Dell Latitude D410 Review (pics, specs)

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by Andrew Baxter, New York USA

Dell Latitude D410 with extended life battery (view larger image)

The Dell Latitude D410 is a 12.1″ screen portable business laptop.  It shares some similarities with the ultra light Latitude X1, such as having the same 12.1″ screen size and no built-in optical drive to keep weight down, but it is overall quite different and more of a cross between an ultraportable and thin-and-light workstation.  With its optional 2.00GHz Pentium M processor (using the latest Intel Sonoma chipset), 512MB of RAM (upgradeable to 2GB), a full size keyboard featuring dual navigation and nice overall design and build, the Latitude D410 is an enticing portable laptop.

Above view of Latitude D410 without extended life battery (view larger image)

Latitude D410 Specs as Received:

  • Intel Pentium M 760 (2.0GHz, 2MB Cache, 533MHz)
  • 40GB 5400RPM Hard Drive
  • 12.1″ XGA LCD (non-glossy)
  • 512MB DDR2 400MHz SDRAM
  • Microsoft Windows XP Professional
  • Dual pointing device via touchpad and pointing stick, multiple mouse buttons
  • 6-cell battery and 9-cell extended life battery (both ExpressCharge)
  • Media Bay expansion
  • Intel PRO Wireles 2915 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi
  • Ports: 3 USB 2.0, 1 PCMCIA, 1 SmartCard slot, headphone jack, microphone jack, D-Bay connector, Optical drive connector, monitor out, ethernet port, modem jack, ac power jack, security lock, infrared port.

Competing Notebooks

It’s always good to know what other options you have in a certain notebook category you are looking to buy within.  Here’s a rundown of similar 12.1″ screen ultraportable notebooks that the D410 competes with:

Design and Build

First of all let me say this is hands down the best looking Dell laptop I’ve used.  I last used the Dell Latitude X1 and was quite impressed with the simple non-flashy design.  But I really dig a bit of a darker look to a laptop, and the Dell D410 with its dark charcoal grey and silver finish is rather striking.  It reminds me a bit of the Fujitsu LifeBook styling, which I like a lot.  The dark finish and industrial looking fan vent also gives the D410 a bit of a muscular look, the Ford Mustang of notebooks if you will.  The silver latch on the screen adds a nice finishing touch and professional look.

The build is sturdy, this notebook doesn’t flex.  The chassis uses a tri-metal blend of aluminum, magnesium and steel while the case shell is constructed of a very rigid plastic on the body and keyboard area.  The lid is constructed of magnesium alloy that offers great protection of the screen and a great look as well.  The screen hinges are sturdy, you won’t get any wobble on the screen unless you’re on one heck of a bumpy plane ride…or if you’re like me and push the screen back and forward to test how much it wobbles, just to be picky.  So the build is overall good, but then instead of using a nice flap over the PCMCIA slot Dell put a dummy piece of plastic in there as a dust protector when you’re not using a card.  This shouldn’t be the case with a business notebook, that’s a cheap finish and solution and it kind of ruins a perfect 10.0 on the overall build.

The layout of this notebook is rather odd in a few ways.  The battery is located at the front of the notebook, this is a first for me.  Here’s the good thing though, the battery doesn’t  get very warm at all, and since it is located under the palm rest areas you won’t get any warmth there.  That’s right folks, no complaints of “my right hand is getting sweaty because the palm rest is a 110 degrees”.  The back of the notebook is a different story, but I’ll get that to later (see heat and noise section).  When you have the extended life battery in it sticks out at the front.  My first reaction was to think that’s really dumb, and to be honest it does look a little odd to have a lip at the front of your notebook sticking out.  But now I’m used to it I think it’s a great area for providing extra support for the wrists and resting them while typing. 

Another odd layout move is that the headphone jack is all the way at the back of the right hand side of the notebook.  What a bad location, it’s hard to fumble and find and you have to stretch the headphone cord all that much farther, plus there’s no color coding between the headphone and microphone jack so it’s hard to see which is which until you get used to it.  Also, the number and size of air vents on this notebook is rather impressive, there’s 5 total.  On the Latitude X1 there are zero.  But with a Pentium M 2.00GHz processor and the cramped nature of internals in an ultraportable it does require this number of vents, so the D410 certainly looks a lot more industrial than your average ultraportable.

Ports and Input

The Dell D410 does a good job of providing a nice number of mainstream ports, but unfortunately we don’t get FireWire (which is available in the X1), and we don’t get any type of media card reader…which is a real shame.  We do get 3 USB 2.0 ports, which is very generous for an ultraportable computer.  I like the fact there’s a PCMCIA card slot for accessory expansion, something the Latitude X1 lacks.  Let’s just take a tour around this notebook to see everything that’s available in terms of ports.

Front side (view larger image)

Front side: On the front we have the battery compartment and also the latch lock.

Left side (view larger image)

Left side:  On the left we have from front to back, a large air vent, infrared sensor, another air vent, 1 USB 2.0 port (bottom), stacked on top of the USB port is a D/Bay connector for an optional external optical drive, and finally a security cable slot.

Back side (view larger image)

Back side:  On the back side from left to right we have the ethernet port, modem port, 2 USB 2.0 ports, video out port, AC adapter connector and then some more air vents.

Right side (view larger image)

Right side: On the right side we have from front to back the hard drive bay, smart card slot right above the hard drive, then PCMCIA slot for accessory expansion, and then the headphone and microphone jacks.

Bottom side (view larger image)

Bottom side: On the bottom we can see the battery latch releases/locks, battery charge gauge (handy for seeing battery charge when computer is off), battery, hard drive, docking device connector (more on that later), memory module cover and another air vent.

Screen

The screen on the D410 is a 12.1″ XGA format LCD, no widescreen and no glossy finish.  It’s a very nice screen, some will no doubt be happy to find a portable notebook that hasn’t gone widescreen (a non-widescreen ultraportable laptop is becoming an anomaly).  The screen brightness is good and there’s none of that “sparkle effect” we’ve seen some complain about on certain Dell LCDs.  Screen brightness can be controlled using the “Fn” key in conjunction with the up or down arrow.

Sound

The good news with the speaker on this notebook is that it’s on top of the notebook.  On the Dell X1 and IBM X41 ultraportable laptops I recently reviewed, the speaker was found on the bottom of the laptop.  Of course, since it is just one speaker you don’t get stereo sound, you’ll need headphones or external speakers for that.  The speaker is an 8-ohm, 1-W speaker and thereby neither produces great sound or volume.  The headphone jack is on the back right side.

Processor and Performance / Benchmarks

The 2.0GHz Pentium M processor configured in this notebook doesn’t just race past the 1.1GHz ULV processor in the Dell Latitude X1, it laps it.  This notebook is in truth probably overpowered for the use of Office and web type applications.  So your next question might be, well that’s great, so I can use this thing as a gaming notebook right?  Hmm, well you’re still strapped with an intregrated graphics solution in the form of the Intel Graphics Media Accelerator (integrated graphics).  If you have 512MB or more, the graphics solution will borrow up to 128MB of system memory, if you’re under 512MB then it will only borrow 64MB.  So I recommend boosting memory up to 1GB so it has plenty to share with graphics.  Even then you’re not going to be able to play Doom 3, but there are 3D games and almost any game that’s 2-years old will run on this system.  As far as using everyday applications, this notebook effortlessly runs those and makes it easy to keep multiple applications open for switching between (I’m guilty as charged for having 20 things open at once, and luckily the D410 doesn’t mind this).

We use the program Super Pi to get a benchmark of processor speed.  The Super Pi program simply forces the processor to calculate Pi to a selected number of digits of accuracy.  Calculating to 2 million digits is our benchmark.  Below is a comparison chart of how the Latitude D410 with it’s 2.0 GHz processor stacked up to other notebooks when running this calculation:

 Notebook Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
Dell Latitude D410 (2.00 GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 36s
IBM ThinkPad X41 (1.50 GHz Alviso Pentium M) 2m 02s
Dell Latitude X1 (1.1 GHz ULV Pentium M) 2m 40s
IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 45s
Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Alviso Pentium M) 1m 48s
IBM ThinkPad T41 (1.6GHz Banias Pentium M) 2m 23s
Compaq R3000T (Celeron 2.8GHz) 3m 3s
Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M) 2m 10s
Dell Inspiron 8600 (1.7GHz Banias Pentium M) 2m 28s

Below are some benchmarks pitting the X41 (1.50GHz Pentium M LV processor) against the Dell D410 (2.0GHz)

 Futuremark PCMark04 Scores
  Dell Latitude D410 (2.0 GHz) IBM X41 (1.50 GHz)
Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression 3.8 MB/s 2.66 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption 29.21 MB/s 21.81 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression 25.28 MB/s 19.03 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing 11.78 MPixels/s 8.65 MPixels/s
Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning 1889.02 MB/s 1349.58 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check 3.0 KB/s 2.09 KB/s
File Decryption 58.7 MB/s 43.78 MB/s
Audio Conversion 2684.73 KB/s 2014.01 KB/s
Web Page Rendering 6.01 Pages/s 4.43 Pages/s
DivX Video Compression 54.23 FPS 39.19 FPS
Physics Calculation and 3D 93.54 FPS 79.59 FPS
Graphics Memory – 64 Lines 373.98 FPS 399.62 FPS
Futuremark 3DMark05 Scores
3DMark Score 192 3DMarks 160 3D Marks
CPU Score 1762 CPUMarks 1598 CPUMarks
Gaming Tests
GT1 – Return To Proxycon 0.8 FPS .6 FPS
GT2 – Firefly Forest 0.5 FPS .5 FPS
GT3 – Canyon Flight 1.0 FPS .9 FPS
CPU Tests
CPU Test 1 1.1 FPS .9 FPS
CPU Test 2 1.3 FPS 1.3 FPS

Clearly when configured with a 2.0GHz processor the D410 is a bit of a speed demon, results would be much different for a 1.60GHz configured machine.  Graphics performance and 3DMark05 score is still low due to integrated graphics.

Hard Drive

The hard drive in the D410 is certainly above par for the average ultraportable.  Below are the options you get for a hard drive in the D410.

  • 30GB Hard Drive, 9.5MM, 4200RPM
  • 40GB Hard Drive, 9.5MM, 5400RPM 
  • 60GB Hard Drive, 9.5MM, 5400RPM
  • 80GB Hard Drive, 9.5MM, 5400RPM

Opting for the 5400RPM hard drive will certainly give you a performance boost and faster bootup time than the 4200RPM.

Memory

The D410 has two user accessible memory slots and you can configure up to 2GB of memory.  The memory is not dual channel DDR2, just single channel.  Memory speed of up to 533MHz is supported.

Heat and Noise

I mentioned before that the D410 was a champ in terms of the wrist rest area staying cool and comfortable.  I also noted there were a lot of vents on this notebook, certainly more than typical on an ultraportable.  The Dell X1 has no vents, it uses passive cooling.  With a 2.0GHz processor,  the insides of the D410 would melt without a fan and vents.  And so while these vents do a good job of keeping the notebook cool where it counts (keyboard and wriste area), the underside at the back of the D410 does get toasty, especially if you’re pushing the notebook.  I was converting a bunch of wma files to iTunes format and after 30-minutes of that there was some serious heat buildup on the bottom, I certainly wouldn’t have wanted the D410 in my lap at that point.  Also, the temperature of the room environment plays a big role in the notebooks ability to cool, so keep that in mind.  If this notebook is on a flat surface (not your lap or bed), in a cool room and is being used for typical business applications then heat buildup isn’t a problem.  But if room temperatures creep above 75 and you’re blocking vents by having the notebook in your lap, all while maxing the 2.0GHz processor out at 100% CPU usage, then you might experiment with getting some bacon to sizzle on the notebook’s bottom surface.

As far as noise goes, I’m a bad tester to go by, but for me it wasn’t a problem.  I’m always either listening to music or I have some kind of background noise to keep my sanity and that most certainly blocks any fan noise.  Having said that, I can say this machine is definitely not as whisper quiet as the Inspiron X1 — that thing was silent.  You experience a low volume electrical whirrr noise as the notebook works to cool, but it’s so quiet that if you put a pair of headphones (normal basic headphones) on without even playing music the noise is blocked (I just tried this, a spontaneous non-scientific experiment).

Keyboard and Touchpad

Keyboard and touchpad (view larger image)

The term “hook” can be used in a literary sense, fishing sense or maybe the game of love when somebody has that certain something that reels you in, so to speak.  Sad as it may be, seeing a pointing stick on a notebook is a hook for me.  I know I can learn to love a notebook if it has a pointing stick.  And so when I first viewed the D410, which has a pointing stick, it was a good first impression in regards to keyboard and input experience.  I’m happy to report that the keyboard, touchpad and pointing are just dandy when actually used.  The keyboard on the D410 is slightly larger than the Inspiron X1, and it is definitely easier to type on.  The touchpad and mouse buttons are equivalent in size to those you see on a larger thin-and-light notebook, and certainly larger and easier to use than the Inspiron X1′s.  The pointing stick makes it easy to move the cursor around the screen and use the notebook without a mouse for those, such as myself, that just have never found a touchpad they love.

The actual feel of the keyboard is good.  The key travel and feedback are excellent.  The keyboard feel and usability is not quite as good as the ThinkPad X41 keyboard, but close.  Those that prefer having a touchpad, which the ThinkPad ultraportable series does not have, will likely prefer the D410 user input options.

Wireless

Built-in wifi is standard on the D410, the 802.11b/g Intel ProWireless 2200 comes standard while the 802.11a/b/g Intel 2915 is an optional upgrade.  Wireless works well as far as connecting to available wireless networks, but not exceptional.  I can get better range on my ThinkPad T40, this is mostly due to the fact the antenna on the ThinkPad is housed in the screen.

You get a wi-fi LED indicator at the top of the notebook to indicate that wireless is enabled or not, there’s no dedicated button to turn wi-fi on and off though, you have to hold in Fn + F2 to toggle wi-fi on/off.  Also, the wireless configuration software is just the Windows/Intel default application, no extra software like the IBM Access Connections for managing multiple wireless profiles or that cool Toshiba utility that shows wireless networks in a radar view.

Bluetooth is an option in the D410, I do not have this in my review unit however.  There is a Bluetooth LED indicator light to show when Bluetooth is enabled.

Battery

The Dell D410 offers great battery life.  With just the standard 6-cell battery I achieved 3:40 minutes of battery life using screen brightness at 6/8 level, using the computer to write a document and surf the web (so wi-fi was on).  If battery life under 4 hours isn’t enough, then the extended life 9-cell battery is available.  I used the 9-cell battery during a 35 hour trek back from Hong Kong (many flight transfers and delays involved in that trip) and squeezed 7 hours of use out of the 9-cell battery.  That was while using wi-fi at the various airports, using IM to chat, MS Word to write this review and with 6/8 level brightness

Software

The big news for software is the lack of bloatware, no AOL IM or even “Free Antivirus Software” that hijacks your startup and twists your wrist to activate beyond the 30-day trial subscription, but remember it is up to you to install an antivirus application — which you should certainly do.  Included software is very minimal.  You get some Dell Quickset software apps that allow you to quickly set screen brightness, power management and screen presentation mode.  Also included is Power DVD for playing back DVD movies and video.  You can choose between Microsoft XP Home or Professional edition.

Docking and Expansion Solution

With an ultraportable notebook an important part of the equation is knowing how you can use your notebook while at home or in the office.  In those places you’ll want to use a larger monitor and maybe have more accessories attached than you would while on the road (i.e. Printer, mouse, optical drive, even an external full-sized keyboard).

Media bay solution for D410 (view larger image)

With the D410 you can use any of the available Latitude series port replicator devices.  I recommend the media base option.  This offers the best way to organize all your wires and accessories for use on the desk at the office/home and give you the media drive (CD, DVD, DVD/CD-RW) you’ll invariably come to need.  I’ve been using the media bay and it’s a great solution for docking the D410 in and having a mouse, keyboard, external monitor, printer and AC adapter all already plugged into the bay so that when you plop the D410 into place on the media bay you’re ready to go.  No getting to the office and plugging in a  million wires and climbing under the desk to plug the adapter in.  You know how annoying that process is if you go through such a routine.  To dock the D410 you simply slide it into the bay, the connector on the bottom of the D410 slots into pins on the media bay.  To undock there’s a lever on the back left side that you pull to pop the notebook out.  Simple.

If you need to be on the road and have an optical media drive, look into a D-Bay optional media drive.  It plugs into a USB port on the D410 and also draws power from the D410 so although it will drain the notebook battery faster, it doesn’t require yet more plugs to power it.

Conclusion

The Latitude D410 ends up being a nicely designed notebook with a great power to size ratio.  I don’t think there are too many other (or any?) 12.1″ sub 4lb notebooks out there that can compete performance wise with this machine when it has a 2.0GHz Pentium M, 2GB memory and a 5400RPM hard drive.  But does the target audience of business users need that power?  Pretty darn doubtful, and you need to watch out for heat buildup if you do go the route of a high-end configuration with the 2.0GHz Pentium M.  When you include the standard 3-year warranty for a Dell Business notebook, competitive pricing and good usability of the D410 this becomes an attractive ultraportable option.  Just be aware it is not the lightest ultraportable by any means, it’s close to 4lbs and so serves well for those who want relatively light weight and size but also need power.

Pros

  • Great new dark look and industrial design, very good solid build.
  • When configured with a 2.0GHz processor, this is the fastest ultraportable out there.
  • Good usability with the dual pointing device option (touchpad/pointing stick) and good keyboard.
  • Good battery life.
  • Good media bay and port replication options

Cons

  • The faster the processor, the more heat you’ll get at the back of this notebook — possibly too hot for the lap.
  • No media card reader slot
  • No built-in optical drive
  • Pushes the line on being a true ultraportable as it’s about 4lbs and much thicker (1.25″) than the typical 1″ thick ultraportable such as a Latitude X1 or IBM X41.

Pricing and Availability


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