Dell Latitude E6400 User Review

by Reads (271,297)

Buy Direct From Manufacturer


by John Ratsey

Dell whetted our appetites for the new E-series Latitudes through some "leaks" at Engadget in March 2008. Among the features which caught my attention were the 14.1" WXGA+ LED backlit display, a target entry weight of 2kg (4.25lb), an eSATA port and a backlit keyboard. Last year I ordered an M1330 a couple of weeks after launch but got bored by the wait and cancelled it, so this year I moved quickly and placed my order for an E6400 within a few hours of the launch.

 

The basic specifications of my Latitude E6400 are:

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 (2.40GHz, 1066MHz FSB, 3MB cache)
  • Screen: 14-inch 1440 x 900 WXGA+ LED Backlit (matte finish)
  • Memory: 1GB DDR2-800 PC-6400 RAM (Nanya, 5-6-6-18)
  • Storage: 160GB 5400rpm HDD (Samsung HM160HI)
  • Optical Drive: 9.5mm thick SATA PLDS (Philips Liteon) 8A2SDVD+/-RW
  • Wireless: Intel 5100 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Graphics: Intel X4500HD
  • UK Backlit keyboard
  • ExpressCard slot
  • Creative 0.3MP web camera and microphone
  • Battery: 56Wh 6-cell
  • Standard E series 90W PSU and optional slim 65W Auto/Air/AC adapter
  • Dimensions: 335 x 244 x 33mm  (including feet about 2mm long) or 13.2" x 9.6" x 1.3"
  • Advertised weight: The Quick Reference Guide states "2.15 kg (4.75 lb) with UMA graphics, 6-cell battery, solid-state drive"
  • Actual weight: 2.31kg  / 5.1 lbs (with UMA graphics, 6-cell battery, HDD)
  • Travel weight: 2.87kg / 6.33lbs (with standard 90W PSU); 2.68kg / 5.91lbs (with slim 65W PSU)
  • Windows Vista Business with XP Pro downgrade

Configuration

Deciding on the configuration is part of the fun with buying a Dell. I decided the P8600 was at the right point of the performance-value curve. I’m not into 3D games so I preferred the lower power consumption of the Intel GPU. The LED backlit WXGA+ screen was a must while the backlit keyboard will most likely come useful when I’m working somewhere where there’s a power cut. The 160GB HDD was the best option on Dell’s capacity/performance/value curve (I’ve already got a 320GB HDD which I’ll move over). 1GB RAM looked the best pricing choice since I could get 2GB elsewhere for the cost of Dell’s 1GB upgrade. I opted for the Express Card slot since I could, if necessary, get an adaptor to be able to use my old PC cards. I wanted a microphone and on the UK configuration the microphone and webcam come together. I wanted an internal 56k modem but this was not available as an option so I ordered a USB modem instead. Similarly Bluetooth was not available at the time I placed my order and I ordered a USB Bluetooth device from elsewhere (fine for me since I only use it occasionally). One option I did select was the 3-year extended warranty for the battery. In my experience a battery loses about half its capacity in about 18 months.


(view large image)

The E6400 between 15.4" Samsung X60plus and 12.1" Toshiba R500

Supplied Software and Documentation

I ordered my E6400 with Windows Vista Business plus the Windows XP downgrade plus media. The XP downgrade was pre-installed (surprisingly, only SP2, not SP3) with a reinstallation DVD for Vista Business SP1. Other discs included Roxio Creator 9.0 DE; PowerDVD DX 8.0 and the Dell Webcam Central software.  There was no drivers / utilities disc (maybe I have to blame the sales agent for this).

The only paper documentation provided is a brochure of Safety, Environmental and Regulatory Information. There was no quick start or user guide in paper form.  Some information is built into the help system but I had to download the main guides from the Dell support site.

Build and Design

Dell have given more attention to the style of the new models and the E6400 has more charisma than its predecessor. The initial impression on picking up the E6400 is that it not just feels solid but is solid. Dell has not opted for the popular wedge shape and the thickness is almost constant. The paint finish is neither matte nor gloss but somewhere in between. The display back has a brushed metal finish to add a little style. I would have preferred a red one, but they currently aren’t available.


(view large image)

My E6400 on the scales (kg on left, lbs on right)

There has been considerable discussion about the weight of the E6400. My E6400 with its 6-cell battery, HDD and optical drive weighed in at 2.31kg (5.1lbs) which is somewhat more than would be expected from the headline weight of 1.95kg with a 4-cell battery, SSD and weight saver module but somewhat less than a 2.55kg weight (albeit with 9-cell battery) reported elsewhere.  Therefore the E6400 shows little improvement in the weight compared to its predecessor and is only 20 grams lighter than my Zepto 6024W.

If hinge stiffness is an indicator of quality then this is near the top of the list. Opening the display is a two-handed job. The display back is metal alloy. I’ve tried pushing and twisting but I can’t get any ripples on the display. The base is a single sheet of metal that is held in place by one screw, which vastly simplifies access. The chassis itself also appears to be metal. The battery latches in snugly with no wiggle. There is an accessible power gauge on the battery.


(view large image)

The bottom of the E6400 is very smooth. This, combined with the small rubber pads, makes it vulnerable to sliding off any surface where the feet can’t grip. The bottom of the battery is also quite smooth and thee are no convenient finger grips for carrying the computer in one hand.


(view large image)

Inside the bottom: Note the generous cooling system.


(view large image)

Under the keyboard

The hard disk is held in by two screws. There is no caddy for the HDD. It just has a simple bezel on the end and it sits snugly in the chassis. I’ve observed no sign of any shock-protecting mountings. Perhaps Dell no longer considers this necessary since users have the option of SSDs or drives with free fall sensors.


(view large image)

Display

Device Manager shows the display as LPL0140 (LG-Philips – is this the same panel as in the T400?). At full brightness it is dazzling (the outside view above was with the backlight at about 70% brightness) and my first impression is that this display is well worth the extra cost. My first impressions are that contrast, colour and viewing angles are also good except that colours start to invert once the display is pushed back from the perpendicular. The white is very white. My camera can detect some bleeding along the bottom of the screen but it is not noticeable in normal use. So far, I have not noticed any dead or stuck pixels. I used to think the CMO panel in my Zepto 604W was good but it is far behind this new display.


(view large image)

This photo of the screen shows the rich colours


(view large image)

Very good horizontal viewing angles but limited vertical viewing angles

The E6400 includes an ambient light sensor to automatically adjust the brightness. However, at the moment I have turned it off since it was giving a darker display than I would like (perhaps because the sensor is at the bottom of the screen it sees dark clothes).

Keyboard and Touchpad

The UK keyboard has 84 keys, two fewer than most similar notebooks. There is some flex in the middle right area which is not noticeable in normal use and the overall key action is pleasant. It is a big improvement on my Zepto’s keyboard. I don’t have a Thinkpad or older Dell series sitting in my house with which to make comparisons.  My main complaint is with the layout. I would have liked to see the PgUp and PgDn more accessible and use the two empty spaces just in front of the right shift key (which Dell has done on the smaller E series). If Dell had done that then they wouldn’t have needed to make the Num Lock and Scroll Lock Fn+F4 and Fn+F5.       


(view large image)

Note that this is a UK keyboard layout. The US keyboard will be different

The touchpad is a medium-sized 66mm x 39mm Dell branded Alps touchpad. There is no space for a larger one because of the buttons for the trackpoint. However, the touchpad is very smooth to use and the buttons have excellent action, with long travel but reasonably low force needed.  I’m not a trackpoint user but its action seems to be smooth. There is good software for fine tuning the touchpad and trackpoint options.

One of the options for the E6400 is the backlit keyboard. It definitely helps when there is poor lighting. It also means that the lettering will never wear off the keys since the lighting comes up through the white plastic embedded in the keys. However, the illumination system isn’t perfect with an area of lower brightness in the top middle of the keyboard. Also, if you sit back from the computer then the lighting can be seen under the keys, which is a visual distraction. The ambient light sensor can be used to control the backlight or the Fn keys can be used for manual control.


(view large image)

Sit too far back and light can be seen beneath the keys.

The status indicator lights are above the keyboard and are easier to monitor than lights on the edge of the palm rest. The status lights are not visible when the computer is closed so Dell has provide two more lights on the outside. The power light shines blue when the computer is on or flashes when it is sleeping. The battery light indicates if the battery is charging.


(view large image)

A Tour of the Sides

The E6400 has an adequate selection of ports including four USB ports (one has the Power Share function for powering peripherals when the computer is off and one is a USB/eSATA combo port); mini Firewire; gigabit Ethernet, VGA port; a Display Port and, optionally, a modem port). Something I have noticed is that the very short feet mean that the lower ports are very close to the table top. The USB ports are stacked as two pairs so any fat devices could block two ports. There’s an SD/MMC card slot which supports SDHC and purchasers can select to have either an Express Card or a PC Card slot.


(view large image)

There’s not a lot at the front: The SD / MMC card slot and the display release latch.


(view large image)

Left side view (with my Zepto 6024W on top and CD cases at the side to provide some scale). Left to right: Security slot, monitor port, Power Share USB port above USB/eSATA combo port, fan exhaust and smart card slot above the HDD


(view large image)

Back side, left to right: Modem port (blanked off on my model), network port, DisplayPort connector and power socket.


(view large image)

Right side, left to right: Express Card slot over Firewire port, optical drive in media bay, wireless switch and WiFi detector above audio ports, two USB ports.

Also, hidden behind the battery, is a SIM card slot.


(view large image)

Hard Disk Drive

The supplied 160GB HDD is a Samsung HM160HI. This has 160GB on one platter and therefore has performance similar to a 320GB 5400rpm HDD.


(view large image)

HDTune and HDTach reports for the HM160HI

Optical Drive

The optical drive is a super-slim 9.5mm (3/8") thick unit with an SATA connector. I opted for the DVD burner and the supplied drive was a SATA PLDS (Philips Liteon) DU-8A2S. It has the full set of DVD burning facilities. The only missing feature I would like is LightScribe. The optical drive is easily removable. This thinner drive and therefore thinner media bay may explain why a bay battery is no longer an easy option to make.


(view large image)

Nero InfoTool’s report for the optical drive


(view large image)

The SATA connector for the optical drive with a USB plug for scale. The only connector in the media bay is for this, so another storage device will need an adaptor.

I have encountered several problems with this burner. It would not read one of my software installation discs. Out of four DVDs I tried burning, one failed during the burn and another failed during verification (but read fine on another computer), so it appears to have both burning and reading problems.

Audio

The two big grilles each side of the keyboard suggest a generous loudspeaker provision. However, closer inspection reveals that the surface finish is largely decorative with one small (about 12mm or 0.5") speaker on each side having to do all the work. There is a distinct lack of bass and far too much treble although the maximum volume is reasonably good. The sound driver is IDT Audio and no sound manager software with equalisation options, such as Realtek provides. Therefore although the speakers each side of the keyboard provide reasonable volume, there’s no way to cut back on the treble and boost the bass. So, on the audio front, the E6400 is a step back from my Zepto.


(view large image)

The right side speaker with USB plug for scale.

Webcam and Microphone

I selected the option webcam and microphone (on the Dell UK site these two options come together). I used Skype to get an indication of the quality of these components. The webcam (only 640 x 480 resolution) is good for chatting and no more. There is the Webcam Central software which can adjust various features such as zoom. I was more impressed by the microphone. Usually notebook microphones pick up too much noise from the chassis. This microphone is located at the top of the screen as is acceptably noise free.

The BIOS

The BIOS provides extensive options. This photo gives an idea of the range of options available.


(view large image)

Continued in Part Two

 


LEAVE A COMMENT

0 Comments

|
All content posted on TechnologyGuide is granted to TechnologyGuide with electronic publishing rights in perpetuity, as all content posted on this site becomes a part of the community.