Dell's Latitude line of productivity-oriented laptops have long been popular with the business crowd because they provide a strong combination of performance and endurance with an added dose of style to boot. The 14-inch Dell Latitude E6430 continues this rich tradition by offering strong performance, an attractive, durable metal chassis and more than 10 hours of battery life.
Design and Durability
The Dell Latitude E6430 has the same attractive gunmetal gray aluminum lid, matte chrome body and angular sides as its predecessor, the Dell Latitude E6420. With a snazzy design that reminds us a sci-fi spaceship, the E6430 stands out in the world of staid black-and-gray business notebooks.
Like all the current members of Dell's Latitude E6400 line, the E6430 is built for durability with a "Tri-Metal" chassis that consists of a magnesium alloy frame, reinforced steel hinges, a matte chrome bumper, a protective LCD seal and a spill-resistant keyboard.
The notebook has been MIL-STD 810G tested, which means it should be able to withstand extreme temperatures, dust and vibrations better than most notebooks.
At 5.4 pounds and 13.9 x 9.5 x 1.3 inches, the Dell Latitude E6430 feels bulky for a 14-inch notebook. The ThinkPad T430 is smaller, thinner and lighter at 5.2 pounds and 13.8 x 9.1 x 1.2 inches. The Fujitsu LifeBook U772 (12.9 x 8.9 x 0.7 inches, 3 pounds) is much lighter, but that 14-inch Ultrabook isn't nearly as rugged as this Dell or the T430.
The Dell Latitude E6430's backlit, spill-resistant keyboard provides a strong level of tactile response. Combine that with an very comfortable soft-touch plastic palm rest and you have one of the best typing experiences on a notebook. We were able to achieve a strong score of 92 words per minute with just a 1 percent error rate on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, well above our 80 word-per-minute average.
By hitting Fn + right arrow, we were able to configure the keyboard's backlighting, choosing between five modes: off, 25 percent, 50 percent, 75 percent and 100 percent brightness. Even at 100 percent, the light was not particularly bright, and it shined up from the crevices between the keys.
Touchpad and Pointing Stick
The 3.2 x 1.75-inch touchpad provided accurate navigation around the desktop, and even provided reliable multitouch gesture support. Pinch-to-zoom, rotate and three-finger flicks all worked smoothly. The two discrete buttons offered just the right amount of feedback.
In addition to its touchpad, the Latitude E6430 includes another navigation option: a pointing stick between its G and H keys. While we're huge fans of the TrackPoint sticks that Lenovo puts on its ThinkPads, Dell's rubber nub sits too low relative to the keys around it, making it uncomfortable to touch. If Dell wants to continue offering pointing sticks on its business notebooks, it needs to revisit this annoying design.
The Dell Latitude E6430 stayed pleasantly cool throughout our tests. After 15 minutes of streaming a video at full screen, the touchpad measured just 80 degrees, the keyboard was a mere 82 degrees and the bottom clocked in at 87 degrees Fahrenheit. We consider temperatures below 95 degrees comfortable.
Display and Audio
The 1600 x 900 matte 14-inch screen provided bright, sharp images and solid viewing angles, though its colors seemed muted at times. At 237 lux on our light meter, the Latitude E6430's screen is brighter than the 203 lux thin-and-light notebook category average. The configuration of the T430 we reviewed had a 1366 x 768 display, and was rather dim at 147 lux.
When we watched 1080p QuickTime trailers for both "The Avengers" and "The Expendables 2," most images stayed true at greater than 45 degrees, though dark scenes occasionally washed out. Even viewed head-on, colors like the red in Iron Man's armor or the blue in Captain America's suit seemed dull, and blacks in particular seemed washed out and noisy.
The Latitude E6430's dual, front-facing speakers provide accurate audio that's good enough for watching videos and presentations, but not to serve as your stereo. When we played Patrice Rushen's bass-heavy "Forget Me Nots," sound was clear and smooth, but not particularly rich. The Scorpions' heavy metal "No One Like You" did not sound distorted, but it was hollow and monotone with little separation of sound between speakers. In both cases, the maximum volume was barely loud enough to fill a room.
Ports and Webcam
Dell packs the Latitude E6430 with a solid selection of ports, including some you won't find everywhere else. On the right side sits an ExpressCard/54 slot, a rarity among even business notebooks, a hardware Wi-Fi switch, an optical drive and three USB ports, two of which are USB 3.0 compatible and one of which doubles as an eSATA port.
The back houses an HDMI port, a Kensington lock slot and an Ethernet connector. The left side contains a SmartCard slot, a headphone/mic jack, a VGA port and a USB 2.0 port.
The 1.3-megapixel webcam provided sharp, noise-free images, even in low light. However, colors were bland and our face appeared shadowed, even when we were sitting in a well-lit room.
With its 2.9-GHz Intel Core i7-3520M CPU, 6GB of RAM and 128GB SSD, the Dell Latitude E6430 offers superior performance that's good enough for nearly any task, from crunching large spreadsheets to transcoding video. On PCMark 07, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall system performance, the E6430 scored an impressive 4,998, nearly double the 2,555 thin-and-light notebook category average.
The Latitude E6430's 128GB SSD booted Windows 7 Professional (64-bit) in a modest 46 seconds, just 6 seconds faster than the category average. However, the drive took just 30 seconds to complete the LAPTOP File Transfer test, which involves copying 4.97GB of mixed media files. That's a rate of 169.6 MBps, five times the category average.
Because of the high-end processor in our review unit, it's no surprise that the Latitude E6430 was able to transcode a 5-minute HD video to iPod Touch format in just 15 seconds, four times faster than the 1-minute category average. The processor also helped the E6430 complete the LAPTOP Spreadsheet Macro Test, which matches 20,000 names with their addresses, in just 4 minutes and 11 seconds. That's about 50 percent faster than the 6:05 category average.
Our Latitude E6430 only had Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics, so it's no gaming machine. On 3DMark11, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall graphics prowess, the E6430 scored a solid 717, which is just a little below the 755 category average.
Still, when we played "World of Warcraft" at default settings, the Latitude E6430 provided a good frame rate of 53 fps. Just don't expect to keep things playable with the special effects turned up; the rate dropped to 26 fps.
With its optional 9-cell battery installed, the Dell Latitude E6430 lasted a very strong 10 hours and 37 minutes, more than 4 hours longer than the 6 hour and 33 minute thin-and-light notebook category average. However, the Lenovo ThinkPad T430 lasted a whopping 13 hours and 25 minutes with its 9-cell battery attached.
Our review unit's configuration sells for $1,704. However, the Latitude E6430 starts at just $749. For that price, you get a slower Intel 2nd Generation Core i3-2350M CPU operating at 2.3 GHz, a 1366 x 768 screen, 2GB of RAM, a nonbacklit keyboard, a 6-cell battery, no webcam and a 320GB 7,200 rpm hard drive.
Fortunately, Dell.com allows you to configure your notebook to order, choosing exactly which components you want. We highly recommend that users pay $79 extra for the 9-cell battery, $79 to upgrade to the 1600 x 900 screen and $85 to move up to 4GB of RAM. If you plan to do any gaming or CAD work, we also advise that you pay an extra $99 for the Nvidia NVS 5200M discrete graphics chip.
Dell includes its standard set of utilities, including Dell Webcam central for snapping photos and videos with the camera, Dell Touchpad for configuring the pointing devices and Dell Backup and Recovery Manager. The company also includes Intel's Wireless Display software and a trial version of Trend Micro Internet Security.
Dell backs the Latitude E6430 with a three-year warranty on parts and labor, more than you get by default with competitors like Lenovo. You can also add accidental damage protection, on-site service or more years of coverage.
The Latitude E6430 has a lot going for it: strong performance, extraordinary battery life, a world-class keyboard and an attractive chassis that's designed to take some punishment. Users may want to consider the similarly-priced 14-inch ThinkPad T430, which has an even better keyboard and pointing stick and offers 3 hours of more endurance with its 9-cell battery. However, if you want a great-looking business system that packs plenty of power, the Latitude E6430 is one of your best choices.