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Dell Latitude E6530 Review: Business Class Performance
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Date: Aug 21, 2012
Section:Mobile
Author: Ray Willington
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Introduction and Specifications
There was a time, not too terribly long ago, when a machine was immediately glossed over by average consumers as soon as the "business" label was placed on it. If you've worked in the corporate world within the past 10 to 15 years, you know exactly what we mean. Those dreaded "work laptops" were never ones to be proud of, and while they somehow managed to function, they were typically slow, overloaded with bloatware and unbecoming in terms of design.


But things are different these days. Starting with the smartphone, employees began a quiet movement to bring their own devices to work. Eventually, by and large, they won when it comes to phones. Many enterprises are now completely comfortable with an employee using an Android or iOS-powered device as their main handset. And it seems as if they're taking the hint on other devices, too.

Dell's latest Latitude range is proof that enterprise laptops are no longer being overlooked when it comes to power, performance and even design. While there are a variety of Latitude E Series options to choose from, our test unit is the 15.6" E6530. Even within this one model, there are a multitude of configuration options to choose from; let's take a look at how our unit came configured.

Dell 15.6" Latitude E6530 Laptop
Specifications & Features
Processor Options Intel Core i7-3520M (2.9GHz, 4M cache)
Dimensions Height: 1.11" - 1.34" / Width: 15.2" / Depth 10.16"
Starting at Weight Starting at 5.40 pounds with 4-cell battery, SSD and airbay
Display 15.6" HD+ (1600x900) Anti-glare non-touch display
System Memory Up to 16GB dual channel DDR3 1600MHz; 2 DIMM Slots (ours equipped with 6GB)
Graphics Intel HD 4000 graphics
Battery 97WHr battery, 9-cell extended slice battery.
Hard Drive Options 128GB SSD
Wireless Connectivity Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 802.11n 3x3 Half Mini Card
Sound High quality speakers, Stereo headphone/Microphone combo jack, Integrated noise reducing array microphones
Webcam Optional integrated HD video webcam and Dell Webcam Central software
Ports and Connectors USB 3.0 (3); VGA (1); HDMI (1); eSATA / USB combo (1); SD Card Reader (1); Gigabit Ethernet (1); Kensington Lock Port (1); 3.5mm Headphone Jac; 54mm ExpressCard; Docking connector, Optional SmartCard Reader/Contactless SmartCard Reader/Fingerprint Reader or FIPS Fingerprint Reader, Additional USB 3.0 ports option via E-Modular Bay II
Systems Management
Intel® vProTM Technology’s advanced management features (optional, requires Intl WiFi® Link WLAN), TPM 1.24
Operating System Options • Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium 64 bit
• Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium 32 bit
• Genuine Windows® 7 Professional 64 bit (as tested)
• Genuine Windows® 7 Professional 32 bit
• Genuine Windows® 7 Ultimate 64 bit
Pricing:
$1746 as tested


There are a few things here that really impress us for this being a "business-centric" machine. For one, it's really rugged. There's a Tri-Metal casing that's as rigid as we've ever seen, and the keyboard is designed to resist spills -- sometimes all too frequent occurrences when traveling frantically on business. It's also a potent machine. A Core i7 paired up with 6GB of RAM and an SSD looks great on paper. We'll be taking this workhorse through its paces in the pages ahead -- join us.
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Design and Build Quality
The Latitude E6530 is one beautiful machine. We haven't seen a business-grade laptop this stunning in quite some time. The Tri-Metal rigid chassis is a sight to behold, and while the unit is surprisingly heavy at nearly 5.5 pounds, you immediately know why. This thing is built like a tank, able to withstand pretty significant drops and even boasting a keyboard that can resist spills. Oh, and did we mention that the keyboard is backlit?


Upon first glance, you'll probably be taken aback at how large the machine is. It's certainly one of the thicker units we've seen, but still on the slim side for a "business laptop." The color choices are also pleasing to the eye, with a brushed metal, dark grey and silver scheme going on. It's understated with a pinch of "edgy." Along the front edge, you'll notice an SD card reader.  Looking along the left side, you'll notice a USB 3.0 port, an eSATA / USB combo port, and a full-size HDMI port. Along the back, there's a Gigabit Ethernet port, the external bulge of the 9-cell slice battery and another USB socket. There's also a Kensington lock port for added security, which is pretty standard equipment these days.


The right edge is home to a VGA port, which is only acceptable due to the fact that is a business machine which will no doubt run into its fair share of old-school VGA projectors. Beside that, there's a USB 3.0 port and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Along the bottom, there's a docking station port.


Popping the LCD lid open, you're greeted with a 15.6" anti-glare display, which is legitimately matte (hooray!).  This is fantastic for use under heavy indoor lighting, and it remains fairly visible outdoors as well. The hinge design is such that enables the screen to open completely flat. The front base is super clean and dapper. With only two palm rest stickers, it's amongst the classiest interiors to date. Dell found room for a full-size numerical pad to the right of the full-size keyboard, and the whole thing is backlit and resistant to spills. But here's the rub: this number pad forces the keyboard (and the trackpad below it) to be off-center. It took us a few hours to adjust and stop making typos, and even then we weren't entirely comfortable with its position.


The good news is that the keys have an incredibly tactile response, and the keystroke travel is dead-on perfect. There's even a tracking nub (akin to that on a ThinkPad) in the center. The trackpad supports multi-finger scrolling gestures right out of the box, and actually worked quite well. Typically, PC trackpads are fickle and frustrating compared to Mac trackpads, but this one holds up nicely in comparison. The split pair of trackpad buttons are equally pleasing to touch. All around, Dell did an impressive job with the control mechanisms. And fit and finish surpasses that of many consumer targeted machines in a lot of ways.


We were, however, confused a bit about the button layout. The audio controls are physical buttons atop the row of function keys, while the screen brightness, backlight for keyboard (on/off), Sleep shortcut and a few others are assigned as alternative Fn keys at various places on the keyboard. There's no continuity in here; these shortcuts feel a bit scattered.


The display itself is mercifully of the matte variety. The viewing angles are great, but we'll confess that the color sharpness seems a bit lacking. The colors just felt a tad bit muted, but honestly, it probably won't matter much to the crowd that's looking at this machine. It's just not engineered to be a multimedia rig. The tray-loading DVD writer can be swapped out for other bay accessories, but we appreciated the fact that our review unit had one. Physical media may be on the way out, but it's not there yet -- particularly in small business and the enterprise.


We can't leave this section without touching quickly again on the weight. There's no way around it; if you get a 15.6" E6530, you'll feel it. At around six pounds with the optional 9-cell slice battery, you'll probably want a backpack instead of a briefcase. The weight is nicely distributed, but it's still hefty.
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Software and User Experience
Software-wise, Dell ships the E6530 with a surprisingly light suite. Windows 7 Professional is the OS onboard, and beyond that there are minimal extra programs to deal with. Perhaps this is due to its enterprise nature, assuming end users will be populating it with a lot of company-approved apps and removing those that aren't -- but either way, we appreciate the light and clean feel. Dell does include its own Backup and Recovery software suite to keep those essential files from being zapped in the event of a catastrophe.

One other bit of import is the inclusion of vPro extensions; they're optional on this machine, but our test unit included them. They're primarily useful to enterprise customers who seek the ability to manage an installed base of systems.


In other words, you're able to do things like make a single BIOS change in your vPro management console, and have that trickle out to your entire group of systems. You'll also get remote access capabilities and battery management (on the notebook side). Nothing too meaningful for the average user, but small business owners and enterprise IT folks may appreciate the extra reach when thinking about outfitting the entire crew with similar systems.

The only browser onboard is Internet Explorer, in case you're wondering, and there's no Microsoft Office suite at all -- not even a trial. Thanks to the limited amount of extra software loaded from the factory as well as having an SSD onboard, booting the machine up was delightfully quick.


Compared to HDD-based machines, the bootup on this is actually exciting to watch. It's amazing how much faster an SSD can boot compared to HDDs, and while this computer is available with varying hard drive options, we'd obviously recommend springing for an SSD if it's even remotely close to being within your budget. Outside of extra RAM, it's the biggest upgrade you can snag for performance boosts you can feel.

Using the E6530, after getting over its extra weight, is a generally pleasant experience. But, then again, you never really do "get over" the heft. It's a beast of a machine to tote around, and it genuinely feels as if you should be getting 17 (rather than 15) inches of notebook. As alluded to earlier, the keyboard and trackpad experience is top-notch. We can't count how many times we've been let down by an otherwise well-configured machine because the input mechanisms were below our expectations.

The keyboard here is well spaced and the travel is ideal, but it's shifted to the left due to a full numerical keypad being included to the right of it. That took some getting used to, but it's not a deal-breaker. The pointer nub works extremely well, and if you've wanted to leave your ThinkPad but couldn't stomach the idea of using a trackpad, here's your alternative. The accuracy was great, but we'll confess that the tiny nub feels a bit comical on such a vast machine. Functionally, however, it's great.


The LCD hinge was stiff enough to hold the 15.6" (1600x900) panel wherever we placed it, and the viewing angles are good enough that you'll have no problem showing your colleagues an Excel sheet as they huddle behind you. (Or, your high score in Solitaire.)

The Core i7 CPU, combined with 6GB of memory and a wicked fast 128GB SSD, made for a predictably fast surfing experience. Be it the launching of multiple apps, multitasking or chewing through a photo gallery in Lightroom, we couldn't get the machine to hiccup. Everyday tasks were handled with extreme poise, and you really won't hit any significant hurdles unless you're taxing the machine from a graphics standpoint.


The Windows 7 Experience score shown above has a total score that's actually lower than the less powerful Lenovo ThinkPad X230T. Why? The GPU. While the E6530 is available with an NVIDIA NVS 5200M for an extra $99, our review unit had an integrated Intel HD 4000 chipset. It's unquestionably the only real bottleneck in this machine.  This is also a machine that already checks in at over $1700; what's another $99 to ensure the graphics are up to snuff with the rest of the components?


You'll notice that throughout the benchmarks, things are occasionally held back by lackluster GPU performance. We recognize that many business users have no need whatsoever for a discrete GPU, but from an overall performance standpoint, for a modest investment in cost, it could have taken performance to an exceptional level. Intel's HD 4000 graphics is fine for playing back 1080p videos and handling your favorite YouTube clips and Powerpoint presentations, but don't throw any heavy computational modeling tasks at this thing without opting for the NVIDIA GPU.
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SiSoftware Sandra and Cinebench Performance
Preliminary Testing with SiSoft SANDRA 2012
Synthetic Benchmarks

We started off our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2012, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant.  We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks).
All of the scores reported below were taken with the processor running at its default clock speed with 6GB of DDR3 RAM running in dual-channel mode.


Processor Arithmetic


Multi-Media


Memory Bandwidth

SiSoft Sandra helps make the case that despite the rugged exterior, there's plenty of beauty and nimbleness within. 6GB of DDR3 memory and a fast Core i7 helped it to soar in these tests, though memory bandwidth would likely be higher if a DDR3-1600 memory was in the mix, as is the case in certain Dell Ultrabooks recently.

Cinebench R11.5 64bit
Content Creation Performance

Maxon's Cinebench R11.5 benchmark is based on Maxon's Cinema 4D software used for 3D content creation chores and tests both the CPU and GPU in separate benchmark runs. On the CPU side, Cinebench renders a photorealistic 3D scene by tapping into up to 64 processing threads (CPU) to process more than 300,000 total polygons, while the GPU benchmark measures graphics performance by manipulating nearly 1 million polygons and huge amounts of textures.

 

Our Cinebench scores were more impressive than we had imagined, versus some of the previous generation discrete solutions tested here, despite the Intel HD 4000 integrated GPU. Just imagine how much higher they'd be with a that discrete NVIDIA GPU option though.

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Futuremark 3DMark 06 / 11 and PCMark Vantage
We continued testing and fired up Futuremark's system performance benchmark, PCMark Vantage. This synthetic benchmark suite simulates a range of real-world scenarios and workloads, stressing various subsystem in the process. Everything you'd want to do with your PC -- watching HD movies, music compression, image editing, gaming, and so forth -- is represented here, and most of the tests are multi-threaded, making this a good indicator of all-around performance.
 

Futuremark PCMark Vantage
Simulated Application Performance


The full Vantage score is below.

 

Just look at that number. The E6530 performed like a thoroughbred here, with the Core i7 and SSD no doubt combining to demolish the benchmark. The TV / Movies and Gaming scores are a bit low, likely due to the integrated GPU, but this should make clear that this particular rig is no slouch.

3DMark06
Light Duty DX9 Synthetic Gaming

The Futuremark 3DMark06 CPU benchmark consists of tests that use the CPU to render 3D scenes, rather than the GPU. It runs several threads simultaneously and is designed to utilize multiple processor cores.

 
The E6530 didn't blow us away as readily here, likely because a lot of this benchmark hinges on the GPU being dominant. Still, not too shabby overall, and really impressive when you remember that this machine was engineered for work first, play second.


Futuremark 3DMark11
Synthetic DirectX Gaming


Futuremark 3DMark11

The latest version of Futuremark's synthetic 3D gaming benchmark, 3DMark11, is specifically bound to Windows Vista and 7-based systems because it uses the advanced visual technologies that are only available with DirectX 11, which isn't available on previous versions of Windows.  3DMark11 isn't simply a port of 3DMark Vantage to DirectX 11, though.  With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated four new graphics tests, a physics tests, and a new combined test.  We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark11's Extreme preset option, which uses a resolution of 1920x1080 with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.

3DMark 11 is still a relatively new benchmark, and we're still building up our database of machines that we've ran through this test. These were set on the "Performance" setting, just to give you a vague idea of comparisons. The E6530 actually landed pretty much in the middle of the rival pack, which is fairly impressive given its integrated HD 4000 graphics, which was also able to edge out even a couple of older discrete solutions. The full score is below.

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Gaming Benchmarks and Battery Life

FarCry 2 and Metro 2033 Gaming Tests
DirectX Gaming Performance


FarCry 2

Like the original, FarCry 2 is one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date. Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations. We benchmarked the test systems in this article with the FarCry 2 benchmark tool using one of the built-in demo runs recorded in the "Ranch" map.

The somewhat dated FarCry 2 benchmark isn't as hard on current gen systems, but with this machine boasting only an integrated HD 4000 GPU, we figured it'd be a fair match. Even at the native 1600x900 resolution, we were able to maintain constant 23-28 frames per second. Crank the details down a bit and it's possible to remain at over 30FPS. Again, impressive with an integrated GPU.

Battery Life
Power Performance

BatteryEater Pro tends to measure worst case scenarios, in that it doesn't really take into consideration power saving features, instead working the system's hard drive, CPU and graphics moderately until it dies out.  We kept our test machines with Wi-Fi on, and screen brightness hovering at 50% for the life of the test.

A 97Whr, 9-cell battery is included here, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that this is one of the longest lasting machines we've benchmarked to date. The slice-style battery pokes out of the rear a good bit, but that gains you several more hours of life compared to the more compact 4-cell and 6-cell options. As these tests typically go, our rundown test -- which does a great job of replicating tough usage in the real world -- managed to choke the life out of the battery more quickly than you might see in light usage.  Though breaking a sweat here we only saw just under 4 hours of battery life, under simple web browsing and email light duty workload you'll likely double that uptime figure.
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Summary and Conclusion
Performance Summary: Performance-wise, the Latitude E6530 excels in a world where business-grade laptops are typically relegated to be average at best. The new Latitude E Series could certainly be considered the new face of business laptops, where design matters, power is important and ruggedness is embraced. In everyday use, the experience is best-in-class for this type of machine. There's something to be said about marrying a Core i7 processor with 6GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, and that "something" is wonderfully quick.  In the benchmarks, the story is occasionally diluted by the integrated GPU.


As one of the heftier 15.6" laptops on the market, the Latitude E6530 makes up for it by staying cool under pressure, keeping fan noise to an absolute minimum, throwing in a number pad, being extremely rigid and rugged, and offering both a DVD writer and a massive 9-cell slice battery that admittedly pokes out of the rear a bit. No question, many of these things you'd need to have a use for to appreciate. While the understated design is classy if a bit boxy, accountants and those who punch numbers into Excel for a living will get a lot of miles from that number pad. Those who find themselves in airports with no power outlet will love the 97Wh battery, which keeps this workhorse running for far longer than any rival that offers only a 4-cell or 6-cell option. The DVD writer is a boon for those who need to burn media or presentations, but moreover, it can be swapped for other bay accessories. And then, of course, the bottom docking station port keeps that dream alive, too.


While it feels a bit heavy and expensive for average consumers to look into, the addition of the Tri-Metal casing and the impressive spec sheet may have folks thinking twice. This is perhaps one of the sexiest "rugged" laptops you'll find, and considering that even the keyboard is resistant to spills, we're fine with labeling it as such. For $1745, we expected the $99 NVIDIA NVS 5200M GPU option to be tossed in; the integrated GPU occasionally bottlenecks the overall performance of an otherwise aggressive machine. If you're lucky enough to have your IT manager put one of these on your desk, however, you can safely know that you have a pretty darn good gig.


  

  • Great display viewing angles
  • Fantastic spill-resistant keyboard
  • Fast overall performance
  • Rigid and rugged
  • Quiet and cool
  • Keyboard is positioned oddly
  • Display colors are a tad muted
  • Bulky and a little hevy
  • Pricey


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