If you have a company laptop, chances are it's either a Lenovo ThinkPad or a Dell Latitude--both brands are a common sight in cubicles and are capable performers for medium-to-large businesses. (Last year, Dell launched its Vostro line to cater to the smallest of small businesses. Vosto laptops feature essentially the same components as Dell's consumer Inspiron line, plus some administrative software and a special technical support phone number.)
Now the Latitude line is getting a long-deserved makeover, and the most striking break from the traditional gray look is the new black brushed metal design. In a Latitude first, select models will soon be available in Regatta Blue and Regal Red (but not at launch).
The E6400 is powered by Intel's Centrino 2 platform, and our $2,007 review unit was packed with extras, from a backlit keyboard to a desktop-speed 7,200rpm hard drive. In typical Dell fashion, the starting price is a very reasonable $1,139, but almost everything, from the fingerprint reader to the Webcam, to a built-in modem costs extra. That makes the starting price illusory for most buyers, but also lets you customize the system to an incredible degree.
Still, if you don't need business-friendly features such as Intel's vPro platform, a TPM chip, or a contactless Smart Card reader, Dell's Vostro line might be more suited for your needs. And if you do need such features, it's more than likely your IT staff will pick and configure a laptop for you. That being said, Dell has done an admirable job of updating its stodgy Latitude brand, and creating a business laptop that's smart-looking enough to pull double-duty as your personal machine.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$2,007 / $1,139|
|Processor||2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400|
|Memory||2GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||160GB 7,200rpm|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel P45|
|Graphics||Nvidia Quadro NVS 160M|
|Operating System||Windows Vista Business|
|Dimensions (WDH)||13.1x9.4x1.2 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||5.7/6.6 pounds|
The new E series is a stark departure from the familiar Latitude look, trading the tapered gray lid for a sharply squared-off design with an industrial brushed metal surface. The result is a much more modern feel, and it fits in with the usage model of a work laptop being your main machine and frequently traveling from home to office to cafe--the E6400 still has a professional look but can also fit in with high-end designer consumer laptops.
At just less than 6 pounds, the E6400 is a bit heavier than some other 14-inch laptops we've looked at recently, but the solid metal construction gives it an impressively dense feel, and feels like it could stand up to some serious road abuse.
They keyboard's keys felt tight and responsive, and the keyboard didn't flex under our fingers. The optional backlit keyboard ($49) is great, and we wish more laptops were available with backlit keyboards. Perhaps to assuage older business laptop users, there's a ThinkPad-like trackpoint in the middle of the keyboard, along with a traditional three-button trackpoint control set above the regular touch pad (there are also regular left and right mouse buttons below the touch pad). We're still convinced that trackpoints are a legacy product and about as useful to most people as a serial port, but someone must still be using them if Dell made sure to include it in the redesigned Latitude.
Our review unit included several business-friendly features, such as a Trusted Platform Module chip, a contactless Smart Card reader (which lets you just tap your card on the wrist rest, rather than sliding it into a slot), and a fingerprint reader (a $29 option). For many corporate IT departments, these are must-haves. Dell's custom ControlPoint software widget offers a clean, simple one-stop interface for accessing security, power, and networking settings. Other business laptop makers such as Lenovo offer their own similar versions of catch-all administrative applications, and both the Dell and Lenovo versions are reasonable useful and easy to use.
The 14.1-inch wide-screen LCD offers a 1,440x900-pixel native resolution, which is our preference for 14- and 15-inch screens. This is an LED-backlit display, which is thinner, lighter and uses less power than traditional laptop screens, but Dell also offers a non-LED 1,280x800-pixel resolution option, which knocks $129 off the price.
|Dell Latitude E6400||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA-out, Display port||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||4 USB 2.0, mini FireWire, SD card reader, eSATA||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Verizon mobile broadband||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
Dell is known for offering highly configurable systems, and the Latitude E6400 is no exception. The base model, about $1,100, still includes the same 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 CPU, but trades down to Vista Basic, 1GB of RAM, an 80GB 5,400rpm hard drive and leaves out options such as the fingerprint reader, Webcam, Bluetooth, and even the modem. Dell would probably charge an extra $10 for the right mouse button if it could, but at the same time, it's nice to not be forced to pay for accessories you'll never use.
Our review unit had a Verizon mobile broadband antenna, but AT&T and Sprint versions are also available, each for about $150.
While the Latitude E6400 has the same Core 2 Duo P8400 processor as some other Centrino 2 laptops we've tested, such as the Lenovo SL400, its faster 7,200rpm hard drive helped it get a slight edge in our performance tests. But all the extra security features running on a business laptop can also eat up CPU cycles, so in terms of pure performance, you can take an older CPU and add a ton of RAM and get faster scores--as in the case of the Dell Studio 1535-125B, which has a 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8100 and 4GB of RAM, twice the memory of the E6400. In hands-on testing, we had no problem multitasking on the Latitude, working on office documents, surfing the Web, and playing back media files simultaneously.
It's not intended for gaming (after all, you shouldn't be gaming on your work laptop, right?), but the 256MB Nvidia Quadro NVS 160M GPU (a $70 upgrade over the default integrated GMA 4500HD graphics) should help with graphics-intensive work, and also ekes out a barely playable 16.8 frames per second in Unreal Tournament 3 at 1,280x800-pixel resolution.
Dell has promised up to 19 hours of battery life if you combine a 9-cell battery with the optional 12-cell "battery slice"--essentially a giant battery that fits over the entire bottom of the system. We tested the 9-cell battery alone, and were very impressed with the 4 hours and 27 minutes we got from our video playback battery drain test. That's second only to the 12-inch Lenovo X200 in recent memory (that system topped 6 hours in the same test), and Dell's emphasis on keeping your laptop going for as long as possible is good news for on-the-go workers.
Business laptops generally offer more generous warranties than consumer models, with the default term starting at three years of next-business-day on-site service, A wide variety of extensions and add-ons are available, from extending the basic warranty to five years for an extra $249 to $79 to upgrade to Dell's ProSupport level of service, which includes "direct line access to North American-based technicians." Dell's support Web site also provides FAQs, troubleshooting tips, real-time chats with a support representative, and a user forum.
Find out more about how we test laptops.
Dell Latitude E6400
Windows Vista Business Edition SP1; 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB NVIDIA Quadro NVS 160M; 160GB Toshiba 7,200rpm.
Dell Vostro 1310
Windows Vista Business Edition; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7250; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GS; 160GB Fujitsu 5,400rpm.
Dell Studio 1535-125B
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8100; 4096MB DDR SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB Mobile Intel 965GM Express; 320GB Western Digital 5,400rpm.
Fujitsu Lifebook A6210
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400; 3072MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB ATI Mobility Radeon HD3470; 250GB Hitachi 5,400rpm.
Windows Vista Business Edition; 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB NVIDIA GeForce 9300M GS; 160GB Hitachi 5,400rpm.