Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dell Latitude D430 Review (with 32GB SSD)

I love computers and gadgets, especially shiny new ones or ones that i don't have to pay for.

My work is currently evaluating a few newer Dell laptops to see which one we will be upgrading to early next year. One of the models that we had purchased for testing got pushed off of our list due to several quirks/downfalls and in turn ended up in my little geeky, gruby hands.

Today I will give a quick mini-review of a Dell Latitude D430. This review will be using Vista 64-Bit as the OS and part of the review.





Introduction:

First things first, here are the specs of the D430 I am 'playing' with:

Processor: Intel Centrino Duo (1.Ghz, 2MB L2 Cache)
Chipset: Intel 945GMS
Harddrive: Sandisk 32GB SSD
Memory: 2GB DDR2
OS: Vista 64-Bit Business Ed
Additional Hardware: Biometric/TPM security/Smartcard, DVD+-RW, Wifi Catcher and 802.11N integrated, PC Card, SD Card reader, Docking Station, normal and extended batteries.

(full specs listing here: http://www.dell.com/downloads/global/products/latit/en/spec_latit_d430_en.pdf )

The Dell Latitude D430 is another one of Dell's "On the go" models. This D430 is the supposed upgrade to the D420; however it really isn't much of any upgrade except for the SSD (Solid State Drive) option (in my opinion)

Boxing:

Typical Dell boxing, nicely packaged, and it comes w/all Manuals and CDs for applicable software/hardware on laptop. Our D430 had XP Prof already installed (along w/the usual dell extra software) but I wanted to see how it performed in Vista.

Vista Installation/Setup:

After charging up the D430; I thought it would be a good idea to get Vista running on this laptop. I have not tried Vista on any SSD based laptops yet and was curious to see if SSD vs P-ATA/S-ATA drives would make a difference or not.

Installation of Vista went very well and prob is one of the fastest Vista installs I have done thus far. The SSD drive definitely shows its advantages and speed when doing the install. The full install of Vista 32-Bit took a mere 18 minutes!!

I have installed both Vista 64-Bit and 32-Bit; however i would recommend using the 32-Bit since you will be able to use the Biometric software and the other Dell utilities (quickset, etc). I did not try to install the 32-bit software on the 64-Bit Vista install I had but i assumed it would not work since Dell did not list any of their softare under Vista 64-Bit drivers on the support site.

Driver installation went very well, Vista natively detected all of the hardware except for the wireless card and the biometric reader/tpm security hardware. I decided to use all of Dell's drivers to get the most out of the hardware.

Design/Aesthetics:

The D430 is pretty attractive laptop. Its on the smaller side of laptops and is not really intended to be a desktop replacement. I would compare the D430 to the older X300 models; laptops made to be taken on the go and not desktop replacements.

One of the main downfalls of a smaller laptop like the D430 is that it does not have a builtin CD/DVD Drive; rather the drive is located in the docking station or you can plug in an external drive. The Dell Media Bay should work fine w/the laptop's Powered USB ports.

My biggest complaint about this laptop is that the display is just ugly. The colors appear washed out and not as crisp. By default, the D430 has the Ambient Light sensor enabled which will add to the 'washed out' look of the display. However, the washed out look is not as noticable after you use the laptop for a few days (you get used to it and it actually helps when your working in the dark; not as blinding bright! but still reminds me of my 1997 Toshiba laptop's display). But the colors/gamma still are below what most laptops have (especially the Dell XPS laptops w/the glass displays).

The biometric reader is a very nice security option and the built-in TPM hardware is a nice too (especially for us Corp users). You are given options to setup a harddrive password, bios password, and can also register preboot security w/the biometric reader or with a smartcard. Using the Wave Embassy Security software though can be an adventure at first.

Battery Life/Real World Using:

Battery life w/the extended battery is good. You will get about 4 hours on one charge. The standard battery will prob get you about 2-2.5 hours (again, this always depends on what your working on and if you have proper power schemes setup to maximize battery or performance or a balance).

It is a pretty small laptop and in turn does make it easy to take with anywhere. The biometric reader is nice to use to login with however I have had a few problems with it recognizing my fingerprints when i swipe (but this may be a 'new user to biometric' quirk though).

One final note about the docking station; i had a heck of a time getting the laptop in and out of the dock at times. Perhaps this will get better as I undock and redock the laptop a few more times.

Conclusion/Thoughts/Rating:

All in all, the D430 is a good laptop. Its not the best or the worst or anything really special. It works well as a portable, light laptop but is not the lightest or smallest ultra-portable on the market.

The biggest complaints of mine are the somewhat lack-luster display and the fact that it does not have a built in optical drive.

My favorite thing about the D430 is the SSD options and also the wide variety of security options from biometric to smartcard. The 802.11n wifi adapter and the built-in wifi catcher app is a very nice bonus and useful for those road-warriors in need of finding a quick access point.

seamonkey says... 7/10

quick wrapup:
-good laptop but not great
-SSD options
-802.11n wifi options; also can add built-in mobile broadband adapters (ie Verizon/Sprint EVDO, ATT/Tmobile GPRS/EDGE/HSPDA)
-biometric and smartcard security options
-'dull' looking display
-no built-in optical drive; need a docking station or external
-small but feels sturdy

A few photos of the Dell Latitude D430 :