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Dell Latitude 2120 review: Dell Latitude 2120

Dell Latitude 2120

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
6 min read

Pity the poor Netbook. Once the belle of the personal computing ball, this type of small, low-cost PC has virtually fallen off a cliff during the past 12 months. The reasons for this sudden change of fortune are complex, but the chief among them are the rise of Apple's similarly priced iPad and the lack of Netbook performance improvements over the years. PC makers have added features, from 3G to touch screens, but could do little to boost Netbooks' anemic speed. The final nail was probably the introduction of low-end ultraportables, many with AMD's Fusion platform, that could cost as little as $450 but felt much more powerful than Netbooks with Intel's Atom chip.

Dell Latitude 2120 Laptop Computer (Intel Intel Atom Dual Core N550 250GB/2GB)

Dell Latitude 2120

The Good

The <b>Dell Latitude 2120</b> packs a standard set of Netbook components into a rugged body with a rubberized finish. Welcome options include an HD display and a touch screen.

The Bad

With more powerful ultraportables available for less, any Netbook over $400 is a tough call.

The Bottom Line

The standard Netbook platform is feeling pretty stale these days, and this too-expensive Dell Latitude 2120, while capable, doesn't do much to stand out.

One of the only new Netbooks we've seen in 2011 is this updated version from Dell's Latitude business line. The Latitude 2120 pushes the definition of a Netbook to the edge, with options for a touch screen, a higher-resolution display, and twice the RAM of a typical Netbook. Our $608 review unit has a dual-core Intel Atom N550 CPU, 2GB of RAM, and a 250GB hard drive, but skips the touch screen and 1,366x768-pixel display (that build runs about $140 more).

For a Netbook, it's not only capable, but solidly built and easy to type on--but any Netbook over $400 is a tough sell. The Lenovo ThinkPad X120e and HP Pavilion dm1z both have faster AMD Fusion E-350 CPUs and higher-resolution 11-inch screens and cost less than the Latitude 2120.

Price as reviewed / starting price $608 / $414
Processor 1.5GHz Intel Atom N550 Dual Core
Memory 2GB, 667MHz DDR3
Hard drive 250GB 7,200rpm
Chipset Intel NM10
Graphics Intel GMA 3150
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (32-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 10.4x7.4 inches
Height 0.9 - 1.6 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 10.1 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 3.2 pounds/3.9 pounds
Category Netbook

Netbook designs usually have to walk a fine line. With prices that typically hover around the $300 mark, there's only so much a company can invest in design and materials, but as a part of Dell's business line, which carries a premium price over consumer models, this Latitude can get a little fancier.

The Latitude 2102 reminds us of Netbooks we've seen aimed at education markets, as a protective rubber coating covers the lid and bottom panel, and the overall construction feels very solid and sturdy. That makes for a Netbook that isn't the thinnest we've seen, but looks like it could stand up to the rigors of frequent road travel. If this design looks familiar, that's because little if anything has changed since we reviewed the similar Latitude 2100 in 2009, except for the newer dual-core Atom processor. The two laptops even have the same small light on the back of the lid, originally meant for use in classrooms to help teachers make sure systems were on.

Like many business laptops, the Latitude 2120 is designed so that it can be remotely managed by an IT department, and Dell sells (or sold, as it doesn't seem to be currently available from Dell) a Mobile Computing Station cart that can dock up to 24 Netbooks at once for overnight charging and updates.

It's been a while since we were forced to contend with a 10-inch Netbook keyboard, but this is about as good an example as you're likely to find. Skipping the island-style keys found on nearly every laptop these days, the 2120 keyboard is a throwback to the kind of smaller, tapered-key design that used to be commonplace and is still found on a few business systems. As in the older 2100 model, the small touch pad is usable, but the left and right mouse buttons beneath it are small and give only minimal feedback when clicked.

One of the main selling points of the Latitude 2100 is its set of screen options. Our review unit has a standard 10-inch 1,024x600-pixel resolution display, although it's something of a rarity now, with most low-power laptops moving up to 11-inch 1,366x768-pixel displays. However, an upgrade to that resolution is available in a version of the 2120 that costs $80 more, or for about another $60 on top of that you can add a touch-screen display.

No matter if you get the standard or high-res display or the touch screen, all the different versions of the Latitude 2120 have matte screen coatings, which are preferred by many who hate overly glossy screens that are prone to glare and reflections.

Dell Latitude 2120 Average for category [netbook]
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion None None
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None None

The Latitude 2120 has the same exact ports and connections we would have expected to see a couple of years ago. Bluetooth is missing, a bit of a shocker from a $600 Netbook, and you won't find anything like USB 3.0 or eSATA, nor the HDMI ports found on most 11-inch ultraportables.

Dell is offering several preconfigured versions of the Latitude 2120, ranging in price from $414 all the way up to $746. The lowest-end version has an Intel Atom N455 CPU and 1GB of RAM, and ditches Windows for Ubuntu Linux 10.10. On the other end of the spectrum is a configuration with the dual-core Atom N550, the previously mentioned HD display and touch screen, and 2GB of RAM. We tested a version that was in the middle, with the faster CPU and 2GB of RAM but the lower-resolution screen.

In performance, the Latitude closely matched other Netbooks with the same CPU, running slightly faster in some benchmark tests, slower in others. In hands-on use, the system behaved as one would expect a Netbook to, which is to say fine for moderate use, but prone to occasional slowdowns.

Even with the switch to dual-core versions of Intel's Atom processor, the Netbook platform as a whole continues to feel dated, especially compared with the faster, less expensive 11-inch ultraportables. Case in point, recent ultraportables from HP and Lenovo, both with AMD's E-350 CPU, easily beat the Latitude 2120 in performance, while costing less.

Juice box
Dell Latitude 2120 Avg watts/hour
Off (60%) 0.7
Sleep (10%) 0.7
Idle (25%) 6.91
Load (05%) 16.41
Raw kWh Number 26.6
Annual power consumption cost $3.02

Annual power consumption cost
HP Pavilion dm1-3005
HP Mini 5103

Battery life was a bright spot, with the Latitude 2120 running for 5 hours and 6 minutes in our video playback battery drain test. However, that's with a giant six-cell battery that protrudes from the bottom of the chassis like a kickstand. Netbooks without this extralarge battery, such as the HP Mini 5103, only ran for about half as long.

Dell includes a standard one-year parts and labor warranty with this system, which includes mail-in service. Given its price, we'd want either a longer default term or on-site service. A wide variety of add-on services is available, including accidental damage protection ($49 for three years), and three years of data recovery service for help with failed hard drives ($75).

Jalbum photo conversion test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion dm1-3005

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion dm1-3005
HP Mini 5103

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion dm1-3005

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion dm1-3005

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations

Dell Latitude 2120
Windows 7 Home Premium; 1.5GHz Intel Atom N550 Dual-Core; 2,048MB DDR3 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB (Shared) Intel GMA 3150; 250GB Seagate 5,400rpm

Asus Eee PC 1015PN
Windows 7 Starter; 1.5GHz Intel Atom N550 Dual-Core; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB Nvidia ION; 250GB Western Digital 5,400rpm

HP Mini 5103
Windows 7 Professional; 1.5GHz Intel Atom N550 Dual-Core; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 256MB (Shared) Intel GMA 3150; 160GB Seagate 5,400rpm

Lenovo ThinkPad X120e
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.6GHz AMD Fusion E-350 Dual-Core; 4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 667MHz; 64MB (Dedicated) ATI Mobility Radeon HD 6310; 320GB Hitachi 7,200rpm

HP Pavilion dm1-3005
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 1.6GHz AMD Fusion E-350 Dual-Core; 3,072MB DDR3 SDRAM 667MHz; 384MB (Dedicated) ATI Mobility Radeon HD 6310; 320GB Hitachi 7,200rpm

Dell Latitude 2120 Laptop Computer (Intel Intel Atom Dual Core N550 250GB/2GB)

Dell Latitude 2120

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 6Battery 7Support 7