Dell Latitude E6400 First Look

by Reads (68,210)

by John Ratsey

Dell whetted our appetites for the new E-series Latitudes through some "leaks" at Engadget in March 2008. Among the features which caught my attention were the 14.1" WXGA+ LED backlit display, a target entry weight of 2kg (4.25lb), an eSATA port and a backlit keyboard. Last year I ordered an M1330 a couple of weeks after launch but got bored by the wait and cancelled it, so this year I moved quickly and placed my order for an E6400 within a few hours of the launch.

 

The new E-series Latitudes use the Intel Montivena platform which includes power saving refinements to improve battery life. This first look at a production model of the E6400 gives a quick evaluation with particular attention to some aspects that have generated much discussion in our forums. The basic specifications of my Latitude E6400 are:

  • Screen: 14-inch 1440 x 900 WXGA+ LED Backlit (matte finish)
  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 (2.40GHz, 1066MHz FSB, 3MB cache)
  • Memory: 1GB DDR2-800 RAM
  • Storage: 160GB 5400rpm HDD (Samsung HM160HI)
  • Optical Drive: 9.5mm thick PLDS 8A2SDVD+/-RW
  • Wireless: Intel 5100 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Graphics: Intel X4500HD
  • Backlit keyboard
  • Express Card
  • Built-in web camera and microphone
  • Battery: 56Wh 6-cell
  • Standard E series 90W PSU and optional slim 65W Auto/Air/AC adapter
  • Dimensions: 335 x 244 x 33mm  (including feet about 2mm long) or 13.2" x 9.6" x 1.3"
  • Weight: Actual weight 2.31kg 5.1 lbs (w/ 6 cell battery)
  • WindowsVista Business with XP Pro downgrade

Configuration Selection

Deciding on the configuration is part of the fun with buying a Dell. I decided the P8600 processor was at the right point of the performance/value curve. I’m not into 3D games so the lower power consumption of the Intel GPU is my preference. The LED backlit WXGA+ screen was a must while the backlit keyboard will most likely come useful when I’m working somewhere when there’s a power failure. The 160GB HDD was the best option on Dell’s capacity/performance/value curve (I’ve already got a 320GB HDD which I’ll move over). 1GB RAM looked the best pricing choice since I could get 2GB elsewhere for the cost of Dell’s 1GB upgrade. I opted for the Express Card slot since I could, if necessary, get an adaptor to be able to use my old PC cards. I wanted a microphone and on the UK configuration the microphone and webcam come together. I wanted an internal 56k modem but this was not available as an option so I ordered a USB modem instead. Similarly Bluetooth was not available and I ordered a USB Bluetooth device from elsewhere (fine for me since I only use it occasionally). One option I did select was the 3-year extended warranty for the battery. In my experience a battery loses about half its capacity in about 18 months.


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(By the way, the display brightness in the above picture was no brighter than 70%.)

Build and Design

My last Dell was a big and heavy Inspiron 8000. Dell focused more on the style of the new models and the E6400 has more charisma than its predecessor. I would have preferred a red one, but they currently aren’t available. My initial impression on picking up the E6400 is that it feels solid. The paint finish is neither matte nor glossy but somewhere in between. The display back has a brushed metal finish to add a little style.


My E6400 on the scales (kg on left, lbs on right)
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There has been considerable discussion about the weight of the E6400. My E6400 with its 6-cell battery, HDD and optical drive weighed in at 2.31kg (5lb 1.5oz) which is somewhat more than would be expected from the headline weight of 1.95kg with a 4-cell battery, SSD and weight saver module but somewhat less than a 2.55kg weight (albeit with 9-cell battery) reported elsewhere. Dell’s datasheet for the D630 gives the weight as "Starting at 4.47lbs (2.0kg) with 4-cell battery and Travel Lite module, Starting at 5.1 lbs (2.3kg) with 6-cell battery and CD-ROM drive".  Therefore the E6400 shows little, if any improvement, in the weight compared to its predecessor. More investigation is needed into the obesity problem.

If hinge stiffness is an indicator of quality then this laptop is near the top of the list. Opening and adjusting the display is a two-handed job. The display back is metal alloy. I’ve tried pushing and twisting but I can’t get any ripples on the display. The base is a single sheet of metal that is held in place by one screw, which vastly simplifies access. The chassis itself also appears to be metal.


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The hard disk is held in by two screws. There is no caddy for the HDD. It just has a simple bezel on the end and it sits snugly in the chassis. So far I’ve observed no sign of any shock-protecting mountings. Perhaps Dell no longer considers this necessary since users have the option of SSDs or drives with free fall sensors.


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The optical drive is easily removable. It is a "super slim" 9.5mm (3/8") unit with an SATA connector (but with a different configuration to the SATA on a HDD, so I can’t just push another HDD into the slot). This thinner drive and therefore thinner media bay may explain why a bay battery is no longer an easy option.

Display

Device Manager shows the display as LPL0140 (LG-Philips – is this the same panel as in the T400?). At full brightness it is dazzling (the outside view above was with the backlight at about 70% brightness) and my first impression is that this display is well worth the extra cost. My first impressions are that contrast, colour and viewing angles are also good. I used to think the CMO panel in my Zepto 604W was good but the new display in the E6400 is far superior. The E6400 includes an ambient light sensor to automatically adjust the brightness. My first impression is that this causes some flickering of the backlight so I have temporarily turned it off.


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Keyboard and Touchpad

My first impression of the keyboard is that it is good. There is some flex in the middle right area but the overall key action is pleasant. I don’t have a Thinkpad or another Dell series sitting in my house with which to make comparisons.  My main complaint is with the layout. I would have preferred a bigger left shift key and smaller right shift key (one of these gets cut down to make space for the extra key on European keyboards). I would also liked to see the PgUp and PgDn in the two empty spaces just in front of the right shift key. I see that Dell has done that on the smaller E-series.


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The touchpad is a medium-sized 66mm x 39mm. There is no space for a larger one because of the buttons for the trackpoint. However, the touchpad is very smooth to use and the buttons have excellent action, with long travel but reasonably low force needed.  

One of the options for the E6400 is the backlit keyboard. It definitely helps when there is poor lighting. It also means that the lettering will never wear off the keys since the lighting comes up through the white plastic embedded in the keys.


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A Tour of the Sides

Front:


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There’s not a lot at the front: The SD / MMC card slot and the display release latch.

Left:


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Left side view with my Zepto 6024W on top and CD cases at the side to provide some scale. Left to right: Security slot, monitor port, powershare USB port above USB / eSATA combo port, fan exhaust and smart care slot above the HDD

Rear:


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Back side, left to right: Modem port (blanked off on my model), network port, DisplayPort connector and power socket.

Right:


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Right side, left to right: Express Card slot over Firewire port, optical drive in media bay, wideless switch and WiFi detector above audio ports, two USB ports.

Performance

The 2.4GHz Intel P8600 Core 2 Duo processor in my E6400 configuration sits in the middle of the range these days. I’ve had no issues with the performance of the 2GHz T7300 in my Zepto but a small boost in speed is always welcome, particularly if it comes with reduced power consumption.  Initial tests give:


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SuperPi 2M: 49 seconds


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wPime 32M: 32.53 seconds


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PCMark05: 4,230 PCMarks


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3DMark05: 1,295 3DMarks

Heat and Fan Noise

In my experience, the E6400 raises the bar on the heat and noise management. I initially though the fan wasn’t working because it was so quiet. In fact, the metal chassis absorbs a lot of heat so the fan has little work to do when the computer is under light load. The lowest fan speed is almost silent but it does get audible when the CPU is stressed for a few minutes. My configuration probably benefits by having one of the lower power rated CPUs and the integrated graphics combined with a cooling system designed for more powerful configurations (see that big thermal system in one of the photos further up).

Battery Life

Dell has heavily advertised the 19 hour operation capability of the E6400. OK, that is with a 9-cell main battery and the 12-cell battery slice, but the inference is that 6-cells on the battery should be good for 6 hours.

So far, I haven’t been disappointed. See the image below for 89% = 6 hours 68 minutes remaining. Dell also provides a useful power management utility to help with the fine tuning of power consumption.


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Some spot observations of the power drain show 8W to 11W under light usage with wireless on, DVD playback of 15W to 17W and power drain during a CPU stress test of 33W to 35W. An average 9W power drain would be needed for 6 hours operation off the 6-cell battery. One final observation is that Dell advertises the 6-cell battery as 56WHr. RMClock sees a 57.72WHr battery with actual capacity of 56.122WHr. So I’m getting at least what I expected and maybe a little more. A refreshing change from the batteries which don’t have their claimed capacity even when new.


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More follows in the full review …

 

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