The D520 is the latest member of Dell's corporate-focused Latitude line to get a tune-up. Following in the footsteps of the thin-and-light D620
and the midsize D820
, the D520 now features Intel Core Duo
processors and a slightly enhanced case design. With these changes, the D520 delivered faster mobile performance and markedly better battery life than its predecessor
. Unfortunately, the system retains its 15-inch standard aspect display--a dying breed among laptops (most of today's portables have wide-aspect screens, which we prefer). Still, with a starting price of $909, the Latitude D520 marks a respectable step up for the D500 series and a smart choice for corporations seeking a well-balanced business laptop.
The Latitude D520 weighs 6.2 pounds and measures 13.3 inches wide, 10.7 inches deep, and 1.4 inches thick. Another business system with a 15-inch standard-aspect screen, the Toshiba Tecra S3
, has similar dimensions to the D520's, while the 15.4-inch wide screen on the Lenovo 3000 N100
makes it a bit more broad than the Dell and the Toshiba. However, all three weigh within a few ounces of each other. The Latitude D520's average-size AC adapter tips the scales at 0.8 pound. The total package is a bit heavy, but not unreasonable, for regular travel.
The main design differences between the Latitudes D510 and D520 lie in their coloring (the D510 is silver all over) and the D520's lack of a parallel port. Otherwise, they're nearly identical. The D520 offers a spacious, spill-resistant keyboard, as well as a big touch pad and mouse buttons, all of which are quite comfortable to use. The system's crisp, bright 15-inch screen features a typical 1,024x768 native resolution
that's too low to render graphics in fine detail but makes text big and readable. Anchoring the display to the laptop's base are strong steel hinges, and the base itself contains a sturdy magnesium-alloy frame. Finally, the two speakers along the front edge emit adequate sound for a business laptop. While this design will suffice for an average employee's basic tasks, the D520 is entirely devoid of bells and whistles, such as biometric security (a fingerprint sensor) and dedicated volume controls, found on the D620 and D820, not to mention the Lenovo 3000 N100 and the Toshiba Tecra S3.
The Latitude D520 doesn't supply an overabundance of ports, jacks, or slots, but its offerings cover all of the standard bases. The laptop includes headphone, microphone, 56Kbps modem, and Ethernet jacks; FireWire, infrared, S-Video out, VGA, and four USB 2.0 ports; and a legacy serial port to accommodate old peripherals. The D520's single Type II PC Card slot supports the Express Card/34
standard as well. This selection is about the same as the Lenovo 3000 N100's and the Toshiba Tecra S3's, though both of those models include a flash media card reader, which the Dell lacks. The D520 also omits the WWAN and Trusted Platform Module
chip offered on the D620 and the D820, though it does include the same hard drive shock-protection capabilities found on the other Latitudes. In terms of software, the Latitude D520 comes with the typically limited bundle of the average business system: either the Windows XP Professional
operating systems (our test system shipped with the former), plus a handful of utilities and disc-burning programs.
Our Latitude D520 evaluation unit wasn't brimming with spectacular components, but its $1,365 price was reasonable. The system carried a 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo T2300 processor; an integrated Intel 950 graphics engine; 512MB of quick 533MHz memory; a small 40GB hard drive rotating at an average 5,400rpm; a standard DVD/CD-RW drive; and a great three-year warranty with onsite support by the next business day. The Toshiba Tecra S3 costs about the same for a prior-generation Pentium M processor, less memory, and a one-year warranty (though we should note that it also ships with a discrete Nvidia GeForce Go 6600 graphics card). At $899, a similarly configured Lenovo 3000 N100 stands as an exceptionally good hardware deal but includes just a one-year warranty; it costs an additional $243 to upgrade the N100's warranty to match that of the D520.
For a basic business system, the Latitude D520 showed more than enough speed in CNET Labs' mobile benchmarks
. It achieved an identical score to the $1,399 Lenovo 3000 N100 configuration that we tested, which included a faster processor and a higher-end, discrete Nvidia GeForce Go 7300 graphics chip, and it blew the Toshiba Tecra S3 away. The Latitude D520's performance should be plenty for working in Microsoft Office and keeping up with e-mail. The Latitude D520 also finished far ahead in our Labs' drain tests: it lasted just 8 minutes shy of 5 hours, improving on its predecessor, the Latitude D510, by 50 minutes. The Lenovo, on the other hand, managed only 3 hours, 9 minutes, and the Toshiba earned a worse 2 hours, 35 minutes. For even better battery life, look to Lenovo's higher-end ThinkPad T60
, which held out for nearly 6 hours.