Dell Latitude D430
Great for executives on the move thanks to size and decent battery life, but the missing optical drive disappoints
Source: Copyright © PC Pro, Dennis Publishing
Dell’s Latitude D430 is the successor to the company’s excellent Latitude D420, which has been sitting proudly atop the A-List. There isn’t much change to see on the outside, as the D430 looks exactly like its predecessor; in many ways, that’s a good thing since this remains a high-quality chassis, but it does result in a few compromises.
Chief among these is the lack of an optical drive. Considering the D430 weighs 1.5kg, and Sony manages to pack an optical drive into the 1.13kg VAIO VGN-G118GNB, this is disappointing. Instead, there’s a MediaBase (included in the price here) that clips to the bottom of the notebook and gives you a DVD-RW drive, DVI and VGA outputs, and acts as a port replicator. You can carry the notebook around with the MediaBase attached, but it increases the weight to 2.1kg.
But the chassis does have quite a few positives, too. Build quality is a big plus. We’re often concerned about the robustness of ultraportables, but the D430 gives us no such worries. Its case feels tough, well built and, most importantly, like it’s going to take being carried around in a bag all day. The rigid plastic does a good job of protecting the 12.1in widescreen display and only did pushing hard on the outside have any effect on the screen.
The display itself has a 1280 x 800 resolution and matte finish, which will please anyone that needs to work outside or under a variety of different lighting conditions. It produces excellent contrast and accurate colour reproduction, but viewing angles aren’t great; we had to position ourselves directly in front of the screen to get the best view. The screen has an ambient light sensor, which automatically adjusts brightness depending on how bright it is around you. It does a fairly good job, although you can disable it with the shortcut keys if you’d prefer to make adjustments yourself.
We’re bigger fans of the keyboard. Dell seems to have taken a leaf out of Lenovo’s book to create a durable but comfortable notebook keyboard. The keys are a good size, and all the available space has been used, with the end result being one of the most comfortable keyboards we’ve used. There’s plenty of travel and feedback, so typing long documents is more of a pleasure than a chore. It’s also good to see both a trackpoint and touchpad, so no matter what your preference you’re covered.
While the D430 is available with standard mechanical 1.8in hard disks, our review model had a 32GB SanDisk SSD UATA 5000 solid-state disk. The capacity isn’t great, although it’s enough for the OS and all of your work documents, but the disk is fast and Windows started quickly. Since there are no moving parts, you won’t lose data if you drop the notebook when it’s turned on or off. The downside is that these disks are expensive. For most people, it makes more sense to switch to a mechanical hard disk – a 60GB model drops the price by $487!
Although the D430 is available with Windows Vista, the model we reviewed had Windows XP Professional installed. With a 1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600 inside, we weren’t expecting terrific speed – the U7600 is an ultra-low voltage processor designed for ultraportables, so its priority is power consumption rather than speed – and so it proved. Despite a hefty 2GB of RAM, the D430 managed only 0.70 in our benchmarks. That said, this is fine for everyday use; it’s only when you switch to intensive tasks such as video editing that it struggles.
And in return, battery life from the standard six-cell battery is excellent. We managed to get 3hrs 46mins in our light-use test and 2hrs 5mins at full load. Dell also sells a range of upgrades, including a nine-cell battery ($169) that extends from the front of the case. Together, there’s more than enough power to last you a full day’s work.
It’s a shame that Dell couldn’t fit an optical drive into the chassis, but like its predecessor, the D420, the D430 is still a great business notebook. It’s small, extremely well built and the MediaBase gives real flexibility. The use of a solid-state disk in this model is interesting, but poor value unless you really need it – opt for a mechanical disk instead – and it’s this model that we recommend most people buy.