To say the 14-inch Dell Latitude E6420 XFR could take a licking would be an understatement. The fully rugged MIL-STD tested notebook can withstand anything from 6-foot drops to wind-blown rain, making it ideal for those working in hazardous locations. Equipped with a Core i7 processor, a bright display, and a long-lasting battery, the E6420 XFR can handle heavy-duty tasks without breaking a sweat. But is this rough and tumble notebook worth its $5,612 price tag?
Click to EnlargeThe Dell Latitude E6420 XFR looks more like a small tank than a notebook. The entire gray chassis is made from PR-72 ultra-polymer and a magnesium alloy that can absorb a lot of abuse. XFR logos inscribed on either side of the lid gives the notebook a tough, chiseled look. The center of the lid has a gunmetal plate with a simple crosshatch design and a raised Dell insignia. Each corner of the notebook has a black rubber bumper, providing additional protection against the inevitable drop. A sturdy black metal latch is located on the front of the system to secure the lid.
On the E6420 XFR, ports that are normally exposed and vulnerable on traditional laptops are protected by covers secured by black sliding latches.
The notebook's interior is done in the same gray ultra-polymer magnesium alloy as the lid. Exposed screws on the keyboard deck and bezel reinforce the extremely rugged aesthetic (see pictures below in Keyboard and Touchpad). Small volume and mute buttons sit on the right, adjacent to the full-size keyboard.
The 6.6-pound, 14 x 11.7 x 2.2-inch E6420 XFR is lighter than its predecessor, the 8.5-pound, 13.9 x 11.5 x 2.2 E6400 XFR. Still, it's heavy for a notebook. Fortunately, a large black rubber handle on the front of the E6420 makes the machine relatively easy to carry.
The E6420 XFR not only looks like a tank, it also has tank-like durability. The high-strength PR-72 ultra-polymer in the chassis improves upon the E6400 XFR's PR481 chassis material, increasing the notebook's drop spec from 4 to 6 feet. The rubber bumpers have also been redesigned for better protection against bumps and drops.
Click to EnlargeSimilar to the E6400 XFR's design, all ports and slots on the E6420 XFR are protected by doors using PrimoSeal technology, which has an industry rating of IP-65. When closed, the port doors seal completely thanks to compression gasketing designed to keep water and dust from the notebook's interior.
The E6420 is able to operate in extreme temperatures thanks to its QuadCool thermal technology. Dell says the E6420 XFR can stay cool under pressure without the use of external vents, thanks to a combination of conductive cooling, thermal pipes, and a sealed fan chamber.
These components combine to create what Dell calls its Ballistic Armor, which enables the notebook to withstand rigorous MIL-STD-810G and MIL-STD-461F testing. The E6420 XFR can withstand drops from 6 feet while closed and off. When it's open and turned on, the machine can survive a fall from 3 feet. The notebook can also endure 5.8 inches of rain and 70-mph winds while open and operating, as well as temperatures ranging from -20 degrees Fahrenheit to 145 degrees. And if that wasn't enough, the E6420 XFR can operate in an explosive environment--for example, a room saturated with gasoline fumes--without igniting the air around it.
With the notebook turned off and closed, we dropped it twice from a height of 6 feet. While some of the port covers popped open, the notebook didn't suffer any damage, and started up normally. Then, with the notebook turned on and open, we dropped it twice from a height of three feet. This time, the port covers remained closed, and the E6420 continued running normally.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Click to EnlargeThe black matte full-size backlit keyboard on the E6420 XFR provided a very comfortable typing experience. The flat, medium-sized keys are smudge- and fingerprint-prone, but they provided firm feedback with little flex. We also liked the backlighting on the keyboard, which is adjustable in 25-percent increments.
We appreciated the slightly gritty, frictionless surface of the 3.1 x 1.7-inch touchpad, and were able to navigate the desktop with great accuracy. However, multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, three-finger press and flick, and two-finger scroll and rotation were very difficult to execute, and the touchpad often misinterpreted our movements. While they're rubber-coated--which usually means mushy--the soft-touch mouse buttons felt velvety and provided springy feedback.
Despite its QuadCool thermal technology, the E6420 XFR runs hot under the collar. After streaming a video on Hulu for 15 minutes, the notebook's touchpad measured a balmy 93 degrees Fahrenheit, while the space between the G and H keys measured 92 degrees. The underside vent blew an uncomfortable 100 degrees, while the bottom middle vent measured 104 degrees. We consider temperatures above 95 degrees uncomfortable.
Display and Touchscreen
Click to EnlargeThe Latitude E6420 XFR's 14-inch matte HD 1366 x 768 Direct Vue display is super bright with rich, vivid colors. We were impressed with how well the 654-lux display--well above most notebooks, which average about 200 lux--maintained its brightness and color integrity in direct sunlight. We were taken with the deep golden hues and milky jades when watching a DVD of Aeon Flux. However, we did notice some graininess, which detracted somewhat from the viewing experience.
For an additional $500, the display can come equipped with a resistive touch screen. Unlike with capacitive touch screens, you're limited to one- and two-finger input, and then only for activities such as selecting text. Still, this also means that you can use this Dell in the field while wearing gloves. Using the small attached stylus, we were able to highlight text in documents and websites. It wasn't as accurate as we would have liked, as the stylus would also highlight either the line above or below our intended line. However, we were able to recalibrate the display using the eGalaxTouch utility.
The E6420 XFR's speakers are located on the bottom front lip of the system. We were forced to crank the volume to maximum just to be able to hear the dialogue in Aeon Flux. However, music playback was better. The notebook delivered clear, rich audio on Rihanna's "Talk That Talk," including crisp snares and claps during a synthesized instrumental. Rihanna's unique vocals were clear and lilting, as were Jay-Z's braggadocious rhymes.
The notebook also has a Stealth mode, which shuts off audio and the keyboard backlight while dimming the screen--perfect for maintaining cover in a potentially hostile situation.
Ports and Webcam
Click to EnlargeAs mentioned above, all the ports on the E6240 are protected by gasket-sealed metal doors that keep moisture and dust from entering. On the right, one large door covers two USB 2.0 ports, an ExpressCard/54 slot, a Wi-Fi radio switch, and the tray-loading DVD burner. A smaller door next to it protects an HDMI and a USB/eSATA port. On the left, one door covers a VGA and Serial port, while another shields the hard drive.
Click to EnlargeOne large door on the rear of the E6420 opens to expose the battery; two small doors on either side cover the power and Ethernet ports. On the front edge, a sliding door, just underneath the handle, protects the SD card slot. Below that is a slot for the small metal stylus. The bottom of the notebook has a connector dock, which is also covered by a sliding latch.
Swappable media bay modules allow users to switch out or remove components, such as the DVD burner, while the notebook is up and running.
Click to EnlargeUsing Dell Webcam Central, the 2-megapixel captures stills and video in 1920 x 1080. When we shot photos of our face under fluorescent lighting, images looked clear with sharp detail. We did notice that colors, especially red, appeared a little washed out. During our Skype session, our caller reported a slightly grainy image, but with in-sync audio that was plenty loud.
It's not just the exterior of the Dell Latitude E6420 XFR that impresses. The E6420 XFR packs a 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-2620M CPU with 6GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, and an Intel HD Graphics 3000 GPU. This notebook has more than enough power to handle any heavy-duty productivity tasks.
On PCMark07, a synthetic test that measures overall performance, the E6420 XFR scored 4,147, nearly double the 2,238 mainstream laptop category average. During the OpenOffice benchmark, the notebook matched 20,000 names to their corresponding addresses in 4 minutes and 43 seconds, much faster than the 6:56 mainstream average.
A lot of the E6420 XFR's speed comes from its 128GB solid state drive, which loaded the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Professional in a smoking 35 seconds. That's 26 seconds faster than the 0:61 category average. On our File Transfer Test, the E6420 XFR duplicated 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 59 seconds, a transfer rate of 86.2 MBps. That's more than double the 30.1 MBps category average and the V100's 56.5 MBps.
With its Intel HD Graphics 3000 GPU, the Latitude E6420 XFR can handle HD movies and play mainstream games at a reasonable clip. On 3DMark06, a benchmark that measures overall graphics performance, the E6420 XFR scored 5,926, well above the 4,748 mainstream category average.
In our World of Warcraft test, this Dell Latitude notched a playable 40 fps frame rate. However, the category average is 63 fps. When we switched to 1366 x 768 resolution and maximum settings, the E6420 XFR notched 31 fps, slightly above the 28 fps category average.
During the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi), the E6420 XFR clocked in at exactly 8 hours, nearly twice as long as the 4:37 mainstream category average. Since this laptop is designed for field use, its extra-long endurance is critical to the target audience.
Software and Warranty
Click to EnlargeThe Latitude E6420 XFR's comes with a few helpful bundled utilities, such as Dell Backup and Recovery and Dell System and Devices Manager, which let us set hotkeys and adjust screen and keyboard brightness. There's also Dell Access, which lets users set up a pre-Windows login and a Windows login (pictured).
Third-party software includes Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office Starter, Windows Live, and a 30-day free trial of Trend Micro 3.5.
The Dell Latitude E6420 XFR has a three-year Basic Hardware Service with three-year NBD Limited On-site Service after Remote Diagnosis warrant. See how Dell stacked up in this year's Tech Support Showdown and Best & Worst Brands report.
Our $5,612 review unit came equipped with a 2.7-GHz Intel Core i7-2620M CPU, 6GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, and Intel HD Graphics 3000. Our unit also featured a touchscreen display (a $500 option), backlit rubber keyboard ($199), and fingerprint reader ($29). The $4,532 base model features a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-2520M with 3GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, and Intel HD 3000 GPU. The $4,577 and $4,832 versions of the E6420 have 4GB and 6GB of RAM, respectively.
Adding Nvidia NVS4200M discrete graphics costs $40, while upgrading to a 256GB SSD will run $700. Those who need extra connectivity options can opt for a built-in GPS module ($449), as well as integrated mobile broadband. AT&T HSPA and EVDO cards cost $125, while built-in 4G LTE goes for $249.
Click to EnlargeThe Dell Latitude E6420 XFR combines extreme durability with strong overall performance and long battery life, exactly what demanding rugged notebook shoppers are looking for. The only thing that keeps this tank of a laptop from earning our Editors' Choice award is its above-average running temperature. Some may prefer the Panasonic Toughbook 31, which offers a sealed all-weather design that can also handle 6-foot drops. However, the Toughbook doesn't have a Core i7 option like the Dell and it weighs over a pound more despite featuring a smaller 13-inch screen. While the $5,612 price is steep, the E6420 XFR is an excellent choice for the military, those who work on oil rigs, or anyone looking for a highly durable, high-performance notebook for field use.