Dell Latitude X1 Review (pics, specs)

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8.00

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    • Software & Support
    • 8
    • Upgrade Capabilities
    • 8
    • Usability
    • 8
    • Design
    • 8
    • Performance
    • 8
    • Features
    • 8
    • Price/Value Rating
    • 8
    • Total Score:
    • 8.00
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Buy Direct From Manufacturer


by Andrew Baxter, New York USA

The Dell Latitude X1 is Dell’s smallest and lightest notebook offering.  The X1 is targeted at business users that need to be highly mobile, and weighing only 2.5 pounds the X1 certainly provides ease of carrying.  So for a very reasonable starting price of about $1,600 you get a 12.1″ widescreen display, built-in Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), integrated Bluetooth, ExpressCharge, Secure Digital and CompactFlash slots, FireWire, 3-year service plan, nicely designed notebook and a guarantee of no backache caused by carrying this device.

Dell Latitude X1 Basic Specs and Configuration Options (text in blue indicates review unit configuration when there is a choice available)

  • Screen: 12.1″ TFT WXGA Screen (1280 x 768) (matte finish, not glossy/glare)
  • Processor: Intel Pentium M 733 ULV (1.1GHz)
  • Dimensions: 11.26″ x 7.7″ x 0.98″ (width x depth x height)
  • Battery: 3-cell or longer life 6-cell
  • Weight: 2.5lbs with standard battery
  • Ports: 2 USB 2.0, external display, AC adapter, RJ-11 modem port, RJ-45 ethernet port, audio: headphone/line-out, external microphone, IEEE 1394 FireWire
  • Hard Drive: 1.8″ 30GB or 60GB @ 4200RPM
  • Slots: 1 SecureDigital card slot, 1 CompactFlash card slot
  • Dell D-Bay optical drive (optional)
  • Wireless: Intel 2200BG 802.11 b/g, built-in Bluetooth
  • Operating System: Windows Home/Pro

Dell Latitude X1 Product Page: http://www1.us.dell.com/content/products/productdetails.aspx/latit_x1?c=us&cs=04&l=en&s=bsd

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 X1 competes with:

Build and Design

The most striking thing about the Latitude X1 is of course its size and weight. With the standard 3-cell battery, the unit weighs just 2.5 pounds and is slightly less than an inch thick.  It’s indeed one of the lightest notebooks on the market, and definitely the lightest for a 12″ screen notebook.  It’s a real joy to put this notebook in your carrying case and not even feel the weight.

One thing that is common in ultraportables, but that must be pointed out, is that there is no built in optical drive for the X1.  That’s part of the formula for keeping the weight down and the overall package thin.  So what happens when you need to load software from a DVD or CD?  That’s when you’ll need an external optical drive such as the Dell D-Bay Optical Drive solution.  The D-Bay simply gives you a way to plug in an optical drive to the USB port on the left side of the X1.  The USB port on the left has a power pin right below it that supplies power to the D-Bay drive, so you don’t need to hassle with carrying a cord just to power the D-Bay.  I recommend only taking the optical drive when you really need it and keeping its use to the office – if you’re lugging this bad boy around it’s extra weight, extra wires, extra stuff to carry (blah).

Latitude X1 with D-Bay optical drive (view larger image)

The actual build of the Dell X1 is sturdy.  Not rugged, but sturdy.  The plastic casing is not as rigid and thick as the IBM ThinkPad X41.  The screen hinges are good, when moving the screen back and forth to test for wobble, you’ll see that there just isn’t any.  I’m not a huge fan of the screen closing mechanism though, there’s no latch or magnets — it just relies on the hinges to stay closed and that makes it hard to open and yet not 100% tight in closing.

Dell Latitude X1 (on the left) alongside competing ultraportable Fujitsu P7000 Series (view larger image)

Dell did go to extra lengths to make sure that what’s important is protected.  A strike zone on the bottom of the notebook in the area that the hard drive resides provides extra cushioning to absorb exceptional impact or falls.  Let’s face it, if you’re a corporate user the actual machine is replaceable if something nasty happens, but if you lose a bunch of data then you’re you know what out of luck.

The overall look of the X1 is nice.  The light grey brushed aluminum look is clean and simply looks good.  A professional look if you will.  There’s not a ton of flare to the design, but if you want to pay $500 more for a pretty notebook available in different colors then I hear www.SonyStyle.com might have what you’re looking for (check out the VAIO T).

Front on view of Dell X1 and D-Bay drive (view larger image)

Input and Ports

Let’s take a tour around the X1 and see what ports and slots we get on each side.

On the front side you can see we have an SD card reader on the far left side and a group of LED indicator lights (none are lit up in this photo, they’re on the black area) next to the SD card reader:

Latitude X1 front (view larger image)

On the left hand side we have the audio line-out/headphone jack, microphone in jack, FireWire port, 1-USB 2.0 port with a power pin beneath it (this is used to power an external optical or hard drive such as the D-Bay solution), a VGA monitor out port and the power jack:

Latitude X1 left side (view larger image)

On the right side we have the power button on the hinge area, a modem jack, ethernet jack, another USB 2.0 port and a CompactFlash card slot.

Latitude X1 right side (view larger image)

On the back of the notebook there’s simply a security lock area and the battery…no room for much else back here!

Latitude X1 back (view larger image)

Screen

The Dell X1 has a widescreen XGA format LCD (WXGA = 1280 x 768 resolution).  Widescreen is becoming more and more popular, indeed most ultraportables now go with this format.  It’s of course a great format for watching movies — but without a built-in DVD drive you won’t be doing much of that on the X1.  The one thing I noticed about the widescreen on the X1 versus the standard 12.1″ screen on the IBM X41 was that the screen is shorter vertically (this can be easily seen in the image below, think about it, if it’s a 12.1″ diagonal screen and more of that length is going towards width, you of course take away from the height).  Now that’s disadvantageous for viewing long web pages, but it is an advantage if you’re in tight quarters such as on an airplane.  Why’s that?  Well, the taller the screen the more likely that it’s going to bump into the seat in front of you…especially if the person in front decides to tilt the seat back into your lap!  So a widescreen format is certainly good for use on airplane.

On the left is the Dell Latitude X1 screen, on the right the IBM X41 screen.  The X1 has a widescreen format whereas the X41 is standard (view larger image)

The brightness of the screen is very good.  It’s not as bright and brilliant as the Fujitsu P7010 12.1″ screen that uses the Fujitsu ClearVue glossy format, but it is brighter than the IBM X41 screen.  It is a matte finish screen, it is not the glossy coat finish you get with the 12.1″ Inspiron 700m.

Dell Latitude X1 Screen (view larger image)

Audio

We all know that audio on laptops is an afterthought.  This is especially so with ultraportables.  In designing these notebooks I’m sure it’s the last thing product designers address, and so the speakers basically go where they fit and there’s room left.  In the case of the X1 the bottom of the laptop happened to be where the speaker fit, and needless to say you won’t get very good audio projection when a speaker is in this location.  Audio is tinny and muffled, but the line-out/headphone jack on the right-side is your saving grace for plugging some headphones or external speakers to get good audio.

Heat & Noise

The X1 does not use a fan for cooling purposes, with a 1.1GHz Ultra Low Voltage processor the assumption is that things won’t warm up too much and therefore passive cooling will work just fine.  And that’s true to a degree.  I found that the bottom of the X1 could get rather toasty after prolonged usage though.  It was uncomfortable to use on the lap after 30 minutes or so.  I tend to not use a notebook in my lap though, not only is it harder for the notebook to cool when your clothing is covering its vents or blocking air passage ways, it’s also unhealthy for you if you’re of the male gender.  I won’t get into that, just read this article to find out why I say this: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4078895.stm.

As far as noise goes, well, what noise?  There is none to speak of with this machine.

Processor and Performance

The X1 is driven by Intel’s ultra low voltage (ULV) Pentium M processor. Dell opted to use the 1.1 GHz model, the 1.2 GHz is the most current chip and is what Fujitsu and other ultra portable manufacturers are migrating to in their ultraportables. Intel has had yield problems with their ULV chips in the past, so it may be a supply issue. Hopefully Dell will offer the 1.2 GHz ULV option soon.

Having said this, the machine is by no means underpowered for what its buyers will use it for. I’ve used a few ultraportable notebooks with the ULV processor lately and, aside from gaming, I haven’t found an office/productivity task these machines can’t handle. The same is true with the X1. The X1 comes with a base of 256MB RAM, with one open memory slot that can accommodate a 1GB chip. Our review unit has 512MB total, which is acceptable for Windows XP operation and should be the baseline for any notebook, especially for this category.

Whenever you’re crunching notebook functionality into a smaller volume of space, sacrifices have to be made. Dell didn’t make many with the X1, but the hard drive is one of them. Instead of the standard 2.5″ notebook drive, they had to use a smaller 1.8″ model available in 30GB and 60GB sizes. The drive size isn’t really much of an issue; most mobile professionals really don’t need more than 60GB of space. The hard drive rotation speed is the larger concern, these drives are only rated at 4200 RPM and there’s nothing the user can do about it since these size drives don’t come in faster speeds. I don’t think this will end up bothering many people, but if you’re trying to find a high performance small notebook, this probably isn’t the best fit.  One nice thing regarding the hard drive is it is mounted with a shock absorber to help protect the drive from the jostling associated with traveling.

Benchmarks

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 X1 with it’s 1.1 GHz processor stacked up to other notebooks when running this calculation:

 Notebook Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits

Dell Latitude X1 (1.1 GHz ULV Pentium M)

2m 40s
IBM ThinkPad X41 (1.50 GHz Alviso Pentium M) 2m 02s
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

Obviously the X1 is slower than a lot of the newer and faster processors, but it’s still faster than an Intel Celeron processor and it’s about as fast as what the fastest notebooks with mobile processors were achieving a couple of years back.  Again, we don’t recommend using this notebook to perform brute force mathematical calculations such as searching for every prime number that exists or cracking security keys, but we do recommend it for normal people that like to type Word documents, edit Excel spreadsheets, send email and check your local forecast on Weather.com.

Futuremark PCMark04 Scores
  Dell Latitude X1 (1.1 GHz) IBM X41 (1.50 GHz) Fujitsu P7010 (1.2 GHz)
Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression 2.0 MB/s 2.66 MB/s 2.37 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption 16.26 MB/s 21.81 MB/s 17.5 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression 14.43 MB/s 19.03 MB/s 15.41 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing 6.5 MPixels/s 8.65 MPixels/s 6.88 MPixels/s
Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning 1309.7 MB/s 1349.58 MB/s 1374.93 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check 1.79 KB/s 2.09 KB/s 1.82 KB/s
File Decryption 32.66 MB/s 43.78 MB/s 34.19 MB/s
Audio Conversion 1495.55 KB/s 2014.01 KB/s 1587.01 KB/s
Web Page Rendering 3.39 Pages/s 4.43 Pages/s 3.56 Pages/s
DivX Video Compression 78.81 FPS 39.19 FPS 32.87 FPS
Physics Calculation and 3D 65.05 FPS 79.59 FPS 57.71 FPS
Graphics Memory – 64 Lines 374.57 FPS 399.62 FPS 243.43 FPS
Futuremark 3DMark05 Scores
3DMark Score 182 3DMarks 160 3D Marks -
CPU Score 1468 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 0.9 FPS .9 FPS -
CPU Test 2 1.1 FPS 1.3 FPS -

In the above results it’s interesting to note that the X41 with its 1.5GHz processor predictably did better than the X1 1.1GHz processor in terms of CPU performance tests.  But strangely the X1 graphics and gaming performance benchmarks beat the X41 that has better specs on paper.  Odd.  All the same, you won’t be playing 3D games on this notebook anyway as the graphics performance isn’t suited for that.

 HD Tune Benchmarks
 Minimum Transfer Rate 2.2 MB/sec
 Maximum Transfer Rate 21.2MB/sec
 Average Transfer Rate 16.4 MB/sec
 Acess Time 19.7 ms
 Burst Rate 53.7 MB/sec
 CPU Usage 5.2%

Battery

The standard battery for the Dell X1 is a 3-cell, this is the battery size that will score you a laptop with 2.5lbs of weight.  A 6-cell battery option is available that has a claimed 6 hours of life.  Using the 3-cell battery with wi-fi on and screen brightness at 6 out of 8 bars I got 2 hours and 40 minutes of use out of the X1.  This is good for a 3-cell for sure.  My favorite part about this battery however is how fast it charges.  Dell dubs the fast charging characteristic of the battery “ExpressCharge”, I call it darn convenient.  I did a test to see how fast this notebook charges from just about empty (4% charge) to 100% charge, and the time was 1 hour and 1 minute.  At 40 minutes of charging I was up to about 80% charge.  This is definitely faster than your average notebook charge up.  Such a thing is really great if you’ve got limited time in an airport and just want to charge the battery as much as possible before getting on the next flight.  It’s also great for impatient people such as myself in every day use, I just want to see the battery charge as fast as possible so I know it’s all juiced up ready for its next trip!

The charge cord and power block for the X1 are really light and small and therefore easy to carry.  They won’t add much to your travel weight if you need to take them along with you.  Dell in fact includes one charge cord that’s really short and one that’s a little longer so choose which ever fits the bill.

Keyboard and Input

I was bracing myself for a bad typing experience with the X1.  To be honest, I’ve never been thrilled with a keyboard on any of the Inspiron notebooks I’ve used.  So I was happy to find that the X1 keyboard is in fact really quite usable.  The spacing of the keys is great and I didn’t have to adjust finger travel too much from what I’m used to on a full sized desktop keyboard.   The keys are all sized well and in the locations you would expect. Dell has included dedicated page up and page down, insert, delete, home and end buttons. The keyboard is also sealed to protect the X1 from spills. I think we all know someone who’s put a coffee in their notebook, so this feature should provide a nice insurance policy against those mistakes.

Below the keyboard is the X1′s touch pad. It’s quite small in both surface area and click buttons. The touchpad is 1.5″ x 2″ in comparison to the Fujitsu P7000 which is 2 3/8″ x 1 3/4″.  The mouse buttons are in inch wide, but just over 1/4″ tall, making them a little tough to get used to. It is well positioned though, both right handed people and lefties should find the central placement easy to reach.

Keyboard and Touchpad (view larger image)

Wireless

Already noted, the X1 comes with WiFi (802.11 b/g) and Bluetooth. The latter is a mild coup, since most notebooks of this size don’t include that feature. The issue is one of size for all the antennas. In using the X1 I had good wireless reception with a Netgear router. I also easily paired Bluetooth devices using the wizard on the X1. As a mobile person, I appreciate the Bluetooth integration so I can use my phone as a modem to get online in places that don’t have WiFi or other connections. The Bluetooth is actually even more critical since the machine does not have a PCMCIA slot, which is often used for AirCards to get online.

Operating System and Software

Since it’s a business oriented machine, the Latitude X1 ships with Windows XP Pro. All of the other software is business oriented and associated to a device on the machine. That is, there isn’t a bunch of junk software included. Dell has also bundled a few useful utilities in what they call QuickSet. QuickSet includes power management tools, presentation mode, display meters for volume and brightness and seamless display switching. It’s a nice set of functions, especially the presentation mode which automatically detects the best resolution for the projector it’s connected to and adjusts power settings so you’re not interrupted with things like the display going to sleep.

Conclusion

Being an ultraportable the Latitude X1 is part of a niche notebook market, so it’s obviously not for everyone.  But for those that need a notebook that’s extremely easy to carry around and that can be used in small spaces, the X1 is certainly worth a look as it’s the lightest and turns out to be one of the more affordable ultraportables being sold — and not because it skimps on features.  The Dell X1 is completely configurable via Dell.com and a 3-year warranty with mail-in service is the standard for purchasing this notebook.

Pros

  • Extremely light 12.1″ screen notebook, 2.5 pounds with 3-cell battery
  • Built-in Bluetooth and 802.11 b/g wireless
  • Very thin, under 1″ in thickness
  • Nice widescreen display, good brightness
  • Good battery life, and excellent quick charge feature
  • Good price to feature ratio compared to the competition

Cons

  • No built-in optical drive
  • No PCMCIA expansion slot
  • Gets fairly warm on the bottom area after prolonged use
  • Small touchpad and mouse buttons are hard to use
  • Port replication solution via USB not as elegant as other ultraportable solutions such as IBM X41

Pricing and Availability

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