Competition is fierce, very fierce. Dell may have held onto its second position in the notebook market; however Q4 represented the weakest period for the company with a slight drop in sales compared to its major rival, Hewlett-Packard. More recently Dell has struggled with production on its new Inspiron and XPS M1330 models and, though generally competent, the new Inspiron proved to be somewhat underwhelming compared to the likes of Acer's Aspire 5920.
However, though the company's efforts in the consumer space have borne mixed results, its corporate focussed Latitude range, continues to impress. One particular favourite is the Latitude D630, the 14.1in Intel based system that walked away with a well deserved Recommended Award back in July. Currently residing in the labs is the D430, the ultra-portable of the Latitude range and one that looks to be very promising indeed. Today, however, I'm looking at another Latitude, the AMD powered D531.
As has become traditional of late, AMD systems of any flavour tend to be targeted at the lower end of the market. This is a reflection on AMD's notebook platform, which is inherently inferior to Intel's in almost every way; be it in raw performance or less tangible but vital areas such as battery life.
Before I get on that however, let's take a close look at the D531's chassis. It's built around a 15.4in display and though there's an option for a 1,440 x 900 panel, our sample came with the cheaper 1,280 x 800 variety. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise since, as I noted in the Student's Guide to Technology, 15.4in displays are cheap to make and as such are used in the vast majority of budget notebooks.
As you might expect for a business orientated notebook, there isn't a great deal you can say about how the D531 looks. It's finished in varying shades or dark grey and light grey and, for the most part, is pretty inoffensive. For a 15.4in notebook it isn't the bulkiest either, measuring 360 x 262 x 36mm (WxDxH) and weighing just over 2.7kg with a standard six-cell battery. Fine, this still isn't small or light enough for mobile working, but it's not as bad as some by quite a margin.
Overall the design sticks with many of themes common throughout the Latitude range, and it's certainly well put together. A good example of this sturdiness is the display, which is well protected to prevent damage to the panel from outside pressure. Similarly there's none of the cheap thin plastic as found on the NEC Versa S970, and the system as whole should be able to withstand minor drops and knocks without too much difficulty.