Dell Latitude D400 series review: Dell Latitude D400 series

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
  • Overall: 8.4
  • Design: 9.0
  • Features: 9.0
  • Performance: 8.0
  • Battery life: 6.0
  • Service and support: 9.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Excellent performance for its class; great keyboard and screen; versatile design; built-in wireless networking.

The Bad Battery life lags that of the Centrino leaders; no built-in secondary storage drive.

The Bottom Line Dell's new Latitude D400 is one of the fastest and best-equipped ultraportables we've tested. It's a wise addition for companies looking to upgrade their ultralight fleets.

CNET Editors' Choice Jul '03

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Intro

Dell's new Latitude D400 series is one of the fastest, best-looking, and most affordable Pentium M ultraportables on the market. We recently tested the speediest version of the Latitude D400, featuring a 1.7GHz Pentium M processor. The new model is slightly faster than the 1.3GHz version we tested, and it does have longer battery life. But its battery life still trails the scores posted by competing notebooks. Nevertheless, the D400 offers an impressive array of wireless options, ranging from standard 802.11b, which can make this a true Centrino notebook, to various combinations of 802.11a, b, and g. Businesses will also like the built-in smart-card reader, and everyone should appreciate the low starting price.

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The Latitude D400 includes a pointing stick (not pictured) and this touchpad-and-mouse-button setup.

With the Latitude D400, Dell manages to keep the snazzy industrial design it rolled out with its Latitude D600, while shaving off some weight; the Latitude D400 weighs in at an easy-to-tote 3.9 pounds. Of course, lighter notebooks always involve some trade-offs. This ultraportable, like others in its class, has no built-in secondary storage drive, meaning that you may have to carry around an external optical drive (we tested the system with an external DVD/CD-R/W combo drive). Once you add the external drive and a power supply, you're looking at a travel weight of just less than 6 pounds. While the Latitude D400 is a pleasure to carry around, nonetheless, it is heavier than a comparably outfitted IBM ThinkPad X31 (though the X31 is slower and more expensive). The Dell's dimensions, however, are standard for a business-class ultraportable: 11.3 inches wide, 9.5 inches deep, and 1 inch thick.

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The well-made, solid keyboard continues a Dell tradition.

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The unique docking station adds more flexibility.
To add external drives, the Latitude D400 uses Dell's D/Bay, which is a powered USB 2.0 module. While this makes connecting an optical drive a snap because it eliminates the need for an additional power supply, it does mean that you'll use up one of your two USB 2.0 ports in the process. As you would expect, the new system is also compatible with existing D-series docking stations, including the useful D/View notebook stand, which, when used in conjunction with a port replicator, allows you to keep your notebook display at eye level when you're using it in the office.

Like other Latitude models, the Latitude D400 includes both a pointing stick located in the center of the full-size, superfirm, comfortable keyboard and a touchpad in the wrist rest. Including both a touchpad and a pointing stick gives users a nice range of input options. Dell has managed to pack an impressive assortment of features into the Latitude D400. For starters, this system is available with 1.3GHz, 1.4GHz, and 1.7GHz Pentium M processors.

Because of its compact size, the Latitude D400 is available only with a 12.1-inch display. We found the screen, especially at its native 1,024x768 resolution, to be bright and crisp, especially for an ultraportable notebook. You can also configure the system with up to 64MB of video memory.

Though Dell's standard configuration for the Latitude D400 is a Centrino setup--meaning it includes an Intel Pentium M processor, the 855 chipset, and Intel's own 802.11b Pro/wireless card--you can upgrade to one of Dell's TrueMobile cards, which come in two flavors: 802.11b/g or 802.11a/b/g. The Latitude D400 also includes an integrated 10/100/1000 Ethernet port, as well as a 56Kbps V.92 modem.

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The external drive connects to this USB 2.0 port.
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The external drive bay allows for many expansion options.
The Latitude D400 can handle anywhere from 128MB to a whopping 2GB of 266MHz SDRAM, and hard disks of 20GB, 30GB, and 60GB, running at 4,200rpm. (It's rare that an ultraportable can accommodate that much extra memory and such a spacious hard drive.) Dell also offers a zippy 5,400rpm 40GB hard drive as an option. When you buy from Dell.com, you have a choice of external optical drives, including DVD+RW, CD-RW/DVD, or standard CD-ROM or DVD-ROM. You can also add an external 40GB hard disk through the external D/Bay connector.

Though the system includes two USB 2.0 ports, the external D/Bay drive, which you get automatically with the notebook, takes up one of them. You'll also find a single FireWire port and an integrated smart-card reader, which comes in handy if your business uses that security technology. A four-cell 28-watts-per-hour battery is standard, though you can upgrade to a six-cell, smart lithium-ion model.

While the system we tested shipped with Windows XP Professional, other options include Windows XP Home and Windows 2000 Professional. You can skip an office suite entirely or opt for either Office XP Small Business Edition or Office XP Professional. We recently tested an updated version of the Dell Latitude D400 with a 1.7GHz Pentium M. This new version scored higher than the previous 1.3GHz version but only by a small amount. Thanks to the combination of its 512MB of RAM and a 5,400rpm hard drive, both versions of the Latitude D400 beat the Sony VAIO PCG-Z1A and the IBM ThinkPad X31. We should note that the two competing systems had different specs: The Sony VAIO Z1A had 512MB of RAM but only a 4,200rpm hard drive. The IBM ThinkPad X31 had the same 5,400rpm hard drive as the Latitude D400, but the former had only 256MB of RAM. Both versions of the Latitude D400 hit the specs sweet spot, allowing them to beat the competition.

Mobile application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark2002 performance rating  
Dell Latitude D400 (1.7GHz)
172 
Dell Latitude D400 (1.3GHz)
167 
Sony VAIO PCG-Z1A
148 
IBM ThinkPad X31
143 

Find out more about how we test notebooks.

System configurations:

Dell Latitude D400
Windows XP Pro; 1.3GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Intel 82852/82855 Graphics Controller-0 (up to 64MB shared); Hitachi DK23EB-40 40GB 5,400rpm

Dell Latitude D400
Windows XP Pro; 1.7GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Intel 82852/82855 Graphics Controller-0 (up to 64MB shared); IBM Travelstar 40GN 40GB 5,400rpm

IBM ThinkPad X31
Windows XP Home; 1.4GHz Intel Pentium M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 16MB; Hitachi DK23EB-40 40GB 5,400rpm

Sony VAIO PCG-Z1A
Windows XP Home; 1.3GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 16MB; Hitachi DK23EA-60 60GB 4,200rpm


We recently tested an updated version of the Dell Latitude D400 with a 1.7GHz Pentium M. The new version lasted only 14 minutes longer than its predecessor, but at much more than three hours, it still achieves good battery life. However, compared to competing notebooks, especially the IBM ThinkPad X31, the two Dells come up short. Still, the Latitude D400's battery life is good enough to keep you free from watching the clock in anticipation of its battery's death. For frequent fliers, we recommend buying a second battery ($79).

Battery life  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark2002 battery life in minutes  
IBM ThinkPad X31
270 
Sony VAIO PCG-Z1A
223 
Dell Latitude D400 (1.7GHz)
220 
Dell Latitude D400 (1.3GHz)
206 

To measure mobile application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark2002. MobileMark measures both application performance and battery life concurrently using a number of popular applications (Microsoft Word 2002, Microsoft Excel 2002, Microsoft PowerPoint 2002, Microsoft Outlook 2002, Netscape Communicator 6.0, WinZip Computing WinZip 8.0, McAfee VirusScan 5.13, Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1, and Macromedia Flash 5.0).

Find out more about how we test notebooks.

System configurations:

Dell Latitude D400
Windows XP Pro; 1.3GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Intel 82852/82855 Graphics Controller-0 (up to 64MB shared); Hitachi DK23EB-40 40GB 5,400rpm

Dell Latitude D400
Windows XP Pro; 1.7GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Intel 82852/82855 Graphics Controller-0 (up to 64MB shared); IBM Travelstar 40GN 40GB 5,400rpm

IBM ThinkPad X31
Windows XP Home; 1.4GHz Intel Pentium M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 16MB; Hitachi DK23EB-40 40GB 5,400rpm

Sony VAIO PCG-Z1A
Windows XP Home; 1.3GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 16MB; Hitachi DK23EA-60 60GB 4,200rpm


Dell provides an impressive assortment of support options with the Latitude D400, including lifetime 24/7 telephone support and a standard three-year parts-and-labor warranty, with next-business-day onsite service. Dell's Web site offers a wealth of software patches, upgrades, drivers, and BIOS updates, along with product forums and a decent searchable knowledge base. By entering your Dell Service Tag number on the site, you're given a filtered view of information that pertains specifically to your system.

Finally, the printed and online Latitude D400 manuals are thorough and easy to follow.

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Where to Buy

Dell Latitude D400 series

Part Number: d400lo Released: May. 19, 2003

This product is no longer available. Click here for Dell's latest offerings

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date May. 19, 2003
  • Weight 3.7 lbs
  • Installed Size 512 MB