Buy Direct From Manufacturer
by Andrew Baxter
Dell last year released the 14" screen Latitude D620 business notebook. While the D620 was well built with a magnesium frame, it wasn’t tough enough to be called a semi-rugged notebook. After popular demand from business customers, Dell is today introducing a new semi-rugged version of the D620, dubbed the Latitude ATG D620. The ATG D620 features an enhanced protective casing and super bright outdoor viewable screen.
Dell Latitude ATG D620 lid (view large image)
At the core the Dell Latitude ATG (All Terrain Grade Quality) D620 is essentially the same notebook as the Latitude D620, but bears extra armor, port protection, hard drive protection and a stunningly bright 500nit screen allowing for viewing and work outdoors. The semi-rugged aspect D620 is quite obviously geared towards professionals that have to frequently work outdoors and need to be able to see a screen even when in the sun. Whether it be at a construction site, oil field or NFL Combine. Builders, engineers and professional sport player scouts like to be able to use laptops while outside and doing work.
Here are the specifications of Dell Latitude ATG D620 as reviewed:
- Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 (2.00 GHz)
- Screen: ATG shock mounted 14.1” WXGA (1280 x 800) 500 nit brightness
- Memory: 1GB (2 x 512MB) RAM DDR2 667MHz (Max of 4GB)
- Graphics: Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950
- Hard Drive: ATG shock mounted 80GB @ 4200 RPM 1.8" HD (swappable with non shock mounted faster 2.5" type hard drives)
- Wireless: Dell Wireless 1490 (802.11 a/b/g)
- WWAN: Dell Wireless 5700 Mobile Broadband (HSPDA) Sprint
- Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP Pro SP2
- Optical Drive: 8x DVD +/- RW module (modular)
- Ports: Serial, docking connector, 4 USB, VGA, 1 PC card slot type I/II,headphone/speaker out, infrared port, RJ-11, RJ-45, AC power
- Security Hardware: Integrated Smart Card reader, TPM 1.2 Security chip, Optional UPEK fingerprint reader
- Weight: Starting at 6.3lbs (with weight saver instead of optical drive installed)
- Dimensions: 13.27” x 9.38” x 1.72” (width x depth x thickness)
Build and Design
Dell Latitude ATG D620 with extended life 9-cell battery installed (view large image)
The ATG D620 is best described as looking like the original D620, but on steroids. Several areas of protection have been added. You’ll right away notice the durable black textured paint areas added around the edges. A laptop that gets pulled around a lot gets scratched along the edges, with these hard plastic texture paint panels in place the lid is essentially scratch resistant.
A closeup of the scratch resistant textured paint area
The ATG D620 also differs from the regular D620 in that there are plastic or rubber covers for the port areas. There are many ports on the back of the D620, so a large plastic cover snaps into place there to cover all of these ports and the docking port on the bottom of the laptop. On the right side a small rubber insert is used to cover the USB ports there. These covers prevent dust from getting in and corroding the notebook internals.
The ATG D620 fresh out of the box, 6-cell battery and AC adapter alongside (view large image)
The D620 adopts a widescreen format, a feature we’re seeing more and more in business notebooks these days. A widescreen allows you to more easily have two windows open next to each other at the same time. Side-by-side comparison of documents, web pages or spreadsheets is an example of common business tasks more easily done on a widescreen.
The screen hinge on the Latitude ATG D620 has been beefed up relative to the standard D620; it’s very sturdy and solid feeling. The lid of this notebook is also thicker so that it offers more protection than the standard D620. In the same vein, the latch that holds the screen down is more substantial and rugged. The screen itself has a glass overlay to protect the actual LCD from such things as blowing sand. I know what you’re thinking, ‘finally, a laptop I can take to the beach’.
The keyboard on the ATG D620 is designed to be spill resistant. It seems that a tray beneath the keys is being used to prevent liquids that are spilled from seeping into internal components.
A notebook couldn’t be called rugged if it didn’t have some type of extra hard drive protection. The ATG D620 has Dell’s typical StrikeZone shock absorber, but in addition to this it has an extra magnesium and rubberized layer of casing. In order to fit these extra cushioning layers in Dell had to move to a smaller and slower 1.8” hard drive. For workers in the field that value data protection over performance, this is an acceptable tradeoff.
All of this extra armor and protection on the D620 of course comes at the cost of adding weight. While the regular D620 weighs a bit over 5 lbs the ATG D620 starts at around 6.3 lbs, but with an extended life 9-cell battery and optical drive will be more like 7lbs.
In terms of looks, the ATG D620 is extremely muscular and industrial looking. Think of it as the SUV of the laptop world. It may not look as sleek as Acer’s Ferrari line, but it does better in off road conditions. And while the charcoal grey, silver and black coloring is industrial looking, it can be considered professional as well.
Finally, checkout the new Dell badge on the lid of the notebook. It has been spruced up a bit from the regular D620 and looks more like the badge that appears on the XPS series of Dell notebooks. I like it.
Processor and Performance
One complaint many people have about semi-rugged or rugged laptops is that the performance is always a step behind mainstream notebooks. If you checkout the Panasonic ToughBook line of rugged notebooks you’ll find a wide selection with Core Duo processors, but you won’t currently find an offering with the latest Core 2 Duo. Thankfully Dell is offering up to a 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo processor that supports up to 667MHz speed memory. You can configure up to 4GB of RAM. The bottleneck of the system will be the slow 4200RPM 1.8” hard drive. If you don’t want the extra protection, you could always go with a non-shock mounted 2.5" type hard drive.
The Core 2 Duo processor is the king of mobile processors at this point in time. It offers two processing cores and supports both 32-bit and 64-bit written software programs. Perceived performance is excellent, so long as you have 1GB or more of RAM you’ll find many programs open instantaneously and performance in tough rendering applications such as CAD design will really move. Dell is not offering dedicated graphics in this model, so gaming and certain 3D apps will not do well with just the Intel GMA 950 integrated chipset.
The OS installation on the ATG D620 is fairly clean, meaning there aren’t tons of unwanted processes running in the background. Norton is pre-installed along with PowerDVD and some Google applications such as Google Desktop search. They’re easy enough to uninstall if you don’t want them or prefer alternative software. More than likely many companies buying the ATG D620 will have their own customized image for this laptop so performance may vary based upon what software your business decides to stick you with.
|Notebook||Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits|
|Dell Latitude D620 (Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 2.0 GHz)||1m 03s|
|Dell Latitude D620 (Intel Core Duo T2400 1.83 GHz)||1m 21s|
|Dell Latitude D610 (Intel Pentium M 750 1.83GHz)||1m 41s|
|Dell Inspiron e1505 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 16s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|Asus A8JP (Intel Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz)||1m 02s|
|Dell Inspiron 6000D (1.6 GHz Alviso Pentium M)||1m 52s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
PCMark05 Comparison results:
Another synthetic benchmark we use is Futuremark’s PCMark 05. This is a good general measure of system performance. The D620 achieved a score of 2,991. Notebooks with dedicated graphics cards tend to score higher, but the Core 2 Duo is itself enough to give very respectable overall system results.
|Dell Latitude ATG D620 (Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz, Intel GMA 950)||2,991 PCMarks|
|Asus A8JP (Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz, ATI x1700 256MB)||4,378 PCMarks|
|Toshiba Tecra A8 (1.83 GHz Intel T2400, Intel GMA 950)||3,038 PCMarks|
|Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400)||3,646 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu N6410 (1.66GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400)||3,487 PCMarks|
|Panasonic ToughBook T4 (Intel 1.20GHz LV)||1,390 PCMarks|
|Toshiba Tecra M6 (1.66GHz Intel T2300E, Intel GMA 950)||2,732 PCMarks|
Everest Hardware Report:
Everest is a program that analyzes the components of a system, for a detailed report for what’s inside the ATG D620 reference the following report generated by Everest:
HDTune Benchmark Results
HDTune analyzes the performance of the hard drive. The ATG D620 has a 1.8" ATA 4200RPM hard drive with an average transfer rate of 19.8 MB/sec and access time of 19.4 ms. As a comparison, the regular D620 I reviewed with a 5400 RPM hard drive had a faster access time of 17.7 ms and higher average transfer of 27.5 MB/s.
HDTune results for ATG D620 hard drive (view large image)
Keyboard and Touchpad
Dell Latitude ATG D620 keyboard and touchpad (view large image)
One of the most important parts of a notebook is of course the ease of input, meaning how easy it is to type and move the cursor around the screen. The D620 keyboard is full sized and comfortable to use. While I don’t have a regular D620 to directly compare it to, this ATG keyboard feels like it has a little more flex and give to it than the regular D620. I think this is because Dell has added a tray underneath that makes the keyboard spill proof, but in turn gives the keyboard a bit of a different feel. The added spill proof tray also makes it a bit noisier if you punch keys hard like I do.
My favorite part about the D620 is that it has dual navigation via a touchpad or pointing stick input. I find the pointing stick to be faster and easier to use than the touchpad, but if you prefer a touchpad then it’s there and is a generous size for easy use. The dual mouse buttons have a nice feel and positioned so that if you use the pointing stick you would use the uppermost buttons and if you use the touchpad you would use the lowermost buttons.
The ATG D620 has red illumination task lights for work in the dark (view large image)
Added to the ATG D620 is a task light to illuminate the keyboard at night. You can toggle these lights on and off by holding Fn + Right Arrow. Dell chose red for the lighting, which struck me as odd at first. But it makes sense because red is the color used for critical or important systems (such as emergency lighting) that operate in low-light or night-time conditions. This is because rod cells in the human eye (the type we use for night vision) do not respond to red and therefore it does not interfere in the eye’s ability to focus in dim environments.
The ATG D620 has a good selection of ports. Here’s a run down of what you get on each side.
On the left side of the D620 you get the following ports: Kensington lock, headphone jack, microphone jack, IrDA, Smart Card, Wi-Fi Catcher, PCMCIA slot:
Left side view of ATG D620 (view large image)
The back side of the ATG D620 has a plastic cover to protect dust from getting into the ports, when the cover is removed the following ports are exposed: Ethernet LAN and Modem, 2 USB 2.0 ports, Serial port, VGA out port and Power port. You also have a large heat vent and fan on the back area:
Back side view of the ATG D620 with plastic port cover in place (view large image)
Back side view with port cover removed and ports exposed (view large image)
On the right side of the D620 you get an optical drive media bay (removable and swappable) and 2 USB 2.0 ports that are covered with a removable rubber piece to protect from dust when outside:
On the underside of the D620 you get an expansion slot (at the back), battery (at the front), and access to the memory slot in the middle:
ATG D620 with plastic protective port cover in place (view large image)
ATG D620 with port cover removed (view large image)
I would like to have seen a seperate Express Card/54 slot and a media card reader — or SD card reader at least. The PCMCIA slot does support ExpressCard 34 peripherals via an adapter. The Smart Card reader and Serial connector are obviously not going to appeal to consumers, but could be valuable to businesses that utilize such ports. It would also have been nice to have either an S-Video or DVI-D port, although given this is a business notebook it’s forgivable for not being there.
Important to note is that a docking station is available for the ATG D620 if you need more ports, all peripherals and docks made for the regular D620 work with the ATG D620.
The unbelievably bright 500 nit outdoor viewable screen is where the ATG D620 really stands out. This screen is amazing. I’m sure we’ve all been sitting inside working on a sunny day and attempted to go outside and soak some rays while working on a laptop. Alas, the sun will always over power the typical 150 – 200 nit brightness screen of a standard laptop and make viewing the screen next to impossible. But with this outdoor viewable 500 nit screen on the ATG D620 you can easily see the screen in outdoor lighting conditions. As an example, I stood outside with my standard 150 nit brightness ThinkPad next to the ATG D620 500 nit screen (both are set to full brightness):
The Dell Latitude ATG D620 on the right has a 500 nit brightness screen which makes outdoor viewing possible (view large image)
The ATG D620 was completely readable outside, while the ThinkPad screen was decidedly not. You of course pay a premium for this type of screen and it’s partly why the ATG D620 costs more than a standard D620.
The other thing to consider is that when the screen brightness is cranked all the way up to allow for outdoor viewing, the battery life will take a hit. That’s why I feel the 9-cell extended life battery is an important option to go with if you’ll be using this laptop in the field a lot. You can of course adjust screen brightness down to a normal or low level when inside to conserve battery.
Though I don’t work outside or necessarily need an outdoor viewable screen, the option to be able to sit outside and do work is so enticing that I’d be tempted to pay the extra for this type of screen!
For those interested, the screen appears to be manufactured by Seiko Epson of Japan.
Dell has pulled out all of the stops in making the D620 wireless capable. Here’s a quick rundown of the wireless options:
- Wi-Fi Choices: Intel Pro/Wireless 3945 WiFi 802.11 a/b/g, Dell Wireless 1390 802.11g, Dell Wireless 1490 802.11a/g
- Bluetooth (Dell Wireless350 BlueTooth internal wireless card)
- WWAN (Cellular Broadband internet access) Choices:
- Dell Wireless 5505 Mobile Broadband 3G HSDPA (Vodafone UK, France, Germany)
- Dell Wireless 5700 Mobile Broadband 3G EV-DO (Telus Canada)
- Dell Wireless 5700 Mobile Broadband 3G EV-DO (Sprint US)
- Dell Wireless 5700 Mobile Broadband CDMA EV-DO (Verizon US)
Dell provides the option of configuring your D620 with an internal antenna for either EVDO or HSPDA, depending on the region you live in and cellular provider you have. My review unit D620 came configured with the Dell Wireless HSDPA Sprint modem that worked well in testing, I was able to download a 22MB file in about 2 minutes for instance.
Included on the D620 is a unique feature called a "Wi-Fi Catcher" located on the left side of the notebook. You can use this switch to turn off all wireless radios by putting it in the Off position, in addition to that, push it all the way forward and it will blink green as it searches for a Wi-Fi network and if one is present it glows solid green, if none is found it shows orange. This Wi-Fi Catcher works whether the notebook is on, off or in standby mode.
The Wi-Fi Catcher allows you to push all the way to the left to turn off all wireless radios, or push all the way to the right and it will search for wireless networks and illuminate green if any are found — this works whether the notebook is off or on (view large image)
You can choose between a 6-cell or 9-cell primary battery for the ATG D620. The battery is located at the front of the notebook. If you use a 9-cell it sticks out at the front, giving it a lip area. You can see this in most of the images used in this review. Given the fact this notebook is designed to be used in the field, away from power sources, I would think most want to go with the longer life 9-cell option even if it does add some weight. I ran a couple of battery tests using the 9-cell battery:
1. Torture Test – Screen set to full brightness (500 nits), playing DVD The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers, wireless on: 3 hours 38 minutes
2. Average Use Test – Screen set to dimmest, playing DVD 50% of the time, wireless and WWAN on 50% of the time, used for running some benchmarks and web surfing: 4 hours 25 minutes
The extremely bright screen is going to be the biggest battery drain if you’ve got it cranked up to high. I was impressed that at the very highest brightness setting and while spinning a DVD the battery outlasted the Lord of the Rings 2 hour 59 minute torture, and had quite a bit of juice to spare still. If you use the notebook conservatively by turning off wireless and using a low brightness setting, you could easily get over 5 hours of battery life.
Worth noting is the battery has an Express Charge feature that allows quick charging, up to about 80% charge in an hour. Also, the battery has a built-in LED charge indicator so you just need to push a button on the battery to display how much charge is left. This works whether the laptop is on or off.
Speakers and Headphones
The D620 is not a consumer multimedia notebook, and as such there is just a mono speaker. The volume can get loud enough and quality isn’t too bad, it’s at least located on the front side close to the user. As usual though, headphones or an external set of speakers are recommended for good sound quality.
Heat and Noise
The ATG D620 has been quiet in my usage and it does a great job of staying cool. The main vent is on the back area and another vent is located on the left side. The optical drive is also relatively quiet when spinning a disc. Cool and quiet running is the word here.
The ATG D620 provides many options for keeping data secure. Here’s a list of some of the security features the D620 comes with:
- BIOS passwords & Port Disablement
- Integrated Smart Card reader -Smart Cards provide strong user authentication using the "2 factor authentication", something I have (Smart Card) with something I know (password).
- Smart Cards can be used in conjunction with a PKI environment via Windows XP & Vista.
- UPEK Finger Print reader: An optional Biometric reader can be added to the D620 palm rest, providing an additional third factor authentication (something I am) to passwords & Smart Cards.
- Pre boot Authentication: Enables user authentication prior to OS log in with Smart Card or fingerprint reader
- System Primary Password: User password needed to boot system
- Administrator Password:Administrators or service technicians access to computers for service or repair.
- Hard Disk Drive Password: Data cannot be accessed without the original hard disk drive password.
- TPM 1.2: Integrated on the D620 motherboard Trusted Platform Module can be used to store and generate "on board"encryption keys.
Military Spec Standards
While the ATG D620 isn’t bullet proof, it is independently tested to meet Military Standard MIL-STD 810F standard for vibration, exposure to humidity, altitude and dust. It is not waterproof and no claims are made on a safe drop height, so therefore this isn’t a fully ruggedized notebook. Such fully waterproof rugged notebooks from places like RuggedNotebooks.com can cost in the $10,000 range though.
The Latitude ATG D620 is really going to appeal to companies that deploy Dell Latitude notebooks to office workers, but also need a solution for field workers. Until now, a utility company that used Latitude D620 notebooks for their desk bound energy traders would have to buy laptops from a different company for their crew out repairing downed wires. Now the IT shop can deploy ATG D620 notebooks to those field workers and use the same image and consistent equipment and peripherals. This will save on costs and headaches.
Business concerns aside, users of the ATG D620 will be smitten by the excellent 500 nit outdoor viewable screen. Even some consumers that like to work outside and tend to throw their laptop around might be tempted by the rugged aspects of the ATG D620. The performance and flexibility of the machine is very good, and it even looks better than the typical lunchbox look you see with other semi-rugged notebooks.
- Outdoor viewable 500 nit screen
- Good battery life when using the 9-cell option
- Core 2 Duo offering is the standard
- Flexible configuration online
- Thicker lid, scratch resitant edges and strengthened hinge gives convincing and rugged feel
- Excellent array of WWAN options from various wireless providers
- All docks and accessories for the D620 are compatible with the ATG D620
- No dedicated graphics card option available
- The shock-mounted 1.8" hard drive option will mean slow boot performance
- Rubber insert for side USB ports is small, could easily get lost if not kept track of. Should have been a door flap cover.
- Some keyboard flex
- Some people used to rugged notebooks might miss having an integrated handle