I love my Dell XPS 13, but an unsolvable bug is slowly driving me insane

(Image credit: N/A)

I bought my Dell XPS 13 on November 30, 2015. I was so excited to get it a week later: I was replacing a stolen MacBook Air with a fancy new system that promised double the battery life, a sharp 1080p screen, and a speedy new NVMe SSD. It's been slowly driving me insane ever since.

For the past four years, I've tried and failed, again and again, to solve the most persistent, baffling, and nefarious computer bug I've ever encountered. I've gotten so used to it that it's just one of those things I grumble about in private. But last week, after disassembling my laptop, reinstalling Windows, and installing a new battery that cost me $87.89, I needed some catharsis. I needed the world to know that my laptop has a mind of its own, and its mind is solely dedicated to driving me crazy. No matter what I do, I cannot stop the Dell XPS 13 9350 from waking itself up from sleep, two seconds after I tell it to rest.

It's a little game we play. I use my laptop for a while to write, or watch videos, or waste time on Twitter. We both agree this is a good use of its capabilities: it's wonderfully thin and light, great for casual use in bed or on the couch, but still powerful enough to work on when I'm away from home. Then I open the start menu and tell it to go to sleep, and it does, for about two seconds. Then it wakes itself right back up again and sits on the Windows login screen. I tell it to go to sleep again, pretending it will, like a proper computer, stay asleep. It immediately wakes back up. This happens until I get pissed enough to hold down the power button and completely shut it down.

I've owned and built a lot of computers in my life, and this is the only one that wakes itself up from sleep mode. It's almost enthusiastic, like a kid leaping out of bed at the thought of presents on Christmas morning. Two seconds! What's causing this? I sure as hell don't know, and as far as I can tell, no one else does, either, including Dell itself.

There are many forum threads dedicated to this issue, with titles like "My XPS 13 keeps turning itself on," "XPS 13 9350 wakes up randomly," and "XPS 13 9350 turns itself on and sometimes won't turn off."

"Dell has been avoiding this issue for years," writes one poster on its community site. "Has there been a recent BIOS update of any kind to address this? If not, it's safe to say Dell has neither the desire or ability to diagnose & fix this issue. Unless something has changed, none of the BIOS power/wake settings nor those within windows have any impact on this issue."

I've read through these forum threads every few months for the past four years, hoping they might offer a solution. At this point, you, like hopeful and helpful Dell community members, may have a "Have you tried…" suggestion on the tip of your tongue. If you can think of it, I've probably tried it. Every time I read a forum post solution, I think maybe this is the one. But it's never the one.

Here are some of the many things I've tried: 

  • Ensuring Wake on LAN is disabled
  • Disabling Fast Startup
  • Disabling Hibernation
  • Updating the BIOS and drivers
  • Ensuring USB devices can't wake from sleep
  • Reinstalling Windows
  • More power settings and Windows tweaks that I can't remember because they did nothing

Here's what makes this bug especially maddening: It doesn't always happen. I'd say about 80 percent of the time, if I tell my laptop to go to sleep in Windows or shut the lid, it goes to sleep and stays asleep. Perfect! But then, the rest of the time, it wakes itself back up, and sometimes I don't realize it. Dozens of times, at this point, I've pulled it out of my backpack to find the laptop hot, the fans running at full blast, and the battery mostly drained, or rolled over in bed to find it cooking itself with the lid shut. It's just frequent enough to be a real problem, but infrequent enough that I'm not guarded against it every single time I put my laptop to sleep.

The battery has fully drained itself enough times to significantly damage its capacity. After four years, it was at 51 percent of its original longevity. I don't have other XPS battery lives to compare it to, but I'm confident that it would be in better shape today if this bug hadn't drained it so many times. It's gotten bad enough that I decided to spend the $88 on a replacement. 

(Image credit: Future)

Now here's the twist, the part that completely defies my understanding of how computers work and sometimes makes me think this thing is outright possessed. The Dell XPS 13 doesn't just wake itself from sleep. It'll actually restart itself, too. When the sleep bug is active, I can tell the system to shut down in Windows, and it'll dutifully close the running applications, show me that blue shut down screen, and power down… for two seconds.

Then WE'RE BACK, BABY. It boots up to the Windows login screen, where it will sit for hours until the battery hits zero. The only solution is to hold the power button for a hard power off, which somehow cuts through whatever's happening. [Ed: I too have this exact same sleep bug on my XPS 13, and mine will sometimes even wake after a hard power off.]

I've never really been able to tell if this is a Dell thing, or a Windows thing, or (most probably) a Dell and Windows thing. I've tried using the Windows event log, but didn't see a conclusive cause for a wake up. I even tried switching the NVMe SSD's controller mode from RAID, its default, to AHCI, which one forum poster said could be a solution. Doing this accidentally corrupted my Windows bootloader, so I didn't actually get to see if it's a solution. But considering RAID is the default BIOS configuration, that doesn't feel like a change I should have to make to use my laptop like a normal person.

Maybe there's a fix out there and I just haven't found it. Maybe it's a damn ghost. I don't know. But for all of you out there who've never been able to solve that one persistent, inexplicable computer problem, I want you to know that you're not alone. The Dell XPS 13 is a great laptop, and I love it 70 percent of the time. But it's also my greatest enemy and my greatest shame, the one tech conundrum that has defeated me time and time again. 

Goodnight, sweet prince. See you again in two seconds.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).