Dell Latitude E6400 Review

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$1463

Pros: Top-notch security and durability; Eye-catching design; Long endurance with nine-cell battery; Can charge gadgets via USB with system off; Intuitive ControlPoint software

Cons: Small touchpad; Display could be brighter

Verdict: Dell's successor to the D600 series packs plenty of power and endurance in an eye-catching and durable new design.

The Dell Latitude E6400, the update to theD630, packs in all the essentials needed to keep road warriors productive on the go: a speedy Intel Core 2 Duo processor, long battery life, and a host of security and durability features. Factor in the revamped design, which replaces its predecessor's stodgy aesthetic for one that's much more streamlined and visually appealing, and you have an excellent notebook for demanding business users.

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New Design

Measuring 13.2 x 9.4 x 1.0 inches and weighing 5.6 pounds, this 14.1-inch thin-and-light machine features a subtle brushed metal black lid that is available in two decidedly nonbusiness colors: Regal Red and Regatt Blue (in September), along with Mica-Brushed Metal, or as we like to call it, black. The magnesium-alloy body gives the machine a sturdy feel, as do the large, silver hinges.

The 14.1-inch (1280 x 800-pixel resolution) display looked good head-on, but the screen isn't quite as bright as the panel on the HP Compaq EliteBook 6930p, whose viewing angles are also more generous from side to side. Above the screen is a 0.3-megapixel camera with Advanced Light sensitivity that made us look surprisingly clear while engaged in a video chat, although the colors were a bit muted.

The keyboard makes for an excellent typing experience; the firm, yet springy keys virtually jumped up to meet our fingers after we pressed them. Located between the G and H keys is a responsive pointing stick that's a fine alternative to the relatively small touchpad. Dedicated buttons for raising, lowering, and muting the volume rest above the keyboard. Crisp sound poured out of the stereo speakers that flank the keyboard, which only slightly compresses the keyboard layout.

Ports and PowerShare

The system's perimeter contains numerous ports and outlets for hooking up gear: four USB 2.0, eSATA, VGA, Display Port, Ethernet, modem, FireWire, one Type II PCMCIA or ExpressCard/54, 5-in-1 memory card reader, and headphone and microphone jacks. The uppermost USB port on the left side of the unit is the most intriguing: Taking a cue from Toshiba's Sleep and Charge technology, Dell's USB PowerShare lets users charge their gadgets through this special port (which is designated by a lightning bolt symbol next to the traditional USB symbol), even when the computer is turned off.

CPU and Hard Drive Performance

Under the hood of our Dell Latitude E6400 was a 2.26-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 processor and 2GB of RAM, which made for a smooth computing experience. The Latitude E6400 notched 3,025 on our PCMark Vantage test (which measures the application performance of PCs running Vista). That's almost 500 points higher than the thin-and-light average, but about 400 points less than the Lenovo ThinkPad SL400, which has the same processor but discrete Nvidia graphics as opposed to the E6400's integrated Intel graphics.

We were able to work within Google Docs, chat with colleagues in Meebo, listen to MP3s, and run a virus scan without seeing a performance hit. We've come to expect slow boot times from Vista-based systems, but the Latitude E6400 wasn't bad: It took 53 seconds to gain control of the OS after hitting the power button. Many other notebooks take a minute or longer.

If you'd like to add additional memory, the Latitude E6400 can be outfitted with an outstanding 8GB of RAM. Dell includes a 5,400-rpm 160GB hard drive that's protected by Strike Zone technology for storing documents, photos, music, and video. Transferring a 5GB file of mixed media took a swift 3 minutes and 18 seconds, or a rate of 25.7 Mbps. Copying the same files to another folder on the drive took 4 minutes and 35 seconds, or 18.5 Mbps.

Graphics Performance

Our configuration was equipped with Intel's GMA 4500M HD graphics. The E6400 notched a score of 918 in our 3DMark06 test, more than 300 points less than the thin-and-light notebook average (1,236), but that's to be expected of a system with integrated graphics. On our F.E.A.R. test, the E6400 produced predictably low frame rates: 20 frames per second in auto-detect mode (800 x 600-pixel resolution). Despite the low F.E.A.R. numbers, the Dell Latitude E6400 handled World of Warcarft pretty well; it automatically ran at a smooth 32 fps with the resolution set to 1024 x 768 pixels. If you'd like more graphics punch, you can add discrete Nvidia Quadro NVS 160M graphics for $70.

Wi-Fi Performance

Our review unit came with an unremarkable 802.11b/g wireless connection that pushed data along at a rate of 16.0 Mbps from 15 feet away from our access point and 13.4 Mbps at 50 feet away, both of which are below the category average. We highly recommend spending the extra $39 on an 802.11n connection. Nevertheless, we were able to surf the Web at a fairly speedy clip; we loaded CNN's content-heavy main page in 5.7 seconds. The system also includes Dell's Wi-Fi Catcher, which sniffs for available signals even when the notebook is powered down.

Road warriors will appreciate the option to add 3G mobile broadband from AT&T ($199, includes GPS), Sprint ($149), or Verizon ($149). If you're worried about missing out on future technologies, don't be; the Dell Latitude E6400 is future-proofed, as it supports Wireless USB and Mobile WiMAX.

Software, Security Features, and Management

The security-conscious will be pleased to learn that the Dell Latitude E6400 features a contactless Smart Card reader, TPM, an optional biometric fingerprint reader, and Intel's vPro technology. Data can also be kept from prying eyes through the use of remote data deletion and certified data destruction.

The Latitude E6400 also comes pre-installed with Dell Video Chat (if configured with the optional webcam), Google Earth, Microsoft Office Live Small Business, Roxio Creator Home, and CyberLink PowerDVD DX. New Dell ControlPoint software provides a single access point that lets users configure the notebook as they see fit. With a single hot key combination, users can access power management, displays and devices, connections, security, and system information.

Battery Life

Using our LAPTOP Battery Test, which tests endurance by surfing the Web until the battery dies, the Dell Latitude E6400's nine-cell battery lasted 5 hours and 17 minutes, which ran neck and neck with theLenovo ThinkPad SL400's5 hours and 20 minute score on the same test. Dell states that users can expect a whopping 19 hours of battery life if you equip this system with a 64GB solid-state drive ($554), and a 12-cell slice battery ($399).

Verdict

Priced at $1,463, the Dell Latitude E6400 is a durable and secure notebook that offers snappy performance and plenty of endurance. And thanks to Dell's redesign, this is one sleek business notebook you'll want to be seen carrying. Power users will want to upgrade to discrete graphics, and we wish the touchpad were bigger, but overall the E6400 is an very good choice.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 2.26-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400
Operating System MS Windows Vista Business
RAM 2GB
RAM Upgradable to 8GB
Hard Drive Size 160GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 14.1
Native Resolution 1280x800
Optical Drive DVD+/-RW DL
Optical Drive Speed 8X
Graphics Card Intel GMA 4500M HD
Video Memory 32MB
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g
Ports (excluding USB) Firewire
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
Ports (excluding USB) eSATA
Ports (excluding USB) DisplayPort
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Modem
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
USB Ports 4
Card Slots 5-1 card reader
Card Slots Type II
Card Slots PC Card
Card Slots ExpressCard
Warranty/Support Three-year limited/three year NBD on-site service/24/7 toll-free phone
Size 13.2 x 9.4 x 1.0 inches
Weight 5.6 pounds
Company Website http:// www.dell.com