|Introduction and Specifications|
|Business-class laptops don’t get much love these days, due to all the buzz surrounding ultrabooks and tablets. But there are still plenty of jobs that demand the processing power, storage, and general flexibility of a true business-class machine. If you still use optical media like CDs or DVDs in your day-to-day computing, a laptop with an optical drive is essential. The same is probably true if you travel often to give presentations: you’ll need plenty of video and network connectivity options to interface with whatever technology the meeting room or auditorium has available. Many ultra-portables lack optical drives and offer minimal connectivity options. With the Latitude E6430S, however, Dell offers up a solid, old-school laptop in a body that has a bit of an ultrabook look but a pedigree that is all business.
The Dell Latitude E6430S is a close relation to the E6530 we recently reviewed, but the model we’re looking at today is a little smaller, lighter, and generally more portable. For one thing, it has a 14-inch Anti-Glare LED display, compared to the larger laptop’s 15.6-inch display. The E6430’s 14-inch screen has a 1366 x 768 or 1600 x 900 resolution, depending on the configuration. Our review system has the lower resolution.
As for its internals, our E6430S packs an Intel Core i5-3360M dual-core Ivy Bridge CPU running at 2.80GHz, smack in the middle of the laptop’s processor configuration possibilities. Other CPUs available for this laptop include an array of Core i3 and Core i7 processors at varying price points. The E6430S includes 6GB of DDR3 memory and Intel HD Graphics 4000 for graphics, which sounds about right for a typical business PC. The system should be able to handle basic gaming in this configuration, but you can jump to an Nvidia NVS 5200M discrete card if you need additional graphics power.
The Latitude can handle just about any connectivity options you’re likely to encounter in business travel, thanks to a Gigabit Ethernet port, and several WiFi/WiMAX options. Our test model featured and Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 for 802.11a/b/g/n connectivity. Bluetooth is also an option included in our unit.
Windows 8's availability, but Dell does offer a Linux Ubuntu 11.10 setup, too. Overall, the specs look pretty solid for a business laptop. Next up, we’ll dig into its design.
|Design and Layout|
|The Dell Latitude E6430S has a fairly snazzy exterior for a business class notebook, thanks to Dell’s Tri-Metal chassis. Brushed metal, rounded and sloped edges, and multiple colors (all grays) give the laptop a much sharper look than your ordinary business machine. More importantly, the case is downright sturdy. You’ll get a sense of its strength when you open the lid or lift the laptop. In fact, the Tri-Metal casing has been tested to meet a military standard (MIL-STD 810G) for basic ruggedness. That said, don’t mistake the E6430S for a truly ruggedized notebook. It’s tough, but it’s not meant for harsh outdoor conditions. If you’re looking for a heavy-duty, ruggedized version of the E6430S, then the Dell ATG E6430 may be more your speed.
keyboard backlight, which is configurable: you can set it to one of four brightness levels. The light shines through the key letters and around the keys, making low-light typing easy. But the real star is the touchpad, which is responsive to gestures and taps and is just darn easy to use. Dell added mouse buttons in front of the touch pad (in addition to the typical two behind it), which complement the joystick at the center of the keyboard. We found those extra buttons to be handy when we used the touchpad, too.
ExpressCard slot, a USB port, and an eSATA port. The left side houses the headphone/mic combination port as well as the VGA connector and the Smart Card slot. Much of the back of the laptop is covered by the extended battery, so the Dell put the HDMI, Ethernet, USB, and Power ports near the corners. The laptop lock slot sits directly on the back right corner. Helpfully, the SD card reader is right at the front of the system, under the touchpad. One minor gripe: the lid doesn't quite close completely. It just doesn't lie quite flat. Most people won't notice, but if you're a stickler for perfection, it will bug you. A lid lock would have solved it.
extended battery option gives the laptop a bulky feel. It adds some weight, but also throws off the otherwise sleek design. Then again, functionality usually trumps style in a business system.
|As you might expect in a business laptop, the Dell Latitude E6430S has no bloatware. In fact, our test system arrived with almost no preinstalled software at all and didn’t even include Dell’s Webcam Central, which should come with the laptop. The system included other preinstalled applications, though, so we’ll give you a quick tour of them.
The Latitude 6430's no-nonsense Desktop.
Dell Backup and Recovery Manager helps you make backups of individual files or your entire system. It’s capable of creating a bootable recovery DVD and also supports other external media. The Manager has enough backup options (individual files, OS only, full system) that you could probably get by without the aid of 3rd party backup software.
Dell also added a few Intel freebies. Intel WiDi is a tool for presenters that lets you display your laptop’s screen on a nearby HDTV via WiFi. Intel Control Center is a dashboard for some other Intel tools, including Intel Management and Security Status. That feature has an anti-theft utility, but you’ll need to sign up for a paid service to make use of it.
Microsoft Office Starter, which is the trial version of Office that typically accompanies new PCs. You can pick from several versions of Office when you configure the laptop at Dell’s website, however.
|SiSoftware Sandra and Cinebench Performance|
|We kicked off our tests of the Dell Latitude E6430S with some established benchmarks. SiSoftware’s SANDRA (System Analyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) has several tests designed to test specific components and types of computer usage. Cinebench runs sophisticated CPU and GPU tests.
Maxon’s content creation benchmark makes use of 3D demos to see how your laptop’s processor and graphics processor handle heavy-duty computational lifting. The tests are based on Cinema 4D, which is content creation software published by Maxon.
The E6430S put up some decent numbers in the CPU portion of this test. The GPU-based test results landed right where we expected them to, however: a little bit behind the performance of the Dell Latitude E6530.
|Next up are some Futuremark benchmarks, which test the laptop in situations that simulate real-life usage. PC Mark 7 covers computing applications that you’re likely to run on an average day for personal or business use, while 3DMark 11 runs the system through graphics-intensive game demos.
Latitude E6430S. We’re in the process of building our database of systems on PCMark7, so we don’t have similar, business calss laptop scores yet. However, we can get a feel for the laptop’s performance by comparing it to high-end ultrabooks that we’ve recently reviewed.
The E6430S again produced a solid, but not shocking score. It has more firepower than most ultrabooks, from the perspective of PCMark 7. Keep in mind that the benchmark tests the laptop’s ability to run several kinds of office applications.
Futuremark 3DMark11 uses DirectX 11 in its grueling 3D demo runs. As we always do for laptops, we chose the Performance benchmark setting. Heavy-duty gaming PCs are generally run on the Extreme setting.
The E6430S is capable of light gaming and is certainly a better gamer than some ultrabooks. The graphics chops are handy for some business situations, too. On the next page, we’ll take a quick look at how the system actually handles games.
|Gaming Benchmarks and Battery Life Testing|
|If you’re considering the Dell Latitude E6430S, you’re not looking to buy it for LAN parties. Good business system can handle a little light-duty gaming, though, so we put it through a gaming benchmark to see what it can do.
Ubisoft’s famous FPS Far Cry 2 has been around for awhile, but it remains a relatively graphics-intensive game and a good one for testing a system’s 3D chops. We ran the “Ranch” demo at 1024 x 768, keeping all settings at high and disabling anti-aliasing.
The E6430S landed right about where we expected it to. The Intel HD 4000 graphics aren’t bad for mobile or casual gaming, and if you’re just killing time while traveling, the system likely has all the gaming power you’ll need.
We tested the Dell Latitude E6430S with Battery Eater Pro with the laptop's WiFi on and the screen brightness set at 50%. Battery Eater Pro is a program that stresses the CPU, GPU, and storage drive until the laptop completely runs out of juice. It approximates the battery life you'll see when performing light and medium-duty tasks for an extended period without an AC adapter.
Battery life is particularly important for business users, which is why Dell packed a 65Whr, 6-cell battery into our review model of the E6430S. As we noted earlier, the battery is oversized, extending behind the laptop. It's not pretty and makes the laptop a little more unwieldy, but if unthethered mobility is what you need, an extended battery is the way to go.
|Performance Summary and Rating|
|Performance Summary. The Dell Latitude E6430S’ Core i5-3360M CPU with Intel HD 4000 series graphics makes for a solid performance foundation, and the inclusion of an SSD only helps. Our test model could have used more storage space, but the options for adding capacity are there when you configure your own system. The display is bright and sharp, and the system’s battery life is strong, especially with the extended battery.
As hot as ultrabooks are these days, business class laptops are still the best way for many of us to get through the workday. And the Dell Latitude E6430S is a well-rounded business laptop. It can handle the rigors of travel and the bumps and scrapes that come with being carried around the office. Of course, performance is crucial, and the laptop has the performance you'd expect at its sub-$1000 price point. We also like that Dell offers so many options for this laptop - it's very easy to tweak the configuration to your needs when ordering one. The E6430S is worth a look.