Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?
CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. How we test computers

Dell Latitude D520 review: Dell Latitude D520

While the Latitude D520 won't wow you in any one respect, its satisfying combination of speed, battery life, features, and price will serve basic business users well.

5 min read
Dell Latitude D520
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.


Dell Latitude D520

The Good

Reasonable price; solid mobile performance and battery life; reinforced frame; lots of component choices, including Intel Core Duo processors; onsite service comes standard.

The Bad

No discrete graphics option; lacks a fingerprint sensor; no built-in WWAN capability.

The Bottom Line

While the Latitude D520 won't wow you in any one respect, its satisfying combination of speed, battery life, features, and price will serve basic business users well.

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 or Home 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.

The Latitude D520's general warranty term starts at one year, though our D520's price tag included a three-year warranty generally found on more expensive corporate portables. Regardless of warranty length, all D520s ship with a very nice service perk: onsite, next-business-day service. Toll-free, 24/7 telephone support is available for the length of the warranty. Dell also offers a top-notch support Web site that sports especially helpful features, such as a customer forum and real-time chat with a tech support rep.

Mobile application performance
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark2002 performance rating  

Battery life
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo MobileMark 2002 battery life in minutes  

Find out more about how we test Windows laptops.

System configurations:
Dell Latitude D510
Windows XP Pro; 1.6GHz Intel Pentium M 730; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM PC3200 400MHz; Intel 915GM/GMS, 910GML Express (up to 128MB); Toshiba MK4026GAX 40GB 4,200rpm
Dell Latitude D520
Windows XP Pro; 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo T2300; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM PC4300 533MHz; Intel Mobile i945GM Express 256MB; Fujitsu MHV2040BH 40GB 5,400rpm
Lenovo 3000 N100
Windows XP Pro; 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo T2400; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM PC2700 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce Go7300 256MB ; Hitachi Travelstar 5K100 80GB 5,400rpm
Toshiba Tecra S3-S411TD
Windows XP Pro; 1.73GHz Intel Pentium M 740; 256MB DDR2 SDRAM PC2700 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce Go6600 64MB; Toshiba MK4032GSX 40GB 5,400rpm


Dell Latitude D520

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 6Performance 6Battery 7Support 7