A True American: Dell Latitude D620 Notebook Review

This notebook boasts superb ergonomic and functional properties. Targeted at active users for whom it will make a trustworthy traveling companion, the notebook features a reinforced case made of magnesium alloy and a waterproof keyboard. Read more about it in our review!

by Alexander Britvin
12/07/2007 | 10:40 AM

There are two different approaches to the customer, one of which puts a focus on the exterior of the product and another, on its functionality. A pretty product is going to be demanded even though it lacks some features or performance. On the other hand, a humble-looking but functionally advanced device is going to be appreciated by experienced users.

 

The Dell Latitude D620 is an example of the second approach. Far from being an aesthetic masterpiece, this notebook makes up for that with its superb ergonomic and functional properties. Targeted at active users for whom it will make a trustworthy traveling companion, the notebook features a reinforced case made of magnesium alloy and a waterproof keyboard (the senior model with the ATG abbreviation in its name is protected against the elements even more).

The Intel Core 2 Duo processor is quite an ordinary thing for a notebook while the Nvidia Quadro NVS 110M is something new to us. This graphics card is among mainstream products with its performance but its nView technology may be valuable for some user categories. It allows outputting the Desktop on multiple display devices (two displays in this case). This is going to be helpful for people who often work with many documents at once, especially as many users connect an external large monitor to their notebook at home or in the office. The Latitude D620 also features a sensor of ambient lighting to automatically adjust the matrix brightness depending on it. That’s a good ergonomic as well as economic feature.

The notebook represents the currently popular modular design. The optical drive can be easily replaced with a special cover to reduce the weight, with an additional HDD or with a battery for a longer battery life.

The Dell Latitude D620 comes to market with two types of the LCD matrix: WXGA (1280x800) and WXGA+ (1440x900). The latter version is additionally equipped with a fingerprint scanner built into the touchpad between the buttons. The two versions of the notebook are absolutely identical visually and have exactly the same size and weight.

So, we will now check out the exterior and interior design of the Latitude D620 and test it in comparison with the Sony VAIO VGN-C2ZR/B that has a similar configuration. The only significant difference between them is in the graphics subsystem. The Sony comes with an Nvidia GeForce Go 7400 while the Dell with an Nvidia Quadro NVS 110M. So, we’ll be able to check out the capabilities of the junior model of the Quadro NVS series in practice as it’s hard to determine them from the specifications provided at the developer’s website.

Package and Accessories

The packaging of the Latitude D620 is very modest. It is a plain cardboard box with some text and icons in blue.

It’s all very simple on the inside, too. You won’t find a bag to carry the notebook in or a heap of accessories in there. The notebook lies in a foam-rubber tray that protects it during transportation. Besides it, the box contains the following: a 6-cell 5000mAh battery with a charge level indicator, power adapter with an indicator, a modem cable (RJ-11), an additional adapter for a phone cable, Dell product guide, and a set of discs. The discs are:

 

As you can see, there are no accessories you usually find with other notebooks such as a bag (which would be most appropriate here since the notebook is intended for traveling users) or a mouse (the notebook’s touchpad isn’t quite convenient).

Design and Ergonomics

The Latitude D620 has a very ordinary appearance. It doesn’t differ much from typical plain and angular models of the business class. It’s got a silver-gray, magnesium case with a black streak where the lid meets the body. The case is robust, which is very important for a small notebook that is going to travel a lot.

The manufacturer’s logo in the center of the lid shimmers with a chrome luster.

The display lock is designed like a two-part slider. You move the slider to a side and the lid is unlocked.

There are numerous slits in the notebook’s body to the left of the slider – that’s where the integrated speakers are located. The speaker won’t get blocked by your hands and is directed right at the user. By the way, the traditional PC speaker is so loud in this notebook that it made us shudder during the tests when the audio adapter was disabled.

The screen hinges stick out from the notebook’s body, allowing to unfold it by over 180 degrees.

The right hinge carries system indicators that are visible irrespective of the position of the lid (from left to right):

The battery indicator has several states depending on situation. When the notebook is powered by the mains this indicator means the following:

When the notebook is powered by the battery, this indicator means:

The notebook’s interior is all black except for the silvery touchpad and the keyboard bezel. There is a Dell logo under the screen. The rubber pads around the screen ensure a softer contact between the lid and the notebook’s body when you close the lid.

Our sample of Dell Latitude D620 is equipped with a widescreen 14.1” LCD matrix that has a maximum resolution of 1280x800 pixels and an aspect ratio of 16:10 (WXGA). The viewing angles look wide enough visually. The screen has a matte coating that doesn’t produce flares.

We measured the brightness and contrast of the notebook’s display using a Pantone ColorVision Spyder with OptiCAL version 3.7.8 software. We selected the highest brightness setting before this test and disabled the integrated lighting sensor. The power-saving services didn’t affect the parameters of the screen as you can see.

AC power source:

DC power source:

The Latitude D620 is equipped with Dell’s typical 87-key black keyboard. The buttons are stiff and springy, yet quiet. This stiffness is not much of drawback – you just have to get used to it. The movement keys are shifted below the keyboard’s baseline, so there’s a smaller risk of your pressing them accidentally. The bottom left corner is occupied by a Control, which is all right for people who are used to shortcuts like Ctrl+C or Ctrl+V. Numeric buttons and two Windows keys are available: the Context Menu key is at the left of the top row; the Windows Logo key is placed over an Alt button to the left the spacebar. The functional keys are smaller than others. Insert, Home, Page Up, Delete, End and Page Down are united into a single block in the top right of the keyboard, which is rather inconvenient. Print Screen, Num Lock and Pause are placed in the top row above F10, F11 and F12. The letters are painted white and the functional keys are painted blue (you should press the functional keys in combination with Fn to access their additional functions).

You can spot a blue dot right in the center of the keyboard. It is a TrackPoint, an additional pointing device. This mini-joystick is accompanied with two buttons placed below the keyboard.

Adjacent to the TrackPoint buttons, the touchpad forms a single block with them. The silvery sensitive panel is sunken a little below the notebook’s surface, preventing your finger from slipping off it. The size of the panel matches the notebook’s form-factor, but its responsiveness isn’t high even with the native software. The touchpad is accurate enough for working with text, but not quite for processing images, for example. There is no dedicated scrolling zone or scrolling joystick. The touchpad buttons are placed below the sensitive panel. Your finger seems to be sinking slowly on them, without any click, which may be somewhat inconvenient. So, perhaps you will choose to use an external mouse after all.

The TrackPoint and touchpad can only be disabled by changing settings in the exclusive software – a quick button is not provided for that.

In the top left corner of the silver bezel around the keyboard there are (from left to right):

Right above the keyboard indicators, at the bottom of the screen bezel, there is a built-in light sensor I’ve mentioned above. It measures the brightness of ambient lighting and the screen backlight intensity is adjusted accordingly. You can configure the sensor through the QuickSet program. Note also that this feature works only with the notebook’s own display but does not affect the external monitor if you attach one to the notebook.

Now let’s see what interfaces and connectors the notebook offers. You can find the following on its left panel (from left to right):

The WLAN slider has three positions: Off, On, and Searching. The Wi-Fi indicator works like this:

On the notebook’s right panel there is only an optical drive with an activity indicator, eject button and emergency ejection hole (this bay may also accommodate a Dell TravelLite module, an additional hard disk or a battery), a special lock for extracting the drive from its bay, and two USB 2.0 ports.

The following can be found on the notebook’s rear panel:

And that’s what you can see on the notebook’s bottom: the memory compartment, HDD fasteners (the HDD is extracted from the left panel), a battery module with two locks, and stickers with the model specs and the OS serial number.

 

The memory compartment accommodates one slot which is occupied by a 512MB module. The other module is obviously installed on the mainboard. The maximum memory amount supported by the notebook is 4096 megabytes.

The place of the output vent hole on the bottom panel is not appropriate since it is going to be blocked if you put the notebook on your laps. There is another vent hole to the left of the keyboard, however, that should protect the notebook from overheating in this situation.

There is a shock protector below the HDD designed like a rubber foot.

On the bottom panel and near the notebook’s rear there is a D-Dock connector for a port-replicator.

The notebook’s 6-cell 5000mAh battery is located in its bottom, right below the user’s right wrist – the front right of the case won’t get hot at work as the consequence. There is a feet on the battery the whole notebook stands on.

There’s a battery charge indicator at the back. It’s very handy to be able to check out the charge level without turning the notebook on.

The last thing we want to note about the exterior design of the D620 is that it offers a SIM-card slot in the battery compartment: besides other wireless interfaces, the notebook supports cellular networks.

Configuration

The Dell Latitude D620 is based on an Intel Core 2 Duo T5500 processor with a clock rate of 1.66GHz (65nm Merom core with 2 megabytes of shared L2 cache).

The Core 2 Duo T5500 supports Intel’s 64-bit extensions to the x86 architecture and also features Intel Wide Dynamic Execution technology which means more decoders and execution units in the CPU core. The speed of processing SSE and floating-point instructions has been increased, too.

 

Besides Intel’s traditional Enhanced SpeedStep technology that gives the notebook’s software and BIOS the control over the CPU frequency multiplier (to reduce it under low loads), this CPU supports Dynamic Power Coordination (the power consumption of the cores can be independently adjusted depending on the current load; one core may even slip into Deep Sleep mode with the lowest power consumption possible) and Dynamic Cache Sizing (unused segments of the CPU cache can be turned off to save power). For more information about Intel’s Core 2 Duo processors refer to our article called Intel Core 2 Duo in Notebooks: Centrino Duo Platform Refreshed.

 

This implementation of the refresh version of the Napa platform also incorporates an Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG adapter and an Intel Calistoga 945PM chipset. This chipset supports DDR2 SO-DIMMs, thus offering more memory bandwidth at lower power consumption, and a PCI Express x16 interface for an external graphics card. Connected to the North Bridge via a special-purpose Direct Media Interface, the South Bridge (ICH7-M) supports one Parallel ATA port, two Serial ATA ports, eight USB 2.0 ports and Intel High Definition Audio. It also offers six PCI Express x1 lanes to connect external devices. For more information about the platform, visit the manufacturer’s website.

The Latitude D620 comes with a discrete graphics core Nvidia Quadro NVS 110M and with 64 megabytes of dedicated graphics memory. The core can also be allotted some of the system memory (for a total of 256 megabytes) by means of TurboCache technology. The typical heat dissipation of the chip is as low as 10W, so it doesn’t require active cooling.

The graphics core supports Microsoft DirectX 10, but is no record-breaker in terms of performance. However, its nView technology can be quite useful. It allows to stretch the Desktop out to multiple monitors, particularly to the notebook’s display and an external monitor. The power consumption and heat dissipation of the GPU are controlled by PowerMizer technology. You can refer to the developer’s website to learn more about the Quadro NVS110M. The next table shows the specs of the whole Quadro VNS series:

 

The notebook comes with a Fujitsu MHW2120BH hard disk drive (2.5” form-factor, 5400rpm spindle rotation speed, 120GB capacity, SATA interface) but we replaced it with a Seagate Momentus ST9160821AS (160GB, 5400rpm, SATA) for the tests. The Latitude D620 also offers a TSST TS-L632D DVD-burner with the following speed formula:

Writing:

Reading:

The Dell Latitude D620 works with DDR2-667 SDRAM, the fastest memory available on the refresh Napa platform. The single accessible slot contains a 512MB module. Another 512MB module is probably installed on the mainboard. Test programs do not agree on that point, though. CPU-Z and Everest do not see the second memory stick while the Battery Eater does. The maximum amount of memory the notebook supports is 4096MB.

We measured the temperature of the hottest spots on the notebook’s surfaces with an infrared thermometer after it had worked for half an hour in the Classic test mode of Battery Eater Pro 2.60 (the ambient temperature remained constant at 23°C during this test) and got the following numbers:

The bottom of the screen bezel is the hottest spot – probably because the backlight lamp is located there.

The following table lists the specs of the Latitude D620 in comparison with its opponent Sony VAIO VGN-C2ZR/B:

The notebook’s native power adapter refused to work after a couple of days of intensive testing. It was replaced with a working one, yet that was an annoying thing, anyway. Hopefully, that was just an accident.

Test Methods

The notebook’s hard drive was formatted in NTFS before the tests. Then we installed Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2 with DirectX 9.0c, system drivers (from the manufacturer’s website), and Windows Media Encoder 9.0 with Windows Media Player 9.0. We also installed Windows Media Player 10.0 for such tests as PCMark 2005 and SYSMark 2004 SE.

The following settings were used for the tests:

There were two exceptions: we returned to the Windows XP desktop theme for PCMark 2005 since the program required that. And for SYSMark 2004 SE to work normally, we had to roll each parameter back to its default (as they are set right after you install Windows).

Two power modes were used. First, we selected the Always On power mode for maximum performance and the shortest battery life. Then we switched to the Max Battery mode for the maximum battery run-down time.

Our tests:

  1. Performance benchmarks: synthetic (SiSoftware Sandra 2005, SiSoftware Sandra 2007, PCMark 2004 1.3.0, PCMark 2005 1.2.0), office and multimedia (SYSMark 2004 SE, Business Winstone 2004, Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004), and games (3DMark 2003 3.6.0, 3DMark 2005 1.2.0, 3DMark 2006 1.1.0, Quake 3, Quake 4, Unreal Tournament 2003)
  2. Battery life tests (Battery Eater Pro 2.60)

There are three test modes in Battery Eater:

We used the first two modes as they are in Battery Eater, but in the Idle mode (when the test utility doesn’t put any load of its own on the notebook) we played a DVD movie.

Performance

As usual, we will first run our synthetic benchmarks.

The SiSoftware 2007 suite features an updated enhanced-functionality interface, runs on three platforms (Win32 x86, Win64 x64, WinCE ARM), contains 13 tests and 34 informational modules, and supports a large range of devices thanks to the developer’s collaboration with Intel, AMD, ATI, SiS and VIA. The program is supported in six languages and has a free Lite version for personal and educational purposes. SiSoftware Sandra measures the overall performance of the system as well as that of each of its subsystems.

PCMark benchmarks the computer performance in office and office-related applications and also produces performance scores for the main subsystems (CPU, memory, graphical, and disk subsystem). PCMark 2005 carries on the tradition of complex benchmarks of the series and uses fragments of real-life applications as tests. This makes it somewhat more relevant for end-users as opposed to fully synthetic benchmarks. After running a series of 11 tests on the different components of the system, the program calculates an overall performance score in units called PCMarks. PCMark 2005 can check a computer out at processing HD video and encoding audio, and offers enhanced tests of the CPU and hard disk under multi-threaded load. The overall score is calculated by the formula: PCMark Score = 87 x (the geometric mean of the basic tests), where the geometric mean is calculated as (Result 1 x Result 2 x…) divided by the number of results.

The Intel Core 2 Duo T5500 performs as expected in our tests. Its frequency is reduced to 1.0GHz in the power-saving mode which leads to a proportional reduction of the test results. The HDD with a SATA interface looks preferable to its ATA opponent. The graphics subsystem of the Dell notebook, on the contrary, looks weaker than the Sony’s one because the Quadro NVS is meant for business applications rather than for 3D games. The results of the memory subsystem tests are sometimes similar and sometimes not. Overall, these numbers indicate that the Dell notebook has two 512MB modules working in dual-channel mode as opposed to what was reported by CPU-Z.

The Business Winstone 2004 test runs scripts of the following real-life office applications, several scripts at a time to simulate multi-tasking: Internet Explorer, Outlook, Word, Excel, Access, Project, PowerPoint, FrontPage, WinZip, and Norton AntiVirus Professional Edition.

The Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 test evaluates performance of a computer in the following multimedia applications: Windows Media Encoder, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premiere, NewTek LightWave 3D, Steinberg WaveLab, Micromedia Dreamweaver MX, and Micromedia Director MX.

The following table and diagrams show the outcome of these tests:

These tests are sensitive to the CPU performance, so it is no wonder that the identical CPUs deliver almost the same speed. The results are lower in the power-saving mode proportionally to the CPU frequency reduction.

SYSMark 2004 SE is intended to reveal a system’s performance under different types of load. It simulates a user who is solving practical tasks in a few popular applications. Multi-threading is taken into account. The benchmark issues a few ratings that are indicative of the system performance under different loads. SYSMark 2004 SE is mainly positioned as a tool for testing desktop systems and includes applications that are not often run on mobile computers. That’s why the results for each test load are shown separately:

The 3D Creation script simulates a user who is rendering an image into a BMP-file in 3ds max 5.1 and is also working on web-pages in Dreamweaver MX. After these operations are done, a 3D animation is created in a vector graphics format.

Like the Winstone tests, this one is CPU-dependent and shows that the notebook employ the same CPU model. The results are lower in the power-saving mode as the CPU clock rate is lowered from 1.66GHz to 1.0GHz. The other tests from SYSmark 2004 SE provide similar results.

The 2D Creation script simulates a user creating a video out of a few RAW-format fragments and audio tracks in Premier 6.5. Waiting for the operation to complete, the user is also modifying an image in Photoshop 7.01 and then saves it to the hard disk. When the video clip is ready, the user edits it and adds special effects in After Effects 5.5.

The notebooks deliver similar results at 2D Creation when powered by the mains and identical when powered by the batteries.

The next test simulates the work routines of a professional web-master. The user unzips the content of a website while using Flash MX to open an exported 3D vector graphics clip. Then the user modifies it by including more pictures and optimizes it for faster animation. The resulting clip with special effects is compressed with Windows Media Encoder 9 to be broadcast via the Internet. Next, the website is compiled in Dreamweaver MX while the system is being scanned for viruses with VirusScan 7.0 in the background.

The two notebooks with Core 2 Duo T5500 processors behave in a similar manner here.

The next script simulates an ordinary user who’s receiving a letter with a .zip attachment in Outlook 2002. While the received files are being scanned for viruses with VirusScan 7.0, the user looks through his e-mail, enters some comments into the Outlook calendar, and then opens a corporate website and some documents with Internet Explorer 6.0.

The Latitude D620 seems to be inferior to its opponent in terms of communicational capabilities. This is the only one of SYSmark tests that is not CPU-dependent and the change of the power mode doesn’t affect the results too much.

In the Document Creation script the user is editing text in Word 2002 and is also using Dragon NaturallySpeaking to convert an audio file into a text document. This text document is then converted into PDF format with Acrobat 5.0.5. And finally, the document is employed in a PowerPoint 2002 presentation.

The notebooks have similar results again.

The final script from SYSMark 2004 SE includes the following: the user opens a database in Access 2002 and creates a few queries. Documents are archived with WinZip 8.1. The results of the queries are exported into Excel 2002 and are used to construct a diagram.

The final test from SYSmark 2004 SE agrees with the previous ones about the relative strength of the two notebooks.

Next we tested the notebooks in three versions of 3DMark: 3DMark 2003 3.6.0, 3DMark 2005 1.2.0 and 3DMark 2006 1.1.0.

3DMark uses its own rendering engine to create a set of 3D scenes that load the graphics subsystem in various ways. Compared with the previous version, 3DMark 2005 uses Shader Model 2.0x/3.0 instead of Shader Model 1.x, provides full compatibility with Shader Model 2.0, includes more complex tests (over a million polygons per each frame), and employs normal maps. 3DMark 2006 brings support for HDR, Uniform Shadow Maps, and multi-core CPUs. It is overall oriented at Shader Model 3.0, but two out of its four graphics tests work within the Shader Model 2.0 framework.

It’s clear that the Quadro NVS 110M is much weaker in terms of gaming performance than the popular GeForce Go 7400. The graphics card’s power-saving mode is set up not aggressively, so the change of the power mode has little effect on the results. But although the Quadro NVS 110M is weaker than its opponent, it doesn’t mean that you can’t play games on the Latitude D620. Let’s check it out in real games.

There were two test modes in Quake 3:

And in one mode in Quake 4:

There was no standard demo record in Quake 4, so we had to create it by ourselves and we use it in every review of mobile PCs on our site so that different devices can be compared under identical conditions.

So, you can play games on this notebook, even though not the latest titles. After all, the Quadro NVS is a work tool rather than a gaming GPU.

The notebook’s battery life was measured with Battery Eater Pro 2.60. For some reason, the program reported a fantastic max charge level of over 100%:

The test was performed at the maximum screen brightness in the following modes:

Two hours under full load is enough, but considering the notebook’s targeting at mobile applications, that’s not so much. The opponent from Sony is better in all the three tests.

Here are the battery discharge diagrams for the different operation modes.

Conclusion

Appearances can be deceiving and the Dell Latitude D620 proved to be quite a deserving machine. The developer stays true to its policy of building high-performance notebooks for different user audiences. The Latitude D620 features good size/weight parameters, high performance and functionality, an abundance of wireless interfaces and a modular design that allows adjusting the notebook configuration depending on your current needs. Moreover, its Quadro NVS graphics card allows to connect an external monitor and use it together with the notebook’s own display. The notebook can also provide Internet access away from the city by means of a SIM card and cellular networks.

The notebook’s exterior is that of a business tool. This model is meant to be a companion of a frequently traveling businessman.

Highs:

Lows: