Review Dell Latitude E5420 Essential Notebook
Office rooms are more mobile than ever, most of the time users only need their data, and these are always available at hand on the small folding computer. What is less important when it comes to use are performance and high-end features, instead 'mobility, productivity, and robustness' are more pertinent. It is precisely these characteristics with which Dell is marketing its newest business spouse; the Latitude E5420.
Although we have the minimal version in terms of the configuration, the 14 inch notebook isn't exactly cheap at 837 Euros. For the sake of comparison, the Acer alternative, in the form of the Aspire 3750 (13.3 inch) with an identical configuration plus Bluetooth and a bigger hard drive, only costs a mere 599 Euros. The question is whether the more affordable Aspire is actually a real alternative? We aim to find out.
For those that are interested in the E5420, the more upmarket Latitude E6420 reviewed by us could also be interesting. In this case, although it has the same form factor, more priority has been placed on the quality of the case and the different versions available e.g. performance.
While the consumer world is opting for thin, flat, and light attributes, Dell has instead chosen to add a little on top. The weight of 2.33 grams lies heavy in the hand, and the cumbersome height of 2.4 centimeters will prevent it from slipping out of your hands by accident. The weight and dimensions may have a slightly detrimental effect on the mobility, but they provide for stability and quality. Dell has opted for high-quality but heavy materials. Although 'ruggedized' is not quite appropriate, the 14 inch notebooks is definitely built for day to day use.
The base unit could only be bent minimally with considerable strength. The hand resting area and the base plate on the compact chassis lie firmly attached. Merely the area under the optical drive is a weak spot as usual, which dents considerably with the application of pressure.
The firmness of the lid has also been a success. This could only be bent holding the edges to a small extent. The surface consists of brushed aluminum, and can be dented inwards in the middle. Fingerprints may be slightly visible, but do remain, and have to be removed with a cleaning cloth.
The chosen materials (magnesium alloy, brushed aluminum) feel cool to the touch and are scratch resistant. When it comes to the hinges, Dell has opted for steel, nevertheless the visible silver panel is a cover (not solid). The hinges sit firmly attached to the base unit. They hold display rigid, and there is seldom wobbling. Due to the heavy weight of the base unit, we were able to just about open the display with one hand. The silver slider releases the latching mechanism (zinc plated).
Professionals and demanding users generally value the selection of ports very highly. The 14 inch notebook has everything on board that we would expect from a work notebook, without providing as many as a precision workstation would have. These include a screw tight VGA port, a PC-Card (PCMCIA) shaft, and FireWire. The older PC-Card standard, which has already gone out of fashion in the consumer world years ago (replaced by ExpressCard), is still popular in the business world. Using this special extension cards (mainly controllers) can be attached. The connection for fast external hard drives is also on board as eSATA, although there is no USB 3.0.
The interface selection on the left side consists of a Kensington-Lock, FireWire, HDMI, eSATA/USB, 1xUSB 2.0, PC-Card (PCMCIA), and card reader tightly packed together. If many cables are connected at the same time, these would cover a large area. The special Docking solution for the Latitude comes in handy for this scenario though. The E-Port Docking station for the E5400 and E5410 series are compatible with the E5420.
As a real deal business notebook the Latitude E5420 can offer everything that can be wished for when it comes to communication technologies. Since we opted for the Basic-Version, the tested device contains neither Bluetooth or an HSDPA module. The corresponding mini PCIe slots (2x) next to the antenna and the SimCard slot are of course available.
As far as wireless technology goes, the E5420 provides WLAN. The WLAN card uses the 802.11 b/g/n standards. Further to this the Broadcom NetXtreme 57xx Gigabit controller is also on board.
Business notebooks are subjected to a requirement for good security features. While the bigger organisations usually have their own security solutions, smaller establishments are usually happy to have security features and software included with a notebook. Worth mentioning in this respect is the Dell Data Protection Tool, and the backup and restore manager.
Business characteristics, such as Trusted Platform Module, or fingerprint reader, are not acquainted with the E5420. Merely the Kensington Security slot can be used as a preventative measure against theft with a suitable cable. For the important protection against the theft of data, the software package Worry-Free Business Security Services (Trendmicro) is included. The price for the licence: 60 Euros. This solution, which is tailored towards small businesses without their own IT department, is supposed to protect against viruses, hacker, spam, spyware, phishing, and theft of data. Via the web-based console, the Latitude for an employee can be administrated from anywhere (Remote Manager).
To praise: Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit is contained on a DVD. The user therefore doesn't have to create recovery discs, as is usually the case with other manufacturers.
The standard warranty upon delivery has a duration of 12 months. For an additional sum it is however possible to attain upgrades from Dell, e.g. 3 years Pro Support with next working day on-site repair.
The keys with a crisp pressure point and a long key travel give a very good feedback. The separated arrow keys (+ page up/down) stand out from the keyboard, and can definitely be operated without looking. An alphanumeric keypad is out of the question due to the form factor of the device. Users have the opportunity to use this via key conversion using the Fn keys. The corresponding numbers and calculation symbols are marked in red on the letter keys.
The base of the keys of the Latitude E5420 is generally firm, and provides the user with a firm end stop (not hard). The keys are pleasantly grippy. Merely the keys above the optical drive (;, ', [) are a little bouncy when pushing them hard.
The use of the touchpad made a good impression on us in every respect. The quietness, and its large size, as well as easy to use buttons are worlds better than the majority of consumer touchpads. The surface is pleasantly smooth but not slippery.
The Alps multi-touchpad is sufficiently dimensioned with a 9.1 centimeter diameter. It is sensitive right up to the edges. The touchpad only has a vertical scroll bar, which isn't marked though.
The non-reflective LED panel (type: Samsung LTN156AT02P01) has a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels with an aspect ratio of 16:9. The WXGA resolution is the standard for 14 and 13 inch notebooks. The measured black level lies at 1.42 cd/m², which comes with a very bad contrast of 131:1. Blacks are therefore not very dark, but have more of a gray glimmer.
Professionals will opt for the optional resolution of 1600 x 900 pixels. Whether the color space of the HD+ panel in the E5420 is also just as humble can't be assessed in this case. The HD+ display in the Latitude E6420 (see the last ICC picture) had a similarly small color space, and we suspect that both of the 14 inch devices have the same panel built in.
The WXGA panel in our tested device is definitely a far stretch from the often used Adobe RGB (t), which is also the case for sRGB (t). For the sake of comparison we have also included a (not very good) display panel from the Vaio EB3Z1E Full HD (t).
The luminance is the same as the contrast, and stays well below 200 cd/m². On average we determined an illumination of 177 cd/m². This is sufficient for use indoors, but very bright surroundings, such as in the sun, won't be favorable for a dark desktop display.
The matte surface of a notebook display panel is the first and foremost requirement for relaxed working under sunlight. As much as we turn and twist the Latitude E5420, no reflections are disturbing. The depicted photographs show the display with perfect sunshine. From the front the meager luminance is just about sufficient, from the sides the picture can already become noticeably darker.
The viewing angles show a very narrow range for the Latitude. If the eyes deviate upwards or downwards (vertically), then ghost images already appear after 20 degrees. Towards the right and left (horizontally), we were able to deviate up to 45 degrees from the middle. Beyond this the colors start to invert considerably. Display panels with wide viewing angles are a rarity, and the Latitude E5420 is also not an exception to this.
Dell's 14 inch notebook is equipped with an Intel Core i3-2310M (2 x 2.1 GHz). The brand new Core i3 dual-core CPU has Hyper-Threading (process 4 threads), but doesn't have Turbo-Boost. The CPU power consumption lies at a TDP of 35 Watts. Of these the two physical cores require 25 Watts. 10 Watts are required by the integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics solution and the memory controller. Compared to the expensive Core i5 models, such as the i5-2540M, the i3-2310M doesn't have any support for the AES New Instructions. AES helps with encrypting and decrypting. Dell allows for configurations with a 2540M up to an i7-2620M (dual-core).
As usual there are 4 GB of DDR3 RAM on board, whereby both of the available slots are occupied. For an additional sum the E5420 can be fitted with 2x 4 GB or 1x 4 GB of RAM. The hard drive is a 320 GB HDD from Western Digital (WD3200BEKT-75KA9T0) with a rotational speed of 7200 rpm. An SSD option (128 GB) is also provided by the manufacturer.
The Sandy Bridge Core i3-2310M (2x 2.1 GHz) manages to score as many points in the single-core test in Cinebench R10 Single 32-bit, as the significantly faster clocking i3-380M (2x 2.5GHz from the Arrandale generation (2.769 points). The bigger brother i5-2410M (2.3 GHz, Turbo) scores a better 4.510 points (64-bit).
When it comes to daily work multi-threading is more relevant. The i3-2310M once again scores almost identically in this discipline as the i3-380M (6.233). The 2011 i5-2410M or i5-2520M scored 9.451 and 10.128 points respectively (Cinebench R10 Multi 64-bit). The upshot: The Sandy Bridge Core i3 can already take on its faster clocking Arrandale predecessors with a meager clock speed of 2.1 GHz.
|PCMark Vantage Result||4832 points|
The benchmark PCMark Vantage determined a score of 4.832 points. This level is below that of older systems with the Core i3-380M (Samsung RV511: 5.432) or the i3-370M (Samsung SF510). The cause of this is the low HDD Sub-Score (2.582 points), which should actually be higher with a 7200 rpm hard disc (fast turning).
The 3DMark2006 benchmark, as an evaluation of the general gaming performance, reached a score of 3.330 points. The 2010 Intel HD generation (also integrated into the CPU), only scored 1.500 points on average (depending on the CPU +/- 200 points). This speaks for an improved gaming performance. The extent of this is described in detail in the article Intel HD Graphics 3000 graphics solution. Also see the data sheet for the HD Graphics 3000.
What is definitely impressive is that currently a dedicated entry level GPU Radeon HD 6470M is only 3% faster (3DMark2006). Less demanding games such as Fifa 11 are smooth with high detail settings. Hardware intensive games such as StarCraft2 or Battlefield: Bad Company 2 have to be set to minimal detail settings though.
|3DMark 03 Standard||9316 points|
|3DMark 05 Standard||6961 points|
|3DMark 06 Standard||3330 points|
Where the HDD-Score of the PCMark Vantage is strangely low, HD-Tune also gives a crazy reading (several iterations). The 320 GB hard disc from Western Digital achieves a data rate of merely 28.5 MB/s when reading. CrystalDiskMark in comparison determines 98 MB/s (reading) as correct.
HD-Tune determined an extremely weak burst-rate. This shows how many Megabytes per second can be read out of the HDD cache in the best possible case. A look at the HD-Tune graphic shows a previously not seen 'limit' at just under 30 MB/s. We have included the typical HD-Tune curve from a 7200 rpm Hitachi HDD alongside for comparison. Since the read/write heads read from the inside to the outside, the data rate is lower in the outer area of the rotating disc. The WD3200BEKT-75KA9T0 doesn't seem to show this effect.
When it comes to the system noise, Dell's 14 inch notebook is definitely acceptable although with some shortcomings. When in an idle state, or when performing simple tasks such as surfing the web, the cooling fan goes off for longer periods of time. We did measure an idle system noise of 32.8 dB(A) though. The noise that was measured by our noise meter comes from a fast turning hard disc (7200 rpm, base noise). The active noise level lies at 33.2 dB(A).
Under a constant load the cooling fan obviously makes noticeably more noise. During a 3DMark2006 benchmark test, the cooling fan noise increased to 42 dB(A). Only the stress test (Furmark/Prime95) makes the cooling fan noise rise to 46 dB(A). This high noise level is seldom in practice though, and the cooling fan turns consistently with a sustained load. After removing the load, the cooling fan noise quickly falls back to 36 dB(A) after 20 seconds.
In an idle state or during simple office use, the cooling fan attempts to maintain an off state, which is why a 'pulse of cooling' every 2 to 5 minutes for a few seconds is necessary. This is acceptable, but could have avoided by having a slow but constant turning instead. The energy saving power plan 'calm' or 'ultra-performance' allow the user to select their preferred noise scenario.
32.8 / 35.7 / 35.7 dB(A)
||38.2 / dB(A)|
||41.8 / 46.1 dB(A)|
min: , med: , max: Voltcraft sl-320 (15 cm distance)
In an idle state the average temperature on the base plate and the hand resting area is a mere 28 degrees. When surfing or during stress free office use this doesn't change significantly. At most the 33 degree mark is exceeded in some places around the middle of the base plate.
The heat dissipation under load reaches up to 40 degrees, but only in some places. The average temperature doesn't climb over 32 degrees. The low CPU temperature of 74 degrees under the maximum load shows that the cooling system easily comes to terms with the heat dissipated from the 2.1 GHz Core i3-2310M. The 35 Watt CPU doesn't have automatic over-clocking per Turbo-Boost.
(+) The maximum temperature on the upper side is 34.9 °C / 95 F, compared to the average of 34 °C / 93 F, ranging from 21.2 to 62.5 °C for the class Office.
(±) The bottom heats up to a maximum of 40.9 °C / 106 F, compared to the average of 36.5 °C / 98 F
(+) In idle usage, the average temperature for the upper side is 25.4 °C / 78 F, compared to the device average of 29.4 °C / 85 F.
(+) The palmrests and touchpad are reaching skin temperature as a maximum (34.9 °C / 94.8 F) and are therefore not hot.
(-) The average temperature of the palmrest area of similar devices was 27.9 °C / 82.2 F (-7 °C / -12.6 F).
The two speakers under the hand resting area only provide mid-frequency sounds. Low frequencies are completely missing. For the requirements of an office laptop, the audio quality is still reasonable though. The maximum volume could be loud enough for a small meeting room, and the small speakers don't distort at all. Worth praising are the volume buttons on the right next to the keyboard. For the case that the boss comes into the office, the speakers can be deactivated instantly.
Just under eight hours sounds like a good battery life. These 462 minutes are only reached in an idle state though, while using the lowest brightness setting and with WLAN deactivated. What is more relevant is the WLAN test with 5:44 hours. 14 inch competitor models, such as the HP ProBook 6550b or the Asus P42JC, only manage two or two and a half hours respectively (fitted with a 2010 Intel Core i5).
In light of the high capacity of the battery of 60 Wh, and the low power consumption in an idle state, the battery life is understandable. The brightness of the TFT was set to 100 cd/m² (medium setting) in the WLAN test. It only took a brief charging time of two hours before our next test could get underway again.
The power consumption shows a big difference between an idle state and a high load (CPU + IGP). This is due to the adaptive power consumption, and the 32nm Lithography (manufacturing process). The idle power consumption of the E5420 lies between 10 Watts (power saving, low brightness) and 15 Watts (maximum performance, maximum brightness).
The load test shows the opposite. A 3DMark2006 (IGP Intel HD 3000) requires 41 Watts. During the stress test the Core i3 consumption comes to 54 Watts. The compact 65 Watt AC adapter (241 grams) is suitably dimensioned for this task.
|Off / Standby||0.4 / 0.6 Watt|
|Idle|| 10.2 / 13.2 / 14.9 Watt|
41.6 / 53.8 Watt|
Tradition obliges. The Latitude E5420 Essential from the business line of Dell notebooks certainly lives up to its name. The 14 inch device is a solid notebook with matte high-quality surfaces, and top-notch input devices. Fingers fly across the touchpad and keys with ease and accuracy. Meanwhile users will easily forget that there is only a Core i3-2310M processor under the hood. Although this doesn't quite deliver the same performance of the newer Sandy Bridge Core i5 CPUs with Turbo-Boost 2.0.
The graphics unit integrated into the processor will not be very appealing to gamers, but serious office users will have a low power consumption and almost six hours of battery life with the Intel HD 3000. The non-reflective WXGA display is a little too dark though for use outside or in bright surroundings. Narrow viewing angles, a tight color space, and low contrast all lead to a very weak display rating.
When it comes to the emissions, silent fans will likely get annoyed by the constantly audible hissing of the 7200 rpm HDD. In this case an SSD would be a good replacement, since the cooling fan even switches off from time to time. The loud DVD drive gave off a loud whistling while playing back a movie, which has also reduced the score by a few points.
The previously mentioned cheaper alternative Aspire 3750 (13.3 inch, simultaneously tested, 599 Euros) with an identical configuration can't compete with the Latitude E5420 (837 Euros) though. Business users may be able to do without Bluetooth and a 500 GB hard drive, but not without very good input devices. When it comes to the interfaces including a Docking port, the Latitude has the crucial advantage. PC-Card (PCMCIA), FireWire, and a screw tight VGA port at the back may not be enough to convince a consumer, but in the business field these features can make the difference between buying and not buying.