In August, Dell refreshed its line of business-focused Latitude notebooks with Intel's latest Centrino 2 technology. Among them was the 15.4in. Latitude E6500, which pitched as a desktop replacement model for business users requiring high performance. As ever with Dell, the E6500 notebooks are highly configurable. There are three base models, which can be tweaked to match your needs. Although the entry-level specification comes in at an attractive £599 (ex. VAT), our high-performance review sample cost a much more realistic £1,093 (ex. VAT).Design
With measurements of 35.8cm by 25.7cm by 3.3cm and a weight of 2.3kg, the E6500 isn't a notebook you'll want to carry regularly. However, if you do take it on your travels, there's a very solid clasp holding the lid and base sections together, so it should stay firmly and safely closed in transit.
The 15.4in. screen is a configurable component. Our review unit had a 1,440-by 900-pixel LED-backlit display that delivered a good-quality image. The base configuration has a 1,280-by-800-pixel display that costs £87 less; the top-end 1,920-by-1200-pixel screen adds another £63 to our review unit's price.
A sensor adjusts the screen brightness according to ambient lighting conditions. This is a useful battery-saving feature, although we did notice the display brightness changing as we worked. If you find this annoying, it's easy to disable.
The keyboard has a backlight that illuminates the white key markings, which is the best solution we've seen to the problem of working in darker conditions. It's a pity the backlight bleeds into the gaps between the keys, though: this doesn't affect usability, but it does impair the aesthetics a little.
You can manually turn the keyboard backlight on and off, or have it activate automatically in dimly-lit conditions. You can set a time-out if there's no keyboard activity for intervals between five seconds and five minutes, and can set it to re-illuminate on keyboard activity or on any system activity. You can also force a brightness setting. All these measures help to conserve battery power.
The keyboard itself feels good: there is some flex under the keys, but you won't notice it unless you're particularly heavy-handed. There is plenty of return and touch-typing at speed is no problem.
Rows of full-height number keys and half-height function keys sit above the QWERTY layout. Above these are three small buttons for volume control — up, down and mute. The speakers, which flank the keyboard, deliver reasonable sound quality — certainly good enough for presentations to small groups.
Beneath the screen is a two-button touchpad with vertical and horizontal scrollers in the right and bottom edges. There's a second pair of mouse buttons above the touchpad, for use with the pointing stick that sits between the G, H and B keys. Between these buttons is a third one that, when held down, turns the stick into a left, right, up and down scroller. This could be particularly handy for web browsing and working with large spreadsheets.
A standard fingerprint reader is included in the base price, but higher-spec options are available at £16 and £87 (ex. VAT) extra respectively.
The processor in the base configuration is Intel's 2.26MHz Core 2 Duo P8400. Several options are available, the most expensive being the 2.8MHz Core 2 Duo T9600. That will add £261 to the base price. Our review sample had a 2.53GHz P9500, which adds £135 to the entry-level price.
Just 1GB of RAM is specified in the base price. Our review sample had 4GB, which costs £83 if you opt for 2 x 2GB modules, or a massive £541 if you chose a single 4GB module.
Windows Vista Home Basic is the entry-level operating system. Vista Business, as installed on our review sample, costs an additional £27. You can downgrade to Windows XP if you want, too.
Two graphics options are available. The base configuration uses Intel's integrated GMA X4500HD solution. For an additional £79 you can have the configuration in our review sample — nVidia's dedicated Quadro NVS 160M GPU with 256MB of dedicated memory.
Wi-Fi is included in the base configuration, but only 802.11b/g flavour. Adding 802.11a and Draft-N support will up the price: Dell's WLAN 1510 module is £9 extra, while Intel's WiFi Link 5300 costs another £35. Bluetooth (2.0+EDR) is a £16 option. Gigabit Ethernet is included, but a V.92 modem is an optional extra.
The entry-level hard drive is a 80GB, 5,400rpm SATA model. There are numerous other options, the most expensive conventional drive being a 250GB, 7200rpm SATA drive at £113, as in our review sample. If you feel like shelling out another £496, you can have a 64GB solid-state drive.
For £12 you can add the 0.3-megapixel webcam seen in our review model. This is a fixed-position camera that sits in teh usual location above the screen. Dell includes its own webcam software, which includes face tracking.
Unlike most of the other features, the array of ports and connectors is fixed. The left-hand side has a flash card reader at the front for SD and compatible media. Behind this sits an ExpressCard/34 slot and behind this again a VGA connector. A USB 2.0 port and an eSATA port are stacked vertically at the back.
On the right side, above the optical drive, is a PC Card slot. Behind these is a Wi-Fi on/off switch and a button that activates Dell's wireless connection management software. Behind these is a FireWire (IEEE 1394) port, microphone and headphone jacks and two more USB ports. The Ethernet (RJ-45) connector is on the back edge.
Performance & battery life
Microsoft's Windows Experience Index (WEI) for our review sample was 4.4 (out of 5.9). The WEI corresponds to the lowest component score, which was for Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero). All the remaining subsystems scored over five. A maximum 5.9 went to RAM (Memory operations per second)., which matches the recently reviewed Samsung Q210. Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance) scored 5.1, while Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate) and Processor (calculations per second) both scored 5.4. This all adds up to excellent all-round performance.
Dell says you can get 19 hours of battery life with the optional 9-cell battery plus a battery slice, which are £xx and £xx options respectively. Our review sample came with the standard 6-cell battery. When we set the E6500 set to the 'Dell recommended' power plan and left it to run a movie, it lasted for 2.5 hours.
The Latitude E6500 is an attractive 15.4in. notebook, not least because you can configure it to closely match your needs. The backlit keyboard is well executed, and we also like the auto-adjusting screen brightness. Although the £599 (ex. VAT) entry-level price is attractive, the base specification omits a number of what many business users will consider to be essential options. Our £1,093 (ex. VAT) review sample performed extremely well though.