Review Dell Latitude E6420 Notebook
Ever Popular. Although it has practically died out in the consumer notebook sector, the compact 14" format is still one of the most popular styles of business notebooks. The Dell Latitude E6420 has some big shoes to fill in taking the reins from its successful predecessor, the E6410. Is it a credit to the Latitude series or does it bring shame to Dell?
Our teaser article about Dell's new business line-up from a few weeks ago stirred up an unusually high level of controversy in our forums. Among the subjects of clashing opinions was the completely new case design. While some saw this as putting a friendlier face on the notebook, others argued the notebook design has lost all semblance of professionalism. But whatever your opinion may be, one thing's for sure: the sharp, rigid design of the previous generation is no more! Now, the E6420 rather resembles the new XPS models.
Taking a look at the competition, Lenovo's new Thinkpad T420 remains loyal to its predecessor, the T410—the design shows only minor modifications. HP, meanwhile, presents us with the complete opposite of Dell's design in the form of their new Elitebooks. Its top-model, the HP Elitebook 8460p, brings back the retro, "boxy" style which is likewise sure to evoke some strong feelings one way or the other.
Technically speaking, all notebooks are very similar. All try to impress with their sophisticated security mechanisms, a wide range of use and, of course, the combination of high performance and long battery life.
These will be—among others—the main criteria for the following review since you can argue about which design is better until the cows come home.
Like the design or not, this laptop is one of the sturdiest looking Latitudes of the series in recent years. The good choice of materials used in constructing the case of the Latitude E6420 are to thank for this. We scanned the surfaces, looking for plastic but found it only around the keyboard and the screen bezel. The other surfaces consist of an aluminum-magnesium alloy. Dell calls this composition Tri-Metal and refers multiple times to its adherence to various—albeit not very convincing—military standards.
The base unit is unbelievably warp-resistant thanks to the sturdy magnesium frame that tightly cradles all the hardware inside. Unlike many of its competitors, Dell proudly displays a bit of this magnesium frame peeking out of the notebook along the side edges. The base plate and case surface around the keyboard are joined to this frame and fastened to it with screws: "Unibody Lite" if you will.
Our attempts to dent the surface had no effect whatsoever. This includes the display lid that won't budge even a millimeter under pressure. According to Dell, the display lid hinges are composed of tough steel, which is however not visible on the surface—as is the case with Lenovo Thinkpads—but is rather covered up a by a layer of magnesium. The display lid takes a bit of effort to tilt back but barely bobs back and forth after being adjusted. Like HP, Dell is stepping away from the approach of sticking individual rubber pads along the display to soften closing. Instead, they've gone with a long rubber strip encompassing the entire screen, which should serve to protect the screen and keyboard from dust particles getting in when the laptop's closed. A single hook clasps the display shut.
Repairing or switching out hardware is quite easy. The hard drive is secured by four screws, after removing which it can slide out from the case sideways. The rest of the hardware can be accessed by removing a cover along the bottom of the base unit which is fastened with a few more screws. The fans and heat sinks, the processor, memory, PCI module and the CMOS battery are all ready to be tinkered with once the cover is off.
Taking another look at the competition (Lenovo T420, HP 8460p), we see that the other contenders for your money also weigh a similar amount. The standard model of Lenovo's T420 weighs in at 2.24kg, that is, with a 6-cell battery included. HP's model with the smallest possible 3-cell battery comes to 2.07kg, the same as the Dell E6420 with a 4-cell battery. The particular configuration we reviewed included a 9-cell battery (97Wh), bringing the grand total up to 2.620 Kg. In terms of case dimensions, E6420 is the widest at 352 mm. The Lenovo T420 is 12 mm less wide and the HP 8640p 14 mm. The same is true for case depth: the front of the E6420 juts out about 10 mm when placed side-by-side with its rivals. The Lenovo T420 is the thinnest of the three at 30mm when closed (E6420 and 8460p both 32mm - all figures based on info from the manufacturers).
Now we get to the selection and placement of ports on the E6420. Particularly the placement of the ports jumps out at you when you first look at the laptop, which are found around the back corners. On the left side toward the front, we find the Smartcard Slot followed by an exhaust vent, a combination headphone/microphone jack, a VGA port and a USB 2.0 Port. Around the corner at the back, we continue with an RJ45 Ethernet port and the power connector.
At the right toward the front, we have a 45mm Expresscard slot and underneath it the DVD drive. After that come two USB 2.0 ports and a combined USB/eSATA port. At the back toward the right we find an HDMI port and a Kensington Lock slot. Along the front we also find an SD card reader.
It's disappointing that no USB 3.0 port is on board. Of course, the eSATA port offers faster transfer rates than USB 2.0, useful for transferring large files like when backing up data onto an external hard drive. Still, the eSATA port isn't used for many devices and doesn't seem to have much of a future to it. Newer external hard drives are USB 3.0 compatible, with eSATA slowly disappearing from the market. The optional USB 3.0 offered in place of the DVD drive doesn't sound like a great trade-off because one: you'd miss out on the DVD drive and two: you still have to pay more for the USB 3.0 adapter (exact price not available). We see, however, that HP wisely chose to include two USB 3.0 Ports (+eSATA) in its 8460p, while Lenovo—like Dell—has gone down the eSATA route for the T420.
Another important feature would be the choice of video output—HDMI 1.3 (according to Dell). Hopes of using multi-monitor setups (+2x24“ FHD via DualHead2Go) or high-resolution 30-inch (2560x1600) screens go down the drain, the only option being 180 Euro more for the appropriate docking solution. HP and Lenovo, however have the right idea in this regard, both the 8460p and T420 have a Displayport.
On the other hand, the placement of ports is excellent. Even without a docking station, the Latitude E6420 can be hooked up to numerous devices at once without cluttering up the surrounding workspace with cables. Speaking of docking stations: the E6420 can be hooked up to existing docking stations including: E-Legacy Extender, E-Port and E-Port Plus—if in doubt, speak with someone at Dell.
Internet and Bluetooth
As is typical of Dell, the Latitude E6420 with a wide array of options for connecting to the internet. At the ground floor there's, of course, a gigabit Ethernet port (Intel 82578LM). You also have your choice of a Wifi card from Intel (b/g/n) or from Dell bzw. a/g/n). The Latitude E6420 can also be equipped with a UMTS/HSPA module on request. The spot for the SIM card is found in the same slot as the battery, the antenna line for which was already ready-to-use when we got our review model. With the appropriate module, this too can be upgraded later on down the line. Bluetooth 3.0 is optional, as is a built-in 56k-modem (V.92), which might come in handy if you're traveling through rural or otherwise remote areas on a business trip, for instance.
Business professionals know that security cannot be overlooked when choosing a laptop. To limit access to the laptop, the Latitude E6420 comes with a smart card reader (contactless reader also available). You can even request a fingerprint scanner (FIPS standard available).
It's also possible to install anti-theft software to track the laptop if stolen or remotely delete sensitive data. Note: you must opt into such service BEFORE the act of theft and there are usually regularly scheduled payments associated with such services.
Since we're dealing with a premium business laptop here, Dell gives you your money's worth by throwing in a standard three-year on-site service warranty with next-business-day repair. This minimizes the amount of time the laptop has to be out of commission in case of a defect so that you won't be delayed much in your work. If this level of service doesn't cut it, you can always upgrade to Dell ProSupport (+145 Euro) which tacks on around-the-clock technical support over the phone including questions concerning software developed by third parties.
For the aggressive or perpetually clumsy there's additional coverage for damage inflicted by fluids spilled onto the laptop, power surges, dropping the laptop down long flights of stairs, etc. This coverage will run you an additional 150 Euro without theft protection or 240 Euro with theft protection for 3 years (excluding VAT).
With the change in case design comes a new keyboard layout to get used to. Among the changes is the box of special function buttons at the top right corner, including the buttons "insert", "delete", and so forth. These buttons are now arranged in a single row in which the individual buttons are bit more bunched together than before. Also, the "page up" and "page down" buttons have made their way down to just above the arrow keys. Although it might take some getting used to, the new layout doesn't bring many restrictions with it—although the keys are definitely bunched together more.
Typing on this keyboard is quite comfortable. Keystrokes are firm, requiring a fair amount of pressure before they plop down, which gives them a very easy-to-feel pressure point. Even when jabbing away at the keys, the noise they make remains subtle and tolerable. A great feature is the keyboard backlight, which costs an additional 40 Euro but makes for easy-to-recognize keys no matter the lighting situation around you (convenient on the train, bus, plane, etc.). Naturally, this includes a water-resistant keyboard cover.
For moving the cursor across the screen, Dell provides us with two options here: trackpoint (aka pointstick) and touchpad. A few things have changed here from the previous model. The color of the keys has changed as well as the fact that the rubber circle of the pointstick is no longer completely black. The trackpoint works incredibly well. The trackpoint on the Thinkpad T420 reacted very similarly in side-by-side testing. Only the shape of the trackpoint on the Thinkpad is (in our opinion) better.
The multi-touch pad measures a conveniently large 8x4.5 cm and has a nice, smooth surface. The multi-touch functions can be configured to your personal preferences via pre-installed software. The touchpad buttons are just as comfortable to use, having just the right depression depth and clicking almost silently.
The Dell Latitude E6420 comes with one of three types of 14" displays, that is, the screen measures 36 cm diagonally. On Dell's website, the starter configuration with an LED screen has an HD resolution of 1366x768 pixels. This model can be upgraded to respond to multi-touch gestures for an extra 70 Euro. For users who'd like to have more windows open at once, there's also an HD+ screen available with a resolution of 1600x900 pixels (+40 Euro). This was the screen in our test model and is worth the extra price in our opinion
Just by looking at it, you can tell that this display shines very bright. This is confirmed by our measurement of a maximum of 320 cd/m² at the center of the screen and is quite high for a laptop of its class. The average screen brightness is somewhat lower at 277 cd/m², the drop being attributable mostly to the dimmer corners of the screen. The brightness distribution comes to an okay 79.7%. Nevertheless, because of the overall very bright screen, differences in illumination cannot be detected with the naked eye.
The Lenovo Thinkpad T420 with an HD+ display shines a bit dimmer (max. 223 cd/m²) but has better picture contrast (162:1)—review coming soon.
Soon we'll also have a review of the lower-resolution HD display version (1366x768) of the E6420. Also coming soon is a review of the less expensive Latitude E5420, also a 14" business notebook with an HD display. Most likely the same display is in place in the E5420 as comes standard for the E6420 series.
So how good does the picture look on this screen? Blacks appear not very saturated and the picture has a sort of cold color tone, that is, more of a blue tone. Measuring the black level, we get an undesirably high 2.52 cd/m². Therefore, despite its high level of brightness, the screen only manages to reach a low contrast ratio of 127:1 (max. brightness, center screen).
As far as the color space goes (spectrum of colors that can be displayed), Dell isn't serving up any delicacy, rather just the usual. neither Adobe RGB nor sRGB are covered. The WXGA+ display from the preceding model, the E6410, is just about on par with this. It's the same story with the HD+ screen in the Lenovo Thinkpad T420. Compared to the Apple MacBook Pro 13 or the Dell XPS 15, the much narrower variety of colors that can be displayed on this screen is easy to see.
As far as using the Latitude E6420 on the go, the display remains fairly readable regardless of your surroundings. The matte screen surface prevents reflections from overshadowing the picture and combined with the high brightness, it makes for always discernible screen contents, even in direct sunlight.
The last thing we test for regarding the display was the range of viewing angles. The picture remains undistorted at fairly large angles looking from the left or right. There's much less wiggle room when it comes to tilting the screen back and forth, however. The screen contents remain easily readable for a while when tilting the screen down, but tilting it up past the ideal viewing angle quickly results in an overexposed-looking picture and later like a negative of the actual picture. During the review, we often had to adjust the tilt in order to be able to see the screen clearly.
The reason 14" business notebooks are so popular is probably the balance between portability and performance. Whereas 12" and 13" laptops are normally restricted in their hardware, 14" laptops can usually be equipped with standard processors and even dedicated graphics cards. Which brings us to the configurations available for this notebook: ranging from the weakest and least expensive Intel Core i3-2310M CPU all the way up to the i7-2720QM quad-core CPU, Dell makes the entire Sandy Bridge line of processors available for the Latitude E6420.
The case has two RAM chip slots that can address a maximum of 8GB. Price: having the best hardware in place can run you an extra 194 Euro depending on the basic configuration you get regarding other features (e.g. display).
There's also a lot of selection when it comes to the graphics card. With the basic configuration, the CPU comes with an integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 graphics card. This configuration should suffice for typical office work. With higher demands regarding 3D graphics or special software, you can definitely benefit from the power of a dedicated graphics card like the optional Nvidia NVS 4200M graphics card (Optimus). Dell's online shop makes things a bit confusing here: the NVS 4200M supposedly comes in two version, one listed as "35W" and another at the same price listed as "512MB (45W)". Speaking over the phone with a Dell representative, we were told this was a mistake and that only the "35W" NVS is available for the E6420. This was the version of graphics card in the laptop we reviewed, but the Nvidia settings identified it nevertheless as having 512MB DDR3 video memory, which according to Dell's website is only available in the "45W" version.
According to official Nvidia specifications, the NVS 4200M runs at a clock rate (speed) of up to 810 MHz, while the processor can supposedly reach as high as 1620 MHz. In the system properties menu of the model we reviewed, the clock rates were displayed as 740/1480 MHz. This seems to indicate that a watered-down version of the NVS 4200M was in place in the particular Dell Latitude E6420M model we reviewed. During our hardware stress test, we measured a GPU temperature of up to 99°C, which seems to high for the 45W version of the NVS 4200M running at its maximum clock rate (and this seems to go along with what the Dell representative told us over the phone about there not being a 45W version available for the E6420).
You can find more details about the Nvidia NVS 4200M in our Comparison of Mobile Graphics Cards.
Our in-review configuration consists of the Intel Core i3-2310M, the smallest of the available Sandy Bridge CPUs, paired with the Nvidia NVS 4200M ("35W"). The CPU performance really could have been better. According to measurements in previous reviews, switching from a i3-2310M CPU to a 2630QM CPU—all other hardware remaining the same—results in a jump of about 45% in the overall score in the PCMark Vantage (64 bit) benchmark. In terms of price-to-performance ratio, the i5-2410M und i5-2520M give you the most bang for your buck.
Our Dell Latitude E6420 managed an overall score of 5534 points, tested in the "high performance" profile. This lands the notebook an average spot in our database, placing it on par with the Lenovo T410 (620M/NVS 3100M) and the Acer Travelmate 8472TG (350M/GT330M). When equipped with an i7-CPU, the Latitude E6420's score shoots up to 8000 points in PCMark Vantage. For a huge boost in application performance, choosing a Solid State Drives (SSD) could be a great decision, which should easily break the 10,000 point barrier in PCMark Vantage. The best example of this is the Thinkpad T410s (580M/NVS 3100M), which boasted an impressive 10926 points when equipped with a solid state drive.
Speaking of performance, we were curious to try out a certain new option in Dell's Control Point software called "Ultra Performance", which claims to "reduce CPU throttling" while raising the fan speed. We weren't really able to measure the effect very well, however, considering test results were not significantly different under the "Ultra Performance" profile and since the Intel Core i3-2310M CPU does not have the Turbo Boost function.
|PCMark Vantage Result||5534 points|
It's already well known what the Intel Core i3-2310M is capable of. At a base clock rate of 2100 MHz, the chip lacks the appealing Turbo Boos feature of its i5 and i7 cousins, but thanks to Hyper-Threading can still simulate two virtual cores in addition to its two real cores, thereby making multicore-optimized applications run a good deal faster. The CPU's performance is akin to older top-of-the-line Penryn processors (P9600) and in some ways can even outdo some of AMD's currently most powerful processors (N640, N660).
The results of the Cinebench Rendering benchmarks are as to be expected for the CPU. If the software you're using requires better CPU performance, it's best to consider an i5 or i7 CPU instead: CPU-intensive software (complex calculations, virtual machines, etc.).
We'll stick with the Cinebench benchmarks, which in addition to the CPU Rendering test also has an OpenGL performance test for checking the performance of the graphics card in place here. In the Cinebench R10 64bit Shading test, our laptop managed 4471 points. Scores in this range are quite popular in our database, comparable GPUs being the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650 and the Nvidia NVS 3100M (Thinkpad T510 – 4563 points and T410s with 4445 points).
The Nvidia NVS 4200M doesn't quite represent a miracle on the CAD front, which is confirmed by the SPEC Viewperf 11 benchmark. Nearly every resulting value placed the GPU below average, just ahead of the NVS 3100M. Quadro FX or FirePro graphics can run laps around the NVS 4200M.
The performance check wouldn't be complete without the 3DMark score. At 4601 points in the 3DM 2006 Test (1280x1024), the GPU here is on par with the Geforce 320M and the GT 130M. Interestingly enough, our database shows that even Intel's on-board HD Graphics 3000 sometimes approaches the 4000 point mark, depending on the hardware configuration at hand.
|3DMark 05 Standard||9189 points|
|3DMark 06 Standard||4601 points|
|3DMark Vantage P Result||2231 points|
Hard Drive Performance
For a business notebook like the Latitude E6420, there are naturally lots of options available regarding the hard drive. On Dell's website, they advertise conventional HDDs with rotational speeds of 5400 RPM and 7200 RPM as well as solid state drives (SSDs) with a capacity of up to 256GB. In terms of performance, there's no question that an SSD is the best way to go, but these come at a high price. Dell lists the 128GB SSD as costing 330 Euro extra, while the 256GB SSD will run you an additional 650 Euro on top of the starting price in Dell's online store. The particular model of SSD is not mentioned on the website, which is cause for concern since SSDs can differ quite considerably in their price-to-performance ratios. The fastest SSDs, like the OCZ Vertex 3 (click here for review) and the Intel Elmcrest 510 series cost 500 Euro for a 240GB-250GB model. Keeping this in mind, the price set by Dell seems exorbitant and swapping out the hard drive yourself might be the best choice.
The Seagate ST9250410AS in our test laptop has a capacity of 250GB and a rotational speed of 7200 RPM. Its performance in our benchmarks comes as no surprise, but its hum remained constantly audible and the read head seemed to be making some loud noises when retrieving data.
Old-school businessmen might shake their heads at the following few paragraphs, but we still want to see how the Nvidia NVS 4200M graphics card can handle some newer video games. Our expectations are by no means high, but after a hard day's work, can you use this laptop to unwind by building up a city, racing through the mud or playing a game of football?
We played three games on the Dell Latitude E6420. We first tried out Anno 1404— which might be getting on in years but is still very nice—and it ran smoothly with low graphics settings, which isn't the case with the resolution and graphics settings set to high. The verdict is, you have to make a compromise between graphics and performance.
The same is true for the DirectX11-capable racer, Colin McRae Dirt 2. With the resolution and graphics settings set low enough, the game runs smoothly. Once more, setting the graphics settings high, like turning on DirectX11, will only result in choppy video.
You don't have to sacrifice graphics quite as much with Fifa11. The very resource-efficient football classic can even be played in HD (1366x768) while retaining a smooth enough frame rate.
|Anno 1404 (2009)||100.7||12.9||fps|
|Colin McRae: DIRT 2 (2009)||43.2||19.1||fps|
|Fifa 11 (2010)||108.6||74||fps|
Under light use, like when running simple office programs, the Dell Latitude remains subtly in the background but still always audible. A small portion of the noise is attributable to the 7200 RPM hard disk, the hum of which is easy to hear. That's not all, though. Each time the hard drive retrieves a piece of data, you hear this clatter, which can be irritating within an otherwise quiet environment. Every now and then, when under light use, we heard the fans start to whir as it picks up speed and drives warm air out of the case.
Under heavy use, particularly using the 3DMark 2006 benchmark, we measured noise levels up to 39.6 dB(A). In the stress test, that is, with CPU und GPU at 100% load, the noise rose to 42.9 dB(A). The "Ultra Performance" profile mentioned earlier pushes the noise level still higher to a maximum of 44.0 dB(A) during the stress test.
31.9 / 31.9 / 34.2 dB(A)
||37.4 / dB(A)|
||39.6 / 42.9 dB(A)|
min: , med: , max: Voltcraft sl-300 (15 cm distance)
Even after several hours of light office use, the surfaces of the Dell Latitude E6420 remain comfortable to the touch. Only in the worst case scenario with both the GPU and CPU running at full blast for more than an hour does the temperature reach up to 37°C beside the keyboard and 41°C on the bottom of the case, which isn't incredibly hot. The hardware within does not stay quite as cool, however.
After an hour of the stress test (100% load on CPU and GPU), we measured 84°C for the CPU and a critical 99°C for the graphics card. The GPU's cooling potential at this point also doesn't seem very high. Consider what would happen to a model of the Latitude E6420 equipped with one of the new i7 quad-core processors which have a Thermal Design Power (TDP) of 45W—10W more than the dual-core CPUs. On top of that, due to a possible error in the description of the GPU, the online shop offers 45W TDP graphics card, how will the laptop be sufficiently cooled with such powerful hardware in place? Our particular model's configuration (i3-2310M / NVS 4200M – "35W") had already reached its limit regarding the graphics card. The clock rates of the GPU and CPU remain steady throughout the stress test, however, with no throttling observed. This leads us to the conclusion that the CoreTemp tool must have misread the temperature.
(+) The maximum temperature on the upper side is 37.6 °C / 100 F, compared to the average of 33.9 °C / 93 F, ranging from 21.2 to 62.5 °C for the class Office.
(±) The bottom heats up to a maximum of 41 °C / 106 F, compared to the average of 36.4 °C / 98 F
(+) In idle usage, the average temperature for the upper side is 26.7 °C / 80 F, compared to the device average of 29.4 °C / 85 F.
(+) The palmrests and touchpad are cooler than skin temperature with a maximum of 31.8 °C / 89.2 F and are therefore cool to the touch.
(-) The average temperature of the palmrest area of similar devices was 28.2 °C / 82.8 F (-3.6 °C / -6.4 F).
We were pleasantly surprised with the single speaker in this laptop. Despite the Dell Latitude E6420 being equipped with only one speaker (see the picture with the bottom of the case open), we were fairly satisfied with the resulting sound quality. No driver settings were found. There's still the possibility of a electrical contact problem hiding an elusive second speaker.
The sound quality of the one speaker was decent and could have made for good sound quality with the potential second speaker working when you consider the expectations of a business laptop like the Dell Latitude E6420.
Two factors are mainly responsible for the laptop's battery life: one is the capacity of the battery and the other is the power consumption of the system under various levels of stress.
With the Dell Latitude E9240, you have a few choices when it comes to the battery: the smallest is a 4-cell battery with a 40Wh capacity, next a 6-cell battery with a 60Wh capacity, a 9-cell battery with a 87Wh capacity and a 3-year warranty and finally a 9-cell battery with a 97Wh capacity—this was the battery in the model we reviewed. The extra 60 Euro (excl. VAT) for the 6-cell battery might be something you'd like to consider for on-the-go use. Other than that, Dell mentions the option of a spare battery, likewise 97Wh, as well as a second battery (30Wh) in place at the same time as the first and taking the place of the DVD drive. Depending on your needs and the amount of money you have to spend, you're the boss!
Our model's 97Wh battery was subjected to the BatteryEater Reader Test: minimum screen brightness, deactivated wifi/bluetooth and the "Energy-Saver" profile activated (which is supposed to simulate the user reading a document on the screen). The result was a high 741 minutes, that is, more than 12 hours. The OpenGL computation of the BatteryEater Classic Test simulates heavy use: maximum screen brightness, wifi/bluetooth on and the "high performance" profile activated. Here you can count on 165 minutes, a decent battery life.
While browsing the web (fair screen brightness, "Energy-Saver" profile), the laptop huffed and puffed for about 530 minutes on battery power. This means, you can get an entire workday on battery power out of this laptop if you keep in mind the screen brightness and energy-saving settings.
Besides the 9-cell battery (about half a kilogram) contributing to the long battery life, we also have the system's low energy consumption to thank. Particularly during low-demand office work, the laptop has almost no toll on the electric bill. Eating up only 7-13W of power makes the above-mentioned battery life values possible. Primarily responsible for this is the Nvidia Optimus graphics-card-switching technology, which automatically activates the on-board HD Graphics 3000 and shuts off the NVS 4200M GPU under low system demands. The user meanwhile remains unaware.
Under heavy use, the power consumption rises to 49.3W during mixed CPU and GPU use (3DMark) and all the way up to 67.3W in the stress test (CPU and GPU at 100% load). The 90W power supply has no problem handling this.
|Off / Standby||0.1 / 0.1 Watt|
|Idle|| 7 / 10.6 / 13 Watt|
49.3 / 67.3 Watt|
Key: min: , med: , max: Voltcraft VC 940
It's true that our excitement had already come and gone by the time our forums became the scene of a heated debate about the Latitude's new design. And even though minds will continue to clash for years to come about which looks better, the new or the old, Dell has crafted a fine case in terms of workmanship, sturdiness and feel. The case design is harmonious (magnesium-aluminum) and has a first-rate feel to it.
The placement of the ports is quite convenient, most ports relegated to the far corners of the case. The variety of ports on the E6420, however, still leaves some things to be desired: the combination headphone/microphone port is not compatible with most existing headsets (separate connectors), a USB 3.0 adapter can optionally be built in to replace the DVD drive (or attached via ExpressCard adapter). And for attaching an external monitor there's only one way to go, HDMI.
To the likely frustration of current Latitude users, the keyboard layout has changed, the keys a bit more bunched together. The feel of typing on the keyboard is excellent and the multi-touch pad works flawlessly.
The display in our test model was the higher-resolution HD+ version, which is useful for keeping multiple windows open on the screen at once. The bright, matte screen makes using the laptop outdoors possible, even in direct sunlight. On the downside, the poor picture contrast and few vertical viewing angles can be frustrating.
In terms of its performance, the 14" office notebook leaves little to be desired. CPUs as powerful as Intel Sandy Bridge quad-core processors and the optional dedicated Nvidia NVS 4200M graphics card allow for a broad spectrum of use. Careful though, the Latitude can't quite manage tougher CAD projects—the Precision series is better for that.
The level of system noise and temperature under light office use is acceptable. Under heavy use, however, the GPU can't quite stay cool. Still, this situation won't arise during everyday office work, though.
One of the big strengths of the Dell Latitude E6420 is its potential battery life. With the 9-cell battery, it's possible to get a whole day's work done without ever having to charge up the laptop—depending on the applications you're using.
It all comes down to your individual needs and preferences whether the Latitude E6420 is right for you. The competition, in the form of the Lenovo Thinkpad T420 and HP's Elitebook 8460p, can give the Latitude a run for its money and their reviews will be up shortly.