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Dell Latitude C640 review: Dell Latitude C640

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The Good Fast; long battery life; reasonable price; excellent warranty; has modular devices that are compatible with other Latitudes.

The Bad Ho-hum looks; only one USB port; high-end models are expensive.

The Bottom Line The Dell Latitude C640 thin-and-light notebook offers an unbeatable combination of speed and features.

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8.6 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9
  • Battery 9
  • Support 8

Dell's Latitude C640 series has long been one of our favorite thin-and-light corporate notebooks, thanks to its smart design, long battery life, speed, and terrific tech support, not to mention its thrifty accessories, which work across the entire Latitude line. We're not alone. According to Dell, the Latitude C600 line is the company's best-selling notebook line ever. The latest update to the line promises more of the same, including faster P4-M processors, ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 graphics chips, and--new to the thin-and-light category--blazing 5,400rpm hard drives, all in the customary great, slim case. Even though the C640's ValueWatch rating is only average, businesses looking for thin-and-light notebooks won't find a better combination of speed, battery life, features, and support.

The C600 series' lid.
The thin-and-light category is the sweet spot of the notebook world: a great mix of features, speed, portability, battery life, and price. The Latitude C640 series is a brilliant example of why that's so. It's larger than the ultralight Dell Latitude C400 but not as big and heavy as the desktop-replacement Latitude C800 series. But the Latitude C640 still has enough drive options for business users and won't strain your shoulder when you tote it.

All versions of the C640 series look the same, with a dark-gray, 12.5-by-9.9-by-1.4-inch chassis that's more functional than fancy. The moderate, 5.4-pound base weight may increase by a few ounces, depending on which drives you use, and the AC adapter adds a little more than a pound to the total travel weight. All in all, the C640 is similar in mass to other business-class thin-and-lights, such as the IBM ThinkPad T30 and the Gateway 450.

Keeping with the function-over-form theme, you won't get the flashy silver wrist-rest inserts found on other Dell notebooks, but you won't miss them, either. (We find they get in the way.) The only splash of silver is the familiar round Dell logo on the lid, which helps you spot a Dell notebook from 50 paces.

Dell's signature keyboard.

The spacebar, the touchpad, and the four mouse buttons.

The Latitude C640 series conveniently includes both a touchpad and a pointing stick. The touchpad is smooth, and the pointing stick is not too stiff, although it's set a little low between the G and H keys. The control layout is similar to that of other Latitude and Inspiron laptops. There are four mouse buttons: two small ones above the touchpad and two large ones below it. Dell's firm and responsive keyboard includes a curved spacebar (a standard Dell feature) that wraps around the upper-left mouse button.

The PC Card slots on the left.
Like many thin-and-lights, the Latitude C640 integrates an antenna for 802.11b wireless networking into the case.

You can configure the notebook with an external 802.11b PC Card for wireless access or a built-in, 802.11b, wireless mini-PCI card , both of which cost $99. We recommend the latter, as it leaves your PC Card slots open for other purposes.

Speaking of PC Card slots, Dell insists on filling them with easy-to-lose, plastic dummy cards--one of our few quibbles about this notebook. You never know what could fall into the slots if you lose the cards; we prefer protective doors on springs, which you'll find on most other notebooks.

The Latitude C640 series is full featured by thin-and-light standards, and if you're not satisfied with the base configuration, you can beef it up when you buy a notebook online from

The C640 lets you choose fast Pentium 4-M processors at 1.6GHz, 1.7GHz, 1.8GHz, 2GHz, or 2.2GHz speeds. Memory ranges from 128MB to 1GHz; you should get at least 256MB, if not more. Hard drives range from 20GB to 40GB. The Latitude C640 we tested included a 2GHz Pentium 4-M, 256MB of memory, and a DVD/CD-RW combo drive. (Dell also sells the C610, a less expensive configuration with slower Pentium III-M processors and a shorter standard support period that's targeted at medium and large businesses.) We recommend spending a little more for the beefed-up C640.

Our biggest complaint about the C640? There's only one screen size in this series: 14.1 inches. A 15-inch option would be nice, although the included active-matrix display with 1,024x768 native resolution is so crisp and bright that you probably won't mind the size. For more detailed graphics, you can also order the same-sized screen with a 1,400x1,050 resolution ($50). And thankfully, a pair of speakers on the sides of the wrist rest produces decent sound for a notebook.

The front-loading combo drive.

The back edge.

The two-spindle C640 series design includes one front-loading swappable bay, which can house a floppy, CD-ROM, DVD-ROM ($129), CD-RW ($199), or combo DVD/CD-RW ($249) drive; a weight-saving plastic module; or a second, 3,900mAh, 14.8-volt battery ($129). All of these drives and the battery will also work in the modular bay of the desktop-replacement Latitude C840 or with the ultralight Latitude C400 by way of an external cable--extremely handy if you use a variety of Dell notebooks at work and need to save money by swapping drives.

The C640 series addresses additional business needs, as well. The serial, PS/2, and parallel ports on the back edge let companies use older peripherals. Notebook makers love to talk about legacy-free notebooks (which have fewer older ports), but that's not always a good thing. If you've ever had a favorite peripheral that connected via PS/2 but don't have that port on your new notebook, you know what a pain "legacy free" can be. Dell also includes a single USB port (most notebooks in this class have two, but you'll get more if you purchase the optional port replicator), S-Video, and mini-PCI but not FireWire. We wish it did, especially with only one USB connector.

The ports on the right.
You can also connect to networks via the C640's standard 56Kbps modem and Ethernet jacks, which are easy to get to. An optional port replicator ($249) or a docking station ($499) expands the number of ports, slots, and bays.

You can configure your C640 with one of three operating systems: Windows 2000 Professional Edition, Windows XP Home, or XP Pro ($60). Call us old-fashioned, but we appreciate the choice of Windows 2000 Pro, rarely offered these days. Software options are limited to a choice between Microsoft Office XP Professional or Small Business Edition, plus Norton AntiVirus 2002 ($59) or McAfee VirusScan 6.01 ($55). All configurations include Dell's OpenManage remote-manageability software, which permits your IS manager to remotely check and manage system settings.

The Latitude C640 ran up the score on CNET Labs' performance tests, easily beating two of its peers. The Latitude, with its 2GHz P4-M processor, 256MB of RAM, and 5,400rpm hard drive, scored 137, topping the 1.8GHz ThinkPad T30 by 14 points and the 2GHz Gateway 450SX4 by 34 points. Compared to the sluggish Gateway, the Latitude scored closer to what you'd expect of a 2GHz thin-and-light system--that is, it scored superbly.

Mobile application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark2002 performance rating  
Dell Latitude C640
IBM ThinkPad T30
Gateway 450SX4
System configurations:

Dell Latitude C640
Windows XP Professional; 2GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 32MB; Toshiba MK4019GAX 40GB 5,400rpm

Gateway 450SX4
Windows XP Home; 2GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility M6 32MB; Toshiba MK4018GAP 40GB 4,200rpm

IBM ThinkPad T30
Windows XP Professional; 1.8GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 16MB; Toshiba MK4019GAX 40GB 5,400rpm

The Dell C640 wowed us with its battery life, too, cranking along for 192 minutes--not surprising, considering the Latitude's 14.8-volt, 4,460mAah cell, more powerful than the two competing systems'. The Gateway's 11.1-volt, 3,800mAh and the IBM's 10.8-volt, 4,400mAh battery just can't compare to the Dell's powerhouse.

Battery life  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark2002 battery life (minutes)  
Dell Latitude C640
IBM ThinkPad T30
Gateway 450SX4
To measure mobile application performance and battery life, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's MobileMark2002. MobileMark measures both applications 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).

System configurations:

Dell Latitude C640
Windows XP Professional; 2GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 32MB; Toshiba MK4019GAX 40GB 5,400rpm

Gateway 450SX4
Windows XP Home; 2GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility M6 32MB; Toshiba MK4018GAP 40GB 4,200rpm

IBM ThinkPad T30
Windows XP Professional; 1.8GHz Intel Pentium 4-M; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 16MB; Toshiba MK4019GAX 40GB 5,400rpm

The Latitude C640 series comes with a minimum of three free years of support, including onsite, next-business-day service--a generous allotment. You can also place free calls 24/7 to Dell's automated or live tech-support lines for as long as you own the notebook. Extended warranty options (from $69 to $297) add support extras such as access to phone reps in one minute or less; free fixes due to coffee spills, drops, or other accidental damage; and up to four years of warranty coverage. The printed manual is thorough and easy to use. For enterprise customers, Dell's Web site lets you set up a customized support page with content from a huge customer forum, FAQs, downloads, and more.

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