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Dell XPS 9360 and ChromeOS Flex

You may remember that a few years ago, before moving to London, I bought a Dell XPS 9360, originally coming with Ubuntu — and a WiFi card that wasn’t great. The laptop served me well for quite a while but, over the years, ended up disappointing me. More than my previous Dell laptop.

At some point, tired of dealing with a flat battery every single time I tried using it, I decided to put Linux aside and use Windows 10 — which worked, to a point, except when WordPress decided to break for Windows users with no way around it for me. Oh and yeah I had to replace the battery because the one it came with ended up not lasting more than a few minutes even with Windows running in the lowest performance settings.

Unfortunately, the laptop just barely didn’t make the cut to Windows 11 — and after updating the two work-issued machines, it was the last Windows 10 device at home (ish, but that’s a different story) and even setting that aside it was getting a bit… harder to work with. This is partly because this is one of the first generation of laptops where Dell had to issue a warning to turn them off before packing in your backpack (seriously, folks?) and partly simply due to the fact limited resources (outside of CPU) that the laptop had.

Since going back to Linux on this didn’t sound like a great idea, I took a third way out and decided to give a try to ChromeOS Flex, that allows to install ChromeOS on non-Chromebook devices. This was interesting because I have been liking using Chromebooks before, and still to this day miss my Chromebook Pixel. It also sounded like an ideal option given that I have been doing very little more than using Chrome and Edge on this laptop for the past months at least. While this particular model of XPS is not officially supported, it does look like its younger and older brothers are, until 2028, so it should easily allow me to keep stretching this laptop further a lot more. And by then, maybe I’ll end up with using an eInk laptop as my daily driver (one can always dream!)

Funnily enough, the installation ended up causing a BSOD on my Windows 10! Also I should probably have done this from another computer anyway, and possibly not with the terrible USB key (with a bad microSD card) I got at a conference, since the time it took for it to be written and verified was multiple times the total installation time if it downloaded the thing from the Internet. But again, within an hour the laptop was booted in ChromeOS Flex, which I was quite happy about.

A few notes about the setup: somehow ChromeOS decides to boot in insecure mode, but otherwise it seems to be working fine on it. This appears to be the case that some key is not enrolled properly, but honestly it does not appear to be making much of a difference. I already had on my account the Compose Key app to make sure I can type on the blog without going nuts, so that was easy.

I haven’t actually been using ChromeOS since I left Google three years ago, which means some of the features are new to me, including the Linux shell support which was at best experimental last time I used it. On the other hand, my understanding is that this is now mature enough to be able to use VSCode on it. Unfortunately, using ChromeOS Flex means no support for Android apps on the Chromebook which does make a few more things harder. Oh well.

There are also features that are not, strictly speaking, new, but I never used, due to the way the work Chromebooks were set up. For instance, I never used the file manager to access to network file systems, since that would never be allowed at Google. But since I recently came to own a FreeNAS Mini, I this time I thought I would set it up — it also would allow me to more properly transfer downloads from this laptop onto something else than Google Drive (for the case in which I do not want them on Google Drive.) SMB sharing (which I assume is implemented with Samba behind the scenes as almost always) appears to work well — with the exception of either not supporting FQDN hostnames (which even Windows supports) or not supporting IPv6 (to the surprise of… well, not me.)

Otherwise, it looks like the laptop is very responsive at this point, and definitely usable. Of the things I’ve been using it for, the only thing I’m possibly a bit annoyed to lack is a second browser (previously, Edge) where I do run the Rakuten extension for cashback. I did have a bunch of other software installed, including Saleae Logic (though I haven’t used it from the laptop in a couple of years) and Adobe Digital Editions (because eBooks are a mess).

On the list of things I don’t do often with this laptop is gaming — with probably just the exception of point-and-click adventures. I have played Thimbleweed Park and Day of the Tentacle on this laptop, almost exclusively on planes, and I was playing Return to Monkey Island (which I’ll finish some day when I actually have time to enjoy it.) On the other hand, I don’t expect I’ll be spending enough time in planes for this being relevant in the short to medium term, and I might just get myself a new laptop the next time I’m heading so far away (given that nobody appears to be willing to sell me any laptop with a US keyboard except for business laptops.) For games when I’m not stuck on a plane, I have been already relying on GeForce Now so it shouldn’t be changing at all — ah the irony, that maybe if I had this a few years back I would have been on the Stadia players base!

In terms of power management, sleep-on-lid works correctly with ChromeOS, which means I feel safe to put the laptop in my bag or backpack after closing the lid now. I have not started observing battery life yet, but I will report back if it’s dramatically bad. I don’t think it’s going to be because unlike Windows the laptop does not appear to overheat just because WordPress is open.

And of course, this being ChromeOS, updates take the whooping total of two minutes with a reboot.

All in all, the choice appears to have been the right one to extend the life of a laptop that, otherwise, I would likely not be using much at all due to the performance issues (and the fact that every other time I would be using it, it would be asking me to reboot for a software or driver update.)

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