- Great keyboard and screen
- versatile design
- built-in wireless networking.
- Moderate performance and battery life.
Dell's Latitude D400 series is one of the best-looking and most affordable Pentium M ultraportables on the market. We have tested an entry-level 1.3GHz version with 128MB of RAM, which predictably isn't a great performer; also, its 2 hour 41 minute battery life trails the scores posted by most competing Pentium M/Centrino notebooks. Nevertheless, the D400 offers an impressive array of wireless options, ranging from standard 802.11b (which can make this a true Centrino system), to various combinations of 802.11a, b and g. Businesses will also like the built-in smart-card reader, and everyone should appreciate the low starting price.
With the Latitude D400, Dell manages to keep the snazzy industrial design it rolled out with its Latitude D600, while shaving off some weight; the Latitude D400 weighs in at an easy-to-tote 1.79kg. Of course, lighter notebooks always involve some trade-offs. This ultraportable, like others in its class, has no built-in secondary storage drive, meaning that you may have to carry around an external optical drive (we tested the system with an external DVD/CD-R/W combo drive). Once you add the external drive and a power supply, you're looking at a travel weight of 2.77kg. The D400's dimensions, however, are standard for a business-class ultraportable: 29.4cm wide, 24.5cm deep and 2.66cm thick. To add external drives, the Latitude D400 uses Dell's D/Bay, which is a powered USB 2.0 module. This makes connecting an optical drive simple because it eliminates the need for an additional power supply, but it does mean that you'll use up one of your two USB 2.0 ports in the process. As you'd expect, the new system is also compatible with existing D-series docking stations, including the useful D/View notebook stand, which, when used in conjunction with a port replicator, allows you to keep your notebook display at eye level when you're using it in the office. Like other Latitude models, the Latitude D400 includes both a pointing stick located in the centre of the firm and comfortable keyboard, and a touchpad in the wrist rest. Including both a touchpad and a pointing stick gives users a nice range of input options.
Dell has managed to pack an impressive assortment of features into the Latitude D400, which is available with 1.3GHz, 1.4GHz or 1.7GHz Pentium M processors. Because of its compact size, the Latitude D400 is available only with a 12.1in. display. We found the screen, especially at its native 1,024 by 768 resolution, to be bright and crisp -- especially for an ultraportable notebook. You can also configure the system's integrated graphics module with up to 64MB of video memory, although this is shared with the system memory -- which only amounted to 128MB in our review sample. Dell's standard configuration for the Latitude D400 is a Centrino setup -- meaning it includes an Intel Pentium M processor, the 855GM chipset with integrated graphics, and Intel's own PRO/Wireless 2100 card. You can upgrade to one of Dell's TrueMobile cards, which come in two flavours: TrueMobile 1300 (802.11b/g) or TrueMobile 1400 (802.11a/b/g). Our review sample came with the TrueMobile 1300 card fitted. The Latitude D400 also includes an integrated 10/100/1000 Ethernet port, as well as a 56Kbps V.92 modem. The Latitude D400 can handle anywhere from 128MB to a whopping 2GB of 266MHz SDRAM, and hard disks of 20GB, 30GB and 60GB, running at 4,200rpm. It's rare that an ultraportable can accommodate that much extra memory and such a spacious hard drive. Dell also offers a zippy 5,400rpm 40GB hard drive as an option, which was the unit fitted on our review sample. When you buy from Dell's Web site, you have a choice of external optical drives, including CD-RW/DVD, CD-RW or standard CD-ROM or DVD-ROM. You can also add an external 40GB hard disk via the external D/Bay connector. Although the system includes two USB 2.0 ports, the external D/Bay drive, which you get automatically with the notebook, takes up one of them. You'll also find a single FireWire port and an integrated smart-card reader, which comes in handy if your business uses that security technology. Our review unit came with a 6-cell 3,800mAh, 11.1V Li-ion battery with a power rating of 42Wh. The system we tested shipped with Windows XP Professional, but other options include Windows XP Home and Windows 2000 Professional. You can skip an office suite entirely or opt for either Office XP Small Business Edition or Office XP Professional.
Performance & battery life
Considering the specification of our review sample – 1.3GHz Pentium M, 128MB of RAM, integrated graphics – it's not surprising that performance isn't its strongest suit. It'll run mainstream applications perfectly happily of course, although its Business Winstone 2001 score of 36 is the lowest we've seen so far from a Pentium M system. We couldn't get the high-end application-based Content Creation 2002 benchmark to complete, and it's likely that you'll want to upgrade the 128MB of RAM if you want to run anything more demanding than standard business productivity applications. The D400's integrated 855GM-based graphics subsystem also rules out gaming: the system's 3DMark 2001 score of 1,383 is way off the pace being set by high-performance notebooks. Battery life will be more important than gaming performance to business travellers, but the D400 is not particularly impressive in this respect. BatteryMark 4.01 recorded an uptime of 2 hours and 41 minutes in desktop mode, although this could easily be boosted to over three hours by adjusting the screen brightness and power management settings. You'll need to carry a spare battery if you want a full day's work away from a source of mains power.
Service & support
Dell provides an impressive assortment of support options with the Latitude D400, including lifetime telephone support and a standard three-year next business day on-site warranty. Dell's Web site offers a wealth of software patches, upgrades, drivers and BIOS updates, along with product forums and a decent searchable knowledge base. By entering your Dell Service Tag number on the site, you're given a filtered view of information that pertains specifically to your system. Finally, the printed and online Latitude D400 manuals are thorough and easy to follow.