by David Li
The Dell Precision M2400 is the Latitude E6400’s identical twin sibling. Built from the same chassis, the only differences between the two lie in the NVIDIA Quadro FX 370M graphics card and the metallic wave design screen cover. While the M2400 is marketed as a mobile workstation and geared towards video editing, animation and CAD manipulation users on the go, the reinforced magnesium alloy chassis and an equally impressive security system makes this particular laptop a great companion not only for road warriors, but for anyone seeking a robust and reliable machine.
- Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo processor T9600 2.8GHz 6MB L2 cache, 1066 FSB
- Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro FX 370M 256MB
- Operating system: Windows Ultimate 64-bit
- Memory: 4GB DDR2 800MHz 6-6-6 (2GB+2GB) [Tested with 2x2GB 800MHz 5-5-5 memory; Max RAM supported-8GB]
- Display: 14.1″ WXGA+ LED Back-lit Display (1440×900) Matte
- Hard drive: 120GB 5400rpm SATA 2.5″ [Tested with 500GB 5400rpm hard drive]
- Optical drive: 8X DVD/RW Double layer Super Multi Drive
- Ports: 3x USB 2.0 (one with powershare), eSATA/USB combo port, Express card, 5 in1 media card reader, VGA, display port, microphone-in, headphone-out, Ethernet, IEEE 1394
- Wireless: Intel 5300 Link 802.11a/g/n
- Battery: 9-Cell 85 Ah
- Other features: Bluetooth 370, fingerprint reader, webcam, back-lit keyboard, smart card reader and contactless smart card reader
- Warranty: 3-year basic limited warranty and 3 Year NBD on-site service.
- Dimensions: 13.18” x 9.33” x 1.26”
- Price: USD$ 1,007.14 (Refurbished, tax + shipping included)
Build and Design
As I briefly mentioned in the introduction, the M2400 is constructed with a magnesium alloy chassis which helps minimize overall flex and heightens durability. Similar to the Latitude E6400 series, the hinges are extremely robust which gives a strong notion of a brawny build quality. With a durable matte plastic exterior, the M2400 isn’t prone to fingerprints like many of the glossy consumer-class notebooks, yet stands out from most business-class units with a fashionable metallic screen cover.
The selection of ports is excellent and certainly sufficient for most mobile users. There are also docking options available, the E-port replicator ($129) and E-port Plus replicator ($199), for those whom require additional USB ports and/or dual monitor support.
One of my main concerns regarding the build is the lack of a hard drive caddy that could effectively provide additional protection to the drive. I am a little disturbed knowing that I am only two screws and a small nudge away from releasing the hard drive from its bay. Even when the hard drive is securely locked in place, there is still a little wiggle room and I would have preferred some physical barrier where my hands can not affect the position of the hard drive during normal operational use.
Equipped with the LG-Philips LPL0140 (aka LP141WP2) LED screen, the panel offers admirable luminance, average contrast ratios and typical viewing angles.
Despite listing an above average contrast ratio of 500:1 on the spec sheet, the screen appears to be slightly washed out, especially when the brightness is set at maximum. Vertical viewing angles are average while horizontal viewing angles perform slightly better. Graininess is non-existent and all text and images can be produced with high clarity. Although the screen isn’t quite perfect, it’s adequate for most mobile CAD users.
In terms of build, the screen suffers from no wobble and trivial flex. Applying pressure from the back does not cause any color distortions either. Like the Lenovo T series laptops, the M2400 is sturdy enough to be confidently picked up by the screen. Compared to the Latitude E6400, the screen on the M2400 feels more robust. On the other hand, the screen bezel feels frightening delicate and can be pried from all four sides with little effort. This however, doesn’t seem to jeopardize the overall build quality of the screen since most people will rarely run their fingers or sharp objects across their screens.
The ambient light sensor works flawlessly and unlike some of the Asus units I’ve used in the past, the sensor dims and brightens the screen perfectly for my taste. There’s also the option of disabling the light sensor for those who are not accustomed to the automatic light adjustment.
While this particular unit uses an LG-Philips panel, Dell also uses a Samsung screen for the M2400. The Samsung panel (SEC5442) is a tad more washed out, but still provides excellent luminance and similar viewing angles. The differences between these two panels are minute and are only noticeable upon close inspection.
Left-Dell Latitude E6400 with SEC5442; Right-Dell Precision M2400 with LPL0140
Using the same integrated IDT high definition stereo speakers as the Latitude E6400, acoustics are average for volume and sub-par for quality. As expected from a 2 channel built-in speaker system, the speakers lack bass, and the treble-heavy audio can easily disgust any audiophile. As John Ratsey mentioned in his Latitude E6400 review, the large speaker grills are primarily decorative and the speakers itself are small ~12mm circular units that sit near the middle of each grill. If anyone should require better quality sound, a pair of headphones or external speakers would help overcome these limitations and suffice most people.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Being a night owl myself, the one feature I fancy most is the back-lit keyboard. It is shameful that many notebook manufactures still don’t offer this wonderful option. Needless to say, my overall typing experience is very pleasing. However, putting the fancy lights aside, the M2400 offers a full-sized keyboard with decent tactile feedback and good comfort. Flex is concentrated mainly on the upper right corner, but is not noticeable with normal daily usage since that particular section is used mostly by your pinky and uses less pressure than other fingers. It would be nice to see more dedicated hotkeys for media controls, but these features are often lacking in business-class laptops.
The touchpad is remarkably small (even the touchpad on the 12.1” Asus U6 has a larger surface area) and difficult to use. Tracking with the touchpad will often require multiple finger movements and can get annoying at times. Luckily, the M2400 offers a track-stick (similar to Lenovo’s trackpoint pointing device) centered between the G, H and B keys which allows easier and more versatile cursor movements. The touchpad buttons can only be described as soft and mushy and has slower tactile feedback than other laptops I have used in the past; it took me a little while to get used to.
Processor and Performance
Configured with the 2.80GHz T9600 Intel processor, NVIDIA Quadro FX 370M graphics chip and 4GB of memory, the M2400 can rip through programs with ease and provide enough multitasking power for most folks. Graphics intensive tasks may suffer somewhat from the GDDR2 graphics memory and a 64-bit bus width, but still be able to handle casual gaming and light CAD applications without issues. Below are benchmarks and CPU/GPU specifications to illustrate a more quantitative analysis of the M2400’s performance.
The 85WHr 9 cell battery is able to provide enough power for 310 minutes of basic web browsing, instant messaging and word processing with the back-lit keyboard on and screen brightness set at minimum. Although this is less than what Dell has advertized, the figure is still fairly modest for a laptop with this particular hardware configuration. With the 84WHr extended battery slice, I suspect the battery life would double to ~600 minutes under the same conditions.
Heat and Noise
The cooling system on the M2400 is questionable. While the CPU can maintain its own temperatures effectively, the GPU is open to discussion. Unlike the CPU, the GPU and motherboard chipset uses a thermal pad instead of a copper plate for transferring heat to the heat pipe. Since thermal pads doesn’t conduct heat as efficient as copper metal, the Quadro FX 370M can spike up to 95°C during load while running graphics intensive software such as 3DMark06. On the contrary, idle temps run shockingly cool. CPU and GPU temps hold steady at 31°C and 48°C respectively. Operating with an E-dock Plus with an external monitor will increase idle temps by ~10-15°C for both the CPU and GPU.
External temperatures are excellent and the M2400 can be used comfortably on the lap. Basic word processing and web surfing are well below the triple-digit temperatures.
Temperatures measured in Fahrenheit:
The noise from the fan is audible and can get a little irritating at times; especially when the M2400 is parked on the docking station running nothing but the necessary tasks for operating Vista and antivirus software in the background. During normal use without a dock, the fan isn’t as noticeable and runs at lower speeds.
Being a business-class laptop, the M2400 is designed with several security features tailored to fit the needs for most businesses. If entering a password is not your preferred mode for logging into your system, the M2400 also offers fingerprint, smart card reader and a contactless smart card reader for your choosing. Every security feature can be accessed and configured in Dell’s ControlPoint Security Manager (already pre-installed and also available on the driver disk). Of course, the industry security standard, TPM (Trusted Platform Module) is also part of the package.
Pictorial Comparison Between the Precision M2400 and Latitude E6400
Customer Service and Support
Within the past month, I have purchased 2 Dell laptops from the Dell outlet store. Although for each purchase there came minor issues, Dell was able to express ship a battery replacement and a missing restore disk that I received the very next day. I was reminded by the rep that the NBD (Next Business Day) warranty service was not part of my protection plan for my Latitude, yet I was still given the “NBD” treatment. Rumors say Dell’s marketing strategy is to under-promise and over-deliver; I won’t argue with that. Dell has also taken a step further to ensure customer satisfaction in which a rep will actively call to follow up on the delivery status and answer any questions or issues you may have with your laptop. I am very impressed with the quality of Dell’s after-sales service and the only negative words I can say is the 15-20 min wait to get an actual human customer rep behind the other line and the inability to view your tracking number and status online.
The Precision M2400 is an excellent match for business professionals and light CAD users. It is a distinguished laptop that offers brilliant processing power with a hint of style. The ruggedness and strapping build is expected from a business laptop, and the M2400 surely lives up to that standard. Although there are some minor setbacks, the M2400 is still a well-made system and can easily survive the daily bumps and bruises encountered by most frequent travelers.
- Excellent build quality
- Impressive input/output port selection
- Provides terrific power and performance
- Wide variety of security features
- Cool exterior (in terms of both aesthetics and temperature)
- Exceptional customer service
- Great security features
- GPU runs hot and fan operate loudly during load or when attached to the E-Dock Plus
- No switchable graphics option to provide better battery performance
- Cheap plastic screen bezel
- Poor built-in speakers
- Hard drive does not feel secure enough