Review: Dell Latitude D820

Portability is becoming big business when it comes to laptops these days and manufacturers are starting to cram as much hardware inside these little machines as they can. Intel has really come to the plate with the introduction of the Core 2 line of processors that provide desktop power with very little heat and increased battery life over earlier laptops. My work was nice enough to purchase for me a Dell Latitude D820 to work on, and after a few weeks of using it I'm pleasently suprised by how well it replaces a desktop.

Specs

  • Processor - Intel Core 2 Duo T5500 @ 1.66ghz

  • Video Card - Intel 945GM Express

  • OS - Windows XP SP2

  • Display - WXGA 1280x800

  • Hard Drive - 120gb

  • Memory - 2gb (1gb x 1gb)

  • Ports - 1394, 4 USB 2.0, monitor, headphone, microphone, serial, modem, NIC

  • Slots - 1 PCMCIA, 1 Smart Card reader

  • Optical Drive - 8x DVD+-R

Design and Build

The D820 is built for businesses and it shows. The dark black and gray exterior is nothing to write home about but it isn't the ugliest laptop either. The case itself is rugged and holds up to daily wear and tear very well. The screen hinges stay in place without any wobble, and with a wide opening arc it can be easily positioned.

The laptop include a full-sized keyboard like most other business-class laptops with a bit more natural feeling response from the keys. The handrests are large and give enough room to type for extended periods. Included are both a touchpad and a nub pointer. The pointer seems a bit overly sensative even after playing with the mouse settings, but the touchpad actually seems to be of decent quality. The touchpad isn't as sensative as the ones in the Inspiron series which seem to move the cursor without you even touching the pad, and the mouse buttons are solid without the springy feeling that the lower-end Dells have.

Ports

I only wish that Dell had moved more than just two USB ports to the left side of the laptop instead of putting them only on the right and the back up the laptop, but there are enough ports to go around. The two ports on the right-hand side of the laptop are spaced far enough apart to allow for a jump drive to be inserted while still letting the user plug in a mouse or other normal USB device.

I was pleasantly suprised at the addition of a serial port on the back. Granted, not too many users have a need to plug anything serial into a modern notebook, but there are the times with hardware such as switches need that personal touch that only a null-modem cable will provide.

Screen

The D820 comes in a few different screen types allowing up to 1920x1280 screen resolution, but my model has the lowest at 1280x800. The screen is big enough for normal work but the vertical deficiency of the screen really becomes apparent with some applications that like a taller screen. For programming, like what I do, it is fine as I want a wider screen than a taller screen.

The Intel 945GM Express chipset that is running the screen is, again, nothing to write home about. It runs most 3D software without much slowdown, but this is by no means a gamers laptop. A lot of the slack is picked up by the Core 2 Duo processor and the 2gb of RAM that are installed. World of Warcraft, Civilization 4, and other games of that nature should work just fine, but don't expect the computer to play Halo 3 when it comes out.

As a note though, you can get an nVidia card instead of the Intel 945GM if you want better gaming performance.

Speakers

Meh. Laptops (other than Compaqs/HPs) are not built for cranking out music. The speakers do fine for normal music listening and have a decent amount of bass but are no substitute for higher quality speakers. My Compaq C504US has slightly better speakers.

That said, they do have a good amount of volume but distort quickly. MP3s especially break down quickly on these speakers, and even 192kbps tracks show their compression.

Processor and Performance

The Core 2 Duo processors are some of the best processors that you can buy. While this laptop is not Centrino branded (it has the Broadcom wireless NIC instead of the Intel) I have rarely had a time when the system bogs down because the CPU is being eaten alive. I use VMWare extensively for work and have had upwards of five virtual machines running at the same time with nary a problem. I find it hard that anyone using this in normal day-to-day business use will ever max out the processors.

To stress test, I ran AutoGTK. AutoGTK only maxed out at 60% on both cores but the laptop was still more than usable. With the trend that processor manufacturers are squeezing more cores onto the die instead of attempting to win the megahurtz race, laptops will no longer be slow compared to desktops.

Windows XP runs like a champ. Windows Vista runs fine as well even with Aero turned on and all the visual effects cranked up. I'm sticking with XP as Vista still has some nagging issues that I can't stand, but that's another article. One will not be disappointed if they order Vista on it.

Battery Life

Three to four hours are what is claimed for the laptop, and that is what you will get. Dell, Intel, and Windows XP all work together to wrench every drop of power from the battery. The laptop has a built-in ambient light sensor to adjust the screen brightness, the internal NIC turns off to save battery, the wireless card seems to be low power, and Windows regular power-saving features all contribute to a laptop that won't leave you looking for the powercord every hour.

For example, I have listened to music, surfed the web, and worked in VMWare and gotten around three hours of battery life with a single charge. My Compaq laptop is lucky if you can get half of that time.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a desktop replacement for work, this is a great machine. If you want a nice portable desktop but aren't a gamer, this laptop will work for you as well. If you want a giant gaming powerhouse, look over at the XPS systems and spend the extra money on those. Overall this is a decent buy.


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Categories: Hardware, Non-Programming, Reviews

Tags: Dell, Laptops