Dell Latitude E6400 Review

by Jerry Jackson Reads (484,751)

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by Jerry Jackson

The Dell Latitude E6400 is a 14″ laptop targeted towards businesses that need good performance, solid design, and a commonality of parts for an entire workforce. This notebook competes against such notebooks as the HP EliteBook 6930p and Fujitsu LifeBook S7220. The E6400 offers a wide range of hardware configurations, as well as Solid State Drives (SSDs) for the businesses that require extreme ruggedness and extreme performance. Should your company rush out and purchase the latest generation of Dell business notebooks? We took a closer look to find out.

Our review unit of the Dell Latitude E6400 came with the following options:

  • Windows Vista Business (32-bit)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo Processor P9500 (2.53GHz)
  • 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM (maximum capacity 8GB)
  • 160GB Hitachi HDD (7200rpm)
  • 14.1″ diagonal widescreen matte TFT LCD display at 1440x 900 (WXGA+, matte)
  • 256MB nVidia Quadro NVS 160M (256MB dedicated plus shared memory)
  • 8x DVD (+/-R double layer) drive
  • Intel Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN (802.11a/g/n)
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • Dimensions: 1.1-1.3″(H) x 13.1(W) x 9.37″(D)
  • Weight: 5.56 lbs
  • 90W 100-240V AC adapter
  • 9-cell (85Wh) Lithium Ion battery
  • Price as tested: $2,148 (starting price: $1,139 … $879 after instant savings)

Build and Design

Unlike the previous generation of Dell Latitude noteboks that featured rounded edges and curves, the Dell Latitude E-series features “down to business” industrial design. The chassis is entirely made of magnesium alloy with plenty of 90-degree edges and sharp angles. While the look is reasonably modern, it’s also a little “old school” and could be mistaken for a 5-year old laptop from a distance. Still, the build and design speak volumes in terms of the overall durability of this notebook.

During testing no plastic creaks or squeaks could be heard thanks to the magnesium alloy structure. The entire bottom shell is a metal alloy which gives the laptop a strong footprint on your desk, and gives enough strength to resist bending if you hold the laptop by the edge of the palm rest walking around the room. The only downside to the chassis is that the alloy is thinner than expected in a few locations (more on that later). Another minor issue we noticed is that the bottom access panel on the E6400 really needs one extra screw on the bottom right corner next to the hard drive bay. The magnesium allow base plate smacks up against that corner of the notebook and makes an annoying metal tapping noise if you’re typing on an uneven surface.

The heavy use of magnesium alloy carries over to the lid of the notebook, which has an attractive “brushed metal” design that isn’t actually brushed metal but rather a painted surface. This immitation brushed metal surface is available in black, blue, or red to give businesses (and their employees) a way to customize the look of their business notebook. The finish itself seems quite durable and should survive years of use and abuse.

In addition to the overall design of the notebook itself, it’s worth mentioning the new docking station for the E-series Latitude notebooks. Most businesses will likely use the E6400 with a docking station and an external monitor so that employees can have a mobile laptop when traveling and have a “desktop” computer at the office. Dell made a few changes to the Latitude docking station this year. In addition to relocating some ports they also added an extra USB port on the side and provide new DisplayPort connections for the latest external displays.

Screen

The matte WXGA+ (1440×900) screen on the Dell Latitude E6400 is absolutely beautiful. No dead pixels were found during testing, and backlight bleed while noticed on some dark screens was minimal. Colors were vibrant despite the matte screen and the additional benefit of matte screens is the lack of reflection in an office environment. Wide viewing angles made the screen look sharp even at oddly contorted angles. Backlight adjustment was very broad, allowing me to adjust low enough for darker room settings, and bright enough to still be readable in sunlight or a bright office.

 

One minor negative regarding the screen is that the notebook lid offers less than ideal protection for the screen. Although the allow lid is quite durable and should protect the lid from most impacts, the thin allow does flex and created “ripples” on the screen whenever pressure was allied to the back of the screen  The release latch was smooth and unlike most latches on budget notebooks required little effort to release.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The keyboard and palm rest structure is solid, but the thin alloy used in the palmrests does flex a little when pressure is applied. Pressing down very firmly, the keyboard suffers from virtually zero flex and is a nice improvement over the older Dell Latitude D630.

The keyboard is very comfortable to type on, and gave just the right amount of response for each key press. Key travel is similar to most business notebooks with just a bit less clicking sound than what we hear on ThinkPads in our office. The keyboard layout was not cramped at all, and the keyboard backlighting allowed for typing in a dark room.

The Alps touchpad has a nice smooth texture and is reasonably responsive, but could be improved. Lag time and accuracy were worse than what we’ve seen on many competing business notebooks. The size of the touchpad surface was large enough for comfortable control and the two touchpad buttons spanned the full length of the touchpad, and each had a soft click when pressed. The touchpoint/trackpoint located in the center of the keyboard is a nice improvement over the touchpoint on the older D630, but again we found the touchpoints on business notebooks from Lenovo and HP to be more responsive and accurate. On the bright side, the touchpoint includes three mouse buttons for better control with tabbed web browsing.

Next to the touchpad on the right palmrest you’ll also notice a SmartCard contact reader … allowing employees to use their SmartCard security badges with their notebook without having to physically insert the SmartCard inside the notebook.

Performance and Benchmarks

The Dell Latitude E6400 as configured has more than enough speed and storage space to handle most users needs. The high-end Intel Core 2 Duo P9500 and nVidia Quadro NVS 160M combined with a reasonably fast hard drive make this laptop an excellent performer, for both lightweight multimedia uses and number crunching. Below are benchmarks to give you an idea of how this laptop might compare up against other notebooks on the market.

WPrime 32M comparison results

wPrime is a program that forces the processor to do recursive mathematical calculations, the advantage of this program is that it is multi-threaded and can use both processor cores at once, thereby giving more accurate benchmarking measurements than Super Pi.

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
Dell Latitude E6400 (Intel Core 2 Duo P9500 @ 2.53GHz) 30.497s
HP EliteBook 8530w (Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 @ 2.53GHz) 30.919s
Lenovo T400 (Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 @ 2.8GHz) 27.410s
Lenovo T500 (Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 @ 2.8GHz) 27.471s
Lenovo T61 (Intel Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2.0GHz) 42.025s
Dell Vostro 1500 (Intel Core 2 Duo T5470 @ 1.6GHz) 53.827s
HP Pavilion dv6500z (AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz) 40.759s
Systemax Assault Ruggedized (Core 2 Duo T7200 @2.0GHz) 41.982s
Toshiba Tecra M9 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @2.2GHz) 37.299s
HP Compaq 6910p (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 40.965s
Sony VAIO TZ (Core 2 Duo U7600 @ 1.20GHz) 76.240s
Zepto 6024W (Core 2 Duo T7300 @ 2GHz) 42.385s
Lenovo T61 (Core 2 Duo T7500 @ 2.2GHz) 37.705s
Hewlett Packard DV6000z (Turion X2 TL-60 @ 2.0GHz) 38.720s

PCMark05 comparison results:

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Dell Latitude E6400 (2.53GHz Intel P9500, Nvidia Quadro NVS 160M 256MB) 5,780 PCMarks
HP EliteBook 8530w (2.53GHz Intel T9400, Nvidia Quadro FX 770M 512MB) 6,287 PCMarks
Lenovo T400 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, ATI Radeon 3470 256MB GDDR3)   6,589 PCMarks
Lenovo T400 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, Intel X4500)    N/A
Lenovo T500 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, ATI Radeon 3650 256MB GDDR3)   7,050 PCMarks
Lenovo T500 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, Intel X4500)  5,689 PCMarks
Lenovo T61 Standard Screen (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA NVS 140M 256MB) 4,839 PCMarks
Dell Vostro 1500 (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5470, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 3,585 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 4,925 PCMarks
Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,377 PCMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 4,591 PCMarks
Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 4,153 PCMarks
Lenovo 3000 V200 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 3,987 PCMarks
Lenovo T60 Widescreen (2.0GHz Intel T7200, ATI X1400 128MB) 4,189 PCMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 4,234 PCMarks

 

3DMark06 comparison results:

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Dell Latitude E6400 (2.53GHz Intel P9500, Nvidia Quadro NVS 160M 256MB) 1,818 3DMarks
HP EliteBook 8530w (2.53GHz Intel T9400, Nvidia Quadro FX 770M 512MB) 5,230 3DMarks
Lenovo T400 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, ATI Radeon 3470 256MB GDDR3)   2,575 3DMarks
Lenovo T400 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, Intel X4500)   809 3DMarks
Lenovo T500 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, ATI Radeon 3650 256MB GDDR3)   4,371 3DMarks
Lenovo T500 (2.80GHz Intel T9600, Intel X4500) 809 3DMarks
Lenovo T61 Standard Screen (2.0GHz Intel T7300, NVIDIA NVS 140M 256MB) 1,441 3DMarks
Dell Vostro 1500 (1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5470, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS) 1,269 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1420 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,329 3DMarks
Sony VAIO FZ (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Intel X3100) 532 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1330 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8400M GS 128MB) 1,408 3DMarks
Samsung Q70 (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7300 and nVidia 8400M G GPU) 1,069 3DMarks
Asus F3sv-A1 (Core 2 Duo T7300 2.0GHz, Nvidia 8600M GS 256MB) 2,344 3DMarks
Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi 1526 (1.66 Core Duo, nVidia 7600Go 256 MB) 2,144 3DMarks
Samsung X60plus (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo T7200, ATI X1700 256MB) 1,831 3DMarks
Asus A6J (1.83GHz Core Duo, ATI X1600 128MB) 1,819 3DMarks
HP dv6000t (2.16 GHz Intel T7400, NVIDA GeForce Go 7400) 827 3DMarks

 

HDTune storage drive performance test:

For those who are interested in replacing the standard hard disk drive in the E6400 with a high performance solid state drive (SSD), the E6400 is available with the following SSD options and prices:

  • 64GB Dell Mobility Solid State Drive (add $499)
  • 64GB Ultra Performance Solid State Drive (add $649)
  • 128GB Dell Mobility Solid State Drive (add $649)

Speakers

The speakers on the E6400 were better than average for most laptops, comparable to speakers found on most small midrange televisions. While lower bass was lacking, volume levels were quite loud, and distortion at peak levels was not present. The speakers also have a great location that directs sound up and toward the user.

Speaking of great locations, it’s also worth mentioning that the fingerprint reader is now located beneath the right speaker. This is a much better location than the palmrest or in between the touchpad buttons (where most manufacturers put the fingerprint reader) because it means you’re less likely to accidentally trigger the fingerprint reader when you pick up the notebook or use the touchpad buttons.

Input and Output ports

Port selection was not a problem, although I would have enjoyed seeing a HDMI port, but the inclusion of a DisplayPort is a reasonable compromise and probably more useful in a corporate environment. Going around the notebook, we find the following ports

Left: Kensington lock slot, VGA out, powered USB port, combo USB/eSATA port, heat exhaust, SmartCard reader, and hard drive bay.

Front: Screen latch release and SD card reader.

Right: PC card slot (ExpressCard slot optional), Firewire, optical drive, Headphone/Mic, wireless switches, and two USB ports.

Rear: Modem, LAN, battery, DisplayPort, Power connector.

 

Heat and Noise

The E6400 controls heat extremely well … even when the dual-core processor and GPU are crunching numbers and the hard drive is actively reading and writing data. Even after running PCMark05, 3DMark06 and wPrime multiple times during a one-hour period the exterior of the E6400 barely reached the triple-digit range in degrees Fahrenheit. More importantly, the hottest parts of the notebook are confined the the areas where you are less likely to touch the notebook. For example, if you’re using the E6400 on you lap in an airport the hottest part of the notebook is located between your legs rather than directly where your legs come into contact with the notebook.

Simply put, the E6400 with hard drive stays remarkably cool even when the system is being heavily stressed. If you configure the notebook with a SSD instead of a hard drive you should have a notebook that runs even cooler. The images below show the external temperature readings in degrees Fahrenheit:

The fan noise was rarely loud enough to be heard in a quiet room unless the notebook was under extreme stress such as benchmarking or serious gaming.

Battery

Under normal web browsing use the 9-cell battery performed quite well, pushing out 4 hours and 22 minutes of life before going into hibernation mode at two percent. Screen brightness was at maximum and other items were set to “High Performance” in Dell’s ControlPoint Power Manager. I also never let the notebook so to sleep during the battery test, so users should be able to get more than 4 hours and 22 minutes of battery life by selecting the “Dell Recommended” mode or “Power Saver” mode and letting the notebook go into sleep mode when not in use.

Dell’s Latitude team takes a great deal of pride in the development of the new ControlPoint software. This one-stop control center for power management, display settings, network connections, and security settings. ControlPoint is indeed a great interface for novice computer users or anyone who wants to control these features in one location. However, if you’re used to using the Windows power management interface, you’re in for a rude awakening when you change settings for screen brightness, or sleep mode only to have the Dell ControlPoint software override your changes and reset them to what it believes they should be. Of course, if you simply use the ControlPoint software everything is fine, or you can just turn off the ControlPoint application if you prefer to use the Windows interface.

In any case, more than four hours of battery life gives you more than enough time for taking notes, surfing the web, or responding to emails throughout the day away from an outlet. For those road warriors who require “all-day” computing, Dell also offers a 12-Cell High Capacity Battery Slice ($399) that connects to the bottom of the E6400. Dell claims the when the E6400 is running on both the 9-cell battery and the 12-cell battery slice it can provide a full 19 hours of battery life. Unfortunately, we didn’t have access to a battery slice for testing, but it’s safe to say that such a configuration would easily produce double-digit battery life with the screen brightness turned down.


Conclusion

The Dell Latitude E6400 is a great performer and a solid replacement for the Dell Latitude D630. It seems to be built well enough to be thrown around in day-to-day use, and it’s clear that Dell is trying to improve the Latitude line and offer compelling features … like 19-hour battery life.

We really couldn’t find any major reason to dislike the E6400, but there are a number of “minor annoyances” that could make some businesses look elsewhere. As we mentioned, although the E6400 proved to be quite durbale during our tests, the alloy chassis is thin in some locations which makes the notebook “feel” less durable than it actually is. We’re certain the thinner alloy sections where used in order to keep weight as low as possible, but flex is something you don’t want to see in a business notebook.

Overall, corporate clients who are looking for the next generation of business notebooks from Dell have plenty of reasons to buy the E6400. Dell made every effort to improve the Latitude family, and the E6400 is a great 14-inch business notebook. That said, there is some pretty strong competition such as the Lenovo ThinkPad T400 and HP EliteBook 6930p … and those notebooks might prove to be better alternatives for some.

Pros:

  • Very tough structure and rugged overall chassis design
  • Excellent selection of ports and fantastic docking station
  • Excellent battery life … particularly with extra battery slice
  • Solid performance
  • Remains very cool where your body comes into contact with it

Cons:

  • Industrial design (although cool) looks a little “unfinished”
  • Build quality is durable, but alloy chassis feels thin in some spots
  • ControlPoint software can be frustrating
  • Trackpoint/touchpoint is better than the one on the D630, but still not great


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