GCN LAB REVIEW
Latest Dell Latitudes add sexiness to sensibility and performance
The Latitude line from Dell has always been a workhorse among laptops. Many of them have made their way into the federal government — and for good reason. They have gotten a reputation of being highly reliable computers. In fact, to heighten that reliability, the latest and greatest components have often been kept out of Latitudes until all the kinks were worked out. In a sense, the Latitudes were a lot like Dell’s OptiPlex line in desktop PCs, which did the same thing.
The downside to that is that the Latitudes also got the reputation of being kind of frumpy. In an era where flashy is the rage, the Latitude was more like a two-button suit from Brooks Brothers. It was functional, but probably not quite something you would wear for a night on the town.
Well, toss that perception aside. The latest Latitudes are packed with everything that system-hungry programs demand, including Intel Core i7 processors that perform better in laptops than almost any other chip we’ve tested. And the new Latitude design looks great, has some nice extras such as a practically debris-proof keyboard, a large LED-backed LCD screen and an optional USB 3.0 port to connect to bleeding-edge peripherals.
Dell Latitude E6420
Pros: Blazing fast performance; good form factor; huge LCD screen.
Cons: Bit pricey, though ultimately worth it.
Ease of Use: A
Price: $2,133 as configured for test
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We looked at a couple of models, but this review is centered around the E6420, which is one of the largest of the newly refreshed Latitude line. It has a 14-inch high-definition LCD with a native resolution of 1,366 x 768. Its backlight is provided by LEDs instead of florescent tubes, and it has a nice anti-glare coating. In fact, when we ran our visual benchmarks on the E6420 screen, images were displayed close to what you could expect from a high-end desktop LCD.
This visual flair is driven by an Nvidia NVS chipset. The graphics package has 512M of DDR 3 and is designed specifically to take advantage of and work with the dual-core processor. The end result is that whether you are a computer-aided design guy, a PowerPoint wizard or a serious gamer, the E6420 should impress.
The processor in the unit we tested was an Intel Core i7-2620M running at 2.7 GHz with a 4M cache. It’s also programmed to take advantage of second-generation Turbo Boost Technology for added speed when needed. And our E6420 was backed up by 4G of DDR3 SDRAM configured in 2 DIMM slots. In fact, when we ran our PassMark Performance Benchmarks from PassMark Software, it achieved a score of 1,414, which puts it in line with good desktop PC performance. Less analytical testing — such as opening large Photoshop files — confirmed this. If it were five years ago when the term was still in vogue, we’d probably call the E6420 a desktop replacement.
Going along with that power is storage. The E6420 has a 320G hard drive of the type that can spin at 7,200 RPM. According to the PassMark benchmark, the read speeds from the drive are incredibly fast, and the write times are almost equally impressive.
Back of the box
Although the unit does have USB 2.0 ports, there is also an extra media bay that can be added, which adds a single USB 3.0 port. This is a nice way to raise 3.0 functionality without forcing it to be standard — most devices can’t use it yet. Although you will lose a drive bay to attach it, if you work with a lot of high-end peripherals such as large capacity storage drives, the 3.0 port can be changed into the E6420 in just a few seconds.
Our unit also had an optional nine-cell battery, which sticks out the back of the laptop slightly. It does not add that much extra weight and, in fact, makes the E6420 easier to carry. With the nine-cell in place, we were able to get more than six hours of battery life with a movie playing on the screen and the hard drive almost constantly spinning.
There is of course a port for a network cable, but no modem standard. So if you still work with dial-up, you will need to be sure you add it to the configuration before you buy.
Overall, the design of the E6420 is impressive. Even the keyboard is fancy and functional. Instead of individual keys, these are raised up only slightly from a single piece of rubber-like material. You still get a nice satisfying click when you press down on them, but you won’t get any dust, food particles or the like stuck down in them. There are simply no holes for anything to fall into.
The price of the unit is also reasonable. Although you can get cheaper notebooks for a lot less, the E6420 units start at $1,040. Loaded with all the extras our test unit had, it will bump that price to $2,133 before any government discounts. But this is a case of getting what you pay for, a fact most power users will easily accept. To get the legendary Latitude reliability in this new, ramped-up line is a surprising find. The E6420 earns our Reviewer’s Choice designation. It’s suitable for government and has the flash that can help it stand out in the consumer world, too.