GCN LAB REVIEWS
Dell Latitude E6400 XFR is as tough as they come
- By John Breeden II
- Sep 29, 2010
There’s a new sheriff in rugged town, and he’s called the Dell Latitude E6400 XFR. This black laptop PC is built like a tank and is only slightly lighter. At 9.72 pounds without its power cables, you can get a real workout just lugging it around. But that weight is mostly armor that protects it from extremes of all sorts. It would be a safe bet to say that users are more likely to freeze, melt or otherwise expire before their XFR does.
The outer case is covered in what Dell calls Ballistic armor. We have a slight problem calling something ballistic if it won’t stop bullets, but it was able to keep almost anything else from penetrating it. And if Dell would have given us the green light, we probably would have shot it, too.
Dell Latitude E6400 XFR
Pros: Extremely tough; backlit keyboard; touch screen.
Cons: Heavy; expensive.
Rugged level: A+
Ease of use: A-
Price: $4,864 as configured for test
10 rugged devices that are fit for all seasons
What we did do was perform the standard mil-spec drop testing, letting the laptop fall onto a 2-inch block of plywood sitting over concrete. The test starts at 1 foot and goes all the way up to a dizzying height — for a laptop anyway — of 4 feet. Dropping the XFR 36 times at each level, which is every foot, would be the death of most laptops, especially because it has to land on every side, surface and corner. It tore the hell out of the plywood, shivering timbers like a cannonball ripping through an old sailing ship. But it never got a scratch on it and booted fine after each drop. The DVD-ROM drive popped open once at 36-inches on a side drop but was undamaged.
It survived all the other testing, too, including a rain ingress test that soaked it but did no damage. The ports are protected by heavy sliding plastic doors, so when not in use, they are safely sealed and watertight. That also prevents dust from blowing inside to the vulnerable components.
The one area it didn’t perform quite so well was heat testing. Other companies that have been in the rugged business for a long time have learned that although black color schemes such as that of the XFR look cool, they are terrible for handling heat. You wouldn't want to leave one sitting inside a patrol car. Most rugged laptops these days are silver or light gray. Although the XFR survived inside our GCN Rainforest environment at 120 degrees and close to 100 percent humidity, when removed from the glass enclosure, its surface temperature was 20 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than all other silvery models in this review. That means it’s susceptible to failure at lower temperatures and that its internal cooling systems need to work that much harder.
After you open the XFR’s tough shell, you will find a lot of useful features. The 14.1-inch LCD displays brilliant images and was easily the most readable screen in the review. It also happens to be a touch screen, which is accessible with or without a special pen. Fingers are fine and don’t seem to leave quite so many prints as we have seen with other devices. It also looks good in direct sunlight. For really dark conditions, the keyboard lights up with a dim illumination that’s perfect if you’re stuck in a tent without electricity.
The six-cell battery lasted a respectable 2 hours, 33 minutes in our worst-case-scenario testing, with a movie clip playing and brightness and sound set at 80 percent. The PassMark Performance Benchmark score was 760.2, which was faster than most laptops in this roundup, bested only by the Panasonic Toughbook 31 in that area.
If you are looking for one of the toughest notebooks we’ve ever seen, the Dell Latitude E6400 XFR fits that bill. Our test equipment was in more danger than the laptop. It’s a bit expensive at $4,864 as configured for our testing with a 64-bit operating system, but if you need protection, it’s a solid investment.
John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.