Nowadays laptops are getting smaller and thinner. But here at Absolute Gadget, and like the song, we like ’em chunky. And none come more chunky than the Dell Latitude E6400 XFR.
In direct competition to the Panasonic Toughbook, the XFR is very much aimed at tougher end of the market, where men are men and eat Yorkie bars. It is a ruggedised laptop designed literally to withstand anything you can throw at it or indeed throw at.
The chassis is based on the standard E6400 laptop and has been pimped up to military specifications to make it rugged and waterproof. It has a thick shell of plastic and alloy stuck to it and screwed in in some places.
All external ports have weatherproof access panels to ensure that no dust can enter the internal workings when closed. Around the chassis are rubber bumpers protect against any knocks or droppages. There is even an in-built carrying handle so you could, in theory, ditch the laptop bag.
But, does so many rubber and protection mean less computing power, in a word – no. There are high-end components in this beast. It comes with Windows Vista Business (64-bit version and no doubt a Windows 7 version shold be in the offing if not already by the time you read this), it sports an Intel Core 2 Duo 2.66GHz P9600 Processor (1066MHz FSB, 6MB Cache) with 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM (maximum capacity 8GB).
Our laptop featured a 64GB Samsung solid State Drive (SSD) but a 128GB version is also available. The screen is a 14.1″ DirectVue sunlight-readable WXGA display and has 256MB nVidia Quadro NVS 160M (256MB dedicated plus shared memory).
The optical drive is a eight speed (8X) DVD (+/-R double layer) drive and connectivity-wise boasts an 802.11a/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1 as well as standard wired Ethernet port.
Opening the thing requires you to release a substantial metal clip and fold out the screen with super strong hinges. When shut, throwing it down the stairs won’t accidentally open the lid so it will protect the screen inside.
But not only is it built to go fifteen rounds with Tyson, it can also withstand heat and cold. While we couldn’t up sticks and head off to the North Pole or the Sahara, we are told that it can operate in temperatures as high as 62 degrees Celsius and as low as -28 degrees. We did try putting the noebook in the freezer (a normal upright one found in most households) and it coped with that admirably well. It also coped with water splashed on the device without a problem.
The WXGA display is good and works in direct sunlight but exhibits a little too much sparkle which did manage to make this reviewer’s eyes a ittle tired after a while. Colour and contrast are OK but nothing special. The display can distort a litttle when a finger is pressed against it but still feels a lot stronger than non-ruggedised laptops.
Sounds are OK but this is not meant to be a multimedia laptop, so it was acceptable for general use and levels were good enough for presentations in a small room.
The keyboard and mousepad are very good. In fact the keyboard is among the best to work on despite it being made to cope with bad conditions. The keyboard lights up when in use and darken after a short while, much like the Billie Jean video.
The mousepad works as expected and the mouse button, made to resist dust incursion, cna take a little while to get used to.
As mentioned earlier, it has a good array of external ports, all safely sealed away from the outside world when not required. It has three USB ports, one eSATA/USB combo port, an Ethernet port, DisplayPort and VGA for connecting to a projector or external display. It also sports a Firewire port, which some may find a welcome bonus as most laptops no longer seem to feature this port. Legacy-wise you will also find a PCMCIA port as well.
There are also audio jacks for connecting external speakers, headphones and microphones and behind one final weatherproof door is a front-mounted SD card reader.
Performance is good, it can cope with intensive applications running on it when out in the field (or on an oil-rig). The dedicated graphics card can allow a certain amount of gaming if you wish but obviously won’t be able to complete with dedicated gaming rigs.
The SSD is also quite zippy when the computer is retrieving files and data from it and writes fast without any noticeable lag. We believe that this is pretty much the fastest ruggedised laptop we have tested.
While most other rugged devices use passive cooling to dissapate heat, the Dell has a heatsink and fan underneath the notebook exposed to allow good amounts of heat loss. Although this cna mean the noise from the fan being noticeable when gmaing or watching HD clips.
The Dell E6400 XFR has a standard 6-cell battery or a 12-cell battery as an option. Battery life, we found was around the four hour mark during normal use. Considering the high-end components using up more energy, this was acceptable, although it is more of a powerful mobile workstation that requires external power rather than someting you would do a spot of light web surfing up the Limpopo river.
Overall, we really loved the laptop. It is a rugged computer built to do real men’s work in a real men’s job. It wouldn’t be the right laptop to be seen sipping a skinny moccachino and listening to Antony and the Johnsons.
The price may scare off a few, coming in at around £2,600. But if you have the cash and you want to make a statement, that statement would be that it doesn’t fancy your girly Macbook Air much and would rather be spending the evening down the pub drinking real ale before challenging someone to an arm wrestling match.