Dell Latitude D531 Review

by ejl Reads (239,893)

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The Dell Latitude D531 is a business notebook for the price conscious. As such, some trade offs are made in order to reduce the price. Essentially, you get a slightly heavier notebook with less customizable options. Here are some of the differences between the D531 series and the D830/D630 series:

  • Turion X2 processors instead of Core 2 Duo
  • Approximately half a pound heavier (when comparing the 14.1” models)
  • No option for dedicated GPUs
  • No option for a touchpoint
  • No option for matte screen for highest resolution screen (15.4” WXGA+)
  • No option to go higher than 120GB for HD and no solid state disk option
  • No option for a finger print reader

Specifications

Below are the specifications of the D531 as reviewed:

  • Processor: AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60 (2.00 Ghz)
  • Hard Drive: Hitachi 120GB SATA HD 5400 RPM
  • Memory: 2.0GB DDR2-667MHZ, 2 DIMMS (4GB Max)
  • Graphics: Integrated ATI x1270
  • Display: 15.4” WXGA+ “TrueLife” (250 nits) (14.1" screen is also an option)
  • Battery: 9-Cell (85 WHr)
  • Adapter: 65W power supply
  • Wireless Card: Dell wireless 1505 draft-N card
  • Optical Drive: Optiarc 8x DVDRW AD-5540A
  • Ports: Four USB 2.0, one Firewire, headphone out, microphone in, s-video, modem, ethernet, VGA, serial port, PCMCIA slot
  • OS: Windows XP Pro SP2
  • Dimensions:
    • Height: 35.3mm/1.39"
    • Width: 361mm/14.2"
    • Depth: 262.6mm/10.34"

Design and Build

The Latitude D531 has a very simple design. The two-tone black and grey casing is mostly grey on the exterior. I find the design rather refreshing compared to the horribly bland looks of HP and Lenovo’s business notebooks. Some say that the Latitude is a bit too flashy for a business notebook because of of the greyish silver, but it is more grey than silver and doesn’t have the luster that would make it stand out. I appreciate how they made the latch a shiny gun metal.


Dell Latitude D531 (view large image)


Dell Latitude D531 top view (view large image)

The build quality is good in general. The LCD is very solid — I was unable to produce any ripples in the screen even when I applied excessive force. The palmrest also had negligible flex. However, there are some points of weakness. There was noticeable flex on the upper left hand corner above the keyboard, and the plastic that surrounds that left hinge felt loose. Furthermore, I was a bit uncomfortable with the way the battery jiggled when it was attached.

Input and Output Ports

On the left side, you have the headphone out, microphone in, and firewire ports.


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On the right side, you have two USB ports.


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On the back side, you have two USB, S-video, ethernet, modem, serial, and VGA ports.


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Some ports that are missing are a media card reader and some sort of DVI/HDMI port. That said, few budget notebooks have these extras. 

Video Tour

For those that prefer watching instead of reading, here’s a quick video tour of the Dell Latitude D531:

 

Keyboard and Touchpad 

Generally speaking, the keyboard is comfortable for typing. There is some minor flex on the far right side where the enter key is, but this won’t hinder typing. One odd item of note: The far left side of the keyboard has a different tactile feel when typing. It feels “more hollow” on the left side and the sound it makes when you press keys is a slightly more audible thud. Most of the time it isn’t too noticeable.


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The touchpad and touchpad buttons have a nice feel to them, though the touchpad buttons might feel a little mushy for some. I think it’s just right because I hate stiff buttons. The scroll function on this pad works quite well. Unfortunately, I had some problems using this touchpad. My touchpad stopped working after I uninstalled video drivers despite the fact that all settings indicated the touchpad was enabled. How video drivers affect a touchpad, I will never understand. Later, my touchpad stopped tracking properly for no good reason. It was as if my system was lagging, but there was nothing running. At one point, the tap-to-click feature stopped functioning as well, though it was enabled in my touchpad properties. Hopefully, these frustrating touchpad problems are just isolated to this review unit.

Screen

The screen will be a disappointment to some. It suffers from what I assume is often referred to as “sparkle,” “shimmer,” or “graininess.” The best way to describe it is that there seems to be a layer of dust on my screen or that I am actually using a matte screen instead of glossy. Nevertheless, many users won’t be able to notice this. I was not able to properly capture this phenomena.

Horizontal angles, like other notebooks, are good. 


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Surprisingly, the vertical angles were not horrible. There is darkening and lightening, but you can clearly see all text and the images are distinguishable … though not colored correctly. Angles less than 90 degrees look better than angles greater than 90 degrees.


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The screen is sufficiently bright at 250 nits, but pales in comparison to my N3530. The backlight is not completely even as the corners of the screen are slightly darker, but this really doesn’t affect normal viewing much at all. 


Fujitsu N3530 on left, D531 on right (view large image)

There also seems to be no discernable light leakage. 


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Speakers

Notebook speakers are known to be fairly mediocre. Well, these speakers are among the lower tier of notebook speakers. They are pretty bad. I’m certainly not an audiophile, but when I hear audio on this notebook it sounds like I’m listening to music on a 1920s radio. The sound seems like it’s muffled and at high volumes there is a crackling noise.

Performance and Benchmarks

Here are some benchmarks to help gauge the performance of this notebook.

HDTune

HDTune measures the hard drive performance of a system.


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3DMark05 Comparison Results

3DMark05 measures graphics performance of a system

(Note: the ATI 7.5 integrated Catalyst drivers would not install on this system)

Notebook 3DMark05Score
Dell Latitude D531 (2.00GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60) 978 3DMarks
1035 w/ omega
Lenovo ThinkPad T61 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T7300) 911 3DMarks
Toshiba Satellite P205-S6287 (Intel 1.73GHz T5300 + GMA 950) 559 3DMarks
HP Compaq 6515b (1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52, ATI x1270) 871 3DMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB) 2,092 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 2,013 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400) 1,791 3DMarks
Acer TravelMate 8204WLMi (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 256MB) 4,236 3DMarks
Alienware Aurora M-7700 (AMD Dual Core FX-60, ATI X1600 256MB) 7,078 3DMarks

 

Comparison table for PCMark05

PCMark05 measures overall performance of a system.

Notebook PCMark05Score
Dell Latitude D531 (2.00GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60) 3,035 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad T61 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T7300) 4,084 PCMarks
Toshiba Satellite P205-S6287 (Intel 1.73GHz T5300 + GMA 950) 2,981 PCMarks
HP Compaq 6515b (1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52, ATI x1270) 2,420 PCMarks
Toshiba Satellite A135 (Core Duo T2250, Intel GMA 950) 3,027 PCMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 4,234 PCMarks
Fujitsu LifeBook A6010 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA 950) 2,994 PCMarks
Alienware M7700 (AMD Athlon FX-60, Nvidia Go 7800GTX) 5,597 PCMarks
Sony Vaio SZ-110B in Speed Mode (Using Nvidia GeForce Go 7400) 3,637 PCMarks
Toshiba Tecra M6 (1.66GHz Intel T2300E, Intel GMA 950) 2,732 PCMarks
Asus V6J (1.86GHz Core Duo T2400, Nvidia Go 7400) 3,646 PCMarks
Sony VAIO FE590 (1.83GHz Core Duo) 3,427 PCMarks

 

Super Pi Comparison Results

Super Pi is run to 2-million digits of accuracy to test processor speed.

Notebook Time
Dell Latitude D531 (2.00GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60) 1m 41s
Lenovo ThinkPad T61 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T7300) 59s
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.00GHz Core 2 Duo T7200) 1m 03s
Toshiba Satellite P205-S6287 (1.73 GHz Core 2 Duo Intel T5300) 1m 24s
Toshiba Satellite A205 (1.66GHz Core 2 Duo) 1m 34s
HP Compaq 6515b (1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52) 2m 05s
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T2400) 59s
Dell Inspiron e1705 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo) 1m 02s
Toshiba A100 (2.0GHz Core Duo) 1m 18s
Samsung X60 (1.66GHz Core Duo) 1m 29s
HP dv5000z (2.0GHz Sempron 3300+) 2m 02s

 

Wprime Results:  43.468 sec 32 M 

In general, the notebook doesn’t feel much different from my N3530 (T2300 1.5GB, 80GB 5400 rpm HD) other than Windows seems to boot up faster. Although its performance in super pi (single core performance) seems a bit lacking, its dual core performance is similar to that of the T2500.

Battery Life and Adapter

Battery life is where the D531 shines. With the screen at full brightness, and doing word processing and internet surfing, I can get five hours or more. With the screen at 3/7 brightness, I can pump out over six and a half hours. On full load, I got about one hour and 40 minutes.

As for the adapter, I’m not too fond of how it was made. There are two other design flaws (at least in my opinion) with the adapter’s  plugs. First, the part that plugs into the adapter from the outlet oddly sticks out from the top of the adapter. It makes it much easier to accidentally pull the plug out. For example, it can get stuck on the bottom of your couch and will fall out if you pull the cord closer to you. I almost accidentally pulled the plug out when I tripped over the bulging plug.


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The second problem is the shape of the plug that goes into the computer. It is straight (in contrast to the L-shaped plugs you tend to see more often) and sticks out about an inch and half from the notebook, making it an easy target to get hit or snagged. If it does get hit or snagged, it will bend the pin inside the adapter port or loosen the adapter port from the motherboard, which may create problems with charging in the future. I have had this happen to three notebooks I’ve used in the past. One item of note is that the plug fits somewhat loosely into the adapter port. I had the plug fall out a few times without even knowing it.


Notice how the couch cushion very slightly pushes up on the adapter plug (view large image)

Heat and Noise

The heat and fan noise output is another bright spot. The CPU idles between 37-42 degrees celsius. Load temperatures during Orthos stress test get up to 65 degrees. During this time, only the left portion of the bottom gets somewhat uncomfortable due to the presence of the hard drive, ram, and maybe the CPU. The left part of keyboard warms up only slightly. 


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Fan noise is almost inaudible for basic usage. I initially thought that the fan was not on, but when I put my hand near the vent I felt the fan pushing air. Even on full load the fan is only slightly noticeable and is not bothersome at all. 

Nevertheless, this notebook does have one rather noisy component. The included Hitachi hard drive is rather annoying. It makes a very audible clicking. On top of that, it emits a screech that can be occasionally heard when you scroll on a webpage or document. I figured out that the whine was from the hard drive when I heard it during the entire time I was running the HDTune benchmark. This is likely an issue with only this hard drive, Dell would replace the hard drive if this happened to be a system you owned.

Wireless

There is not much I can say about the wireless other than the fact that it works. I get excellent signal strength and good download speeds. Moreover, it seems to connect a little bit faster when I boot up Windows or get out of hibernate/sleep.

Software

The D531 comes with a bit of bloatware pre-installed (e.g. Norton, Google Desktop/Toolbar), but it isn’t too excessive. I could easily remove these unnecessary programs (other than perhaps Norton) within a few minutes. Also, it seems to use up just as much ram (without Norton but with other factory-state programs running) as my Fujitsu does (it came with virtually no bloatware).

Conclusion

My general impression of this notebook is neither wholly positive nor negative. It has little problems yes, but such things might be expected for a budget notebook you’re paying $799 for. The build quality is good overall and better than many consumer notebooks, so you’re getting a bargain there in terms of price. Disregarding the graininess issue, the screen quality was above average, having better viewing angles and brightness, compared to other business notebooks such as a ThinkPad T60 series. If you’re deploying Latitude notebooks for your workforce the Latitude D531 is compatible in terms of docking station solutions, security solutions and offering legacy ports such as the serial port. If you upgraded to the Latitude D630 or D830 you could certainly get better performance with the Intel Santa Rosa platform and have a lighter notebook travel weight, but if your IT department is on a budget and still needs a few extra notebooks the Latitude D531 will fit the bill — it offers a good usability and performance to price ratio.

Pros

  • Appealing design for a business notebook
  • Quiet fans
  • Generally solid build quality
  • Exceptional battery life

Qualms

  • Loose battery
  • Different tactile feel on left side of keyboard
  • Poorly designed adapter plugs
  • Poor speaker quality
  • Some bloatware

Cons

  • Grainy screen
  • Haywire touchpad at times
  • Loud hard drive




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