Two days ago I received my 500GB Samsung 840 EVO SSD and did the upgrade to my beloved Dell XPS 18: let me tell you, it’s better than I could’ve ever imagined! My machine came with the i5-4210U, 8GB of RAM and a 1TB spinning hard drive which I now replaced. Even in its original configuration it was pretty sweet, but now it’s the snappiest machine I’ve ever owned. It’ll boot from being off in 2 seconds after the BIOS screen, browsers (IE or Firefox) open up instantly, searching is blazing fast! One 4GB DIMM is soldered on the motherboard, but the second one I replaced with an 8GB stick for a total of 12GB, the maximum this machine can handle and plenty for what I do.
My primary purpose for it was to read music on gigs; the typical iPad or other 10″ tablet is just so damn small, really barely big enough to display one page at a time, and although it’s mighty handy to be able to carry so much music in such a small form factor, I had always longed for something more. The Dell delivers in spades: it shows two pages BEAUTIFULLY, with room to spare on both sides. I recommend Sumatra PDF for a reader on a touch screen computer because you can open multiple charts at the same time, and do a two-finger tap on the one you need to go full screen. Try it! The Real Book PDFs fly on this thing, and when you properly index any collection of PDFs, standard Windows search (hit the Windows key and just start typing the name!) works instantly. The battery lasts 6 hours, long enough for just about any gig, and it sits on a music stand just fine. Added bonus: it runs Sibelius or Finale perfectly so if you need to make adjustments to a piece of music at rehearsal you can do it! I use the former, and it’s not exactly optimized for touch, but does work. Better is to just bring a mouse….
Speaking of input devices: the bundled ones are not bad actually. They’re made by Logitech and even though lots of reviewers think they are Bluetooth devices, they are not. Inside there is an extra hidden USB port with a Unifying Receiver plugged in, so any modern Logitech device can pair! Opening the unit is quite easy actually, just requiring a T8 torx bit, and one could put a Microsoft receiver in there instead if desired. There are two more USB 3 ports on the side and of course Bluetooth as well, so connectivity is excellent.
The screen is a 1080P IPS panel with an excellent picture, and full 10-point touch, which works well. At first it’s a little overwhelming, but you get used to using it as a tablet quite quickly actually! The built-in feet allow it to stand in two different ways: upright in landscape mode, and also at a much slighter incline, almost like an audio mixer. I use Cakewalk Sonar X3 for my audio recording and it fully supports touch. I haven’t used it that much yet, but this setup enables a hands-on mixing workflow that is very intriguing……..
That brings me to the second thing I was hoping to do with the Dell: running Ableton Live 9. So far I had always brought a laptop to gigs for this purpose, but I always needed another stand or table to put it on. The XPS 18 sits perfectly on my music stand which I bring anyway, allowing me to easily put it wherever I need it. One USB cable to my Kronos and I have a full-fledged rig, because it uses the Korg as an audio interface! I can’t tell you how amazingly well this combo runs, it’s truly a joy. No cut down iOS nonsense, the real deal! I’ve thrown the biggest Ableton projects at it, and even with the original spinning HD it worked fine, now with the SSD it’s smoking.
In addition to the 2.5″ drive bay, there’s a spot for an M.2 SSD as well, and I’ve ordered a 250GB one to put in there. For now I’ve been running the Ableton projects off a 32GB microSD card believe it or not, but this will complete the system with some of the highest performing storage out there. It’s still hard to believe that you can get this kind of machine in such a form factor. It’s easy to work on, really well built (by Foxconn I believe, who build iPads too), and comes with excellent, “Next Business Day” in-home warranty. Truly spectacular………