Dell's Latitude range of business-grade notebooks recently got their Ivy Bridge (third-generation Intel Core) , and a new model that caught our eye was the E6430s, which the company describes as "a 14in. screen in a 13in. chassis". It's no featherweight, but the E6430s does offer a decent specification and strikes a pretty good balance between portability and productivity.
First impressions of the E6430s are of solid build quality and smart but understated design — businesslike, in a word. Although it's not marketed as a 'rugged' notebook (there's a separate ATG model that is), the system's Tri-Metal chassis is a military-grade (MIL-STD 810G) affair that incorporates a tough anodised aluminium display back, magnesium alloy edging to the screen and system sections, and solid steel screen hinges.
For the record, the Latitude E6430s measures 33.5cm wide by 22.3cm deep by 2.68cm thick at the front to 3.01cm thick at the back. The minimum weight (with a 3-cell battery, an SSD and an empty modular bay) is 1.7kg. Our review unit, with a 6-cell battery, a hard drive and an optical drive, tipped the scales at 2.14kg. It's not unfeasible to lug this system around on a daily basis, and it'll certainly take the knocks, but it's no ultrabook.
The 14in. LED-backlit screen has a resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels and a matte anti-glare finish, so you shouldn't be troubled by reflections in brightly lit offices. Viewing angles are better in the horizontal plane than the vertical, but the solidly-hinged screen tips back to 180 degrees and stays where it's put, so you should be able to arrange it to best advantage no matter what posture you adopt.
The middle of the top screen bezel carries an HD webcam and a dual array microphone. The camera comes with Dell Webcam Central software, which is thankfully free of 'humourous' bells and whistles.
The keyboard sits in a recess that's differentiated from its darker surroundings by a light-grey trim. It's a spill-resistant 84-key layout with no discernible flex and good tactile feedback. One of the Fn key combinations, which are picked out in orange, controls the level of the (optional) keyboard backlight (0/25/50/75/100 percent).
There are dual navigation options — a straightforward two-button multitouch touchpad and a keyboard-embedded pointing stick in the usual GBH location. This has its own set of buttons, including a central scroll button, sitting within the grey keyboard trim. Pointing sticks tend to divide laptop users — some swearing by them, others swearing at them. This example works well enough, although some may not like its flat-topped, almost concave, shape.
Dotted around the keyboard are a trio of status lights to the left, volume up/down/mute buttons to the right, a fingerprint reader in the bottom right corner and a contactless smartcard reader to the right of the touchpad (identified by a small icon). The silver (LED-illuminated when on) power button sits above the keyboard, on the right-hand side.
There are only two preconfigured Latitude E6430s models on Dell's UK website — but, as ever, you can customise your choice quite extensively. Our £1,209 (ex. VAT) review unit is the entry-level configuration, based on a 2.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i5-3320M processor. An additional £92 gets you a 2.8GHz Core i5-3360M, while the top-end 2.9GHz Core i7-3520M will set you back another £227.
Our review unit came with 4GB of DDR3 RAM, which you can upgrade to 6GB for £55 or 8GB for £87. The standard 4GB is perfectly respectable, but a RAM upgrade is almost always the most cost-effective way to give your system a performance boost. The operating system is Windows 7 Professsional 64-bit.
Since it's designed as a portable business workhorse, it's no surprise to find that the E6430s has integrated graphics — in the shape of Intel's HD Graphics 4000 — rather than a discrete GPU. If you're planning to do any serious after-work gaming you might want to look elsewhere, as Intel's HD Graphics is the only GPU on offer.
Storage in our review unit was a 500GB Seagate Momentus hard drive spinning at 7,200rpm. A hybrid 500GB drive with 8GB of flash storage costs £18 extra and looks well worth considering, while security-conscious buyers may want to look at the 320GB FIPS- and Opal-compliant encrypted hard drive, which is a £23 option. SSD options start at £77 for 128GB, rising to £260 for a self-encrypting £256GB Opal-compliant drive. Traditional hard disks, which top out at 750GB capacity, benefit from improved protection in the latest Latitude range, with a shock absorber, an accelerometer that initiates head parking and rubber isolation for the drive.
Our review unit had an optical drive in the media bay on the right-hand side. If this is surplus to requirements, you can replace it with alternatives including an additional 3-cell battery, a second hard drive and a module with extra USB 3.0 ports.
For wireless connectivity there's dual-band Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) and Bluetooth 4.0, plus wired Gigabit Ethernet.
There's a reasonable selection of ports and slots dotted around the system. On the left, from the back, there's a VGA port, a microphone/headphone combo jack and a smartcard reader. The right-hand side, again from the back, has a USB/eSATA combo port, a USB 3.0 port, the optical drive and a 34mm ExpressCard slot. Above the optical drive is a hardware switch for the wireless radios. In a neat touch, the ExpressCard spacer doubles as a small ruler, and also lists various unit conversions.
The back of the system is largely taken up by the 6-cell 65Wh Li-ion battery, which protrudes by about 2cm (providing a rather convenient grip if you ever need to hold the notebook in the crook of an arm). However, there's room on one side for RJ-45 (Ethernet) and HDMI ports, and on the other for a second USB 3.0 port.
The front of the notebook has an SD card slot in the middle, flanked by a couple of fan vents. Finally, there's a docking connector on the underside, which gives access to a range of Latitude port replicators and docking stations.
Like the rest of the 2012 Latitude range, the E6430s is fully equipped with business-class security and management features. We've mentioned the smartcard support, fingerprint reader and encrypted hard drive options; there's also TPM (hardware access control) and vPro (out-of-band remote management) support, plus Dell Data Protection and Intel Management and Security software.
Performance & battery life
The Windows Experience Index (WEI) for the Latitude E6430s is a moderate 5.1 (out of 7.9), the WEI corresponding to the lowest component score. As usual, this is for the integrated graphics — specifically Graphics (Desktop performance for Windows Aero). Memory (RAM) (Memory operations per second) and Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate) both scored 5.9, Gaming graphics (3D business and gaming graphics) registered 6.4 and Processor (Calculations per second) led the field with 7.2:
Our review unit is clearly no speed demon, but a couple of well-chosen upgrades would boost performance significantly. There's nothing you can do about the graphics, but upping the RAM to 6GB or 8GB, and maybe adding the hybrid HD/SSD, would make a difference. If you particularly need fast storage, or the lowest possible power consumption, bite the bullet and specify an SSD.
We looked at processor and graphics performance more closely with the Cinebench 11.5 benchmark, comparing the Latitude E6430s to the fastest notebook we've seen recently, the 11.6in. :
Clearly, Dell's business workhorse is no match for the souped-up Monster, with its Core i7-3920XM Extreme Edition CPU and discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 650M GPU.
To estimate battery life we measured the E6430's power consumption when idling and when loaded (running Passmark Software's Performance Test 7), under the system's Ultra Performance and Power Saver power management schemes. Dividing the wattage (recorded using a Voltcraft VC940 Plus multimeter) into the 6-cell battery's 65Wh capacity gives an expected battery life figure in hours:
On this basis, you can expect the Latitude E6430s to last for between about 7.5 hours and 2.5 hours, depending on the workloads you're hitting it with. If you need more battery life, you can replace the optical drive with a 30Wh battery, or go the whole hog and add a 97Wh extended battery slice. Both options will, of course, add extra cost and travel weight.
The Latitude E6430s is a solidly built and highly configurable 14in. business notebook with excellent security and remote management features. However, some may find it just too big and heavy to take on their travels.