With its heavy-duty metal chassis and long battery life, the Dell Latitude E6540 is built to soldier through the bumps and bruises of a long workday without needing an outlet. This $1,479 15-inch system features a fourth-generation Intel Core i7 processor, AMD discrete graphics and a host of security features to keep your data safe. Read on to find out why the E6540 should make your short list for business notebooks.
The 6.6-pound, 14.9 x 9.86 x 1.3-inch E6540 has quite a bit of bulk on its silvery frame, making the Lenovo ThinkPad T530 (5.4 pounds, 13.5 x 9.1 x 0.8~1.0 inches) look positively svelte. The Dell also eclipses the HP EliteBook Folio 9470m's 3.6-pound 13.3 x 9.1 x 0.75-inch frame. However, it's important to remember the 9470m is a 14-inch Ultrabook.
Once we got past the sheer size of the E6540, we took time to admire the notebook's simple-yet-elegant aesthetics. The silver brushed aluminum lid has a shiny center-set chrome Dell logo, and gray plastic strips along the top offer some visual variety. The 9-cell battery protrudes from the rear of the notebook, making for an easy grip. Before we could access the interior of the notebook, we had to slide a ribbed black clasp that juts out from beneath the lid.
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Fans of soft-touch finish will find plenty to love about the E6540. The top of the keyboard and the palm rest are swathed in a luxurious, soft black finish. Buttons for Mute and Volume are located on the notebook's top-left corner with a trio of status lights and a Power button on the right. A fairly small touchpad sits below the keyboard.
Durability and Security
The E6540's chassis has more to offer than plain old good looks. The notebook is MIL-STD-810G-certified to handle extreme temperatures (minus 40 to 149 degrees Fahrenheit), shock, humidity (5 percent to 95 percent) and extreme altitudes (-50 to 10,000 feet).
The notebook has also been outfitted with a FIPS-certified Trusted Platform Module (TPM) to keep important data secure. Dell ControlVault keeps passwords, biometric templates and security codes isolated from potential malware attacks. Dell's Protected Workspace software places Web browsers, .exe files, PDF readers and Microsoft Office programs in a secure virtual container that guards the system against virus infection.
The E6540's 15.6-inch, anti-glare, 1920 x 1080 display offers dazzling color and sharp detail. A 1080p image of a pair of parrots we viewed was an explosion of blues, yellows and greens. Details were sharp enough to see individual barbs on the birds' feathers.
The laptop continued to impress while watching the 1080p "Fruitvale Station" trailer. Fireworks illuminated the screen in shades of magenta and emerald. Oscar Grant's girlfriend's ruby red lipstick drew the eye and we could see the individual coils of Grant's daughter's hair.
At 271 lux, the E6540's display is plenty bright, outshining the 212 mainstream notebook category average and both the ThinkPad T530 (166 lux) and the Folio 9470m (165 lux).
A pair of front-mounted speakers on the E6540 will knock you for a loop -- in a good way. We were impressed with the volume and audio quality emitted from the relatively small speakers. As Regina Belle's rendition of "Fly Me To The Moon" began to play, our small test room was blanketed with a silky alto, a rich bass line and the clear chords of a piano. However, treble became harsh and distorted at maximum volume.
The company also includes its Dell Audio software, which offers three settings (Voice, Music and Video). After switching between the presets, we found Music delivered the best audio quality overall for music and dialogue.
Keyboard, Touchpad and Pointing Stick
The E6540's keyboard spans the length of the deck, features a full number pad, and has backlighting bright enough to use comfortably in a dimly lit room. The medium-size black keys provided strong tactile feedback and, combined with the soft-touch palm rest, made for a very comfortable typing experience. We scored 63 words per minute on the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, noticeably higher than our usual 55 wpm.
The 3.5 x 1.75-inch touchpad is a little small for our tastes. Gestures such as two-finger rotate and pinch-zoom were somewhat difficult to perform due to the cramped real estate. However, two-finger scroll, three-finger press and flick reacted nimbly to our input. The discrete mouse buttons gave springy feedback and quick reaction times.
For people who want to bypass the tiny touchpad, Dell adds a pointing stick with its own pair of discrete mouse buttons. The buttons offered firm feedback, but our finger kept slipping on the stick, because of its rough texture and low height.
The Latitude E6540 stayed pleasantly cool throughout our testing. After running the Laptop Heat Test (15 minutes of streaming a full-screen Hulu video), the E6540's touchpad measured just 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The space between its G and H keys clocked in at 84 degrees while the bottom registered 91 degrees. All are below 95 degrees, which is our comfort threshold.
Using Dell's Webcam Central software, the E6540's integrated HD webcam takes photos and videos up to 1280 x 720. The camera does a nice job with colors, capturing our brick red dress and our chocolate skin tone accurately. However, there was a fair amount of visual noise in all of the photos that greatly diminished sharpness in both natural and fluorescent lighting.
Similar to most business notebooks, the E6540 has ports and slots in just about every nook and cranny. Along the right side of the notebook sit a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a combination headphone/microphone jack, a tray-loading DVD burner and a Wi-Fi switch.
An SD card reader can be found along the right front lip of the laptop. Another USB 3.0 port is located on the left with HDMI, a smart card slot and security lock slot. And if that's not enough, there's yet another USB 3.0 port on the notebook's rear, along with VGA and Ethernet.
A port on the bottom of the notebook allows you to connect the E6540 to one of two E-Port Plus docks ($119-$139), which add additional ports such as dual DVI, USB 3.0, as well as legacy ports such as serial, parallel and PS/2.
Thanks to a 2.7-GHz fourth-generation Intel Core i7-4800MQ processor with 8GB of RAM, our configuration of the Dell Latitude E6540 could pump out spreadsheets and slideshow presentations with the best of them. The notebook effortlessly streamed the documentary "Salute" from Netflix while performing a system scan with 10 open tabs in Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox.
The laptop notched 3,810 on the PCMark 7 benchmark, easily topping the 2,891 mainstream notebook average. It also beat out the Lenovo ThinkPad T530's (2.8-GHz Intel Core i5-3360M CPU) score of 2,849. However, the HP EliteBook Folio 9470M's third-generation 1.8-GHz Intel Core i5-3427U CPU had a stronger showing, posting 4,496.
The E6540's 500GB 5,400-rpm hard drive booted Windows 7 Professional (64-bit) in 32 seconds, matching the T530 (500GB 7,200-rpm hard drive) and beating the 39-second average. Neither were a match for the Folio 9470M's 180GB SSD, which booted Windows 8 in a speedy 21 seconds.
On the File Transfer Test, the E6540 duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 3 minutes and 30 seconds. That translates to a 24.2MBps transfer rate, falling short of the 43.4MBps average. The T530 delivered 37.4MBps, but the Folio 9470M decimated the competition with 118.4MBps.
When we ran the OpenOffice Spreadsheet Macro Test, the E6540 matched up 20,000 names and addresses in 5 minutes and 52 seconds. It's a few seconds shy of the 5:47 average, but more than enough to leave the Folio 9470M's 8:29 in the dust. The T530 notched a swift 4:11.
The Dell Latitude E6540 is outfitted with an AMD Radeon HD 8790M GPU with 2GB of VRAM. That means the notebook can handle some gaming action, albeit on the lower end of the settings spectrum.
On the 3DMark11 benchmark, the E6540 notched 2,433, nearly doubling the 1,231 mainstream average. The Lenovo ThinkPad T530 and the HP EliteBook Folio 9470M and their Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPUs scored 625 and 594 respectively.
During the "World of Warcraft" test, the E6540 delivered 79 fps on Autodetect at 1080p, besting the 72 fps category average. The T530 (1600 x 900) matched our 30 fps playability threshold while the Folio 9470M (1366 x 768) missed the mark at 23 fps.
When we cranked it up to maximum, the E6540 gave us 41 fps, beating the 37 fps average. The Folio 9470M and the T530 were in a dead heat at 13 fps.
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When we ran the "BioShock Infinite" benchmark, the E6540 notched 40 fps on Low at 1920 x 1080. That's below the 54 fps category, but well above our 30 fps playability threshold. After switching to Ultra, the frame rate dropped to a stuttering 16 fps, failing to meet the 21 fps mainstream average.
The Dell Latitude E6540's extended 9-cell Lithium-ion battery lasted 7 hours and 30 minutes on the Laptop Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi). That's more than two hours longer than the 5:33 mainstream average. The HP EliteBook Folio 9470M clocked in with 7:04 while the Lenovo ThinkPad T530 lasted 6:39.
Our $1,479 configuration of the Dell Latitude E6450 is currently the only build available. However, Dell plans on release other versions of the notebook at a later date.
Software and Warranty
Dell didn't add much in the way of software or apps to our Windows 7 configuration, opting for a small suite of Dell-branded utilities. The Backup and Recovery Manager is a gathering of tools to back up and recover important files or system partitions. The Client System Update automatically checks for system updates. Power Manager enables users to control the notebook's power consumption via four profiles (Standard, Express Charge, Adaptive and Primarily AC Use) or create a custom setting.
Third-party software includes Adobe Reader XI, Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office.
The Dell Latitude E6540 comes with a limited hardware warranty, standard three-year On Site service after remote diagnosis.
The Dell Latitude E6540 is a strong performer -- built for tough environments and long battery life to boot. A comfortable keyboard and a 1080p display help round out the winning formula. However, mobile professionals might want to consider the $1,399 HP EliteBook Folio 9470m, which offers better performance and is $80 cheaper than the $1,479 E6540. Overall, though, the E6430s is a very good choice for those looking for a sturdy business notebook that can handle a long work day.