In my first article, “Setup of a dedicated server with Ansible,” I mentioned that I had been a satisfied Windows user for decades. However, a few weeks ago, I had the following problem: I wanted to try Project Loom, an implementation of lightweight threads (“fibers”) and continuations in Java.
The project is still in the development phase, and you can download it only as source code. Unfortunately, I was not able to compile it on Windows, not even on the Linux subsystem. The installer recognizes that it runs under Windows and therefore uses the Windows directory structure and searches for a java.exe. Sure, the installer is also available as source code, and I could have adapted it.
On the other hand, I have been thinking about Linux on the desktop for a while now. It would also save me the overhead of the Linux subsystem, the MobyLinuxVM for Docker and Putty.
The first questions to answer were:
- Is the software I’m working with available for Linux?
- Which Linux distribution should I install?
- Which desktop environment?
- On which hardware should I install it?
Is my software available for Linux?
I mainly use the following programs:
- Chrome – exists in an unofficial variant, but this one is quite unstable; Chromium is available as a Chrome alternative for Linux
- Eclipse and IntelliJ – available
- Slack – available
- OBS and Davinci Resolve (video editing) – available
- GIMP (image editing) – available
- Docker – available; runs under Windows in a Linux VM
- Ansible – available; runs in Windows 10 Linux subsystem
- Git – available
- TortoiseGit (Windows Explorer integration for Git) – not available, but there are many Linux alternatives, e.g., SmartGit or GitKraken
- MySQL, PostgreSQL, Elasticsearch – available
- Putty (SSL client) – not needed in Linux
Choosing a Linux distribution
On the server-side, I use Debian. So it would be obvious to use Debian on the client as well. On the other hand, I would like to try something new. It should be a reasonably widespread distribution. With exotics, you always have the problem that the community is small and the presence of bugs is more likely (simply because there are fewer users to find them).
Developers often gladly recommend Arch Linux or the currently somewhat hyped Arch derivative, Manjaro. The decision between the two is quick: I don’t want to spend hours with a command-line based installation, so I choose Manjaro.
Choosing a Linux Desktop Environment
The most common desktop environments are KDE, Gnome, and Xfce. I do not have extensive experience with any of the three. Since Xfce is especially recommended for low-performance computers, I’ll take a closer look at the other two desktop environments.
KDE is based on Windows and should be more intuitive for me to use. Because of this and because Gnome should be controllable almost exclusively via the keyboard, I am more curious about Gnome and decided to start with it. The beautiful thing about Linux is that you can always install another desktop environment.
There are two reasons I want to install my new operating system on new hardware:
First of all, it makes the switch more comfortable, as I undoubtedly need a while until the operating system works the way I want it to. Also, I need my previous laptop to work during that time.
Furthermore, my last purchase was, unfortunately, a failure. I had MIFCOM assemble a laptop from a Clevo Barebone and high-quality components. Unfortunately, the components are not perfectly coordinated. The battery doesn’t last an hour, although the CPU gets unbearably slow in battery mode, and the fans even drown out my vacuum cleaner!
A few years ago, I had a laptop configured by Schlenker, and it was deafening. In between, I had systems from Asus and MSI. I was much happier with them. Therefore, I limited my research to laptops from well-known manufacturers.
I have been working with 17-inch laptops for over ten years, mainly since I worked a lot on the move until a few years ago. Now, I’m mostly sitting at my desk and have two 27″ monitors connected. That’s why I would like to test a 15.6-inch laptop.
- Stylish design, low weight
- Quiet fan!
- Current i7 processor of the H-series
- 32 GB RAM + 2 TB SSD; since this is only offered in the price segment above 3,000€, alternatively a device, with which RAM and SSD are easily exchangeable
For the sake of completeness, I visited the Apple site and left it quickly after Apple spit out the price for my desired configuration: 4,719 Euros, believe it or not! I guessed I could get the same performance for half the price!
After an hour of research, I had compiled the following shortlist:
- MSI GS65 Stealth (I already had an MSI GS72 once and was very happy with it)
- MSI P65 Creator (almost identical model, in other colors)
- Dell XPS 15 9570
- Asus ZenBook Pro UX550 or UX580
- HP ZBook Studio G5
I excluded the HP directly again because, with the same configuration, it is about 20 percent more expensive than the other devices. The ASUS is also out of the shortlist again, as it only has a maximum of 16 GB RAM and you cannot expand the RAM. After reading some reviews, I decided on the Dell device, first because it should be better processed than the MSI devices and secondly, the exchange of RAM and SSD at MSI requires that you remove and reinstall the motherboard, which wouldn’t be easy for untrained people and risks damaging the device. With the Dell, however, RAM and SSD are directly accessible on the underside.
I ordered the Dell XPS 15 9570 in the smallest version with 8 GB RAM and 256 GB SSD (model CTXKW) – plus 32 GB RAM and a Samsung 970 EVO Plus with 2 TB:
- DELL XPS 15 9570, Model CTXKW: 1.505,00 € at MediaMarkt
- Samsung 970 Evo Plus – 2000 GB: 457,84 € at JACOB Elektronik
- Crucial 32 GB Memory Kit (DDR4, PC4-21300): 189,90 € at Amazon
Total: 2,152.74 Euros – that’s even 200 Euros less than half the MacBook price! Irrespective of the fact that I would theoretically have to deduct the removed 8 GB RAM and 256 GB SSD from the price.
Well, I didn’t consider the MacBook’s Retina display. The Dell with UHD/4K resolution (60% more pixels than Retina) is available for 1,949.00€, which is 444 € more. That would put my total at €2,596.74, or 55 percent of the MacBook price. Theoretically, I could subtract the 16 GB RAM and the 512 GB SSD.
Tip: Even if there is a suitable variant of the Dell XPS 15 for you, for example, with 16 GB RAM and 500 GB SSD, then it is still cheaper to take the smaller variant and buy the RAM and SSD. Dell is making a good margin on those extras.
It’s time for me to install Linux on my desktop. I ordered a Dell XPS 15 9570 and will install Manjaro Linux with the Gnome Desktop Environment on it to work with it for a while and possibly switch from Windows to Linux in the long run.
While I wait for the laptop (“delivery within one to two working days”), I will familiarize myself with the installation of Linux. You can read the most important basics in part 2: Linux Installation Basics: BIOS, UEFI, MFB, GPT, GRUB, SEDs, LUKS.
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