If the Dell Latitude E6420 ATG seems familiar, it should. It's the semi-rugged version of the business-centric Latitude E6420, which has a stylish, durable design and a great keyboard. Dell has built on those strengths by beefing up the system's durability and ruggedness, and adding a solid state drive for even greater performance. Our configuration even includes a touchscreen, which field workers might appreciate. But do those improvements warrant the $3,012 price tag?
Like the E6420, the E6420 ATG's MIL-STD810G tested, Tri-Metal chassis is designed to withstand almost anything business users can throw at it, including drops, extreme heat and cold, and dust. Its lid is covered in sharp gray, anodized brushed aluminum that is bordered by a black, textured scratch-resistant hard plastic, which helps make the lid feel exceedingly sturdy. The lid also has two conveniently placed status lights in the upper right-hand corner that turn on when the system is in use and running low on battery power. The underside of the unit is protected by the same black, powder-coated magnesium base found on the E6420. Other features carried over from the E6420 are the system's metal hinges and sturdy closing latch, but on the ATG, the ports are protected by rubber covers.
Open the E6420 ATG's lid and what you'll find is essentially a carbon copy of the E6420. It features the same comfortable, spill-resistant keyboard, complete with adjustable touch-activated backlight and pointing stick. A bright orange pinstripe surrounds the keyboard and adds some personality to the Latitude's design.
The E6420 ATG's matte-black deck offers a comfortable palm rest and includes a set of volume buttons on its right-hand side. On the deck's upper left-hand corner are three indicator lights that give the status of the system's battery, hard drive, and wireless signal. To help protect the E6420 ATG's display, Dell has reinforced the screen's frame and equipped it with a spill-resistant seal.
The price you pay for all of the E6420 ATG's protective features is its sheer size. Measuring 4 x 9.7 x 1.5 inches (with its port covers) and weighing in at 6.6 pounds with its nine-cell battery, the 14-inch E6420 ATG is larger and weighs 0.4 pounds more than the E6420 (which includes the same battery back) and 2 pounds heavier than Toshiba's Tecra R840 (S8430).
In terms of durability, the ATG sits between the business-rugged E6420 and the fully rugged E6420 XTR. While the standard E6420 can withstand some dings, the ATG is meant to take the type of damage that a business traveler would likely throw at it, such as additional bumps, knocks, and spills. The XFR, however, is meant for police work and the military, and can withstand intense rain, extreme temperature changes, and drops of up to 6 feet.
Dell claims the E6420 ATG passed 16 MIL-STD810G durability tests and the IP5X dust test. According to Dell, the laptop can survive 26 drops from a height of 30 inches onto a 2-inch piece of plywood with the system powered down and its lid closed. Dell also claims the system can withstand a 1-inch diameter ball bearing dropped onto the screen from a height of 30 inches 20 times, and up to 6 ounces of water spilled on the keyboard.
With the E6420 ATG closed and turned off, we dropped it once off of one of our desks onto a carpeted concrete floor, a distance of 30 inches. The laptop didn't sustain any cracks, and the notebook booted up right away.
We then poured approximately two ounces of water on three evenly spaced locations on the keyboard. After tilting it on its side and letting it drain for two minutes, we turned the system back on and it functioned normally. However, roughly an hour later, the E6420 ATG's keyboard stopped working. No other functions were affected.
We tried traditional troubleshooting methods (restarting the system, turning it off and removing the battery), but nothing seemed to work. As a last resort, we turned the unit off, propped it up on its side, and left it overnight. In the morning the keyboard was fully functional, but that's a long time to be unproductive.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The concave keys on the E6420 ATG's keyboard were sturdy, offering little give and providing excellent feedback. Using the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, we scored an average of 63 words per minute with an error rate of two percent; that's the same rate and error percentage we scored on our office desktop. Depressing the keys also activated the keyboard's adjustable backlight.
We found the laptops's recessed pointing stick to be somewhat difficult to control. However, the stick's three programmable buttons (above the touchpad) proved quite useful. The E6420 ATG's nicely proportioned, matte-black 3.1 x 1.7-inch touchpad and two rubberized buttons were smooth and accurate, offering excellent feedback. Multitouch gestures such as two-finger pinch-to-zoom, rotate, and three-finger quick launch features worked similarly well, although each needed to be activated upon initial startup under Dell's touchpad settings menu.
Ports and Webcam
On the right side of the Latitude E6420 ATG are an ExpressCard/54 slot, DVD drive, two USB 2.0 ports, and one USB 2.0/ eSATA combination port. The left side of the system offers an additional USB 2.0 port, VGA, a combination microphone/ headphone port, and a smart card reader slot. On the back of the unit are HDMI and Ethernet ports and a Kensington lock slot. An SD card reader is located on the front of the system. All of the ports are protected by rubber covers. The underside of the E6420 ATG includes two covered slots from which users can connect a carrying handle. Conspicuously absent from the unit is a USB 3.0 port, which we expect on a system this price.
The 2-megapixel HD webcam on this notebook functioned very well, providing crisp images in both light and dim environments. When we used the webcam in a cubicle, image quality was excellent. The Dell Webcam Central software lets users upload and share their photos and videos with the software's integrated e-mail, YouTube, and Photobucket support, and a custom avatar creator helps users make and share their own avatars for video chats.
The Latitude E6420 ATG's 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-2620M, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB solid state drive helped the notebook turn in impressive performance numbers. In PCMark Vantage, the E6420 ATG scored 11,271, well above the mainstream category average of 5,551 and the 8,242 score the non-ruggedized E6420 turned in (which didn't have an SSD). The last business notebook that scored this high was the Lenovo ThinkPad T410s, whose 2.66-GHz Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB SSD combined for a score of 11,264.
The E6420 ATG's 128 GB SSD helped the machine boot Windows Professional 7 in a staggering 35 seconds, 30 seconds faster than the category average (65.7 seconds). The drive also duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 59 seconds for a rate of 86.2 MBps. That blows away the category average of 26.8 MBps.
The E6420 ATG also proved to be a champ in the Oxelon Media Encoder test. It converted a 114MB MP4 file to AVI format in 27 seconds, worlds faster than the category average of 1 minute and 10 seconds.
The E6420 ATG's Nvidia NVS 4200M graphics chip and its 512MB of discrete memory helped trounce the competition on our graphics tests. Its 5,926 in the 3DMark06 benchmark test is well above the category average of 3,95. Only the non-ruggedized E6420 came close with a score of 5,060.
When it came to real-world testing, however, the E6420 ATG was more of a mixed bag. With the graphics settings on autodetect, the E6420 ATG only managed to play World of Warcraft at 40 frames per second at a resolution of 1366 x 768. That's lower than the category average of 68 fps and the E6420 (41 fps). When the graphics settings were dialed up, the E6420 ATG mustered a playable 31 fps. The category average is 26 fps.
While playing the much more graphically demanding Far Cry 2 with the graphics set on autodetect, the E6420 ATG came in at 33 fps. That's lower than the category average of 38 fps, but higher than the E6420 (23 fps).
Battery Life and Wireless
Equipped with a hefty nine-cell battery, the E6420 ATG lasted exactly 8 hours in our LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing via Wi-Fi. That's nearly double the 4:29 category average. Despite the E6420 ATG's great showing in this test, it's still fell behind the E6420's time of 8:59 with a similar nine-cell battery pack.
For all of its processing and graphical power, the E6420 ATG underperformed in our Wi-Fi testing. Its Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 AGN 802.11a/b/g/nwireless card averaged a transfer rate of 28.4 Mbps at a distance of 15 feet, better than the E6420 (26.9 Mbps), but well below the category average (36.7 Mbps). At a distance of 50 feet, the E6420 ATG again fell below the category average, with a transfer rate of 18.7 Mbps versus 21.8 Mbps.
While the E6420 ATG starts at $1,949, our configuration cost $3,012. This is what you get for three grand: a 2.7-GHz Core i7, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, Nvidia NVS 4200M graphics chip, resistive touchscreen, a nine-cell battery, and Windows 7 Professional 64-bit edition. For the aforementioned $1,949, you get a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-2520M processor, 2GB of RAM, a 250GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive, a six-cell battery, an integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 chip, no touchscreen, and Windows 7 Professional 32-bit edition.
Users can also configure the E6420 ATG with a quad-core Intel Core i7-2720QM processor and up to 8GB of RAM. Storage options range up to a 256GB SSD drive. And for users seeking an extra bit of protection, a fingerprint reader and contactless smart card reader are available as $29 options.
If you don't need the durability the ATG offers, a Latitude E6420 equipped with the same Core i7 processor, touchscreen, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD drive, and Nvidia graphics chip as our review unit is available for $1,725.
The Latitude E6420 ATG comes with an array of software, including Dell's Webcam Central; Dell Data Protection | Access, which allows users to encrypt data on their hard drive or removable media (USB drive, media card, etc.); and Dell's Backup and Recovery Manager. The E6420 ATG also includes Intel's vPro technology, which can provide IT departments remote access to the system. Intel's Anti-Theft Technology software can also completely disable the OS if a theft situation is detected. Reinstalling the operating system won't bypass this feature.
Dell also bundles Microsoft's Office Starter, which includes reduced-functionality versions of Word and Excel, as well as a 30-day trial of Trend Micro's Worry-Free Business Security Services software.
Dell offers three years of its ProSupport service with 3 years of next business day limited on-site service. That can be upgraded to four years for an additional $140 or five years for $270. A basic service plan gives users five years of basic hardware service with five years of next business day limited on-site service after remote diagnosis for $120. See how Dell fared on our Tech Support Showdown and Best & Worst Brands roundup.
The Dell Latitude E6420 ATG is a semi-rugged laptop that offers exceptional power and battery life and a more durable design than your typical business machine. However, at $3,012, this notebook is quite expensive. In fact, for the price delta between the ATG model and the regular Latitude E6420, you could get a whole other non-ruggedized E6420, so you have to really need the extra protection this laptop offers. We also wish the E6420 ATG did a better job of shrugging off our water spill test. Overall, though, the E6420 ATG is a viable option for workers who are hard on their machines.