Andre's Blog

Personal blog of Andre Perusse

Dell Latitude D820 Review

Development in today's world of .NET Framework 2.0 (and now 3.0), Visual Studio 2005 Team System, SQL Server 2005 and other vaious high-power applications requires sturdy hardware on which to code. Being on the bleeding edge of any technology usually requires the latest and greatest in hardware resources in order to be even moderately productive. After running all of the aforementioned apps on a 3 GHz Pentium 4 desktop with 512 MB of RAM for several months, my employer blessed me with a brand new Dell Latitude D820. And not a moment too soon, either.

I have been using this new laptop for about 3 months now, and it is one of the best latops I have ever had (previous models I have used include a Compaq M500, two other Dell Latitude models, and an IBM ThinkPad T40). My configuration includes an Intel Core Duo T2600 at 2.16 GHz, 2MB 2GB of RAM (the single most important item, IMHO), a 60 GB 7200 RPM hard drive, a CD-R/DVD drive, and a 1680 x 1050 15.4" widescreen display running on an Intel 945GM adapter. My OS is Windows XP Pro, SP2. Though heavier than a 12" laptop, it's still light enough for everyday travelling while preserving a solid feel and high build quality.

The keyboard is quite nice for a laptop, though I still prefer to use an external keyboard when I can. There are four dedicated feature buttons above the keyboard, two for audio volume, one for mute, and the power button. The keyboard is flanked on either side by speakers. On the left side of the laptop is a slider switch to control the built-in WiFi card. It turns the laptop's WiFi antenna on and off, but it also has a really neat feature where sliding the switch all the way up will illuminate a small green LED if a WiFi signal is detected. This feature works even if the laptop is off, so you can quickly determine if a hotpsot is within range without opening the screen and turning on the entire machine. Also on the left side are 1394 (Firewire), audio line-in, and headphone jacks, in addition to the IR port and the PC and EC card slots. The back of the machine has the following connections: VGA, 9-pin serial, 2 USB ports. The right side has an additional 2 USB ports and the CD/DVD drive.

While performing usual development tasks, the machine is extremely responsive, even with three instances of Visual Studio 2005 open, SQL Server Management Studio, several browser windows and driving an external 20" display at 1680 X 1050 in addition to the laptop screen in an extended desktop configuration. I attribute this to the dual-core processor and ample RAM. It is as responsive or even more so than my personal hyperthreaded, overclocked P-4 running at 3.5 GHz with 2MB of RAM and an ATI X800XL video card driving a single 1920 X 1200 display. Hard drive intensive operations still seem quicker on my desktop, though it is running two 200 GB drives in a RAID 0 configuration, so I would expect it to have the edge speed-wise.

Battery life is also quite impressive. Though I haven't benchmarked it properly, I appear to get about 4 hours on a single charge while performing elementary tasks such as web surfing or typing new blog entries. In fact, the only thing that I don't like about this laptop is the display. Cramming a 1680 x 1050 display into a 15.4" screen results in a pretty high dpi, and text that is very clear, but microscopically small. This, combined with a viewing angle that results in a dimmed display when you're even slightly off-axis results in a display that is not very pleasant to use. The high resolution is nice, but I generally prefer the much brighter and easier-to-read display on my wife's budget-class e-Machine's laptop.

The solution to the display issue for everyday use at the office is, of course, adding a docking station and external display. The docking station I use is Dell's XXX unit which provides all the usual ports in addition to a DVI video connector, an S/PDIF digital audio out, and an S-video out. The company-provided external display is a 17" CRT which is sooo 1990's. Not satisfied with such an antique, I bought a Dell 2007WFP 20" widescreen flat panel to use at work. Compared to the built-in laptop display, this unit is an absolute joy to work with.

So, if you are in the market for a new laptop, I heartily recommend the Dell Latitude D820. I would suggest, however, that you opt for the "real" video card option and maybe a larger hard drive. I am so impressed with this unit that I would seriously considering buying one with my own money if I had to buy my own gear.

Comments (2) -

  • Darth Mac

    12/4/2006 8:08:27 PM |

    Dude... You only got two *megabytes* of RAM in that thing??? And that's the single most important thing???

    My friggin' Mac classic had more than that!!!!!

    Seriously, though. If you're in the market for a new laptop BUY a MacBook Pro!! Serious goods, can run your funny Microsoft gack and then you can surf the web without fear in Mac OS X! Smile

    Oh yeah, and you'll get someone from North America to do your tech support (not that you'll ever need it...).

  • Andre Perusse

    12/5/2006 4:42:25 AM |

    2 megabytes. Sheesh - damn rookie mistake.