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Dell Latitude D820 review: Dell Latitude D820

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The Good Reasonable price; sturdy, well-designed case; strong performance; cutting-edge components, including an Intel Core Duo processor; comprehensive communications and security features, such as an EV-DO WWAN card and fingerprint sensor; fantastic service and support policy.

The Bad Small mouse buttons when configured with a fingerprint sensor.

The Bottom Line The new Latitude D820 covers just about every base that a great business laptop can, clearing the way for us to call it one of the best midsize corporate portables around.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.9 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Battery 7
  • Support 8

Review Sections

Compared to its predecessor, the Dell Latitude D820 looks like it's been on Weight Watchers--and we love the results. This corporate system weighs a half-pound less than the laptop it replaces, the D810, making it sleeker and markedly more portable. Yet the Latitude D820 offers everything the prior version did and more, including a crisp, 15.4-inch wide screen; an Intel Core Duo processor; and cutting-edge options such as integrated wireless WAN and biometric security. In addition, the D820 runs about 30 percent faster than the D810; indeed, it's one of the fastest Core Duo machines we've seen to date. Even its battery life is above average (though not as long as that of another of our corporate laptop favorites, the Lenovo ThinkPad T60). Any way you slice it, the Latitude D820 is a terrific choice for businesses seeking a powerful, well-rounded portable for occasional travel.

While the 7-pound Latitude D810 was more of a desktop replacement, the 6.5-pound D820 approaches the more portable thin-and-light territory. The D820 is also about 0.3 inch thinner than the D810, putting the D820's overall dimensions at 1.4 inches thick, 14.2 inches wide, and 10.3 inches deep. Still, the D820 is the largest system in the Latitude lineup, with the closest runner-up being the 6.1-pound Latitude D510. Though the D820 is also slightly larger than the ThinkPad T60 and the HP Compaq nc6320, it's about the same size as the 6.6-pound Acer TravelMate 8200. All in all, the Latitude D820 may not be the lightest laptop around, but it's not so burdensome that semifrequent fliers shouldn't consider making it their travel companion.

The Latitude D820 demonstrates best-in-business laptop design, beginning with its broad, comfortable keyboard that's complemented by a pointing stick and a touch pad, both with their own sets of mouse buttons. If you configure your D820 with biometric security, Dell reduces the size of the mouse buttons to accommodate a fingerprint sensor between them; while we appreciate the sensor option, the accompanying buttons may be too small for big fingers to use comfortably. Three handy buttons for volume up, volume down, and mute lie above the keyboard, while the two mediocre-sounding speakers (typical for a corporate laptop) flank the board on either side. The system also features a crisp, 15.4-inch wide screen with an ultrafine, 1,900x1,200 native resolution that renders graphics in good detail but makes for tiny text. The screen is anchored to the D820's base by very sturdy steel hinges, and the entire internal frame consists of strong magnesium alloy. In addition, the hard drive offers shock protection, meant to shield the drive from accidental bumps and drops. Many of these fab features are also be found in the SOHO-focused Lenovo ThinkPad Z60t, which offers a smaller 14.1-inch wide screen and nice touches that the business-minded D820 lacks, such as arrow keys that double as multimedia controls.

Another area in which the Latitude D820 excels is wireless networking. For starters, the case incorporates a switch on its left edge that functions like a Wi-Fi finder: slide the switch to the right, and the built-in 802.11 wireless card automatically searches for available networks, alerting you to the presence of those networks by illuminating the LED status light next to the switch. Since this feature works whether the system itself is turned on or off, it will come in extrahandy for those who don't want to boot up unless they can get online. Other networking options include EV-DO wireless WAN and integrated, latest-generation Bluetooth + EDR (Enhanced Data Rate).

The Latitude D820 doesn't offer an overabundance of ports, jacks, and slots, but its collection is expansive enough to handle most office tasks. You get a four-pin FireWire (which was lacking in the D810), VGA, infrared, serial, and four USB 2.0 ports (one of which is half USB port and half power jack, letting you run peripherals such as Dell's USB external hard drive); 56Kbps modem, Gigabit Ethernet, headphone, and microphone jacks; and one slot each for Type II PC Cards, ExpressCards, and Smart Cards, the last of which can store passwords and other sensitive information. Along those security lines, the D820 also incorporates a Trusted Platform Module chip. While a more consumer-oriented laptop would incorporate multimedia features such as S-Video, S/PDIF audio, a media card reader, and more USB ports, the D820's selection is appropriate for a business user.

We evaluated a high-end version of the Latitude D820 that costs $2,290--a good value for such top-notch components, including a top-of-the-line 2.16GHz Intel T2600 Core Duo processor, 1GB of blazing 666MHz DDR2 SDRAM, a big 100GB hard drive rotating at 5,400rpm, a swappable DVD burner, and a cutting-edge Nvidia Quadro NVS 120M graphics chip that has 256MB of dedicated VRAM and borrows another 256MB from main memory. The ThinkPad Z60t costs $300 less and offers the same hard drive capacity though several lesser specs (previous-generation Pentium M processor, slower 533MHz memory, and integrated Intel 915GM graphics).

In CNET Labs benchmarks, the Latitude D820's new parts catapulted the the system's SysMark performance 30 percent beyond that of the prior-generation D810 and past the scores earned by most of the Core Duo laptops we've tested to date (only the Acer TravelMate 8200 scored significantly higher). The Latitude D820 can easily handle any business task you throw at it and will likely succeed with most entertainment applications as well. We suspect the D820's high display resolution took a slight toll on the system's battery life, though: while the laptop still lasted a very respectable 4 hours, 51 minutes, the similar-size battery on the ThinkPad T60, which features a lower screen resolution, held out for almost 6 hours. Still, the newly portable Latitude D820 now has enough battery life for decent excursions away from the socket.

The Latitude D820's three-year warranty is the industry standard for a business system, but Dell includes onsite repairs by the next business day--something that costs extra from other vendors. Dell's comprehensive support Web site is also among the best in the business, offering troubleshooting info, downloads, a customer forum, real-time chatting with a tech-support rep, and more.

SysMark 2004 performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating  
SysMark 2004 Internet content creation  
SysMark 2004 office productivity  
Dell Latitude D820
212 
297 
152 
Lenovo ThinkPad T60
205 
279 
150 
Lenovo ThinkPad Z60t
159 
180 
141 
Dell Latitude D810
148 
179 
122 

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

Find out more about how we test Windows notebooks.

System configurations:

Dell Latitude D810
Windows XP Professional; 2GHz Intel Pentium M 755; 1GB 266MHz DDR RAM; ATI Mobility Radeon X600 128MB; Hitachi Travelstar 5K80 80GB 5,400rpm

Dell Latitude D820
Windows XP Professional; 2.16GHz Intel Core Duo T2600; 1GB PC5300 DDR SDRAM 666MHz; Nvidia Quadro NVS 120M 512MB; Fujitsu MHV2100BH 100GB 5,400rpm

Lenovo ThinkPad T60
Windows XP Professional; 2GHz Intel Core Duo T2500; 1GB PC4300 DDR2 SDRAM 666MHz; ATI Mobility Radeon X1400 512MB (256MB shared); Hitachi Travelstar 5K100 100GB 5,400rpm

Lenovo ThinkPad Z60t
Windows XP Professional; 2GHz Intel Pentium M 760; 1GB DDR2-SDRAM PC4300 533MHz; Intel 915GM/GMS, 910GML Express Chipset 128MB; Toshiba MK1032GSX 100GB 5,400rpm

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