Dell Precision 5520 Developer Edition: An amazing Ubuntu mobile workstation


The transformation of Dell into Linux hardware maker is nothing short of extraordinary. It started in 2012, when Dell’s Project Sputnik started to offer Ubuntu pre-installed on specific developer-class laptops, like the Dell XPS series. Five years later, Dell is offering Ubuntu on an even broader array of PCs, including the gorgeous Precision series.

Dell’s Precision 5520 Ubuntu is a capable machine, with looks to match. But does this justify its astonishing pricetag, which depending on configuration, can soar past the $3,000 mark?

Specs

As is the case with most Dell laptops, the Precision 5520 is eminently customizable. During the order process, you’re given the chance to decide its CPU, GPU, RAM, storage, and display.

The review loaner sent to me by Dell essentially maxes these out. When I priced it out on the Dell website, it quoted me over $3,000.

  • Intel Xeon E3-1505M v6 at 3.00GHz × 8
  • 32GB 2400Mhz DDR4 RAM
  • 512GB SSD
  • 6-cell 97 Watt battery
  • NVIDIA Quadro M1200 w/4GB GDDR5
  • 15.6-inch UHD IGZO Touch Display (3840×2160)
  • Ubuntu 16:04 LTS

This is a beast. But if you cheap out (if you call spending nearly $1,400 ‘cheaping out’), you can get the same machine, but with a lower grade of screen and battery, a mechanical hard drive, a lesser i5 GPU, and only 8GB of RAM.

Look and feel

The professional desktop replacement market is a niche within a niche. It broadly sits shoulder-to-shoulder in the same category as gaming machines, like those offered by Razer, as well as Dell’s own Alienware. These are computers designed for performance above everything else.

But there are several points of contrast between professional powerhouses and gaming machines. The most immediately obvious is looks. While gaming laptops can be drop-dead gorgeous (the svelte Razer Blade comes to mind, as to does the muscular Alienware 15), nobody has ever looked at a Thinkpad and thought phwoar.

The Dell Precision 5520 is an outlier in that respect. It’s drop-dead gorgeous. This is a laptop you won’t be ashamed to be seen using at the local hackerspace or Starbucks.

It looks almost identical to the (also stunning) XPS series of laptops, which are some of the nicest looking PCs on the market right now. The biggest difference is in weight and girth. This is inevitable, when you consider it packs a discrete GPU, a larger battery, and a fan powerful enough to cool down its power-thirsty innards.