Durability, security, and performance. That's what any business notebook shopper is looking for in a good workhorse. And the 15.6-inch Latitude E6510 delivers all of the above, starting with a sturdy yet attractive Tri-Metal case. You also get a Core i7 processor and discrete Nvidia graphics for serious power, plus a high-resolution (1600 x 900) display. Add in a host of data protection features and you have a pretty solid package. But is this notebook worth nearly $2,000?
At 14.7 x 10 x 1.3 inches and 6.6 pounds (with 9-cell battery), the E6510 sits right on the borderline between a bulky notebook you can tolerate carrying and a weighty workstation you just have to leave on the desk. If you're willing to lose a few hours of battery life, you can opt for the less-powerful 6-cell battery, which brings the weight down to a much more reasonable 5.5 pounds.
The subtle, yet attractive design ID of the entire Latitude E Series hasn't changed much, but why mess with a good thing? The smooth, aluminum lid comes in three colors: Slate Silver, Regal Red, and Regatta Blue. Our review unit came with the Regatta Blue lid, which looked stunning, particularly when paired with the silver battery. When you open up the lid, you'll notice a completely matte black bezel, keyboard, and deck, accented with attractive light blue status lights that match the lid. The push-button latch adds another touch of class.
Keyboard, Touchpad, Pointing Stick
The E6510's keyboard uses a traditional layout with full-size keys. When taking the Ten Thumbs Typing test, we managed to get our average 80 words per minute, but with a higher-than-usual 2-percent error rate. The key feel was comfortable overall, though a bit on the mushy side. For those who like typing in the dark, the keyboard has a backlight which can be set to stay on all the time or turn on only when the notebook's light sensor detects it is in a dark room.
Like Lenovo ThinkPads and HP EliteBooks, the Dell Latitude E6510 has both a touchpad and a pointing stick. Though which method one prefers is largely a matter of personal preference, we like pointing sticks, because they're more accurate than touchpads and touch typists can use them without removing their fingers from the home row. However, while the pointing stick on the E6510 provides these benefits, it has a much lower profile than ThinkPad's that makes you bend your finger more to use it. Worse, the cursor was quite jumpy when we used the stick, even after decreasing the pointing speed.
The 3.3 x 1.8-inch touchpad helped us navigate around the desktop quickly and easily, but when performing multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, it wasn't as responsive. For example, the pad sometimes mistook a pinch gesture for rotate when using two fingers on one hand. We had better results when we used one finger from each hand.
The Latitude E6510 stayed pleasantly cool throughout our testing. After playing a video at full screen for 15 minutes, we measured the touchpad at a chilly 88 degrees Fahrenheit and the keyboard at a reasonable 92 degrees. We consider temperatures below 95 degrees to be comfortable. The bottom measured at 102 degrees, but most notebook bottoms reach 100 and, unless you're built like Shaq, you won't be putting this notebook on your lap.
Display and Sound
The 15.6-inch 1600 x 900 matte display provided plenty of screen real estate for our documents and Web pages while outputting sharp, colorful images at fantastic viewing angles. Whether we were watching a 1080p WMV file we downloaded from Microsoft HD Showcase, a DVD of Dark City, or a 720p episode of Fringe, video was smooth and free from visual noise.
When we listened to both a rock tune, The Heavy's "Sixteen," and a jazz song, "Morning Dance" by Spyro Gyra, the E6510's stereo speakers provided sound that was accurate, if not overly rich. At maximum volume, the E6510 was loud enough to fill a large living room, though music became a little bit tinny.
Ports and Webcam
Because it's a large and expensive business system, you'd expect a lot of ports from the E6510 and, for the most part, it delivers. On the right side are an ExpressCard 54 slot, Smartcard reader, FireWire 400 port, audio in/out jacks, and two USB ports. Mounted on the back are an Ethernet port and VGA-out. On the left side are an ExpressCard/34 slot, a 6-in-1 card reader, HDMI-out, and two more USB ports for a total of four. Noticeably absent are an eSATA and USB 3.0 ports. Though USB 3.0 is still rare, competitors like the ThinkPad W510 offer them.
The high definition webcam is able to shoot stills and videos at a whopping 2048 x 1536 resolution or 3.1-megapixels. Better still, the lens handles low-light situations with aplomb. Even when we sat in a dark livingroom, our image was sharp and colorful. On Skype our image was smooth and relatively noise-free, considering the poor lighting conditions. This is definitely one of the best webcams we've tested.
Equipped with a 2.66-GHz Core i7-610M CPU, an Nvidia NVS 3100M graphics card,4GB of RAM, and a 7,200 rpm hard drive, the Dell Latitude E6510 provided some of the highest performance numbers we've seen on a business notebook this size. On PCMarkVantage, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance, the E6510 scored a whopping 7,796, around 90-percent above the mainstream notebook category average, about 40-percent faster than the HP EliteBook 8440p, and roughly 10-percent faster than the Toshiba Tecra A11, which has the same processor.
The Latitude E6510's 250GB 7,200 rpm hard drive booted Windows 7 Professional (64-bit) in 61 seconds, about 2 seconds faster than the category average and 17 seconds quicker than the Tecra A11 (78 seconds). However, the HP EliteBook 8440p was much faster at 44 seconds. It took just two minutes and 33 seconds to complete the LAPTOP Transfer test, which consists of copying 4.97GB of mixed media files. That's a rate of 32.3 MBps, nearly 50-perecent better than the 22.9 MBps category average and comfortably ahead of the Tecra A11 (27.8 Mbps) and HP ElteBook 8440p (29.6 MBps).
When it came to transcoding video, the E6510 also excelled, as it took only 46 seconds to convert a 114MB MP4 to AVI using Oxelon Media Encoder. That's 17 seconds better than the category average of 63.5 seconds, but only a little bit faster than the Toshiba Tecra A11 (48 seconds) and HP EliteBook 8440p (53 seconds).
By pairing Nvidia NVS 3100M discrete graphics with its 2.66-GHz Core i7-620M CPU, the Latitude E6510 provides strong enough graphics performance for any business application and many games as well. On 3DMark06, which measures overall graphics prowess, the notebook scored 3687, which is just above the category aerage of 3,426. The Toshiba Tecra A11, which sports a slower Nvidia NVS 2100M CPU, got a slightly lower score of 3406 and the integrated graphics-powered HP EliteBook 8440p managed only 1766.
The E6510 got a whopping frame rate of 144 frames per second when playing World of Warcraft at 1024 x 768, though that rate dropped to a much-more-modest 28 fps at the native 1600 x 900 resolution with special effects turned up. Though those numbers were far above the 71.4 and 23.5 category averages, the Toshiba Tecra All turned in similar scores of 129 and 26 fps.
On the very-demanding game Far Cry 2, the Latitude E6510 got a reasonable 46 frames per second, though that numbered dropped to an unplayable 12 fps at 1600 x 900. The lower-res number is way ahead of the category average of 31 fps, while the high res number is just slightly slower than the category average of 15 fps. Either way, the Dell is good enough to do some light gaming when you're not crunching numbers.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
Due to the massive 9-cell battery on our review unit, the Dell Latitude E6510 lasted 5 hours and 41 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi. That time is way longer than the the 3 hour and 48-minute category average and the 2 hours and 6 minutes turned in by the Toshiba Tecra A11. However, as we mentioned above, the 9-cell battery adds nearly a pound of weight over its 6-cell counterpart.
The notebook's Intel Centrino 6200 802.11n radio produced strong transfer rates of 39.9 and 21.1 Mbps at distances of 15 and 50 feet from the router respectively. The 15-foot score was much better than the HP EliteBook 8440p (31.9 / 24.6 Mbps).
When charging, the Latitude E6510 took 1 hour and 23 minutes to reach 80-percent of capacity and a full 2 hours and 6 minutes to reach full charge. Both times were much much quicker than the category averages of 1:34 and 2:23. During that charging period, the notebook used an average of 49.8 watts. That gives the E6510 a LAPTOP Green Efficiency rating of 24.4, much better than the category average of 33.1 (lower is better).
Though our review unit cost a whopping $1,854, base configurations of the Dell Latitude E6510 start at just $729. When configuring your E6510, you can choose between 6 different Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 CPUs. You can also decide between a 1366 x 768, 1600 x 900, or 1920 x 1080 resolution screen. Both discrete Nvidia NVS 3100M graphics and integrated Intel graphics are available. Storage drive options range from a 160GB 5,400 rpm unit on the low end to a 256GB SSD on the high end, with lots of 7,200 rpm and encrypted drive options in between. The base config starts with 1GB RAM, but can be specked up to 8GB. Though the default battery is a 6-cell unit, a 9-cell option is available as well.
Unless you need workstation-level performance, we recommend you save money by choosing a Core i5 or Core i3 CPU, but that you splurge to get the full 1920 x 1080 resolution panel (a $129 option). If you get the full HD panel, a Core i3 CPU, 250GB hard drive, 3GB of RAM, integrated graphics, a 6-cell battery, and a webcam, the notebook will only cost you $1068, $30 less if you get it in Silver rather than Blue.
Dell Latitude On
If you just can't wait 61 seconds for Windows 7 to boot, you can the button to the left of the power button, which triggers Dell Latitude On, an "instant on" OS based on Device VM's popular Splashtop operating system. After about 18 seconds, you'll be hit with a login prompt and then asked which of five applications you wish to launch first: e-mail, web browser, chat (aka instant messaging), VoIP (aka Skype), or Remote Desktop. When you click one of these you'll wait another 10 to 15 seconds for the app and the Latitude On OS to launch.
In Latitude ON, you have a taskbar that lets you easily switch between the five initial launch programs and adds a few others including Citrix Receiver and VMWare view for running virtualized apps, a music client for playing tunes, and a photo viewer. While the different Latitude On applications we tried ran smoothly and the Latitude On environment had an attractive user interface, we were left wondering how many users would want to use this scaled down operating system just to save 30 seconds or less of start up time.
Software, Security, and Warranty
The Latitude E6510 comes with a small number of Dell utilities, including Dell Webcam Central for shooting pictures and video with the cam and Dell Control Point, which allows you to control the power settings and turn on or off the ambient light sensor and keyboard backlighting.
Because the E6510 is made for the enterprise, it has some optional security and manageability features, such as a Trusted Platform Module (TPM), Intel vPro, a Smart Card Reader, and a fingerprint reader, the last of which we didn't have on our review unit. Dell Embassy security allows you to control the notebook's login system, including the TPM security module and to configure the fingerprint reader. Still, the suite of Dell tools pales in comparison to those offered by HP whose Protect Tools feature file shredding and encryption apps.
Unlike other notebooks that come standard with a one year warranty that you can upgrade at purchase time, all configurations of the Dell Latitude E6510 have a base 3-year warranty that you can upgrade with up to two additional years (for a total of 5) or on-site service.
The Latitude E6510 offers a lot of performance in an attractive business-friendly package, with a gorgeous bright screen and amazing low-light webcam. However, the $1854 configuration we reviewed is not a particularly good value, particularly when compared to the Toshiba Tecra A11. That notebook has the same CPU and only a slightly-slower graphics card, and costs over $600 less. For nearly $2000, you should expect a high-end workstation with a quad core CPU, USB 3.0 ports, and dual hard drives or at least an SSD. However, in one of its lower-priced configurations, the Latitude E6510 can be configured to provide a lot more bang for your buck.