GCN LAB REVIEWS
Rugged Dell Latitude has plenty of attitude
- By John Breeden II
- Jan 24, 2012
It makes sense to expand the Dell Latitude line into the rugged market. The Latitudes are like a brown suit in government: They fit in nicely without a lot of frills or thrills. In fact, some bleeding-edge components are often held back from the line because stability is paramount to performance.
That's what makes Dell's E6420 ATG so surprising. Not only is the ATG bulldozing its way into the rugged computer market, but it’s doing so with an impressive array of features that make this one blazingly fast laptop, even when compared to non-rugged models.
And somehow it’s being offered for a reasonable price. We would not have blinked if the ATG we tested came in at around $5,000. But the E6420 as configured for our test was only $2,250. The question is: Can a blazingly fast rugged laptop withstand the rigorous 810f MIL-STD-810f testing as well as the tank-like competition that costs twice as much?
Dell Latitude E6420 ATG
Ease of Use: A
Price: $2,250 as configured for test.
Pros: Blazingly fast performance; 64-bit OS; rugged.
Cons: A little bulky, though that's understandable.Related coverage:Xplore's tablet raises the rugged bar
Latest Dell Latitudes add sexiness to sensibility
Let's start with the notebook itself and how well it performs. The ATG is an impressive system with a 64-bit operating system. The one we tested came with an Intel i7-2620 quad-core processor rated at 2.7Ghz. That’s one of the fastest chips on the market today. Because it's backed with 4G of RAM, we were expecting strong performance against the Passmark Performance Benchmarks from Passmark.com. And we were not disappointed. The ATG turned in a scorching score of 1,565.5, putting it on par with most performance desktop systems.
Graphics display is no Achilles' heel either, something that has hindered more than one rugged notebook we’ve tested. The ATG came with an Nvidia NVS 4200M Discrete Graphics chipset, which is 512M of DDR3 video RAM. We ran some pretty intense graphics programs on the ATG, including CAD software and photo processing, and it never skipped a beat. It will probably work better than most desktop computers for intense applications like that, though the 64-bit OS didn’t hurt it any.
Graphics are displayed on a nice 14-inch resistive touchscreen with an outdoor sunlight filter. The screen accepts input even when the user is wearing protective gloves, which is a nice touch that will enable users to stay as safe as their systems. Having to remove gloves to enter data on the screen can be annoying in some environments and deadly in others. But there is no need to worry about that with the ATG.
For storage, there are two drives inside the ATG, one solid-state drive for speed and extra rugged protection, and one fast-spinning SATA drive for large storage. To protect the drives, and especially the normal one, there is a sensor that locks them in place if it detects a sudden fall. We tested this by running a movie before dropping the system, and it was able to stop the feed and lock the drive before it hit the ground.
As far as the general dimensions go, this is a rugged notebook, so it’s not going to be very svelte. That said, we rather liked the design of the ATG. Its metal frame is angled at all the corners for a very cool sci-fi type look, which also seemed to help with the mil-spec drop testing. It still a bit bulky compared to a normal notebook, but Dell engineers did the best they could making the armor look stylish. At first glance, you might not know the ATG is a rugged warrior. The unit is 6 pounds with a six-cell battery attached, which is a little weighty but still lighter than we expected.On to the rugged tests
Dell has opted to go with plugs to keep all the ports protected. With everything sealed up, the ATG is rated at IP5 for dust, so it can resist blowing, dusty environments. Of course, this requires that the ports be closed, but unlike some rugged solutions we’ve experimented with, these close naturally and the combination plastic and rubber-like material is easy to work with and forms a tight seal. We blew dust and sand over the unit and none of it ever got inside.
We test for humidity and temperature at the same time inside our GCN Rainforest Environment. In the Rainforest, which consists of a glass enclosure fed by electric heaters and a boiling water humidifier, temperatures top 120 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity gets pretty close to 100 percent. We left the ATG inside that environment for three hours. Afterward we ran the benchmark on the notebook again and it performed well, matching its previous score.
The metal covering on the ATG does a good job of resisting heat. It was warm to the touch when removed from the Rainforest but not hot, and certainly cooler than the surrounding area. The internal cooling systems inside the ATG must have worked well, too, because there was no performance hit after that adventure.
Finally, we tested the ATG for shock, which consists of dropping it against every one of its surfaces (top and bottom, sides, all corners) onto two inches of plywood sitting over concrete. The distance of the drops increases until you get to 48 inches. Here is where many rugged notebooks fail. In fact, the military specs allow for five notebooks to complete this process, so if one dies, a second can tag in and complete the remaining tests, until all five are destroyed or one of them has made it to the finish line. We only have one notebook, so our testing is a bit harsher. But then again, most users are only going to have one, so this is more of a real-world measurement.
Anyway, you won’t have to worry about that with the ATG. The single notebook was able to go through all drop tests. Those cool-looking corners tend to diffuse some of the shock from the drop in the same way sloped armor works on tanks. And all the rubberized ports held firm, even from very high 48-inch drops where we were pretty sure they would pop open. But it held fast. In fact, we did not even find any cosmetic damage on the ATG to mar its surface.
The E6420 ATG is an impressive piece of rugged gear. The performance it offers for the price is surprising. It would be a good value even if it weren't rugged. What's more, getting that level of military protection in a relatively inexpensive (and pretty cool-looking) notebook was surprising to say the least. The ATG earns our Reviewer’s Choice designation, and our respect. It should win you over, too, no matter what environment you happen to face.Dell, www.dell.com
John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.