In the market for an ultrabook

So having recently installed Kubuntu on an old (Ivy Bridge era) HP Elitebook I’ve decided I want an ultrabook lol

I’ve narrowed down my search to a Dell XPS 13 and a MacBook Air. The MacBook is about £100 cheaper than the Dell, but I’m guessing the M1 chip is considerably lower end than the Dell’s Intel i5. They both seem like really nice devices physically.

The specs themselves aren’t important, any serious computing is going to be done on my desktop. I need a good keyboard, a high quality display that’s going to make media consumption enjoyable, and a solid aluminium (or equivalent) construction.

Does anyone have any experience of either (or both) of these particular devices? Is the extra money for the Dell just going on the i5 CPU (vs the M1), or is it a nicer device in general? It does seem that the XPS is more competing with the MacBook Pro rather than the Air, at least on specs.

I assume you want to run Linux, right?

Can the M1 variant of the Macbook Air even run Linux yet? AFAIK the guys at the Asahi Linux project isnt releasing stuff yet so If you just want to run Macs and maybe put Parallels to run VMs for linux, you should be fine. If you want your M1 to be pure Linux, I dont think the fruit is ripe yet.

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A reasonable question, but tbh the OS doesn’t really bother me. If I go with the Dell I’ll get the Ubuntu version and probably install openSUSE Tumbleweed on it, and if I get the MacBook I’ll just learn to use MacOS. I’m fine with either

Depends what you plan on doing with the computer - if you end up using MacOS depending on what youre running you might have substantial software costs.

Maybe list what you’re actually after in terms of hardware and your budget. There might be a better alternative for you. If you want linux im fairly sure System76 have an ultrabook in their lineup.


System76’s pricing is (as far as I can tell, their pricing is in USD, so you have to add shipping and 20% VAT onto it) on par with, if not slightly more than, the XPS so more than the MacBook.

Apple’s £999 pricing is on the lower end of what I’m seeing for ultrabooks generally.

I don’t really have any particular software needs. Like I said, my main computing will be done on my desktop. On paper the two ~£300 laptops I have already acquired are enough for the browsing, media consumption and typing needs. However the screens are awful, dull, 1366x768 with terrible viewing angles (one of them doesn’t actually have a fully functioning backlight), the keyboards are terrible to the point where I can’t type full speed without making typos, the builds are unpleasant and plasticky with an undesirable level of flex. The speakers are noticeably worse than those on my phone.

What I want is a premium-feeling ultrabook that just feels nice to use. I don’t really care if it comes with Linux or not.

Budget is between £1000 - £1100 since that’s what these two laptops cost, I’m just going to save up. I just wondered if anyone had any experience with using them and had a preference.

Well I have a 2020 MBP (last of the intel ones) and as far as speakers, screen, and premium feel goes its fantastic. Battery life is also very good. I would strongly recommend one if it fits the budget, but I have no idea what the T2 chips or M1 cpu’s do in terms of putting linux on it. If youre happy to use MacOS id say go for it - it will also hold value better than anything else. I would also suggest looking at Louis Rossmans channel to make sure that the model you want does not have any significant cooling issues because there was a model of macbook air that was terrible.


I’m looking at videos on thermals from what you’ve said. It seems like if you really torture test it with video rendering and such it can hit 93 Celsius, but in more general workloads it seems to stay below 70. I think this is fine – any video rendering (or gaming) I do will be on my desktop with the 3950X and the 3090, not the little ARM laptop lol

Edit: as an aside, watching these videos MacOS reminds me so much of Gnome lol

I am in the near exact same situation as you, older Eliteobook running Win 10 and Kubuntu as part of learning Linux. I discovered that you can upgrade the screen, although I have not yet. Mine currently is 1366x768 on 14" and it is pretty poor quality. But at least the keyboard is solid IMO.

Have you considered a non-M1 Macbook w/ an intel processor for Linux?

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Not much I could recommend TBH. I’m a slight Dell fanboy, however, I don’t like their XPS, nor their Inspiron lineup. All I will buy from them is Latitudes. Maybe check out the Latitude 5400 / 5410 (14") or 5500 / 5510 (15.6")? They also have some 52xx and 53xx models which are 12" and 13" respectively, and sometimes those feature a touchscreen if you’re into that.

The Latitude lineup is split into 3/4 categories: 3000 series is low-end, cuts out stuff like windows hello cameras and fingerprint readers. 5000 series is the mid-range and in the past it was a little thicker than the 7000/9000 series, but nowadays it’s pretty much the same. The 7000/9000 series is pretty much the same, just marketed the “premium” of their business laptops, but I wouldn’t buy them. And I believe those also have higher screen resolutions, which you really don’t need, they just eat the battery for not much gain.

Bonus points for latitudes is that, being business laptops, they are made to be upgradable (m.2 SSD, sometimes it has space for a 2.5" ssd if you remove the M.2 completely and upgradable RAM).

I don’t think latitudes have aluminum chassis (but do XPS do? all XPSes I’ve seen IRL were plastic), I think they’re plastic, but they feel pretty nice to me, compared to things like HP Pavilions or Dell Inspirons or Lenovo Yogas and Ideapads. I especially enjoyed the 5x90 series and newer (that is 5x00 and 5x10 now) touchpad, which is a rare thing for me to enjoy on laptops (I’m very picky about touchpads) and I like the models that come with trackpoints.

Probably not something you would enjoy, if you want aluminum stuff.

I think the M1 will go head-to-head with a 6-core mobile i5, but don’t quote me on that. In day to day activities, you probably won’t feel a difference. But I hate macOS with a passion. And IMO I don’t think a jump from Ivy Bridge to anything newer will feel much snapier, unless you have a lot of open programs. Have you watched your CPU load? Do you really need a CPU upgrade?

A chassis upgrade is probably worth it, because I know how much better is to move from a run-of-the-mill laptop to an ultrabook (at first I didn’t believe, until I tried it), but a CPU upgrade is questionable, especially if you run Linux. I had a Dell Latitude 5580 (a slightly thicc boy with an i7 7th gen and 16gb of RAM), then “downgraded” to a Toshiba Kira (5th gen i5, 8GB of non-replaceable RAM) and didn’t feel a difference in performance, but the weight, oh my lord, soooo good. Then I downgraded again, because reasons, and I’ve ran a Dell E5440 (4th gen i5, 16gb of RAM and Fedora KDE Spin) and it was perfectly fine, but then again, I don’t know what you use it for (I just had like 50 Firefox tabs open, around 5 chromium tabs open, a terminal, latte-dock and remmina, later moved to sway, so even lower resource usage, but KDE was perfectly fine).

Personally, again, I wouldn’t spend that much money on a newer laptop, but now, my tastes slightly changed and I’d rather get an aluminum-built PineBook Pro or build my own with a NexDock 2 Touch and a SBC (either my current Pi 4 or maybe a Ryzen 1st gen SBC, like the DFI GHF51), but I’m going insane.

I’m selling my Surface Book Pro on the buy/trade/sell category, shameless self plug.

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Ah I see the confusion. Unfortunately I couldn’t keep the Ivy Bridge machine, it’s my dad’s. I was just installing Kubuntu on it for him (it was the machine with the TPM bitlocker issue preventing him from booting).

The machines I currently have are a Haswell i3 4030U 1.9GHz and Gemini Lake Celeron N4000 2.6GHz. I know it’s like comparing a space hopper to a tricycle, but the Haswell is noticeably snappier than the Gemini Lake. More or less anything would be a major step up from either of these. But like i said, I could make do with either of these in terms of specs (although I’d rethink my choice of Desktop Environment and/or distro with the Celeron. Yes, it is that slow. How it ever functioned with Windows is beyond me when it is struggling with a fresh install of openSUSE and KDE), but neither of them are actually very enjoyable to use.

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If you have a Microcenter near you, they often have business laptops refurbed and sometimes upgraded with an SSD, more RAM, etc. Worth a look if so

I don’t think I have a Microcenter in the country lol

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I’ve ran a Toshiba Encore with a Bay Trail Atom z3740 with Linux. Wasn’t bad, but the 2GB of RAM was unusable in Firefox. Windows behaves better on it and has power savings (on linux, power savings freezes it, so I have to disable intel low power cstate if I want to run linux on it, which I’m not willing to do).

I also ran a Celeron J3455 quad core (Apollo Lake) desktop with 8GB of RAM and it was fast. Both KDE and later Sway ran really nice on it. No discreet GPU, just the Intel iGPU. Gemini Lake is fine. The Haswell is definitely snapier, I could feel it (the Haswell i5 on my Latitude E5440 was also dual core with hyper-threading, like the i3 4020U, I think it was a 4300U, but I don’t recall), but it’s something you get used to (heck, I’m currently typing from a Pi 4 8GB, which is my main PC, albeit I do have / on a NVME SSD connected via USB 3).

I find this to be true on my Encore as well. I can’t believe the Pi 4 feels snappier, but that’s the reality.

So you want a good screen, keyboard, general Linux compatibility in an ultra book. I’d go with an X1 Carbon maybe even a few generations old… That ticks the boxes pretty well.

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I don’t wish to be rude, but I have said many times in this thread that I do not care about Linux compatibility for this laptop. In fact the one that I am edging towards doesn’t really support Linux in any usable capacity yet.

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