Dell Latitude D830 Review — Page 2

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Screen:

As I mentioned earlier, one of my major considerations on the purchase of my new laptop was a high resolution screen. A VERY high resolution screen. Working with vectors, photos and spreadsheets, I appreciate all the real estate I can get. I wanted at least a WSXGA+, and was willing to experiment with a WUXGA one.

Okay, let me just get it off my chest right now. I was quite disappointed with the brightness level of the screen. VERY disappointed. The Dell documentation and tech specs claim the 15.4” WUXGA (1920 x 1200) panel as having a 200 nits (cd/m2)brightness level, but I can say that those numbers aren’t as “average” as they seem. In a review posted at Notebookcheck.com, it was shown that the overall average brightness level of the screen is more likely 150 nits or cd/m2. In fact, the highest brightness level topped out at around only 180 nits. There are 8 levels of brightness overall, though the bottom two settings are fairly useless except in certain lighting conditions (I’ve found that dusk is a good use for the lowest brightness setting. That’s it, though. Only at dusk.

A look into the Device Manager shows this to be manufactured by SEC – Seiko Epson. Not one of the best, if not generally agreed upon as one of Dell’s worst suppliers.

From Left to right, MacBook Pro, D830, X1000

Oddly enough, as you can see from these photos, the D830 is a tad brighter than the other two laptops I have.

This can be seen better from left and right angles.

Overall, picture quality is rather good, however. Text is crisp, even on the extreme low end of small fonts (such as on the leftmost sidebar of the NBR page)

I found that either squinting or moving up close to the text (or just plain staring at it until it comes into focus) helps in reading fonts below 8 points. Otherwise, it can become a bit of a headache. So in text, it’s a bit of a headache to read but with images and photos, it’s absolutely beautiful.

The matte coating is also pretty good and still quite usable in glare and other inclement lighting conditions.

Screen 0 from Glare, Text

Screen 45 from Glare, Text

Screen 90 from Glare, Text

As you can see from the shots above, text is still quite legible and readable even with the light source directly behind you.

Light distribution and Leakage

In the next two images, we will see the rather uneven distribution of backlighting in this SEC panel.

From this screen, we can see the glaringly obvious darkened spots resulting from the uneven backlighting. The dark spots can be seen in the four corners, and there is an overall “haze” or “halo” of uneven lighting throughout the panel.

Here you can see the leakage occurring at the bottom of the panel. The gradation is pretty strong.

In the following picture, I lengthened my exposure time and lowered my aperture so you can see the gradation better, in relation to the rest of the panel. Take not that the topmost part is, in reality, still deep black and not a dark gray as shown here.

 

Viewing Angles

Here we shall examine the various viewing angles that are still feasible for this screen.

Photos

Viewing Angle Acute

We can see here that the acute angle is the worst as discoloration occurs and quite quickly we lose definition in images. The screen also tends to display a negative image from anything below a 45 degree angle.

Viewing Angle Obtuse

Obtuse angles are better, as the polarization that occurs actually increases the contrast. It still doesn’t make the picture quality any prettier, though.

Viewing Angle Left

Viewed from the left or the right, image quality is still top-notch.

Viewing Angle Right

Text

Viewing Angle Acute

Again, we can see that the acute angle is the worst as discoloration occurs and quite quickly we lose readability and the ability to discern distinctions in images and copy.

Viewing Angle Obtuse

The obtuse viewing angle is much better than the acute angle, with copy retaining definition far better in the positive angle scope than in the negative (from 90 degrees).

Viewing Angle Left

Viewing text from the left or right, definition retention is still excellent, and readability is hampered only by your own personal ability to discern font sizes being used.

Viewing Angle Right

Overall, I am quite disappointed with the quality of this screen, mostly due to its non-existent brightness. I actually considered calling Dell up to have it replaced with an IPS panel (I don’t know if Dell uses them for the Latitude line of screens, though.) In the end, I decided the fact that I had to pay for all labor and services performed on my device was enough of a reason for me to put up with this screen. At least, until I travel to a country that will honor my 4-year NBD Gold Warranty.

Speakers:

Now this was a confusing part for me to review. Overall, the speakers are excellent. For a laptop, of course. Highs and mids are good, and the bass frequencies are passable. Now I use the speakers primarily to play music back in iTunes or Windows Media Player while working, so the computer doesn’t really act as a piece of entertainment equipment. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the quality and volume levels for most needs.

The problem began, however, when I launched Media Center. I popped in one of my favourite movies of all time, Almost Famous: The Bootleg Edition. I was stumped: the volume levels for all the content on BOTH DVDs were ridiculously low. The only way I could understand the film was with the subtitles on. I double-checked the levels in Media Center (50/50) and in Windows itself, where all the options for all applications were at 100%. I asked around at the NBR Dell Forum, and was told by some that their volume levels were fine. Quite loud, in fact. So I went back and launched Media Player. And my music was LOUD. I launched iTunes. And my music was LOUD. So I went back into Media Center and played music, this time. Yes, it was LOUD.

I was confused. So I popped in a different DVD. Pink Floyd’s P.U.L.S.E., the live concert video. NOW I was getting somewhere. Volume levels for that and nine other movies / concert videos were acceptable, if not loud. So the problem lay in my original Almost Famous DVDs. I popped it back in and tried all the audio settings. PCM. DTS. Dolby Stereo.Dolby 5.1. And nothing changed. The audio was still low.

I still haven’t resolved this strange issue, but have in fact discovered at least two other DVDs with the same audio problems. So I’m not sure if this is a compatibility issue with certain types of audio streams, or just some odd glitch. In any case, I’m looking forward to a driver update that can fix this. The concept of portable entertainment goes out the window when you have to lug 6 extra pounds of speakers and power bricks around.

As for the headphone port, the quality out of it is significantly better. All frequencies are represented well across the band. I plugged in my ancient 500W 2.1 JBL speakers and music boomed across the house with crisp, clear tones. There were no apparent crackles or signal issues with the port. I also particularly like that the ports are off to the left side of the chassis. This is because I don’t like having anything plugged in between me and the keyboard. At the same time, while in bed or otherwise reclining, I usually rest the lower edge of the frame on my waist. A earphone plugged there would be an uncomfortable inconvenience.

Processor and Performance:

I ordered my Latitude with the T7500, 2.2GHz of 800MHz goodness. I also equipped it with 2GB of 667MHz DDR2 RAM. So naturally, you can assume I expected nothing but a snappy overall experience. If anything, the 120GB 5400rpm drive would be the only bottleneck in the system. But what I experienced could not be blamed solely on the relatively pokey hard drive.

Even before I installed anything on this computer, it was SLOW. The first boot after the initial setup took well over two minutes to get to a usable desktop. Now I read that Vista really does take a while in its first few hours or boots as it indexes all your files for snappy searches. Well, I’ve had this computer for exactly two weeks now, and it still takes its sweet time with a lot of things. The first thing that I noticed was the consistently slow boot up. A cold boot consistently takes between 2:48 and 3:32 minutes to a usable desktop.

Then, coming out of hibernation or standby isn’t any better either. Standby, depending on whether you’ve manually initiated it or if it’s recovering from standby from inactive use, can sometimes take anywhere from as long as twenty seconds to a full minute. In one miserable case, I waited over ten minutes for it to come out of standby. Hibernation is hit or miss, as sometimes it comes out snappily (fourteen seconds, my shortest time) to never. It sometimes hangs completely, and the only way to get it out of this state is to power down and then back up again.

Initially, I thought the problems were caused by hardware and peripheral or device status changes between active and standby/hibernation modes. The first time the recovery took a long time, I had hibernated with the Western Digital Passport external hard drive plugged in. As I was taking the computer downstairs for a smoke, I unplugged the hard drive. Coming out of hibernation took a little over two minutes. The next time it happened, the device in question was the Revolution VX cordless mouse. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to reliably reproduce this bug consistently, so I can’t squarely fault the OS on it.

On average, I’m a web addict, so I normally have anywhere from one browser window to six windows with twelve tabs of pages each, open at any given time. As I mentioned earlier, these run side-by-side with Outlook, Word, Excel and multiple folders for work files. My system tray programs (after eliminating various Adobe, iTunes and other superfluous “helper” startup programs) are usually Dell’s Quickset, Yahoo Messenger and AIM, McAfee Security Center and Logitech’s Setpoint. But even simple tasks such as Photo Gallery’s and Picasa’s slide show are not smooth, with transitions frequently being choppy. The occasional DVD-video playback would often result in choppy video, but lag-free audio, pointing to a possible display driver problem.

Don’t get me wrong, this is an otherwise fast system. Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop take between 8 and 14 seconds each to load up to a usable workspace. All of Office 2007 boots up in under 3 seconds. So the thing I don’t understand is why boot times and recovery from various standby or sleep states take so long, even with the Power Settings on “High Performance.” I tested the restoring in “Power Saver” and “Balanced” modes, and the times were even more severe.

Two other issues I had – and that which most people with the new discrete graphic card builds of the the Santa Rosa Latitudes (D630/D830 with NVS135M/140M) have also had – are the sluggish feel of Vista’s Aero theme, and the video card’s propensity to crash and display errors.

For the former, I immediately noticed it when I first pulled up Flip-3D, Vista’s much-touted and ballyhooed 3D update to multitask viewing. There is a very slight delay – milliseconds, even – before the window “stack” appears, and even more (albeit smaller) delays when actually flipping through the stack. Granted, these delays are infinitesimal, but they add up to ruining an otherwise silky-smooth GUI experience. Personally, OSX’ Expos does a much better – and much more useful – job. But I digress; we’re not here to review Vista.

As for the crashes, I received one almost immediately after booting up Windows for the first time. I had just completed the set up, and started toying around with Vista’s new toys when the whole screen suddenly went black. It resumed after a few seconds, and an error balloon in the system tray informed me that the display driver had stopped working, and recovered from an error. Over the next few days, I began to notice that the display driver would crash far more frequently whenever Dreamscene (part of Vista Ultimate’s “Extras”. Basically, it’s animated wallpaper) was active. In one instance, my entire wallpaper was replaced with what looked like a garbled display memory dump.

After reading various threads in this forum, I updated the default drivers. First with Dell’s own drivers, on their support page. While the problems became less frequent, I still wasn’t satisfied with the overall performance, so I downloaded updated Forceware drivers from LaptopVideo2Go. Since then, performance has been much snappier, while the crashes occur just a little less frequently. I look forward to the day nVidia finally releases some final Vista-32 drivers with a modicum of stability.

As for gaming performance… well, I don’t really intend to play any games on this system. Between work and taking care of my 4-month old baby, I’d be surprised if I even had a chance to turn on the X-Box for a few minutes. AND… I don’t think I really want to try any games until the video driver issues can be resolved.

Overall, I was expecting much more bang-for-my-buck with my level of system configuration. I actually spoke to a Dell Gold Support representative about this and he pointed me to various driver updates on the corporate Support Page – In particular, the video drivers. Unfortunately, while they did solve some of the problems (the video crashes are slightly less frequent), they did nothing to resolve the speed and performance of the system.

Benchmarks:

Below is basically a run-through of standard performance tests. Note that I had upgraded the video card driver first from Dell’s own Support Site, and then finally to the latest version from LaptopVideo2Go.com. The differences were to be seen primarily in PCMark05 and 3DMark06, where the numbers gained significant increases, ranging from 1,000 to 2,0000 marks. Other than that, all test were conducted on a fresh cold boot, and then by disabling all TSR programs and services, leaving only volume control, battery meter and the network connections. All wireless connections were disabled, as was the actual hardware switch.

Windows Experience Index

SuperPi

PCMark05

3DMark03

3DMark06

HD Tune

Hard drive temperature ranged between 41 and 46 degrees Celsius.

Everest Memory Latency

Everest Memory Read

Everest Memory Write

Heat and Noise:

When I first got the system, I didn’t quite push it to its limits yet. As I said, a few browser windows open here and there, a few documents open in Photoshop and Illustrator, maybe iTunes running in the background, and so on. As such, I didn’t notice it getting particularly hotter even after a few hours of use. In fact, it remained cool enough as to be usable on my lap. The fan would rarely, if ever, kick in.

However, as my ownership wore on, and as I started doing more processor-intensive operations (and, yes, that includes gaming) I noticed that the system was starting get warmer and warmer on average. I didn’t check actual sectional temperatures, but with Speedfan, the processor would range from 34-52 degrees, depending on what I was doing. And as the days went by, I could work with it on my lap less and less often. So now I use a breakfast tray in bed. The hottest areas I found were the fan vent (obviously) directly to the left of the system, near the LCD hinge (see the photos), the hard drive, and the top middle of the under-chassis. As I haven’t opened the system up, I’ll assume the processors live there. One thing: as the hours go by, the AC adapter (both of them) would heat up quite a bit, making it a bit worrisome to wrap up and throw in your bag if you’re in a hurry.

As the fan kicks in, it is only really discernible if you’re in a relatively quiet room without any other distractions. But when you do hear it, it’s a bit surprisingly loud. The spinning doesn’t always last so long, however, so I can only assume that the fans activates long enough to cool the heated components to acceptable temperature levels, and then powers down to a lower speed.

The optical drive is pretty quiet, and its spinning seldom distracts me from whatever I’m doing. Unlike my previous Windows system, this optical drive doesn’t feel like an earthquake under my wrists.

Keyboard and Touchpad:

How easy is the keyboard and touchpad to use, how do you like the placement of buttons on the notebook or do you wish there were more buttons for things such as volume control?  Does the keyboard "flex" at all (this means the keyboard sags a little bit and other keys around a key you are pressing go down as you push the intended key)?

The keyboard is surprisingly quite good, although in the words of the multitudes, "it ain’t a Thinkpad." The key travel is good, and it doesn’t generate a lot of loud clicking or tapping sounds. As for the feel, it’s soft, with a little give, but not mushy at all.

One caveat, though. There is a small, yet pronounced flex in the keyboard that dips just over a millimeter. As far as I can tell, the region of flexing is bounded by the following keys (in rows, from top to bottom): F3-F6; 3-7; W-Y; and then lightly, from S-G.

If you’re a light and fast touch typist, it won’t bother you at all.

I especially appreciate the layout of all the keys, and I’ll go through them point by point:

  1. The Function and Control keys are “in the correct spots” which simply means the Control key is to the LEFT of the Function key, as it is on the majority of keyboards, and is a layout I have long gotten used to. I find the placement of the control key to the extreme left of the entire keyboard makes it more intuitive to hold (with my pinkie) while executing shortcuts. If the Function key were there (which I don’t really use that often, except maybe for adjusting the screen brightness ), I’d have to wrench my finger into strange angles in order to hit the Ctrl. Having gotten used to using the pinkie on the Ctrl and my thumb or index on the appropriate letter key, I like this layout very much.
  2. The print screen, num lock and pause keys are all aligned at the top row, and laid out as they would be on a standard desktop keyboard. Which I like.
  3. The document navigation keys (Insert, Home, Page Up, Delete, End and Page Dn) are also arranged as they would be on a desktop, split into two rows of three. I find this layout the most convenient as it means I can jump right in and use them, as opposed to relearning positions and stealing glances at the keyboard while typing. Having them in the upper right corner of the keyboard also works for me, as they are in an accessible place, yet far enough so they don’t get in the way when I don’t need them I actually don’t like the layout favoured by Asus and the current  Inspirons / Vostros where they are shoved into one column to the right of the keyboard. To me, that’s just poor design and it even messes up my touch-typing with the enter and backslash keys.
  4. The volume control keys are in a good place, though I sometimes which they weren’t so mushy.
  5. The placement of the lighting controls on the directional keys is intuitive, as it makes sense to hit “up” when you want to make it brighter, and vice-versa. I wish they would move out of the OEM oversights and take out the silkscreened keyboard light icon as used in the ATG systems.

As for the touchpad, I will admit I did not like it at first. The surface felt a bit too small and slight texturing threw me off. I am used to the smoothness of other touchpads (almost like glossy plastic) and I appreciated the friction they provided. I also must note that due to the size of the touchpad and the high resolution of the WUXGA screen, accuracy is a little more difficult without practice. ESPECIALLY with the trackpoint. At first I had a dickens of a time clicking on those tiny hyperlinks (see screenshot of NBR earlier in this review for reference), and this was with the touchpad. After adjusting the sensitivity to maximum and turning on pointer precision, it became a lot easier to use. The recessed nature of the touchpad still annoys me, however, as when I try to scroll up and down documents my fingertip brushes against the frame.

The buttons are mushier than I would have liked, since my preference is light buttons with low travel and a distinguishable click at the end. As for the biometric (fingerprint) scanner, I don’t like the OEM approach take by Dell, simply wedging it in between the two touchpad buttons. It feels a little like it was just thrown in, and not made a serious feature or component of the system, unlike in Thinkpads, Pavilions or some Toshiba systems.

As for the trackpoint (or the pointing stick, as they like to call it). At first I thought I would appreciate it and like it, as it made for very convenient navigation while typing. The position of the button makes it easy to mouse around without taking your hands off the keyboard. Unfortunately, I’ve found in practice that it just doesn’t work for me. I have adjusted my sensitivity settings over and over, but I can’t seem to find the right mix of travel, acceleration and sensitivity. All too often I overshoot a button or the place in the document I want to put my cursor on. I understand it will be harder with a resolution as high as mine, but I was expecting it to work better for me – I was a little excited to experience what Thinkpad users have been enjoying all these years. Nowadays, I only use it in tight, cramped situations (i.e., economy class, or in bed where there’s too much strain on the wrist to use the trackpad.

Can you tell I use my computer in bed a WHOLE LOT?

The mouse buttons for the pointing stick are the same as those on the touchpad – mushy, but otherwise alright.

I’ve found that the best solution (most of the time) is to just plug in the Logitech VX Revolution I purchased with this system.

I have one quibble to make, however, and it’s a software conflict I’ve been having ever since XPSP2.  The Logitech Setpoint Drivers. For some reason, they always reset my trackpoint settings to default whenever Windows reboots. I’ve done everything I could short of uninstalling it (but that would leave me without the ability to use my tilts, zooms and search button on my Revolution VX ) but I still can’t seem to get my sensitivity settings to stick. This is a problem I’ve been having even in XP. If there’s anyone out there with a solution to this, I would love to hear from you.

Input and Output Ports:

I went through a fairly thorough listing of all the ports above, so I’ll only list my thoughts on each here.

  1. The PCMCIA (or PC Card) slot is something I don’t see myself needing at any time, but as legacy support for older devices, I’ll appreciate its inclusion. Especially since ExpressCard isn’t nearly as widely adopted yet.
  2. The ExpressCard slot I will use primarily for my Bluetooth media remote control (The Interlink Media Electronics one)… but since it hasn’t arrived yet, I can’t comment on it or the remote control.
  3. Microphone and speaker ports work well, without any signal issues or noise.
  4. The firewire port works as expected, pretty darn fast. I use it exclusively for importing videos from my DVI camera, and performance has been very good so far.
  5. The VGA port works as expected, I only use it to plug into projectors for presentations, and there haven’t been any issues at all.
  6. The parallel port I have no use for, but for people who do… well, here it is.
  7. Modem – I only plug this in when sending and receiving faxes, and it’s performed well so far.
  8. Gigabit Ethernet – now this one I don’t really use at all, since I’m always wireless. But as tested, it performs with no packet loss and with moderately consistent throughput.
  9. USB with powered D-Bay port. I don’t have any devices that require the additional power, but my use of that USB port (as well as the other two) have been relatively good. There are some occasions where the system fails to recognize an external hard drive or two (and in one rare case, failed to recognize any of my four Logitech mice), however. I have not had this issue checked or verified yet by either tech support or the local Authorized Service Provider.

    My main complaint with the two USB ports on the right side is that they are spaced too closely together. When I want to plug in some peripherals or external hard drives (or flash disks), I find it a little difficult to squeeze them in, what with one on top of the other, and too tightly. Another complaint I’ve got is that the optical drive is placed a little too close to these ports. Anything with a width over half a centimetre too wide will prevent the ODD from opening and closing properly.

  10. S-Video. Personally, I would have preferred a DVI or even an HDMI port here. Legacy support can only go so far, and this connectivity option is fast going out of style.

Like I said earlier, I really would have liked to see a Media Card Reader as well, such as for SD/MMC and Compact Flash.

Wireless:

I opted for the Intel 4965 AGN WLAN card and the Dell 360 Bluetooth module. Throughput and bandwidth speeds and reliability with the WLAN card have been very good, but since I live in 50 square meter apartment, range is not something I’m readily capable of testing. There are many networks, however, that I can find and connect to that my X1000 and MacBook Pro can’t even find, so in that sense, I must assume it’s a much better card.

Bluetooth, I only use for synchronizing my Treo 650 and Blackberry 7130g, and I’ve had no problems with it at all. Sending and receiving files between this and the MacBook Pro have also been seamless, even from up to 20 feet away.

This system does not come with an Infared port. Which is just as well, since I haven’t “beamed” anything since the Palm Vx days.

Battery:

The battery on this system is very good, for its specifications and size. I would have gotten the Media Bay battery, but I find I need the optical drive more often, and I’m not far away removed from outlets for long enough periods of time.

Surfing on three windows of Firefox with about 8 pages open on each, editing documents on Word and Excel (2007), editing photos on Photoshop CS2, WiFi on (but not Bluetooth) and brightness set to 6/8 with Power Saver mode, I get just over three hours on it. With brightness at its lowest settings, Wi-fi and Bluetooth off, just typing away at Word and Excel, I can get around five hours. Not bad, when working on long bus or plane trips!

Of course, I wish it would last longer, but then again – who doesn’t, right?

The batteries also come with the incredibly handy battery meter. This is a set of five green LEDs that indicate the amount of charge the battery is currently holding. Simply push the button (indicated in the picture above) and the lights will turn on. Hold the button longer, and you get your battery health meter. My main complaint is that the button is a little difficult to depress, and I only get it right the first time when I use my nail to push it in. Not as convenient as the simple clicking button on the MacBook Pro’s battery.

I will also say this… what the heck is up with that AC adapter? Why is it so darned BIG??

Operating System and Software:

I requested Vista Ultimate on this system, as I was very excited to explore this latest iteration without any limits. My primary reasons for choosing it were:

  1. BitLocker, which, sadly, has NOT proven be as useful nor as simple to use as I had expected.
  2. Dreamscene. If I’m getting a highly spec’d system, I want something that’ll show it off, even when I’m not doing anything.
  3. Media Center – to watch movies on my off times
  4. Complete PC Backup and Restore – because this is still my primary work system, I want to keep all my workspaces, settings and files safe.
  5. I like having the best.

I received the Drivers and Diagnostics and the Vista 32-Bit installation disc (which is not a full install, but more like a recovery / upgrade disc). I’ve only used these discs once, when the Dell Authorized Service Provider, Micro-D, decided the best way to resolve all my issues was to reinstall everything from scratch.

I must say, however, that I am VERY disappointed with the lack of updates for the Ultimate Extras. Here was something I was really looking forward to – and all I’ve got is a poker game and language packs I can’t even use? Also, I am a bit disappointed that even with my specs, Media Center is a little sluggish.

I was very pleased to find a distinct lack of crap on my system fresh out of the box. The only third party software installed was McAfee’s Internet Suite, Roxio Media Creator (both of which I requested) and Google Sidebar (which I didn’t ask for). I promptly uninstalled the sidebar and reverted to the Vista Sidebar instead. Like I said, the lack of bloat was inspiring and refreshing. Unfortunately, this did nothing to mitigate the slow performance I was getting from the system (cold boots would take as long as three minutes!) From the first boot, I was already getting display driver crashes, mostly due to Dreamscene. Consensus has agreed that it is all due to the immature Vista drivers of the graphics card, the nVidia Quadro NVS 140M. I have identified that Dreamscene is definitely the root cause of the driver instabilities as I’ve been running the system for nearly three weeks without using Dreamscene once and I’ve only experienced the display driver crash once in that time period. When I consulted a Gold Tech Support Representative, he told me that Dell would never release drivers without testing them first. When I told him I had already installed their newest drivers, and then reformatted and THEN reinstalled their new drivers… he had nothing more to say.

Other than that, the stock drivers have been pretty good, I haven’t encountered any other serious hardware issues except for the display and the optical drive. There are a few instances where the ODD spontaneously decides to “unmount” itself. By this I mean the hardware would simply disappear in my list of devices and in the Computer window. This would happen at random times, most often while attempting to burn DVDs. More on this when I get the chance to drop by the ASP’s office.

On a very unrelated side note… I really don’t see the point of Microsoft’s new Vista Product Key Sticker “Port Hole” feature. Why can’t people see it for what it is: a damaged product key label that won’t hold up over a few years of use?

Customer Support:

Here’s the story, and it’s a mixed bag. The first thing I would like to discuss was the quality of service I received in the processing of my order, and the subsequent order-related requests.

I placed my order on the 15th, via phone. Even if I was calling from overseas, I figured the discounts and bargains I could get from haggling with the CSR would make up for my IDD rates. I had created a cart earlier in the day, and e-mailed it to him. As we were going through every item, he informed me of the upgrades available to me, at no additional cost. For this, I got the warranty and shipping upgrades at no additional cost (I requested 3-year Complete Care, he upgraded it to 4-year, he also gave free overnight shipping). He also gave me free upgrades on some accessories. I also told him that I needed the system to ship before the 26th, as my cousin was departing for here that day, and she was going to bring them over for me. He initially told me he could not commit to a ship date (I worried over this since the new video cards stated that they would delay my ship date to the first or second week of July – WAY too late for me), but eventually told me he would upgrade my shipping and expedite and prioritize my build. The incredible thing is, it shipped completely in less than four days!

Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication in my order. When the CSR and I finished, we went over every item one by one, just to make sure. Unfortunately, when the e-mail confirmation arrived, the invoice did not include the Interlink Electronics Expresscard Media Remote Control. And, instead of it I found the Kensington Microsaver Notebook Lock. When I tried to call him back to clarify, offices had already closed for the weekend. I had three days before I could call him back and make the change.

Not wanting to risk the extra charges, I immediately wrote an e-mail off to Sales Support. I immediately received a response, and they apologized for the mistake. In two days, I received a confirmation that they would be sending me (my cousin) the remote control free of charge, and that I would not be required to return the notebook lock! That was plus one in my books.

The second case was after I received the unit. I used the system for a few hours when I realized I had ordered a surge protector. Not wanting to risk power surges any longer, I immediately plugged the notebook into it, and the surge protector into the grounded outlet. The next thing I heard was a pop, the next thing I smelt was burnt plastic. Thankfully, the notebook was unaffected. I went onto Dell Chat to speak to a rep about it and he tried to issue me an international dispatch replacement unit. Failing that (he didn’t have the clearance to authorize such a delivery), he then asked me to stay on hold as he tried to contact Malaysia for the part. When he couldn’t get in touch with them, he gave me their contact numbers and asked me to try them during regular office hours. But in the event that they could not do anything either, the CSR volunteered to refund the price of the accessory to me, as a credit note to my credit card. I eventually spoke to Dell Malaysia and they didn’t have the part in stock. In any case, I didn’t lose anything. So, plus one more point in my books, Dell.

The great thing in all of these conversations and e-mails was that the supervisors and case managers would all e-mail me, confirming the requested actions and asking if everything was going well. In one case, three supervisors all wrote me on separate occasions, asking if everything was going well and if the service and attention I received was satisfactory! So, plus, plus, plus!

And now the dark side of Dell Support. As most people can acknowledge, Dell’s Tech Support personnel aren’t always the smartest, neither are they always willing to go out of their way to help you. Thankfully, I have seldom received the short end of the stick when it comes to attention (my chats usually last around three hours on average, with the tech patiently walking me through every step.) However, there are some instances where the representative either had no idea what he was doing or was too tired to bother. As I said, was having problems with my display drivers immediately out of the box. When I asked a tech to help me resolve this, his first suggestion was to pull out the video card, motherboard and LCD panel! A bit extreme, I thought. However, since I wasn’t in the US this service would not be possible. After about ten minutes of insisting that he needed to gut my computer, we finally decided to try a more sober approach: drivers. When that failed, however, he then suggested I reformat my computer, as there may have been some errors in the installation of either the OS or the drivers from the factory floor. I refused to accept this, and once I left him I went over to LaptopVideo2Go.com for updated Forceware drivers. Granted, they didn’t completely remove my issues, but the new drivers DID help to stabilize them. It’s really the luck of the draw, but some of the tech support representatives are a tad bit alarmist.

I must also say that Dell Connect is an incredibly useful tool and I would recommend all other manufacturers begin implementing similar support systems. The ability to let the tech on the other end view your screen AND control your system to help diagnose and repair issues is invaluable and really goes a long way in helping resolve problems.

Overall, my impression and experience with Dell’s Customer Support has been superb. There have been some low points, but a quick e-mail to a Supervisor or Case Manager usually gets the job done, regardless of my issue. Keep in mind, however, that all my stories pertain to Gold Tech Support (as covered by my warranty). Your experiences may vary if you are getting the regular run-of-the-mill tech support.

Now, Authorized Service Providers are another story altogether. When you purchase the “International Warranty,” make sure you’re fully aware of the coverage you’re entitled to in the country you’re planning to reside for the length of your coverage. If, for instance, you purchase the 4-year Complete Care package with Accidental Damage (as I did), and you choose to stay in a country without a formal Dell Support Center and it only offers Parts-Only Warranty… then you’re out of luck. In my case, I purchased my warranty plan knowing full well that I would be receiving a crippled, Parts Only coverage (and one that I’d have to pay for to avail of, at that!) here in the Philippines. However, since I know I will be either travelling to New York for either vacation, work, or immigration in the next three years, I felt the extra cost of the warranty would eventually be worth it.

But going back to the ASP. In my situation, every incident or case that needed to be addressed by the ASP required a flat diagnostic fee, REGARDLESS of whether or not the issue was actually solved. Here, this fee is equivalent to 35 USD. I brought my display adapter issues to them and they said they would need to run a full diagnostic of the system (which I later found out was simply run off of my included DVD.) When they found no problems, they said they would need to reformat. Again, I was unusually (and mistakenly) too trusting. So I let them reformat. When I retrieved my system, all the same problems were there. With a few new ones. There were mistakes in my software installations. My username was misspelled. The TPM was disabled. Installed drivers were either incorrect or out of date. In other words, they made me pay 35 bucks for a reformat and OS reinstallation I could’ve done a much better job of. When I called them for a follow up on another unrelated issue, they said they would get back to me and e-mail me a quote. That was one month ago, and I still haven’t received any word. Overall, I’d give them a D-minus.

Caveat Emptor.Be sure you know what you’re getting into when you get your warranty.

Conclusion:

In the end, the Latitude D830 is a very good system with some stability and driver immaturity issues. It is an excellently built machine with solid components and excellent performance, hampered only by immature drivers and the limitations of the Operating System itself. As I have not attempted to install anything other than Vista, I cannot comment on any other OS’.

The target market of this system is clearly the business end of the spectrum, those looking for speed and performance with standard office applications, as well as some graphic processing requirements. If you’re looking to play newer games with high detail and performance, look elsewhere. But if you’re in the market for a strong (almost semi-rugged) laptop that can complete most of your office (or school) work with plenty of muscle to spare, the D830 is an excellent choice.

People looking for high-end gaming, look for something else. Look for Alienwares or Sagers or Voodoos. Peple looking for high-end graphics and animation workstations, look for the Precision system of your choice. But if you’re looking for a decent balance, the Latitude D830 will not disappoint.

PROS:

  • Excellent, durable construction.
  • Business-class aesthetics are clean and no-nonsense.
  • Solid office application performance.
  • Excellent battery life for the specifications.
  • Discrete graphics deliver decent performance.
  • Configuration options are plentiful.
  • Resolution is excellent.
  • Excellent keyboard.
  • Wi-fi catcher is an excellent idea.

CONS:

  • Business-class aesthetics are clean and no-nonsense.
  • Discrete graphics not powerful enough for performance gaming; I would have liked better graphics options.
  • Heavy.
  • Can get very expensive.
  • Can get warm if used extensively or for long periods.
  • Screen isn’t as bright as I would have liked and has light leakage from the bottom.
  • Speakers could be louder.
  • Some minor build issues loose wi-fi catcher switch, battery, lid does not close tightly.
  • Vista issues.


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