Monday, August 18, 2008

Dell Latitude E6400

By Darius Chang
Price as reviewed $2,247

The last update to Dell's business lineup was 2 years ago with the Latitude D series. Turns out the Round Rock company wasn't merely sitting around but was using that time to research on the needs of the corporate crowd. After all, unlike consumer laptops where the best way to woo users is to incorporate ground-breaking features such as gesture controls and face recognition, business users need security, reliability and hardiness in their portables. So though the new Latitude E6400 didn't exactly take us where no man has gone before, it was nonetheless a significant step in the evolution of the corporate PC.

Upside: Forget boring silver. The Latitude E6400 can be clothed in basic black or swathed in red or blue shades. Like its predecessors, the body of the Latitude is made up of magnesium alloy which reduces weight while increasing durability. Dell has also reinforced certain areas which are prone to damage in a drop and called them Strikezones.

The 14.1-inch widescreen display has a resolution of 1,280 x 800 pixels, but this can be upgraded to a 1,440 x 900-pixel LED-backlit screen which is brighter and sharper. Based on the latest Centrino 2 platform, the display is powered by an integrated Intel GMA 4500HD processor, though there is an option to boost the graphics capability to a discrete Nvidia Quadro NVS 160M1 chip with 256MB of video RAM.

This Latitude comes with a wealth of options. In addition to Bluetooth and 802.11a/b/g/n radios, a mobile broadband component, Ultra-Wideband and GPS receiver can be integrated under the hood. The hard drive can also be replaced with a 64GB solid state drive, which is generally faster, uses less power and more durable than standard hard drives.

While Lenovo went with an integrated LED keyboard light for use in the dark, Dell has adopted backlit keyboard which first appeared in high-end consumer laptops.

When it comes to security, Dell covered almost every ground imaginable. From fingerprint sensor, TPM security chip to SmartCard slots and even contactless SmartCard, the Round Rock also implemented its proprietary ControlVault technology. Like the TPM chip, ControlVault stores sensitive encryption keys on a hardware component. But while the former requires software to be installed on the harddisk to work, ControlVault stores the application on the BIOs. This prevent malicious attacks from hacking into the system though the software layer.

After all that, the true shining star of the Latitude E6400 should surely be its battery life. Put in a high-capacity nine-cell battery, couple it with an external 12-cell battery slice and you can get up to 19 hours of unplugged computing time. Dell sees this as a means to give workers true mobility away from the office.

Downside: Though it is no entertainment machine, we would still have liked to see a Blu-ray option available for its 50GB storage capacity. Fortunately, the optical drive bay is modular, which means that future upgrades may be possible.

One of the key features of the Centrino 2 platform is the HDMI output, which is missing from this Latitude. In its place is a Display Port connector along a VGA slot. With LCD TVs increasingly entering homes and the workplace, this is an oversight which may be missed by many.

Outlook: With a starting price of S$2,247 (US$1,652.21), the Latitude E6400 is affordable for the rank-and-file, though it can be quickly scaled up in features and pricing for high-level executives. We like the fact that color options are available for this unit, though its lack of a HDMI port is an oversight in an age where flat panel TVs are quickly becoming ubiquitous.