Rather than the flashy sprinter that's first to cross the finish line, the mainstream Dell Latitude D510 is the decathlete of business notebooks, flying under the radar as it does a little bit of everything. With a mix of old and new technology, the Latitude D510 delivers reliable performance and four hours of battery life for businesses of all sizes--but it lacks the digital creature comforts and the security hardware of its peers. At $1,520 (as of July 2005), it's about $100 more than comparable business machines from Toshiba and Lenovo, but that difference is quickly made up by Dell's three-year warranty with onsite support. All told, the Latitude D510 is a competitively priced, sturdy laptop for employees who want basic computing on the road.
It may look unremarkable and commonplace, but the Dell Latitude D510's angular gray case is about as sturdy as you'll find these days. With its shock-mounted hard drive; aluminum, magnesium, and steel frame; and magnesium case, the Latitude D510 is designed to withstand heavy everyday use. By contrast, the ThinkPad R52 and the Toshiba Tecra A4 have plain old plastic cases. Weighing 6.1 pounds and measuring 1.5 inches thick, 13.4 inches wide, and 10.7 inches deep, the Latitude D510 is lighter and smaller than the Tecra A4 but wider and heavier than the R52. In other words, its size places it dead center in the mainstream notebook market. With power adapter and cord, the Latitude D510 has a reasonable travel weight that's a shade less than 7 pounds, although we think that the three-prong AC plug will be a nuisance on the road.
Because it's a wide-body machine, there's plenty of room for a comfortable keyboard, trackpad, and mouse buttons--although the pad has neither a scroll button nor a dedicated zone. Its wide body also allows for a big screen; though most models ship with a 14.1-inch display, our test unit came with a 15-inch XGA display (available as a $50 upgrade) that was bright and comfortable for viewing multiple windows side by side. There's also room for a modular bay that can be filled with your choice of optical drives or an extra battery; our test machine came with a CD-RW/DVD drive, but Dell offers an 8X DVD burner for a reasonable $70 upgrade.
The Dell Latitude D510 features all the ports most businesspeople will need, plus a few oldies but goodies. In addition to headphone and microphone jacks and four USB 2.0, FireWire, VGA, and S-Video ports, the Latitude D510 features antiquated serial and parallel ports. A Type II PC Card doubles as a slot for the upcoming high-speed ExpressCards. Mobile workers can connect to the network using a modem, Ethernet, or the integrated Intel 802.11b/g Wi-Fi radio; the Latitude D510's 100Mbps wired networking, however, might be a big turn-off for businesses looking to standardize on Gigabit Ethernet. If those connections are not enough, Dell's $179 D/Port port replicator has pass-through of all ports except for FireWire and adds S/PDIF audio and DVI connections.
As well equipped as it is, the Latitude D510 has one chink in its technological armor: it lacks a flash card reader that would make using the laptop with a digital camera or a voice recorder much easier. The system also lacks both a fingerprint scanner and a Trusted Platform Module for data encryption, so it can't match the security provided by ThinkPads.
Our test unit was loaded with Windows XP Professional; like most business-minded laptops, it came without a productivity suite. The Latitude D510's basic software bundle does include an Intel wireless-connection management utility, as well as CyberLink PowerDVD for DVD viewing and Sonic RecordNow 7.3 Deluxe for burning discs.
Though budget-minded buyers can opt for a previous-generation, 1.3GHz Celeron processor, our test unit included a quicker, current-generation Centrino 1.6GHz Pentium M processor, a 40GB hard drive spinning at 5,400rpm, 512MB of swift 400MHz memory, and an integrated Intel graphics accelerator. All these components add up to a surprisingly nimble performance on CNET Labs' mobile benchmarks. The Latitude D510 scored a good 10 percent better than the similarly equipped Tecra A4, and it came in less than 5 percent behind the ThinkPad R52, which has a faster processor. The Latitude D510's battery pack ran for just over four hours on a charge, more than an hour longer than the Tecra A4 and 24 minutes past the ThinkPad R52.