Dell Latitude d420

GCN Lab review

Unwired: The Dell Latitude D420 has a built-in cellular radio to help round it out.

Pros: Good battery life, cellular radio

Cons: Slight performance fall-off from previous Latitudes

Price: $2,039 (government)

Performance: B+

Battery life: A

Features: A

Value: A-

|GCN Lab Reviewer's Choice|

The Latitude D420 represents a convergence of the Dell D410 and the X1 series notebooks, an attempt to bring the best of both to a new generation of portables. To the X1's wide-screen, lightweight magnesium-alloy chassis and low-voltage processor Dell added the expandability and security of the D410 series. It makes for an impressive combination.

The D420 has a 12.1-inch wide-aspect WXGA screen, which is fast becoming a standard for ultralight notebooks. Its integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 is also par for the category and does a fine job while saving on power.

Although the notebook itself does not come with an optical drive, the model we were provided had what Dell calls its media base. This is essentially a docking station that replicates all of the ports on the D420 and adds a DVD+/-RW drive.

Dell has held nothing back. In addition to the essential biometric fingerprint scanner and smart-card reader, it has an integrated Trusted Platform Module that can be used to generate on-board encryption keys. Dell has also developed what it calls its Embassy Trust Suite with Wave Systems, which has various modules for data and password protection, multifactor authentication and other security measures.

The D420 also includes a variety of connectivity options. Dell's WiFi Catcher utility will find and alert you to the presence of available 802.11x wireless networks, and you can turn on/off the radio with a slider switch on the side of the notebook. In addition to fairly standard 10/100/1000 Ethernet, modem and Bluetooth connectivity, the D420 also has a decidedly nonstandard wide-area wireless network radio'a high-speed downlink packet access cellular modem with service through Cingular.

The keyboard keys are full-size and comfortable for typing. The battery sticking out the front of the notebook is not too obtrusive, although some users may find it to be a small obstacle. And this notebook was the only one in the review to have both touchpad and pointstick input devices that can be used interchangeably, each with a separate set of buttons.

In our GCN/Alterior benchmark tests, the D420 scored 5,385, slightly lower than we expected based on similar Dell products in the past, especially considering its Intel Core Duo processor and 1GB of memory. But when you consider the travel weight of under 4 pounds (without the media base), you may be able to forgive that.

Where the D420 really excelled was in battery performance. Admittedly it was the only notebook in the review with a nine-cell battery, which allowed it to run for 5 hours, 25 minutes on our rundown tests. Keep the nine-cell in mind when you compare the Dell's long life to the times of other notebooks, but also keep in mind that the nine-cell doesn't make the Dell any more expensive than some other systems we tested.

Considering all you get in the Dell D420 itself, a $2,039 government price is reasonable. That also includes the media base. If you've no need for an optical drive, you can shave $237 off the price. That's an exceptional deal on a secure, versatile, highly portable notebook that happens to come with a high-capacity battery.

Dell Inc., Round Rock, Texas, (800) 388-8532, www.dell.com

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above