Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Dell XPS 13 9350 wifi card replacement / New OS Installation Guide / General 6 month Review

So I bought the XPS 13 9350 ultrabook in December 2015. Basic configuration is 1080p non-touch screen, I5 6200 CPU, 256GB SSD, 8GB RAM. I’ve been mostly happy with the laptop so far. But there is one problem with laptop, the wifi card it’s included has very poor signal under certain environment, especially with the Synology RT1900ac router under 5G connection.
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So I replaced it with Intel 8260 wifi card recently, and the connection has been stable so far.
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Opening up the laptop wasn’t as hard as I thought after following the ifixit guide and youtube video.
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Left is the crappy Dell DW 1820A wifi card that came with the machine. Right is the replaced Intel 8260 wifi card, the third gen wifi card that’s capable of connection speed upto 867Mbps under 5G. (2nd gen 7265 works with it as well, and it’s about $10 cheaper)
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The next part I would like to replace is the m2. SSD. I’ll wait for the Samsung 950 Pro 512GB to come down to around $200 price point. But the current 256GB+128GB microSD card has been serving me pretty well. (I got the microSD adapter that can insert flush with the machine) I don’t really need any more space so far.
After replacing the wifi card, I got some trouble with the Bluetooth driver. So I just completely reinstalled windows. It’s the first time I reinstall on a m2 NVME drive. I did plenty research on it and ran into some issues, but was able to solve the problems. So here are the procedures I did (I used the RAID approach by loading Intel RAID drivers manually during windows 10 installation):
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1. Prepare USB stick. I’m using Rufus. Change the partition to GPT for UEFI, and File system to FAT32. I have a 64GB USB drive, didn’t bother to try NTFS.
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After Rufus is done, it should have bootx64.efi under efi>boot folder. This is the boot file that you need to boot from USB. I ran into a problem where Dell’s UEFI wouldn’t boot from the USB drive. But it worked after I manually pointed this file in bios. The step will be shown later.
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Now download the intel RAID driver, and put it on the USB drive. You’ll have to manually point to the driver during windows installation, otherwise windows cannot see your drive.
2. UEFI Settings:
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My approach is to keep the RAID setting intact. Insert USB drive before booting into UEFI.
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(1). Disable Secure Boot
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(2). Check “Enable Legacy Option ROMs” in Advanced Boot Options.
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(3). Manually add the bootx64.efi in the “Boot Sequence” menu. I have a hard time with the USB will not boot. I finally resolved the problem by doing this.
Windows 10 installation is easy afterwards, you just need to point it to the intel RAID driver. I deleted the 10GB Dell recovery partition as I don’t feel I ever need it. The only problem I have so far is that some drivers and setting software downloaded from Dell will not install now as the system is not Dell specific. But the manufacture drivers from Intel, Microsoft etc works just fine.
A quick review about the laptop is that it improves upon Dell’s software updates, especially the BIOS updates. The first months I got the laptop has a lot of issues including random reboots, BSOD, etc. But they seem to disappear since January. The biggest appeal for this laptop is of course the thin bezel. I’m surprised that to this day, there is still no competitors coming up with bezels this thin (well, there is LG gram 13 and 15, and Samsung Notebook 9 NP900X5L-K02US). The speed of the laptop is reasonably fast, it runs with SONY Vegas video editing software and Adobe Lightroom just fine. The battery lasts me a good 5-6 hours (I’ve never been able to reach the claimed 10 hours). Another appealing factor is that Dell has some good accessories going along with it. The one I like so much is the power companion. A portable charger that can provide 35w power to the laptop and two additional USB ports for smartphones and tablets. The one I got is the smaller and lighter four cell PW7015M 12000mah. It can charge XPS 13 9350 upto 50% full through a single charge very quickly. And the recharge time is phenomenal in under 2 to 3 hours.

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