The Latitude E5400 series of 14.1″ business notebooks is Dell’s replacement for their venerable D series. It’s a business-class laptop which fits in the middle of Dell’s lineup: Vostro is on the lower end while the Latitude E6400 is the top-end 14” model. The new E series sports a completely new all-business look for Dell and are now based on Intel’s Montevina platform. If you want to impress your friends with a fancy design, this isn’t your machine, but for those who just want to get work done, the E5400 should do the trick.
My particular Dell Latitude E5400 came equipped with the following hardware:
- Display: 14.1” WXGA (1280×800) CCFL LCD
- Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo T7250 2.0GHz, 800MHz FSB, 2MB cache
- Memory: 2GB of 800MHz DDR2
- Hard Drive: 80GB 5400 RPM Hitachi HDD
- Graphics: Intel GMA 4500 MHD
- Wireless: Dell 1397 802.11n mini-card
- Wired: Broadcom NetXtreme 57xx gigabit
- CD-RW/DVD-ROM Drive
- PC-Card slot
- Windows Vista Business w/XP Downgrade option
- 56Wh 6 Cell battery
- 90W slim AC adapter
- Weight: 5.58lbs/2.54kg
- Dimensions 13.3” x 9.5” x 1.5” (338.0 x 240.0 x 37.0mm)
Initial Impressions and Design
The latitude E5400 has a relatively bland all-busfiness design which the Lenovo faithful will surely love. The most striking things that were immediately apparent the first time I held the unit are that it is very solid with minimal chassis flex but is actually quite heavy, weighing in at 5.58 pounds with the 6-cell battery installed. For those willing to pay more for a lighter model, the Dell markets the more expensive E6400 which has a full magnesium-alloy chassis and weighs 5.14 pounds with the same configuration. Before you open up the screen for the first time, you’ll also notice that Dell decided not to place any ports at the back of the unit which is reserved for the air outlet and battery. The E series can be configured with either a flush-mounted 6 cell or an extended 9 cell battery which will stick out the back.
The battery and cooling exhaust at the back
To the left, you’ll find a VGA output, gigabit Ethernet port, modem jack (optional), 2 USB ports, S-Video out, FireWire and a PC card slot.
To your right, you’ll find the power input, 2 more USB ports, microphone in, headphones out, and the DVD drive.
When you first open the machine, you’ll notice that the screen latch doesn’t feel particularly smooth, though I was glad to see a metal latch on the screen. Hinge motion is very smooth and precise and feels just right. The no-frills look continues on the inside. The only multimedia buttons you’ll find here are volume up/down and mute, with the rest of the space dedicated to the power button, keyboard, trackpad and speakers which are on the top of these machines. The full-size keyboard uses the same layout as prior Latitudes, though lacks the old trackpoint in the center meaning that you’ll be forced to use the trackpad or an external mouse.
One feature you might not immediately notice is that Dell has now included a light sensor on the lower left part of the screen. The light sensor is used in order to dynamically change screen brightness as ambient lighting conditions change. In practice, I found it to be excellent to have when on the go since I could always have a readable screen at the lowest possible brightness, allowing for greater battery life. There were a few occasional problems with it in a fixed-brightness office environment due to the brightness changing itself up and down continuously. You can enable and disable it quickly by pressing Fn+Left Arrow.
One final notable feature of the new overall design is the new 90W slim AC adapter which weighs just a smidge over 400 grams (0.88 pounds). When you are packing it in a bag, it definitely makes much more sense to have a slimmer adapter and I have to congratulate Dell on its look and feel.
First Power Up
Powering up the laptop for the first time, you are greeted with an all-blue lighting scheme just like the accent lighting on the tip of the power adapter. The lighting is subtle and gets the job done. There are LEDs on the outside of the screen near the hinge to indicate battery and power status. Windows Vista Business came pre-loaded on this particular notebook. Once the initial configuration tasks were completed, I was pleased to find that nothing was pre-loaded onto the machine. The fact that no software is included by default is great for businesses and users alike since you won’t have to fight with third-party utilities causing problems or slowing down your system.
Unfortunately, Dell did not install any hardware drivers on the computer that Windows does not include by default. Visiting Dell’s website and entering the service tag allowed all the relevant and up to date drivers to be located and installed. At the same time, you’ll probably want to install at least one piece of new and unique software: Dell ControlPoint (DCP). The most interesting feature of this little piece of software is what Dell, in all its originality, calls “Dell Extended Battery Life”. Basically, it will manage a host of power settings for you above and beyond what Windows does whenever the system is on battery power. For example, it can turn off Vista Aero and set display depth to 16 bit, shut of the wired adapter when not in use, completely power off the DVD drive, drop LCD refresh rate and shut down the cardbus and 1394 port among other things. In practice, I actually find DCP to do a pretty good job of increasing battery life by up to about 15% which is great for software which is merely shutting down unused devices.
I’ve seen a few people complain that Dell placed the rubber grommets to keep the screen from rubbing against the keyboard on the palm side of the laptop instead of on the screen. While I’m not sure why they did this, I can assure you that unless you have a tendency of being really crooked when you type, you’ll never notice. Some may also be concerned about the port placement, which actually turned out better than expected. Having everything on the sides doesn’t cause any major problems and I don’t see how it would except for in some extreme cases.
The left and right click buttons feel phenomenal and are simply a joy to use. If you install the Synaptics touchpad driver from the Dell website, you’ll also be able to middle-click by pressing both at the same time. In addition to that, you can scroll vertically and horizontally with the touchpad, so you get all the features of a standard 3 button mouse. The keyboard feels okay, but is bested by quite a few other machines out there. In fact, I have an 8 year old Latitude C610 machine and the keyboard is significantly more solid than this newer model. Simply put, Lenovo still does it better and overall, the keyboard is simply average. I really don’t have any major complaints about this notebook; it feels solid and well spaced out and does what’s needed.
Battery life is good, but nothing to write home about. Bearing in mind that the installed 65nm Intel T7250 has a 35W TDP (versus 25W for a P8400 CPU), battery life under “normal” usage conditions proved to allow for about 4h30m to 5 hours of work to get done with Dell ControlPoint on the six cell battery at moderate brightness. If you let the system idle at minimum brightness then you’ll see a very maximum of 6 hours of life. Again, these figures will improve if you opt for a lower power processor like the P8400, which is a slightly faster 45nm part. If you need extended life, Dell also allows you to install a 12 cell “battery slice” along the bottom in addition to the primary 6 or 9 cell battery, though I doubt many will opt for that option.
While on the subject of the battery, it should be noted that the 6 cell I received does not have the power status lights that Dell has been including on many of their units for years now. If you manage hundreds of laptops and batteries, this is pretty bad news. For most users though, the change is minor. Dell rates the battery for 300 full charge/discharge cycles, which seems on the low side since lithium cells are usually rated for up to about 1000 cycles. One reason for this may Dell ExpressCharge which can be set in the BIOS. It allows you to quickly charge the battery to 80% charge in about an hour if the notebook is off – charge times are limited by how much power can be provided by a 90W AC adapter. Dell states that in operation, the battery will reach a full charge with the computer on in 2 hours with ExpressCharge or 4 hours in standard charge mode. Under most circumstances, I recommend charging batteries more slowly in order to increase the number of effective cycles you can get out of them.
In the Audio Department, the Latitude E5400 was on-par with other business laptops, if not slightly better. The speakers were certainly loud enough to do a presentation, though lack in the bass and mid-range department as expected. I did find the headphone jack to be above average in the volume and quality department. Dell actually did a pretty good job with the amplified audio output. In fact, I found that it sounds better than most other headphone jacks you’ll find on most consumer electronics today such as mp3 players.
The E5400’s fan runs almost constantly, albeit slowly and quietly which may annoy some. It seems to run based on both CPU and HDD temperatures. With the fan spinning almost all the time the entire computer does stay extremely cool despite the 65nm processor installed. One thing to note is that the left side of the computer stays much warmer than the right side since most of the main components are there. Additionally, the hard drive sits under the left palm rest and does become warm during use. The hard drive normally sits between 32 and 42 degrees Celsius depending on where you have your laptop. If you sit it on a surface which completely restricts airflow it’ll run up to the high range. On a desk, you won’t have such a problem and it will stay very cool. Either way, the temperatures are nothing to worry about, but I do think Dell could have done a better job of distributing the heat over the entire unit. Finally, it should be noted that the battery, being in the back, almost always stays near room temperature which is phenomenal if you want to maximize its lifespan.
I’m not going to go into an in-depth analysis of the system’s performance since my configuration is admittedly a little out of date with an older Intel processor. In addition to that, performance is absolutely on par with what you’d expect of a system based on the Montevina platform. For me, it’s been more than enough to run Adobe Dreamweaver and Photoshop, Microsoft Office and browse the web – all at once. Of course, I’m not working with massive graphics or doing video editing, etc. Just know that Dell has gotten it right in their implementation of the system hardware and it will perform on par with what you expect. For most users, I would recommend 2GB of RAM and the Intel P8400 which will offer a little more battery life and performance for relatively little added cost. While some competing notebooks offer DDR3 memory, the Latitude comes equipped with older DDR2 memory which slightly hurts its battery life scores and will have a (negligible) effect on performance. At the time of writing, I actually prefer a system running on DDR2 memory though as upgrading it is dirt-cheap. This laptop is capable of accepting up to 2 x 4GB modules allowing for a massive 8GB of installed memory. This said, 4GB modules are both very hard to come by and extremely expensive.
Extended Testing and Build Quality
After well over a month of use, the computer has not crashed once and has offered a completely seamless and error-free user experience which you’d expect from a business-class machine. The admittedly bland finish has held up extremely well so far and still looks brand new despite daily use – in fact, the shots taken for this review were taken after over a month of use.
In terms of possible issues I see going forward, the tip of the power adapter is a little worrisome. The accent lighting that they have on it looks good, but unfortunately one end has begun to sever a little despite not having been mistreated. I can see IT departments having to replace these after maybe just a year of use or less. Hopefully Dell manages to sort out this issue as quickly as possible.
Another small problem that cropped up after extended use and testing is that the touchpad becomes a little unresponsive every once in awhile. I can’t really explain why it wouldn’t track properly, but this only happens about once a day with heavy use, so it’s not really an issue. Still, it’s worth a mention.
Overall my experience has been very positive despite the small problems that do exist. They really haven’t hurt productivity at all, and the bottom line is that this machine just gets the job done.
Overall, the Dell Latitude E5400 has been a really great machine to work on. I can certainly recommend it to anybody looking for a work machine which won’t break the bank, gets good battery life, performs well and is solidly built. It doesn’t offer the lighter weight of its big brother, the Latitude E6400, nor does it have quite as nice a finish on the cover or offer features like a backlit keyboard. It also can’t compete with other models like the Lenovo T400 in battery life, but one place where it does win is price. I purchased my particular model brand new off Ebay for 350 USD (but that’s a whole other article!), and as configured at time of writing costs 649 USD direct from Dell. I always recommend that people purchase business-class devices whenever they can to make sure something works and the Latitude series is no exception. Its true power lies in the fact that it doesn’t try to do too much, but largely excels at what it does do. If you want a workhorse at a reasonable price, the Latitude E5400 truly is a great option.
- Solid construction
- Very good battery life
- Good performer for the price
- No apps or software preinstalled
Not so cool:
- Power adapter tip is cheap
- Relatively heavy
- Lots of keyboard flex
- Lenovo T400
- Dell Latitude E6400