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Dell Latitude ATG D620 review: Dell Latitude ATG D620

Dell Latitude ATG D620

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Dan Ackerman
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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 semi-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

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6 min read

The ATG in the system's name stands for All Terrain Grade, a bit of playful promotional copywriting that brings to mind SUV ads showing attractive young adults offroading though the mud. The system looks like an armor-clad version of a standard gray laptop from Dell's Latitude line, with parts of the lid padded out like a car bumper. The chassis is still made of a magnesium alloy, but the new hinges are reinforced with steel.

7.8

Dell Latitude ATG D620

The Good

Flexible configuration; shock-mounted hard drive; rugged, spill-proof design.

The Bad

Some ports not protected; expensive and heavy compared to nonrugged versions of the same system.

The Bottom Line

Dell gives a popular system a rugged makeover with the Latitude ATG D620, making heavy-duty laptops much more accessible for business and industrial users.
While broken, damaged, or otherwise banged-up systems are the bane of every laptop owner, rugged and semirugged systems (companies apply the terms loosely according to their own standards) are often hampered by limited configuration options and outdated parts. Dell hopes to energize the rugged laptop market with its first such model, the Latitude ATG D620. Rather than designing a new system from the ground up, the $2,499 Dell ATG--our review unit configuration cost $3,145--is a beefed-up version of the popular laptop, adding a new outer case, a shock-mounted hard drive, and other heavy-duty extras, which tack about $1,000 onto the price of a similar, nonrugged Latitude D620. While it doesn't look or feel as tough as the Panasonic ToughBook 74 or the Itronix Hummer GoBook VR-1, it is one of the more configurable rugged laptops you'll find. Dell's wide-ranging customization options make the Latitude ATG D620 an attractive system; even if it's not the toughest laptop around, it is certainly one that can survive a really rough day at the office.

Measuring 13.2 inches wide, 10.75 inches deep, and 1.75 inches high, the Dell Latitude ATG D620 is slightly larger than a standard Latitude D620, but it still qualifies as a midsize laptop. The extra weight (7.1 pounds; or 7.9 pounds with the A/C adapter), however, makes this a backbreaker for daily commuting. For use on a construction site or in a work vehicle, the added heft is a reasonable trade-off. The rugged Itronix Hummer GoBook VR-1 weighs about the same, despite having only a 12.1-inch screen.

The screen bezel, the keyboard tray, and the keyboard are black with silver accents, lending the machine an industrial look. The touch pad has two sets of mouse buttons--one above and one below the touch pad--along with a more traditional ThinkPad-style pointing stick in the keyboard, so you should be able to find an input style you're comfortable with. The keyboard tray itself is sealed, offering resistance to dust and minor spills. We tested the system with a few small water dribbles, and it easily survived our hazing. While it doesn't meet military specs for truly rugged laptops (MIL SPEC 810F), it does meet the requirements in certain categories, including vibration and humidity.

The lid includes two small, red task lights positioned above the screen, which illuminate the keyboard when operating in low-light situations. When mounted in a vehicle at night--one of Dell's suggested uses for the Latitude ATG D620--the red light is much less distracting to the driver than your typical white or blue keyboard light. An ambient light sensor can also automatically adjust the screen brightness to provide good readability in different environments. Both features can be turned off if you want to preserve battery life or you just find them annoying.

The 14.1-inch screen features a 1,280x800 native resolution, the same as that of a nonrugged Latitude, and is designed to perform well in outdoor daylight situations--a weak point for many laptops. The brightness maxes out at 500 nits (a common measure of luminance), while most other laptops run between 200 and 300 nits. We found the screen bright and easy to see--and its maximum setting was uncomfortably bright in a typical indoor environment. In direct sunlight, the screen was much less washed out than those of standard laptops.

To keep your data safe, the ATG D620 ditches the more common 2.5-inch hard drive for a smaller 1.8-inch version, which is then stuffed into a custom, shock-mounted 2.5-inch hard drive bay. You lose some speed and capacity, but hard drives and their spinning platters are notoriously fragile. If you're in a situation that calls for a rugged laptop, you'll want the extra data protection--even at the expense of a few rpms. The rear ports--two USB 2.0, Ethernet, modem, VGA, and serial--are protected with a plastic cover, but the side ports (headphone, mic, PC card, and two more USB 2.0 jacks) are left exposed. We would have preferred to see all the connections covered (as on the Itronix Hummer)--a little sand in a USB port can ruin your whole day.

Configuration options are identical to the nonrugged version of the Dell Latitude D620, so much so that Dell says IT departments can roll out their standard Latitude D620 images on the new hardware. Our review unit included a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 CPU, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, an 80GB hard drive running at 4,200rpm, and integrated Intel 950 graphics. You can knock the price down by about $600 by moving down to a 1.6GHz T5500 CPU and 512MB of RAM. The two most recent rugged laptops we looked at had less powerful CPUs--a Core Duo T2400 (Panasonic ToughBook 74) and a Pentium M (Itronix Hummer).

Windows XP Pro is the only operating system choice, although Windows Vista will be added as an option soon (current buyers will get a coupon for a free Vista upgrade). In general, systems aimed at consumers will offer only Vista once that OS is launched, while systems for business users will continue to be available with XP through 2008.

Thanks to its mainstream parts, the Latitude ATG D620 didn't sacrifice performance when compared to nonrugged laptops with similar components. In CNET Labs' Multitasking test, the ATG was almost evenly matched with two other systems with Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 CPUs and 1GB of RAM, the Gateway NX570X and the Toshiba Satellite P105. In the Photoshop CS2 test, which is hard-drive-intensive, the Latitude ATG D620 falls behind the Gateway, which has a faster hard drive but not by a huge margin. The integrated Intel 950 graphics won't be much help playing the latest 3D games, but for in-the-field rugged laptops, we wouldn't expect a dedicated video chip.

Our Latitude ATG D620 included a nine-cell battery that sticks out somewhat from the system's front. A six-cell battery that more closely follows the chassis's silhouette is also available. Using the larger battery, we got an impressive 3 hours and 55 minutes from our DVD battery drain test, which is about as much as you can expect from any laptop without a second battery. That's nearly identical to the score of the last nonrugged Latitude D620 we looked at, although it's worth noting that score came from a different battery test.

The default service plan is the same as what comes with Dell's other Latitude systems--a three-year mail-in plan, which also included lifetime phone support. Upgrading to three years of next-business-day onsite service is an extra $99, while options for accidental damage protection and fast-tracked phone support (called Gold Technical Support) are also available.

Multitasking test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Note: In seconds.

Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Note: In seconds.

Apple iTunes encoding test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Note: In seconds.

Microsoft Office productivity test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Note: In seconds.

DVD battery drain test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Note: In minutes.

Find out more about how we test Windows laptops.
System configurations:
Dell Latitude ATG D620
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 224MB Mobile Intel 945GM Express; 80GB Toshiba 4,200rpm ATA/100
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 Widescreen
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB ATI Radeon Mobility X1400; 120GB Fujitsu 5,400rpm SATA/150
Toshiba Satellite P105-S9722
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 666MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce Go 7900 GS; 200GB Fujitsu 4,200rpm SATA/150
Gateway NX570X
Windows XP Media Center Edition; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB Mobile Intel 945GM Express; 80GB Hitachi HTS721080G9SA00 7,200rpm SATA/150
Itronix Hummer GoBook VR-1
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.0GHz Intel Pentium M 760; 512MB DDR SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB Intel 915GMS/910GML Express; 50GB Hitachi 4,200rpm

7.8

Dell Latitude ATG D620

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 8Battery 9Support 6
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