For performance testing our usual set of benchmarks were run on the D531, which include PC Mark 05, our own in-house Virtual Dub and Photoshop Elements tests and two subjective battery tests - one for light usage and one for multimedia playback.
Overall the tests highlighted more or less what we already knew, that the AMD mobile platform is markedly inferior to Intel's. PC Mark quickly demonstrated this, with the D531 trailing both the NEC Versa S970 and Dell Latitude D630 by significant margins.
Our in-house tests, however, provide an even more compelling example of exactly how large that gap really is. In the Virtual Dub test the D531 took nearly two and half minutes longer to complete, and in the Photoshop Elements test the gap was even more marked with the D531 taking just over seven minutes longer to complete. By anyone's estimations that's a pretty poor return, and shows just how much work AMD has to do in this area.
In general use this difference may not be immediately apparent, especially while running only a small number programs concurrently, but beyond three or so programs the system does become noticeable sluggish. This could certainly become a problem when you might be running Outlook, Word, Excel and a web browser on top of whatever propriety software your company may employ - this would count as fairly typical usage in an office environment.
Battery life tests were similarly disappointing. In light usage testing , which consisted of word processing and web browsing over wireless with screen brightness set to its maximum, the D531 managed a fairly average two hours and 45 minutes. Playing an hour and a half long DVD also provided food for thought, with the D531 only just managing to reach the end of the film before duly capitulating.
Clearly then, you do pay a significant price for the savings gained by using an AMD powered notebook, and this does put serious dents in the D531 credentials. Unlike NEC's Versa, however, it at least doesn't feel as cheap as it is and this goes some way to redeeming its sluggish performance. If anything, though, one could opt for an older Intel system at a similar spec and still get superior performance, which regrettably says a great deal about AMD's failings in the notebook arena.
Dell's Latitude D531 is a solidly made and well targeted machine, however it's let down by the sluggishness of AMD's mobile platform and, as a consequence, it would be well worth scouting the market thoroughly before settling on this system.