

2015/05/23 Update 

Well, battery life barely lasted me a five hour car ride. Also, dropped my phone once and the screen cracked badly but is still usable. Those drop videos they have online are bullshit!