|Introduction and Specifications|
|Ultrabooks are, in a word, cool. They’re slim, flashy, and lightweight, yet they’re rather powerful and offer users a laptop that can do it all in a form factor that begs to be touched and carried around (especially if it’s a convertible ultrabook, in which case the unit can double as a high-powered tablet).
Business-class laptops tend to be the opposite. With all due respect, business machines are often almost comically boxy and dull, offering the bare essentials in terms of looks and performance. While it’s true that a fleet of plain yet somewhat rugged mid-range notebooks makes perfect sense in terms of TCO and lifecycle management, you’re already bored just reading those words.
Dell has certainly put out its share of solidly economical if uninspiring business-facing notebooks over the years, but some of its latest machines are just as sexy as any svelte ultrabook. The Dell Latitude 6430u ultrabook is somewhere in between.
Indeed, the 6430u is something of a tweener machine; based on its components, it’s certainly an ultrabook, but it’s not as sexy and slim and light as you might expect. However, it’s a far cry from the dull boxy affair that you’d expect from a traditional business machine, and it has welcome features usually found on more mainstream notebooks such as a removable battery.
Even the specifications are somewhat middle-of-the-road, though they’re by no means mediocre; there’s an Intel Core i5-3427U (1.8GHz) chip inside, Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics, and the 14-inch LED backlit display offers a resolution of 1366x768 (but there’s no touch input capability). The memory and storage configurations are a little more high end, as the Latitude 6430u boasts 8GB of DDR3-1600MHz SDRAM and a zippy 128GB mSATA SSD.
WiFi 802.11b/g/n is on board, as well as Bluetooth 4.0, and although our review unit wasn’t equipped with LTE capabilities, that is a configuration option users can select. The Latitude 6430u also supports WiDi, which is a feature certain to come in handy in the business world.
What makes the Latitude 6430u a business machine, though, is its manageability and security. Dell offers Intel vPro technology, Trusted Platform Module protection, and Dell Data Protection/Encryption, in addition to remote access, battery, and BIOS management capabilities. Further, whereas some ultrabooks are locked down tight, these Dell ultrabooks have an easily removable battery, and after taking out two small screws with a Phillips screwdriver, you can gain unfettered access to the guts of the system as well. They’re also fairly rugged machines, which is something we’ll get into on the next page.
|Design and User Experience|
|As we’ve mentioned, the Dell Latitude 6430u isn’t winning any beauty contests over at the ultrabook pageant, but for an office laptop, it’s not a bad-looking machine. It’s dressed primarily in business black, but it has a shiny silver Dell logo emblazoned on the lid as well as a silver magnesium band around its middle. Almost the entire chassis has a rubberized finish that improves a user’s grip on the laptop, and we were impressed at how well it resisted smudges. (The smudges that do appear, however, are tough to remove.)
That magnesium alloy that wraps around the Latitude 6430u is there for a reason; it acts as a bumper to help prevent damage. In fact, this computer is designed to absorb a certain level of office workplace and travel-type abuse. In addition to the magnesium bumper, the keyboard is spill proof, the LCD has a seal to keep out moisture, and the hinges are reinforced with metal plating for durability.
At first glance, the chiclet keyboard doesn’t stand out, but upon closer inspection you can see that the keys all have slight indentations for a better tactile experience and that they’re all a bit taller than they are wide. There’s a touch pad of course, as well as left and right mouse buttons just below it and three buttons above it that serve the track stick nestled between the G and H keys. You can enjoy the backlit keyboard when you need it, or you can toggle it off when discretion and battery life are paramount.
Dell did with this laptop what so many inexplicably don’t, which is to make the Backspace, Enter, Shift, Ctrl, Caps Lock, Tab, and other frequently used keys the same large size as on a regular desktop keyboard. There’s no numpad (unless you use the Fn key), but there are Page Up/Down and arrow keys, which are also sized normally. With a press of the Fn key, users also have media play/pause/skip buttons, brightness controls, and more.
The Latitude 6430u has stereo speakers set just above the keyboard area, and as you might expect from a laptop without a subwoofer, the sound is rather tinny. It does offers room-filling volume, but there's a bit of distortion at higher volumes. That said, the sound is very satisfactory for watching videos and the like, so unless you’re pining for sweet bass, these speakers are adequate for most typical uses.
Dell spared us almost any and all bloatware, although they did throw in a free trial of Microsoft Office and loads of CyberLink software. As you might expect, there’s also some Dell software such as Dell Backup and Recovery and Dell Smart Settings in addition to the normal Windows 8 complement of Mail, People, Music, Messaging, Camera, and so on.
|SANDRA, PCMark 7, and Cinebench Performance|
|We kicked off benchmarking with SiSoftware SANDRA 2012, PCMark 7, and Cinebench, which provide a look at how the system’s individual components perform as well as how the ultrabook as a whole handles everyday work and multimedia tasks. We compared the Dell Latitude 6430u's scores to similar systems we have tested recently, keeping in mind each system is likely to have different software and low level hardware configurations. We test each system we review in the condition it arrives in from the manufacturer, though we disable security software and sleep settings so they won’t affect the benchmarks.
SiSoft SANDRA 2012 lets us take a look at the way particular components perform. We ran benchmarks that test the system’s processing power, memory, and storage performance. SANDRA 2012 is the latest version of this benchmark and it is compatible with Windows 8. Each SANDRA benchmark compares the system being tested to comparable systems.
We see in the SiSoft SANDRA tests that the Dell Latitude 6430u bests the field in Processor Arithmetic--albeit by a narrow margin--and it slides into second place in the Multimedia test, behind only the ASUS Zenbook UX32VD, which boasts a burlier Core i7 (Ivy Bridge) processor to the 6430u’s Core i5.
Among the ultrabooks we’ve tested, the Latitude 6430u stands out with its speedy SSD, which delivered a score of 501.42 in the Physical Disks test. That’s good among the systems we have data on for a narrow second, behind only the Dell XPS 13’s 503.08. Our 6430u also takes the cake with a memory score 20.44, thanks to its 8GB of DDR3-1600MHz SDRAM.
Futuremark’s PCMark 7 is a well-known benchmark tool that runs the system through ordinary tasks, including word processing and multimedia playback and editing. Graphics and processor power figure prominently in this benchmark, but graphics power doesn’t play as big a role here as it does in another Futuremark benchmark, 3DMark (which is designed for testing the system’s gaming capabilities).
It’s not shocking that the Dell Latitude 6430u posted the top score in PCMark 7, although it’s a little surprising that it did so with so much authority. We’ll chalk this up to a nice combination of a solid Ivy Bridge chip that’s slightly better than most others in this lineup and satisfactory Intel HD 4000 graphics, plus a relatively fast SSD.
Next, we ran Cinema 4D’s content creation benchmark, Cinebench. This benchmark generates a complex image in the CPU test. The GPU test includes a chase scene involving two cars. The CPU test is measured in points, while the GPU test results are the chase scene’s frames-per-second.
The CPU scores in this chart are clustered fairly closely together, ranging from 2.21 to 2.8, with most systems hitting between 2.31 and 2.59. Our Latitude 6430u tied for second with a score of 2.59, and it had the second-best OpenGL score, falling only to the ASUS Zenbook’s outlier score of 26.95.
|3Dmark 11 and Gaming|
Ultrabooks aren't designed for heavy gaming. Even so, it's good to know what to expect from any system you're thinking about buying. Although they may not be designed with gaming in mind, ultrabooks can (and will) be used for light-duty gaming. To help you get a feel for the type of gaming performance you can expect from the Dell Latitude 6430u, we loaded a few gaming-related benchmarks to see just what it can do.
Futuremark’s gaming 3DMark 11 benchmark is a grueling test that makes use of DirectX 11 and several highly-detailed demos to put a system's graphics card through its paces. We opt for the Performance setting in the benchmark when we test notebooks and ultrabooks, so keep that in mind if you compare the scores to a system that ran the Entry or Extreme version.
The scores in 3DMark 11 played out as you’d expect; The ASUS Zenbook’s impressive Core i7 (Ivy Bridge) chip and NVIDIA GT 620M graphics whipped the field, and the Dell XPS 15z wasn’t far behind with its NVIDIA GT 525M graphics Core i7 (Sandy Bridge) processor. The only other system that beat our Latitude 6430u was another Dell that was packing a Core i7 chip and Intel HD 4000 graphics.
To get another perspective on the 6430u's gaming capabilities, we fired up the "Ranch" demo in Far Cry 2. This FPS game features lush vegetation and plenty of explosions and graphical mayhem. For this test, we turned off AA and used a resolution of 1280x720.
Very few of these systems offer anything approaching playable framerates in Far Cry 2, and unfortunately the Dell Latitude 6430u falls into that category with a score of just 20.6 FPS. Granted, that’s better than all but two of the systems in our test bank, but those two systems both offer playable framerates, which is not an arbitrary distinction.
|Battery Life Testing|
|Part of the allure of an ultrabook is its ability to offer strong battery life in addition to great performance, so we make sure to see how long these systems can go when unplugged. To give you an idea of how long the Dell Latitude 6430u and its 6-cell, 60Wh battery will last and to help you compare its longevity to other systems, we ran two battery tests. For both tests, we set the screen's brightness to 50% and turned off all screen savers and sleep settings.
Keep in mind your usage patterns will significantly impact battery life. If you’re watching videos, downloading files, or putting the ultrabook in sleep mode when the system is not in use, this will impact the time your system can run before needing to recharge.
Our web browsing test is the same one we run on tablets and smartphones. This test is designed to show how long a system can handle simple Web browsing, and it refreshes a page every three minutes and runs until the system shuts down because the battery is depleted. We also use Battery Eater Pro, which runs a heavy workload continuously to show you what the system can do when its CPU, GPU, memory, and storage drive are seeing heavy use. If you plan to use the ultrabook to work with multimedia (or even to do a lot of word processing) the results will give you a picture of what to expect.
In the Battery Eater Pro test, the Latitude 6430u landed right in the middle of the pack at 142 minutes, which isn’t terrific. With a 6-cell battery inside, you might hope for more. In the more minimal Web browsing test, it did much better, essentially tying for first place with 414 minutes of life (which is nearly 7 hours).
|Summary and Conclusion|
|The Dell Latitude 6430u isn’t your average ultrabook; it was designed and built specifically with the business world in mind, offering robust security measures, some rugged build features, and relatively easy and powerful manageability. But it’s not just a boring business box; it includes some smart design features such as the rubberized finish and silver accents, and the specifications are more than sufficient for what you’ll typically need in the business world. It delivered impressive performance in our benchmark tests too.
The ultrabook market is a big one, and there’s a lot of competition, but Dell deftly sidesteps most of it with the Latitude 6430u, focusing on businesses as opposed to the mainstream consumer. On the consumer side, the Core i5 (Ivy Bridge) processor, Intel HD 4000 graphics, 8GB of fast memory, and 128GB SSD inside the 6430u are strong specifications, but the don't necessarily stand out. In the corporate world, where companies manage dozens, hundreds, or thousands of notebooks and do everything possible to keep costs to a minimum, however, a machine with those specs would likely be considered high end.
Speaking practically, consider the cost/benefit of a Dell Latitude 6430u: Indeed, the initial cost is probably a bit on the high side, but part of what you’re paying for is the security, management, and longevity we mentioned earlier. It’s worth making a larger initial investment if your fleet of machines will last longer than cheaper options, and IT folks will surely be happy to have the management tools and security options attached to the ultrabooks they’re dealing with on a daily basis.
Further, the specifications on the Dell Latitude 6430u are robust enough to ensure that these computers can perform at an appropriate level for years.
You can grab yourself an ultrabook for as little as $800--for that matter, the base model of the Latitude 6430u is just $899 (Core i3 processor, 4GB DDR3-1600MHz SDRAM, 64GB SSD, Intel HD 4000 graphics)--or you can easily spend upwards of $1,500-$1,600. The model Dell sent us will run you $1,278 as configured, which is right in the middle of that range. (Dell sent us the optional external DVD+/-RW drive with our unit, which is an additional $74.25.)
For the average consumer, the Dell Latitude 6430u would be a fine machine. It’s replete with strong features, and its ruggedness is a valuable design element whether you fly internationally for business or just have a small child at home who knocks things off of coffee tables. That said, for $1,278 you might be able to do a bit better, especially in terms of looks. For business users, however, you should just go ahead and convince your IT department that you need this computer.